History of the Old Speckled Hen Run

“We were sat in a pub back in the Autumn of 1991.” (this was Dave Smith and John Watson, putting the world to rights and discussing MG events) “At the time Touring Assemblies, to give them their correct name, were just starting up. We had entered a couple during 1991 which were very good, so we thought, ‘let’s put one on in the Abingdon area’”. So, from that familiar formula involving a discussion in a pub over a beer an idea emerged!

Whilst known for being the home of MG, Abingdon was also the home of Morland’s Brewery which had been brewing beer in its Ock Street premises since 1912. As we all know, these two principal Abingdon employers came together in 1980 to celebrate MGs Golden Jubilee resulting in Old Speckled Hen (for those wishing to learn more, Safety Fast January 2009 carries an excellent article by a Morland former Head Brewer).

Going back to John & Dave “As we were drinking Old Speckled Hen at the time we thought, with its association with the legendary MG saloon, what better name for the new Tour. As for location, where better than where the cars were built and the beer brewed, Abingdon-on-Thames, of course. All this was before the brewery moved away from the town, so we took the opportunity to make an appointment to see the marketing manager to explain what we had in mind. He was happy with our plan, and for us to use the name. He then asked if we needed any other help from the Brewery; this was greatly appreciated as we had no idea how successful the venture would be.

So Morlands, now Greene King, helped us with some financial support, as they have continued to do, an excellent partnership. The original format of a 100 car limit, a start and finish at the same location, a cream tea plus a commemorative badge remains the same today.

The first couple of Tours started from ‘A’ Block car park (long gone) with Kimber House being the venue for the finishing refreshments. Records show that 103 cars took part in the first OSH Tour on June 7th 1992, so John & Dave felt it “something of a success!”.

The first few events started from the old MG factory site, but with the site being developed, in 1997 the start moved to Morlands where it remained for three years before the Magic Midget (as it was called then) pub played host, followed, in 2002 (Foot & Mouth prevented the running in 2001) by the Thames Valley Police HQ car park – a return to the old factory site! 2003 saw the start of an enjoyable relationship with Radley College from where the event has started and finished ever since.

After 10 years at the helm, Dave and John handed the wheel to the AWC, with Mike Parker and Brian Bassett organising the 2003 Tour and Mike and his band of helpers developing the event over the next few years and, I’m delighted to say, Mike is still involved.

Over the years, there have been many who have dropped the flag on the starters including Car Club Presidents and Chairmen, Abingdon Mayors and Mayoresses  and MGF designer Gerry McGovern. However, to many, it’s Bill Wallis who is synonymous with the event and the Union Flag – it’s known as Bill’s Flag. Bill started the first tour and was an ever-present welcoming figure with the flag from 2002 until his death in 2011.

The event is not just about celebrating two of Abingdon’s finest, discovering the wonderful scenery and places within 60 miles or so of Abingdon, it’s about the people and enjoying a day out in good company. To date, the Tour has attracted 797 different entrants including a number from overseas (not always driving MGs, but an enthusiast is an enthusiast and we are the Marque of Friendship) with many returning regularly. The 1997 Route Book lists “nine entries who have been with us from the start, taking part in all six tours”. One of those, John Bolt, continued to be one of the first to enter right up until 2017 when he sadly passed away.

Aside from the overseas entrants, who has travelled the furthest to join the OSH? Well, in total mileage to join us and return home, I would suspect it’s OSH regulars Helen Waddington & David Coulthard who, by my reckoning, have, so far, covered an impressive total of around 2800 miles.

We’re extremely grateful to Greene King for their support which has been, and continues to be, very much appreciated.

Foot & Mouth prevented the 2001 Tour and Covid has put paid to those of 2020 and 2021, but here’s to 2022 and the reappearance of the Old Speckled Hen Tour!

The photos are drawn from various sources so if you recognise yours, many thanks for your support, but particular thanks to Dave Smith and Colin Grant for those from the earliest tours.

Article written by Richard Martin

History of the Boxing Day Meet

The Boxing Day Run started when it was suggested by a friend that I pop over to St Giles in Oxford on Boxing Day to have a look at the vintage motorcycles. The Vintage Motorcycle Club have an event on Boxing Day, involving a meet and trial, I believe. The group meeting at St Giles went off to The White Hart at Fifield to meet others for a pint before going on to their event and I followed them.

Having told one or two ex-bikers at our local natter (then held at The Flowing Well, Sunningwell) a few of us went again the following year, after which someone siuggested that it would be nice to have a car run, so I took up the challenge and have been organising it ever since.

Following the re-organisation of Oxford’s traffic system, we started to gather in Abingdon, as it is easier to get to and gives us better options for routes. Also, our natter location changed to the Foxcombe Lodge Hotel where, until 2006, the run finished. Now the run finishes at The Dog House, Frilford and, depending on the alterations to Abingdon town centre, we will continue to meet in the Market Square for the start.

Text: John Harris
Photos: Malcolm Bailey and Martin Charles

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