The Squir­rel Ho­tel col­lec­tion

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Pho­to­graphs and in­for­ma­tion supplied by Mick Wood

Just north­west of the city of Manch­ester lies the town of Hor­wich, with a pop­u­la­tion of about 20,000. Typ­i­cal of the north mid­lands, Hor­wich had a man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try and tex­tile base, lo­co­mo­tive work­shops and an air­craft in­dus­try which be­gan with de Hav­il­land and is now part of Bri­tish Aerospace. It also had plenty of pubs, one of which was the cu­ri­ously-named Squir­rel Ho­tel, which stood on the Bolton Road. A fea­ture of the Squir­rel was a huge car park, al­though few peo­ple owned cars and this area was a ma­jor re­fresh­ment stop for the nu­mer­ous buses and coaches that plied the main road. It was a pop­u­lar spot for coaches full of hol­i­day­mak­ers on their way north to the sea­side at­trac­tions at Black­pool. The orig­i­nal ho­tel dat­ing back to the 19th cen­tury, was de­mol­ished in the 1960s and much smaller li­cenced premises erected at the rear of the site. It was in this struc­ture that the li­cencee and owner, Eric Bid­dle, es­tab­lished a mu­seum which was home to what would to­day be de­scribed as a trea­sure trove of rac­ing mo­tor­cy­cles. Mick Wood, who sub­se­quently im­mi­grated to Aus­tralia and served as a sub­mariner in the RAN, was born in Hor­wich and has fond mem­o­ries of The Squir­rel. A trea­sured pos­ses­sion is a set of pho­to­graphs fea­tur­ing some of the bikes that were on display. Mick takes up the story: “As a young lad of about 13, my older brother Bill sneaked me in to the ho­tel one day and I re­call the old one-armed ban­dits (the old fruit ma­chines, cher­ries, lemons and or­anges ) which I played be­fore be­ing caught and kicked out. The owner of The Squir­rel, Eric Bid­dle, had a mu­seum in the back, which was hu­mid­ity con­trolled, and housed a col­lec­tion of rare mo­tor­cy­cles and some cars,” re­calls Mick Wood. “Eric was a great lover of Nor­ton mo­tor­cy­cles and had a huge sup­ply of rare Nor­ton spares. On be­half of Jack Crowhurst, who was an Aus­tralian side­car speed­way rider and later a spon­sor of Peter Scaysbrook in His­toric rac­ing, I pur­chased a num­ber of bikes and had them shipped to Aus­tralia. One was a long-stroke 350 Feath­erbed Manx Nor­ton, and oth­ers that I bought in­cluded an Ariel Red Hunter and a Square Four. Jack also be­came a cus­tomer of Eric’s and bought a lot of Nor­ton spares to keep his two Manxes run­ning in the clas­sic races in Aus­tralia. The Ho­tel is long gone, and last time I was there it was an In­dian Restau­rant painted bright red. Now, four up­mar­ket houses oc­cupy the site. “We em­i­grated to Aus­tralia as 10 bob tourists on a ship called the Fairsky, one of four Ital­ian ships of the Sit­mar Line. Our worldly pos­ses­sions con­sisted of two suitcases of per­sonal be­long­ings, a sewing

box and my Dad’s Honda 50 step thru. We were ac­com­mo­dated at the Villa­wood Hos­tel in one of those cor­ru­gated iron half round Nis­sen type huts. We re­mained there for al­most two years un­til dad ac­quired a job. We then moved to a house in Bankstown from where I joined the Navy in June 1970. The hos­tel is now the Villa­wood De­ten­tion Cen­tre. “In Jan­uary 1979, whilst mov­ing fur­ni­ture into my mother-in-law’s new home in Mead­ow­bank, (a block of units) Jack Crowhurst came strolling up the steps and in­tro­duced him­self and within a few short mo­ments he had gone into his flat and come out again, sleeves rolled up and started car­ry­ing fur­ni­ture up the steps to as­sist us. Soon he had rigged a rope pul­ley sys­tem from the top floor win­dow down three floors and soon af­ter that, we had all the fur­ni­ture in place. “Af­ter com­plet­ing the re­moval, Jack and I sat and chat­ted and I ad­vised him I was in the Navy as a Marine Engi­neer­ing Tech­ni­cian; I think the word Engi­neer­ing got him in­ter­ested as a qual­i­fied en­gi­neer him­self. Dur­ing my Me­chani­cians course at HMAS Nir­imba (fit­ter ma­chin­ist course) I strug­gled with some of the maths as well as some as­pects of the engi­neer­ing side of things. Jack took to me like a son and to­gether we spent many nights do­ing maths and engi­neer­ing. He made it seem so sim­ple and I even­tu­ally passed and I think he was gen­uinely proud of me as I was of him. The word Me­chani­cian is a Navy term for qual­i­fied main­te­nance work­ers from mem­ory. “Af­ter com­plet­ing the Me­chani­cians course Dec 1981, at HMAS Nir­imba, I un­der­took a med­i­cal and psy­che test and was certified fit to train for sub­marines (Oberons) and was posted to HMS Dol­phin (in UK) for 5 months for parts 1 and 2 ‚

