FROM THE ARCHIVE
During last year’s ‘Team Katy’ journey to further the cause of the Alzheimer’s Society, Mick Payne came across several reminders of the days when sidecar outfits played all kinds of everyday commercial roles.
We visited several local museums on our recent trip, and a seemingly recurring exhibit was the sidecar as a workhorse.
At Wick, in the far north-east of Scotland, and Mevagissey in Cornwall, local characters used sidecars for their trade as milkmen, one ‘float’ being attached to a succession of Nortons for delivering milk from the rider’s own herd to the surrounding area.
Our local ‘milky’ uses a Suzuki Carry van for deliveries – a tenuous motorcycle connection!
Before the advent of ‘White Van Man’, the commercial sidecar was a common sight on British roads, with both the RAC and AA using them, the latter usually attached to BSA side-valves while the rather more stylish blue Nortons of their rivals must have been a far more exciting proposition for their patrolmen.
There’s a fine example of an RAC outfit in the Shuttleworth Collection in Bedfordshire.
During the week, an ex-colleague’s father rode a big Royal Enfield twin attached to an open-bodied sidecar for his daily transport between Essex and London. For weekends and holidays, however, he would remove the ‘truck’ and replace it with a large saloon for family transport – a situation that would have been repeated all over the country – at least until the cheap, small van became available.
Perhaps the most memorable use for a commercial sidecar that we encountered during our trip was at Tyneham, Dorset. The village and 7500 acres were commandeered by the War Office in late 1943 to be used as firing ranges and for training troops. Some 225 people lost their homes, and although they were promised them back after the war, they were never returned.
Outside the old Post Office is a lovely restored telephone box, but more of interest to the sidecar enthusiast is the photo of the local postman. He was actually based in nearby Wareham, a town that has another motorcycle link in the Anglo-Saxon church in the form of an effigy of T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), who lived and died nearby.
The postman’s girder-forked bike is pictured with dog Rex on guard on the reasonably attractive box body. The caption also notes that the ‘Postie’ upgraded to a proper Post Office van in 1940. We can only assume that he considered it a huge upgrade.
The box sidecar is still not dead, Hedingham lists the HUB for the rider who requires extra carrying space without the need for a passenger, and until recently Watsonian also listed a box sidecar, and a few are still around.
Indeed British couple Richard and Mopsa English used such a sidecar for a round-the-world trip, motive power being Tommy the Meriden Thunderbird, and the story is recounted in their excellent book, Full Circle – a fine read if you can get a copy.
In the near future I hope to report on a rather different, modern take on the commercial sidecar that is still very much in use. Watch this space!
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