The Nursery Hotel
John Dalton is a long-time resident of the Isle of Man. Here he recounts a story all-but lost in the annals of time.
The Nursery Hotel in Onchan (near Douglas) was built in the early 1800s and was owned by the Spittle family. It was originally a house (Birch Hill House) for the head gardener, a Mr Peter Polind. Before it became a hotel, the grounds around the house were used as a garden nursery, hence the eventual name for the hotel. The house and grounds were later sold to brewers, Castletown Ales, and the house converted to a 12-room hotel. The buildings behind the hotel were used as workshops at TT and Manx GP times by many individuals and teams, including the Velocette works team. Castletown Ales was later bought out by Herron and Brearly who continued to run the Nursery as a pub, but under their ownership the managers changed quite frequently. The hotel was closed down in 1988 when a new pub called the Archibald-Knox (named after a local artist) was built in front of the Nursery. In 1959 when Honda first entered the TT, they stayed at the Nursery, bringing their own food and a cook. As the Ultra Lightweight TT was held on the shorter Clypse Course (which ran through Onchan) rather than the Mountain Course, the location was ideal. Honda brought with them four Benly Super Sport motorcycles which were fitted with 150cc barrels and pistons rather than the standard 125cc,
their reasoning being that the extra capacity would help them climb the mountain to Creg ny Baa. This was the first time that these models had been seen outside Japan and they caused quite a stir. The team bikes were five RC141 models, with DOHC twin cylinder engines, six speed gearboxes, dry clutches and Keihin flat-slide carburettors. Two motorcycle reporters of the time, David Dixon and John Griffiths, were lucky enough to be given a test ride on the Benlys. They both gave the bikes glowing reports in their motorcycle papers of the day. Interestingly Steve Griffiths, the son of the late John Griffiths, is now a motorcycle trader specialising in finding rare parts for the Honda Benly Super Sport model which was produced only from 1959-1964. Steve is a very helpful chap and has helped me find parts for my own Benlys. None of these 1959 TT practice machines are known to exist. At the time the bikes were also used as runabouts during the TT week. In the photographs of the Benlys, taken by ex-racer Jeff Bain, it shows the air scoop fitted to help cooling for the rear of the engine. These bikes had aluminium alloy fuel tanks, alloy rims, front mudguard, tool box cover and battery cover. The hubs and brake plates were made from magnesium alloy. By 1961 the ‚
fuel tank had been changed to steel and through the years some of the other parts also changed but the bike retained its racing lines to the end in 1964.
Three years ago I was living just half a mile from the former Nursery Hotel and I worked for Manx Glass who are the biggest glass company on the island. A work colleague at the time was Mr Roy Moore who is a well-informed and welcoming voice on Manx Radio for the Manx Grand Prix. Roy mentioned that when he was a young lad he collected autographs from TT racers and had in one of his books some of the Japanese racers from the 1959 TT. In 1959 the Nursery Hotel had two paths up to it. The longer path was never used and had a closed gate at the end. Early one morning a race bike was started up. Two young boys lived across the road from the hotel and went to investigate this motorcycle noise. They saw the bike being warmed up and then ridden up the long path at quite a pace, but with leaves and moss on the unused pathway the rider came to the closed gate at speed, hit the brakes, and down he went. This was Honda’s first crash in the Isle of Man, and the boys who witnessed the event were none other than Roy Moore and Geoff Cannel, who became the “voice” of the TT and member of the House of Keys (Manx Parliament). During TT week in 1992, I held a Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club get-together in the grounds of the closed and boarded-up Nursery Hotel. I took a photo on that day of three Honda Benly Super Sports bikes belonging to members who had come to the site. Quite a few VJMC members came to the Nursery Hotel on that day. Late in 1992 the local Shoprite chain bought the hotel and its grounds, which was fenced off and knocked down in 1993 and the plot covered in tarmac. In 1999 a new store was built on the site. It is a pity that Honda could not have had the foresight to buy the hotel from the Isle of Man with their blessing and turn it into a tourist attraction/ museum as Honda’s first step to the TT races. In 2009, as part of Honda’s 50th anniversary in the Isle of Man, one of the team’s original riders – Naomi Taniguchi, who finished 6th in the 125cc TT, earning a Silver Replica – was staying at a hotel in Douglas with friends from Japan. I had ridden my own CB92 Benly Super Sport to the hotel and Mr Taniguchi came out of the hotel to view the bike, so I asked him (through an interpreter) if he would like to ride by CB92 for a lap of the Clypse Course. He replied that he would be happy to do so, and had brought along his leathers and helmet. I accompanied him on my C72, and Mr Sakamoto who is Editor in Chief of Yaesu Publishing in Tokyo took photos of the lap. At 73 years of age, Mr Taniguchi kept himself slim and fit so he can still ride motorcycles. What a TT week for me in 2009 – priceless, but the Nursery Hotel in 1959 was the place to be to see the new Honda racers and the start of it all.
BELOW The Honda team at work in the grounds of the Nursery Hotel in 1959. The race bikes without engines are RC141 models which have had their 2-valves per cylinder engines removed. With new 4-valve engines fitted, they would be re-classified RC142. One of the RC142s was raced by Taniguchi. 1959 Honda team riders autographs in Roy Moore’s album.
ABOVE & OPPOSITE John Dalton’s photo taken in 1992 of the boarded up Nursery Hotel and VJMC visitors’ 1964 Benlys.
Naomi Taniguchi reacquaints himselfwith the TT course in 2009.
ABOVE Air scoops fitted to help cool the rear of the cylinders on the 1959 TT practice Benly.LEFT John Dalton with Naomi Taniguchi.
Kiwi TT star Bruce Anstey tries out author John Dalton’s CB92 at the 2014 TT.