“Ex­cuse me luv, if you take the plug out of the carb air in­take it will most likely start.”

sub­ma­rine train­ing which was com­pleted on board HMS Fin­whale, a sim­i­lar sub­ma­rine to an Oberon. The Fin­whale had the pro­pel­lers re­moved so no sea time was avail­able. It was dur­ing this pe­riod from Au­gust to De­cem­ber 1981 whilst still in the UK, that Jack called me and ad­vised he had spo­ken with Eric Bid­dle at the Mu­seum and had ar­ranged to pur­chase the Manx 350 and Ariel Red Hunter. “I was the go be­tween in terms of pur­chas­ing and ship­ping the bikes. Jack then wired funds to me for pur­chas­ing the bikes, the Manx was first and the cost was 3550 pounds and that was the first prob­lem. HMS Dol­phin has a bank in situ and I joined the line at the counter to draw out the re­quired funds in cash. Most sailors in the Bri­tish Navy are not well paid and those in front of me were draw­ing on av­er­age about 20/30 pounds for the week­end and as I got to the counter, in an Aus­tralian ac­cent, I said, 3550 pounds please and the teller looked at me sur­prised, but counted out 355 pounds for me and I said, sorry, I want 3550 pounds. Ob­vi­ously this had not hap­pened be­fore for that amount of cash and the room went very quiet and the teller looked at me very se­ri­ously and said, ‘are you jok­ing?’ to which I said no! It be­came ap­par­ent that the bank did not carry suf­fi­cient cash and that I would need to go into town. I did this and was very ner­vous trav­el­ling by train to Hor­wich with this amount of cash. “I ar­rived at the mu­seum and spoke with Eric and the cash was handed over and Eric kindly had the bike de­liv­ered to my mother’s house in Chor­ley about 5 miles from Hor­wich. The bike was pushed into the house and took up res­i­dence in mum’s sunken bath­room were it re­mained prior to ship­ping. “The mu­seum it­self was well or­gan­ised and was air con­di­tioned to keep the bikes in pris­tine con­di­tion. Eric ad­vised that due to ill health, in par­tic­u­lar his eye­sight, he was re­luc­tantly sell­ing his beloved col­lec­tion. I do re­call there be­ing a BSA Gold Star there as well as other im­pres­sive bikes. Eric also had prob­a­bly one of the best range of Nor­ton spares of which Jack pur­chased some as re­quired for rac­ing. Jack then or­gan­ised fur­ther fund­ing sent straight to Eric to pur­chase the Red Hunter Ariel, which like the Manx was de­liv­ered to mum’s house and took up res­i­dence in Mum’s liv­ing room as the bath­room was full. I re­mem­ber my brother-in-law Les say­ing he can’t even get in the house with shoes on but “our Mick” can bring mo­tor bikes in. I took the Red Hunter for a ride with my sis­ter as pil­lion, as did a cou­ple of the other Aus­tralian sailors stay­ing at Mum’s with me, and to my sur­prise nearly came off when go­ing to change gear with my left foot, and found out the hard way that bikes in those days had the brake and gear shift on the op­po­site side than more mod­ern bikes. Ship­ping was done via my brother Bill, who was an in­ter­na­tional truck driver for Pick­fords and was able to ship them from within his com­pany. The bikes were crated and shipped to Liver­pool for the jour­ney to Aus­tralia. The ship the bikes were on caught fire not long af­ter leav­ing port and re­turned to port for re­pairs, luck­ily with no dam­age to the bikes.

