Belle Vue Ace 1933 - 1945


BILL KITCHEN  BELLE VUE & ENGLAND 1933 - 1945

Bill Kitchen, was one of the rare breed of new rider, who took riding the speedways as though he was already a seasoned campaigner. The then Belle Vue manager, E.O. Spence, was equally amazed at Bill’s quality of riding. Kitchen was not the only trainee to impress Spence and it would be unfair to compare them with Kitchen.

Previously, the bulk of his riding had been on the grass tracks, where he met with considerable success. However, speedway racing had not been totally new to him. Kitchen had raced on the dirt tracks in the north of England. Barrow (Little Park), Workington (Lonsdale Park), Preston and Burnley, had figured amongst the tracks he gained some experience. Bill had wanted to continue with his racing, but the family garage at Galgate, Lancaster, prevented this from happening earlier. Spence was quick to realise the potential and earmarked Bill for the warm up match for the 1933 season.  Here he had a rider, whom he felt could help fill the massive void left by star man, Max Grosskreutz, who opted to take a season out and race in Hamburg, Germany; a situation that did not last long. Spence’s faith was repaid, when Bill won his three rides, albeit a practice event; showing all the necessary attributes to make the grade. Such was his progress he was chosen to represent his country, but only as a reserve, when many, even outside Manchester, expected him to be in the side proper.

During the season, Bill also managed to participate in the Isle of Man TT races and, in the process, miss the teams’ trip to Nottingham. Grosskreutz, as expected, returned ‘home’ and was partnered with Kitchen; a partnership that improved each week. The pair played a vital role in the Daily Mail Trophy, by earning four maximum heat wins. Bill had turned in a sparkling performance in the first leg, scoring 18 points at Wimbledon, never the easiest place to ride. A nasty foot injury, temporarily curtailed his racing, but he was back in harness at the back end of the season. Overall it was a successful debut season for Bill, who finished with National League and National Trophy medals.

Bill’s learning curve continued, as he developed into an England international and became a pivotal member of the Aces’ team. When he arrived in Manchester, I doubt that even he could have envisaged the list of honours that he would come his way. Naturally, he wanted to test himself in differing conditions. His first trip to Australia, where he performed to the high standards achieved in England, endeared him the Australian spectators. The impact Kitchen made, prompted the promoters to invite him to return the following year, which he did.

Eventually, Belle Vue’s dominance had to end, with Bill having to assume an even more responsible role, after Max Grosskreutz announced his retirement. His contribution to the cause was superb, however, it was a pity that the overall level of performance failed to back Kitchen. At last, he made his debut in the showpiece World’s Championship Final, at Wembley Stadium, in 1937, where he finished in 8th place. He made a further appearance in 1938, achieving an improved showing with a 5th placing.

The 1939 season saw an upsurge of form and he was certainly rated by knowledgeable scribes in the top echelon of riders. Again, the Aces displayed the qualities that had been missing for a couple of seasons. Bill simply carried on with some outstanding riding in all competitions. Spence was able to open the trophy cabinet door in June when the British Speedway Cup (previously The ACU Cup) came to Manchester. With the World’s Championship rounds on the horizon, speculation shot Kitchen into the frame as a potential winner and you could not argue against it. He eased into the final with 47 qualifying points, but more importantly, believed that he could take on and beat the best riders in the world. However, fate determined that the final was not to take place, with the declaration of war with Germany. Racing in Britain was suspended at the end of August, with the final due to be raced on 7th September being a victim. Gone was possibly the best chance Bill Kitchen would have to annex the crown. When competitive racing resumed in the post-war era, Bill’s best days had gone, that is not to say he was not a fine racer.

The outbreak of hostilities failed to dim the lights in Manchester. Racing took place throughout the war, with an impressive total of 176 meetings taking place, with none being cancelled. Kitchen’s appearances did become limited due to his war service. However, he did manage to arrange to change his location by mutual exchange. Being stationed in the south prevented him travelling for regular racing; any rider in service suffered in similar ways. Luckily for him, a fellow serviceman stationed in the north, preferred to return south. As both men did the same job, it was easy to arrange the move. Being stationed in north-west, made access to Manchester easier, where Bill was still a firm favourite with the public. His efforts were rewarded with a variety of trophy wins, with his greatest honour being the British Individual Champion in 1945. 

After the war, when riders were chosen from the pool, Kitchen found himself moving to the Wembley Lions, after Belle Vue opted for Jack Parker as their first choice. The Lions’ took a strangle hold on the championship, with Bill being involved in more trophy gathering. Individually, his best performance came in the 1946 British Riders Championship, where he finished second with 13 points, to fellow Lion, Tommy Price. 

Bill Kitchen’s impressive medal haul is shown below
(major events only).

 

National League Championship Winner
Belle Vue; 1933-1934-1935-1936    
Wembley; 1946-1947-1949-1950-1951-1952-1953 
National Trophy Final Winner
Belle Vue; 1933-1934-1935-1936-1937    Wembley; 1948
ACU Cup Winner
Belle Vue; 1934-1935-1936-1937  
British Speedway Cup Winner
Belle Vue; 1939   Wembley; 1948 
British Individual Champion
Belle Vue; 1945

by Trevor James