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West Hamley Slot Car Club- A Brief History

At the end of the 1950's, West Hamley, as I came to know it, was a typical small English provincial town. To the north lay a major city, to the south, another. It was just west of a large market town and east of an even bigger one. A muddy river crossed by a sturdy 17th century stone bridge separated it from East Hamley, which was rarely visited by the local people, unless for the annual cricket match. The quiet high street, at that time devoid of parked cars or other obstructions, was broken at it's mid-point by a single-track railway crossing with white picket gates. Nevertheless, crammed against the narrow pavements were a Butcher's shop, a Baker's, a Greengrocer's, a Tobacconist-Newsagent and sweetshop, an ironmonger's, a small Post office, a Fish-and-Chip shop, a Library, and perhaps most significantly, a modest hobby supply, which sold balsa wood aeroplanes and tapestry items. Behind the shops on one side of the street lay the parish church of St.Ain's, whose cracked peal of bells rang out hesitantly twice on Sundays, and the school. On the other side was the railway station, a wooden Victorian edifice with dull maroon paint peeling from the barge-boards. At each end of the street was a unkempt green plot dominated by the town's pubs; to the north was the 'Hapless Traveller', known locally as 'the Hopeless', a mock-Tudor building offering warm beer and cold pies. Standing opposite to it at the south end was the 'Sinking Ship', known as the 'Sink', or more usually the 'Stink'. This was a narrow-windowed mock-Georgian Inn of singularly sinister appearance, and a surly clientele.
The men of the town drank, the women worked, and the children played truant and stole apples or hubcaps according to the season. As the simple, confident spirit of the 50's ebbed away into the uncertainty of the 60's, the town council became anxious. The children had evolved a particularly sophisticated and popular pastime, which involved scooping dog waste from the street, of which there was much to choose from, and wrapping it carefully in newspaper. The parcel would then be laid on a doorstep and lit by one child, while another rang the doorbell. The rascals would then run to a hidden vantage point and watch as the innocent householder opened their door to find a flaming package, and unwarily attempt to stamp it out. The game was amazingly successful. Even when it became well known amongst the wary townsfolk, the panic-driven instinct to put out the flames inevitably led to disastrous results.
It was at this point that the vicar, the Rev. Counter, and his verger Mr Stools called a Parish meeting to discuss the future well being of the town. How the Scalextric Salesman found out about it is anyone's guess, but he was there, a slim and shady figure in a trilby hat and grey suit, with odd gimlet-blue eyes and an eager manner. He was ready with the answer. `There's trouble, right here in West Hamley', he famously said, punching the table. 'Trouble, with a capital T and that reminds me I take it with a little milk and three spoons of sugar. Thank you. Do you have any biscuits?'
Having won the parish council's confidence he outlined his plan. A Scalextric layout (he recommended the LeMans set with flyover, chicane and D-type Jaguars) installed in the Church Hall would offer the youngsters innocent diversion and entertainment come rain or shine. He had contracts ready in his brief case, and a long list of stock and accessories for the Hobby shop. Agreement was quickly reached, for the Rev. counter and Mayor Snest were both keen followers of Stirling Moss's recent successes on the Grand Prix circuits of Europe.
Well, what follows is history. The local 'teenagers' as they were by then known, were enthralled. The inflammatory attacks ceased, apples remained on the trees and hubcaps stayed on the increasing number of cars that visited the town. The Church hall was packed every Tuesday for the race meetings, and soon every evening would find a crowd of kids, and their fathers, diligently practicing and tuning their cars. The Hobby shop flourished and grew, selling more and more track pieces to the kids and sending constant letters of thanks to the enigmatic Scalextric Salesman (and the dreadful events of the day when the Salesman came back to collect on his investment is another gripping and well-loved story in the annals of West Hamley). The expanding track soon outgrew the Church hall. When the Women's Institute, the Mother's Union, the Temperance Society and the Sunday School could no longer accommodate their weekly meetings beside the burgeoning rubber circuit, new premises were sought. The club moved briefly to the unused basement of the Methodist church across the river in East Hamley, and then to its now permanent location in the old vacuum-cleaner warehouse in the disused industrial estate half a mile down the railway, which was itself closed down in 1967.
West Hamley Slot Car Club is just one of many throughout the U.K. It has survived times of glut and times of drought in the slot car hobby. The old rubber circuit was re-laid with plexitrack late in 1964, a scale quarter-mile drag strip was installed in 1967, and in 1968 a routed hardboard track was built, featuring eight lanes, high-speed banking and electronic lap counting. Two years later the `sandtex' surface was recovered with polyurethane, and the National Finals were held there in 1971. Slot racing slid into decline internationally over the next few decades, but the West Hamley club was a local phenomenon and a law unto itself. The weekly race meetings never stopped, and doting fathers brought new generations of hot thumbs to the track. It survived the dreadful Wing-car Wars, the Spongie streetfights, when black fought with blue and orange, and the collapse of western democracy. When commercial supplies dried up, the kids simply spent their weekends scratchbuilding and restoring old components. The local school became well known for it's prodigious engineering department, and sent unprecedented numbers of boys and girls to University and to the highest levels of the design and technology industry. The local following is still dedicated and loyal and has produced such well-known racers as Clint Finger, and the late lamented 'Fast' Freddie Frampton. Frampton's death led to the welcome involvement of the famous Inspector Thumb, who personally investigated the numerous violent deaths that took place at weekly intervals over the following years. The dramatised television film series that was made of these events became an unexpected worldwide hit, making a star of the veteran actor Florian Delgado and his vintage Lotus. The place also seems to have become a magnet for extra-terrestrial visitors, perhaps intrigued by a hobby which has no equivalent on their home planet. The many mysterious and inexplicable happenings have caught the attention of Hollywood director Speven Steelburg, and a spectacular movie is now in the works.
West Hamley itself has become barely distinguishable from the sprawling commercial cities that surround it. The high street is now occupied by Burger bars and Coffee houses, just like every other high street. The 'Sinking Ship' finally sank into the ground and became the multi-storey car park. The Fish-and-chip shop is now the 'Curry in a Hurry' takeaway, the old Railway Station is now a Toyota showroom, and the Library is a video rental business. But the Hobby shop is still there, one of the last remaining in the country, kept alive by the dedicated slot racers who still populate the town. The club in the old vacuum-cleaner warehouse still flourishes, and the legend of West Hamley grows with each passing day. As Scalextric joins the new millennium with a revived global following, the reputation of the best club in the world will surely become ever greater.
My crude descriptions of the many exciting adventures of the Slot Car Racers of West Hamley have been passed onto a few fellow enthusiasts over the years, circulated around the less notorious clubs that perpetuate this entrancing pastime of ours, and even reached the pages of obscure journals from time to time. The original paper is now torn and the print fading, but thanks to the typing skills and the home computer of my young assistant Ms Lola Chevrolet, these old stories may now be revived and passed on to a new generation of slot car racers and collectors.

It's my fault these have not been posted in the right order RR
 
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