A friend for life – 66 years with a 98cc Bown

Ted Fletcher tells the story of the Bown lightweight he bought brand new for £72 in 1952 – and still owns to this day.

In the autumn of 1952, just before joining the Army for my National Service, I saw a smart little 98cc Bown motorbike for sale brand new in Boston Motors’ showroom in High Street, Boston, Lincolnshire. It was a bit cheaper than its rivals, and cash was an important factor in those days.

The price was £72, and with road tax and fully comprehensive insurance costing 17s 6d each, it was on the road for 35 shillings.

I’d been lodging away and working lots of overtime, so had the money to buy the Bown outright. I knew I’d be joining up in January 1953, so after the initial running-in, the bike was laid up for a few months. The winter of 1952-3 was really bad, and when I joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers at Blandford, the accommodation was in wooden ‘H’-block huts with one coke pot boiler in the middle of each leg. It was really cold, and we recruits were kept busy from 6am until 10pm and often later.

The Bown had a sprung single seat and rear carrier, but its general build was so basic that it looked almost skeletal. Imagine those long six-hour journeys from Boston to Malvern and back!

After passing out from Blandford, I was posted to No 9 Basic Trade Training Battalion at Malvern, Worcestershire, where the electricians’ course was intensive, and with no slacking. While there,
I applied to have my motorbike on the camp premises – you just couldn’t park without permission in those days.

Long journey

Before joining up, I lived in Boston, and after permission for my bike was granted I rode the Bown from there to Malvern. I’d never travelled very far by road at all, so out came an old AA book so that I could plan my route.

The Bown’s 98cc Villiers two-stroke engine has two speeds – slow and a bit faster. My chosen route was via Grantham, Melton Mowbray, Leicester, Coventry, Warwick, Stratford-upon-Avon and Evesham – a grand total of 146 miles – and by the time I reached Malvern after an almost non-stop journey of more than six hours, the engine petered out – or rather the 16:1 petroil mixture did.

By laying the bike on its side, I got enough fuel into the carburettor to get me to Blackmore Camp.

While passing through Stratford, which I’d never seen before, I had a bit of a wander round, leaving the bike unlocked by the side of the pavement by the Shakespeare Theatre, and doing the same thing at Ann Hathaway’s Cottage. Try doing that today! There were no double yellow lines or traffic wardens back then, so you could park anywhere.

At weekends when I wasn’t on duty, I rode the Bown around the beautiful countryside of Worcestershire and Herefordshire and along the Severn Valley, and after living in flat, featureless south Lincolnshire, the scenery was too good to be true.

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