“In Aus­tralia, Jack was ad­vised the ship­ping con­tainer had ar­rived and he needed to come to the wharfs to pick them up. On ar­rival, they were not able to lo­cate the con­tainer and Jack was ad­vised they would con­tact him when found. Some­time later Jack was ad­vised the con­tainer was now found and the bikes avail­able and again he went to pick them up. Again, the same is­sue arose and Jack fi­nally twigged, the wharfies wanted money. Af­ter pro­vid­ing $200, the bikes as if by magic ap­peared. Un­for­tu­nately, the bikes both had dam­age to their fuel tanks as the han­dle­bars had been twisted side­ways to form a skinny pro­file to fit the crates. The bikes were later fixed and Peter Scaysbrook rode the Manx in Clas­sic races with quite a bit of suc­cess. One of the fun­ni­est things I have seen hap­pen with Jack was at Ama­roo Park, with Peter. They were get­ting the Manx 350 ready for a race and they were push­ing the bike to get it started to warm it up, but the bike would not start no mat­ter what. The spark plug was re­moved sev­eral times, fuel checked, and both Peter and Jack were sweat­ing pro­fusely. Whilst push­ing the bike back to our camp, an old lady sit­ting in an old deck chair, who ob­vi­ously knew a bit about bikes shouted to Jack and said, “Ex­cuse me luv, if you take the plug out of the carb air in­take it will most likely start.” Jack was fu­ri­ous as well as em­bar­rassed but Peter and I had a good laugh any­way. Later I worked for Jack when he was em­ployed at TRW and I saw this as broad­en­ing of my knowl­edge in Engi­neer­ing and

he al­ways made sure I was given in­ter­est­ing jobs, such as cold ex­tru­sion of axles and ma­chin­ing en­gine valves. Jack also worked for Py­rotek where again I was em­ployed ma­chin­ing high tem­per­a­ture ce­ram­ics again learn­ing more engi­neer­ing as­pects.” Dur­ing the 15 years he owned the Squir­rel ho­tel in con­junc­tion with his wife Gla­dys, Eric Bid­dle wel­comed many fa­mous names to his lit­tle mu­seum, in­clud­ing John Sur­tees. The pub be­came a pop­u­lar ‘pint stop’ for mo­tor­cy­clists, and to add to the at­trac­tion, Eric would mount one of the mu­seum bikes on the bar. In a jour­nal a few years back, Eric was quoted thus. “A big “Hello!” to all mo­tor­bike en­thu­si­asts out there. My name is Eric Bid­dle and I’ve never been with­out a bike since ac­quir­ing a Sid­ney Gleaves Spe­cial in 1936 when I was 16. Over the years I’ve been the proud owner of many bikes – some of you may re­mem­ber “The Squir­rel Col­lec­tion” of over 50 rac­ing ma­chines when I was land­lord of “The Squir­rel Ho­tel” at Hor­wich, Lan­cashire, Eng­land. “One of my all-time favourites was a 350cc out­side fly­wheel Manx Nor­ton rid­den by Ray Amm in 1954, the last time Nor­ton en­tered a fac­tory team in the TT. This is the last com­plete, to­tally orig­i­nal ma­chine of four that were built and was sold to John Sur­tees. Al­though I only have room for one or two bikes now I haven’t lost any of my en­thu­si­asm for them and still have a large col­lec­tion of pic­tures and in­for­ma­tion. I would love to hear from any­one else who is mad about clas­sic Bri­tish bikes.” Eric Bid­dle passed away in 2008 aged 87. Jack Crowhust died in Syd­ney in 2009, aged 79.

ABOVE The last traces of the Squir­rel – the In­dia Palace Restau­rant – un­der de­mo­li­tion. LEFT The Squir­rel Ho­tel boarded up and de­serted.

Mick Wood with Eric Bid­dle at the Squir­rel Ho­tel.

The DOHC 500 Nor­ton rid­den by Ge­off Duke and Ar­tie Bell at Montl­h­ery, France to a world record of 111.85mph for two hours. Note the spe­cial fuel tank. The 1952 350 Manx Nor­ton pur­chased by Jack Crowhurst. In the form shown in the mu­seum, it was fit­ted with ex-works rear shocks.

Works 350cc KTT Ve­lo­cette, rid­den by Les Gra­ham to win the 1951 Swiss Grand Prix. The Mk1 KTT Ve­lo­cette known as ‘Roar­ing Ann’; at one time holder of 50 world records and rid­den to 2nd place in the 1927 and 1928 TTs by Harold Wil­lis.

1930 two-speed Scott Squir­rel. 1929 Ex­cel­sior JAP 250 rid­den at Brook­lands by Eric Ferni­hough.

Peter Scaysbrook (7) on the 350 Manx at Ama­roo Park.

1961 7R AJS, fi­nal form of the fa­mous 350cc racer. First of the plunger frame In­ter­na­tional Nor­tons supplied in ‘Manx Rac­ing Trim’ to a cus­tomer in Ger­many.

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