My Dad first got me interested in motorcycles, or motorbikes if you want to be all new fangled, from my early teens I think. We had an old 50cc Suzuki and an NSU Quickly (it wasn’t) moped that we rode around our garden and woodland. Dad used to take us to motorcycle trials all over Northumberland.

I think Dad had around 40 bikes, none restored but he always meant to do them. Many of them would stir the soul of enthusiasts these days; Norton, Vincent, Triumph, Sunbeam, Scott, Matchless and others.

NSU Quickly

The NSU Quickly was I think, the first bike we ever got. It cost the princely sum of £2 back in the late 1960s, purchased in full working order and decent condition, from Thomas Pattinson & Sons, Auctioneers, in Crawcrook. These days, an NSU Quickly can bring up to £2,000! Dad spent most Saturday mornings at Tommy Pats, and I often went with him. On winter mornings the pot bellied fire in the middle of the saleroom would be glowing red, but it would still take time to heat up the old sheds. They had a wooden cafe on site…which probably should have been condemned. But they made tea, horrid instant coffee, bacon and sausage sandwiches with cake if you wanted it. Happy days.

Dad bought a lot of ‘useful bargains’ from Tommy Pats…the NSU was followed by one or two Suzuki 50cc bikes and a Malaguti for one of my brothers. Dad bought 2,500 light fittings and diffusers for about £200 I think. The local electrician, Jimmy Nichol, was going to install them and they’d split the profit…until they discovered they were an obsolete type. Most of my TVs came from the auction…buy three for a pound each and swap valves until you got a worker.

Clara Vale Pithead Baths (later Dads company offices)

What was left went to the tip along Lead Road, between Apperley Dene and Scales Cross. Once there, we used to throw bricks at the TV tubes from behind a skip, until they imploded with a bang.

Luckily, Dad had bought the old Community Centre in Clara Vale, from where he ran his engineering business. I think it cost him £250 because no one wanted it at the time. Once he moved the business to the pithead baths building, the old Community Centre became a useful repository for his ‘collection’. The colliery, which the baths served, closed on the 5th February 1966. I can still remember driving around the old colliery site with Dad. Here’s a picture of the pithead baths around the time Dad bought them; mid 1970s at the latest I think. The colliery site is now a nature reserve.

The Community Centre was sold and then demolished, before a small housing development took its place. Dad also owned the old colliery ambulance station. It’s one of the few buildings still surviving, and it’s used by a chap who restores old vehicles. Dad had it full to the roof with stuff.

Gaunt Suzuki

I later progressed to a 125cc Gaunt Suzuki then a 125cc Alta Suzuki, both from Peter Quinn in Gateshead. There was a trials school at Hedley Drift near Stocksfield; I attended that and had a lot of fun. When Dad went to motorcycle trials on his Bultaco 325cc Sherpa, my brother and I would take our bikes and ride around; some of the parts between ‘sections’ seemed worse than the sections themselves.

We used to holiday in Palnackie at a farm called South Glen. The farmer and his wife, Ackie and Helen Bell, became great family friends…I still see Helen to this day. We used to take our bikes up on holiday and ride around the hillside near the farm; we never damaged anything on the farm.

At 16 I took two crash damaged Suzuki AP50s from Jimmy Hardy’s garage in Crawcrook and made them into one, like new bike…it had only 1,500 miles on the clock. I had no keys for it so I gingerly contacted the previous owner of the main bike I’d used. She still had the keys and sent them to me…I rewarded her with a big box of chocolates. Next was a visit from the local CID to make sure the bike was as it should be and not a ringer…it had been originally written off. I spent ages chatting with them about the work I’d done on the bike.

Part of Dad’s ‘Collection’

We even appeared on BBC’s Swap Shop with the bikes, back in the mid 1970s. I remember Madeleine Stringer was Miss UK and was also on the show that day. I still have the signed photo somewhere…Google says it was 1977.

Here’s one of the pictures the BBC took for Swap Shop of one of Dad’s sheds. There were several sheds and there were bikes outside too.

I remember the 1950s Norton International and Norton 500T Dad once had…he and Mum went courting on that bike, Mum sometimes falling asleep with her arms around him on the ride home. I have a picture showing two somewhat decrepit LE Velocettes; one was hand change I think. Their registration numbers were BWY 440B and WBB 31. I got both of them running using 6v lamp batteries liberated from servitude by the side of the road.

A brace of LE Velocettes

I wonder if these two bikes still exist? I’ve actually just checked, and both come up ‘Vehicle details could not be found’.

Personally, I thought they were dreadful motorcycles.

Once 17 came along, I got a car…and motorcycles took a back seat as life moved along.