Belle Vue Ace 1928 - 1931


At the very beginning of speedway life at the old Hyde Road stadium, two riders dominated the proceedings; one was Frank Varey, the other Arthur Franklyn. And both wanted to be the top dog.

Franklyn had his first taste of Dirt Track racing at White City, which was situated on the Chester Road, Old Trafford. He was a talented motorcycle rider, who could just as easily take part in an Isle of Man TT event. Arthur participated in the first meeting held there on the 16th June 1928. A raw novice he may have been, but that did not stop him putting on a spectacular show. It would not be long before he was matching the established stars as an equal. His racing antics endeared Franklyn to the ever increasing crowds and he quickly became the favourite of the spectators.

There were several others who aspired to greater things. Fred Fearnley, a motorcycle dealer from Openshaw, was another to burst on the scene. The pair of them had some terrific races, with the honours being evenly spread. The Old Trafford track was a big, circuit, yet it caught out better riders than Arthur. He realised quickly the best way to tackle the entry to the bends. Many simply went in too fast and found the safety fence looming up. In contrast, Franklyn would ease off the throttle and then pick up speed in the middle of the bend, passing his opponent coming off the turn. This manoeuvre worked time and time again and soon it had to be a good rider to beat Arthur at the White City.  

In July, Franklyn rode at the newly opened International Speedways (IS) track, here at Kirkmanshulme Lane, with little success. That was not a surprise because of the type of rider he was racing against. Vic Huxley, Frank Arthur and Charlie Spinks had far more racing acumen, which made Arthur realise how much he had to improve to compete at the top level. The White City management received a challenge from (IS), who wanted Huxley and Arthur to do battle with Franklyn and Clem Beckett. That offer was declined, but was altered to the best British riders from (IS). The result was a more evenly contested event.

Soon there was trouble between Franklyn and some White City riders, no doubt bourn out of jealously. The result was a short spell away from the track, perhaps it was a good thing. For when he did return in mid October as a result of crowd pressure, he was a much improved rider. He was almost unbeatable, chief rivals Beckett and Lees could not touch him; and yes, Arthur Franklyn was ‘King of the White City’. The dominance continued and the season ended with him being crowned as the tracks champion.

During the winter, Franklyn was tempted away to the other side of Manchester. The new Belle Vue Speedway had opened, with Arthur assuming the position of riding instructor at £5 per week, plus a guarantee of four meetings per week. For each one, he was to receive £3 appearance money. So we can see that our man was a highly paid sportsman of his day. That first meeting was started with a display from Franklyn’s mystery men, who gave demonstration races.

Belle Vue’s team for the 1929 English Dirt Track League included Arthur, but this was a short lived affair due to a series of squabbles between E O Spence and the leagues authorities. More interesting, was the rivalry that was building up between Franklyn and Frank Varey. Their fans split into separate factions; they were known as ‘Vareyites’ or ‘Franklynites’.

The pair fought some titanic on track battles, with no holds barred; often this led to scuffles between fans. It certainly kept everyone on their toes, especially the local constabulary. Rather unfairly, it was their races that were looked forward to more than anything else, but it did help to swell the crowds. It was Franklyn, who won this private battle when the season ended. Varey lost his edge, allowing his rival to ease away.

Again, in 1930, Franklyn was a member of the Belle Vue Northern League side that was to sweep any opposition to one side. He had an awkward fall in June and the injury was to keep him on the sidelines until July. Although he returned to the track, he failed to hit the dizzy heights of his past form. Having recuperated over the winter months, Arthur was again ready to pit his skills in 1931. By now, the club had a fair sized squad of riders, too many to accommodate in one team. However, circumstances dictated that more of these riders could taste league action.

Harringay had decided to withdraw from the Southern League, with Hall Green taking on the fixtures. This was short lived, 3 days to be precise; Hall Green too, had closed its doors. Belle Vue stepped in to save the day by entering a team known as Manchester. Franklyn took his place in the side as captain. The team found it much harder than in the north, but with Arthur’s experience, they learned quickly and gradually improved.

Flying had been a pastime for Franklyn for some time and he often participated in air races. He held a full professional flying licence. During the 1931/32 winter, he informed the club that he did not wish to be considered for the coming season. Instead, he entered the ‘Kings Cup’ air race. Previously, he had been forced down in this race near Nottingham and it was an ambition to win the event. Further to this, he also had the offer of a commission with the Royal Air Force. Therefore, he recognised that he could not race on the speedways’ and fly; announcing his retirement was his only option.

by Trevor James