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Geoff Cannell, TT News, 2005
Bill Holt and the TT Races

Riding with his brother on the family farm Bill with one of the bulls at Higham Park Farm Bill in the 1930's on one of his motorcycles
Bill (right) & brother Harry at home 1930
Bill with one of the bulls
Bill on one of his motorcycles in the 1930's

Born 1910 at Teeton Grange, he came to Higham Park Farm when his father took the tenancy in 1914 and remained there until he retired from farming in 1971. He then moved to the Isle of Man, where he had been several times to the TT races. Bill died there on the 28th November 2007.

This interview was printed in the TT News 2005

"Geoff Cannell has a yarn with Bill Holt who first visited the island for the 1927 Senior TT"

94 and still a TT fan

NEARLY 80 years after he first came to the TT, a Castletown man is looking forward to this year's event with undiminished enthusiasm. Ninety-four-year-old Bill Holt is a retired farmer from Northamptonshire who moved to the Island in 1971, along with wife Kate.

Since then he has taken a great interest in the local motorcycling scene and still saunters down to the paddock area when meetings take place on the nearby Billown Circuit.

It was in 1927 when Bill and a party of friends travelled over for the Senior TT on a day trip laid on by Motor Cycling magazine. It entailed setting off at six o'clock the previous night and being on the go for 36 hours.

After the train and boat journey via Fleetwood, the gang arrived in the Island and made its way to Cunningham's Camp for breakfast. Travel to Creg-na-Baa was on an elderly coach and the more energetic (including Bill, naturally) hiked up to Keppel Gate.

Nothing unusual about that — but the return was a little different. The coach had disappeared from the Creg so the lads simply walked back to Douglas — along the road­side — with the race still in its closing stages.

Bill explained: 'It didn't seem dangerous. Each time a bike came we just tucked into the hedge. Along the way they encountered Jimmy Simpson who flung his AJS into the bank after its engine blew up in a big way.

On the stretch from Kate's Cottage to the Creg there was still grass in the centre of the road and riders opted for whichever rut looked preferable. At nearly lOOmph!

Further down they helped a rider get his rear chain back on to ensure a finish and ended up back at the Grandstand watching the successful machines being stripped down for engine size verification.

'No scrutineers' garages in those days Bill twinkles. 'The bikes were just worked on at the side of the road. Not even a bell tent as the exotic motors were split down.'

In fact it had been quite an eventful Senior. The new overhead cam Nortons  were  favourites  and Stanley Woods duly set the pace, becoming the first  to lap the Mountain Course in under 32 min­utes. But a slipping clutch caused him to retire, letting team-mate Alec Bennett  through  to win Second was Jimmy Guthrie- on a New Hudson, later to become Norton's top flight.

Bill made it back the following year and recalls the wet conditions which bedevilled the Senior. 'It poured down all day, but when you're only 18 it doesn't seem to matter, he grins, pointing to the many soakings that competing in and watching motorcycle trials for the next 70 years would bring.

Charlie Dodson splashed through to win on his inappropriately named Sunbeam, but again Simpson was out of luck, [nicking up when leading and having set the fastest lap.

Bill didn't return to the Island until the 1965 International Six Days Trial but in between accumulated a fund of stories from his time in Northamptonshire.

Included is his ride in the 1935 Scottish Six Days Trial where he had scrounged an ex-works 500 Triumph Tiger 90. In those days the event was more or less an enduro and lots of speed was needed.

There were a few observed sections, but it was mainly blasting along the tracks.

'The souped-up racing engine was too much for me,' says Bill. 'I would have been happier on my usual docile Ariel'.

Bill's nephew Tony Holt went on to become an Ariel factory rider in the late Fifties.

'One of the things which made the Scottish such fun was seeing how far the riders could get ahead of the ancient Chevrolet luggage truck, because each night's halt was at a different location. We once had to wait a couple of hours as the old wagon wheezed its way up to the Highlands.'

Back in Northants, with 600 acres to farm, there was little let-up and when war came a further 400 acres were added across the A6 road. Bill recalls a special Visitor' who literally dropped in one evening in1938. 'I was out with the tractor and a light plane circled overhead for a time,' he explained. 'As dusk fell it landed in one of our big fields and out stepped none less than Britain's Air Minister Lord Londonderry, accompanied by his aide.'

Apparently he had been returning from a shooting trip to Scotland and the pilot had lost his way when following the main railway line which diverted nearby. Bill got out his old Wolseley 10 and squeezed the threesome in to get help at Rushden. But it soon became obvious the old banger wouldn't make it so the VIPs were deposited at Rushden and had to go on to London by taxi.

'I was asked to make the plane secure by roping it to a couple of stakes I had to hand, then the RAF collected it next day.

'Some time afterwards I found out they had left my mother a side of venison. Later still came a personal letter of thanks from the Minister'.

Once the decision was made to sell up the farm and move to the Isle of Man, Bill's enthusiasm for bikes was enhanced and to this day he retains a direct interest in the trials and enduro activities of son Nick (once a British Top 35 moto-crosser) and grandson Jonathon Lee.

Nick still rides in the Manx Classic Two Day and Jonathon the main Manx National Two Day.

So if you see a very spritely well-dressed gentleman in the Southern 100 paddock area be sure to spare a few minutes for a yarn. You'll not go unentertained, as Bill Holt gets his extremely witty and sharp mind round a fund of stories of bikes, cars and farming over a period in excess of 80 years.


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