In 1938, when Hugo ‘Vic’ Edenborough opened the Ace Café on the brand new North Circular Road in North West London, little did he know he was starting a legend that would continue long after his demise. A year later, the Bedford Transport magazine reported that the 350ft wide frontage formed part of one of the country’s largest lorry parks and the centrally heated facilities were some of the best in the country. With 110 seats, and kitchen standards that would easily grace a restaurant, its financial future looked set. But, while the world of heavy haulage would undoubtedly benefit, it was the world of motorcycling that was to bring it fame and fortune and make it one of the world’s most iconic cafés, and Ian Kerr headed to the Smoke for a closer look at an icon.
The Ace was rebuilt and reopened after suffering bomb damage during the Second World War, thanks to its close proximity to the train marshalling yards at Willesden Junction.
Maintaining and improving its pre-war standards, it would become the spiritual home of many motorcyclists, not only in the area, but for many travelling from much further afield, helped by its links to the increasing arterial network.
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Adjacent was a multi-brand petrol station, workshops and car wash (all owned and run by Vic Edenborough) and it was just a stone’s throw from Wembley Stadium, the home of the famous Wembley Lions speedway team which attracted, at times, close to 100,000 motorcycle fans, many of whom would visit the 24-hour café on their way home.
In 1969 Vic Edenborough was 70, the Ace finally closed its doors.
Move forward to 1994, when a mounted policeman with a passion for a different sort of horsepower – Mark Wilsmore – organised a reunion to mark the 25 years since the closure.
Neither he, nor any of those involved in the organisation of the day, could have imagined that the one-day event would attract 12,000 bikes and start a demand for its rebirth.
What then followed was years of negotiation with the tyre company by Wilsmore, partial weekend opening in 1997, before the property was purchased and restored to its former glory and reopened in 2001thanks to his efforts in building a management team and raising the capital.
Since then it has once again become an iconic must visit place for the motorcyclist and petrolhead, with almost daily gatherings of various motoring and motorcycle clubs.
Each year though in early September, it repeats that 1994 event with a reunion which now takes three days with many arriving from all over the world (literally) on the Friday evening before the main event on Saturday with a run to Brighton (the Burn Up) to coincide with the ‘Speed Trials’ on the Sunday, another link to the past!
So, this year was the 26th anniversary event, which nicely coincided with the 60th anniversary of the 59 Club, resulting in a Saturday run of 100 bikes to All Saints Church in Hanworth, one of Bill Shergold’s original parishes in1957.
A stage in the car park boomed out rock and roll with DJs and live bands keeping the assembled throng entertained as they enjoyed the sunshine.
While many of the thousands of visitors were too young to have been around in its heyday, it does attract a few that were, displaying clothing from the period as well as latter-day ‘coffee cowboys’ who have embraced the genre.
Certainly the annual September reunions are a chance to enjoy a party atmosphere at the Ace, but it is worth a visit at any time to tick off your bucket-list of motorcycling iconic venues and remember how the café culture started – giving a home and a feeling of belonging to motorcyclists who were often shunned by other establishments.
View more images and read more News and Features in the November 2019 issue of Old Bike Mart – on sale now!