When you spend a bit of time in a small village community like Horndean, you meet all sorts of friendly people. The place, while still calling itself a village, unfortunately these days has become an extension of the vast suburban sprawl spreading out from Portsmouth. But the way of thinking of its inhabitants, and the way in which life goes on, is the way I remember village life when I was a small boy in my home county here in Suffolk on the east coast of England in the late forties and during the nineteen-fifties.
Horndean’s boundaries these days are suburban streets for the most part. The village proper sits at the bottom of a hill, dominated by the tall tower with flags flying of Geo Gales Brewery, on the London road.
The little village square surrounded by the sub Post Office, Co-op, travel agent, Indian curry house and two pubs is where the monument to the fallen war heroes of the village and surrounding countryside, sits beneath a simple white pennant with the red cross of St George, fluttering in the breeze, not the Union flag. This says just one thing – we’re English round here, not British!
Horndean’s people are some of the best you could wish to meet, and the place to meet them is in the Ship and Bell, the heart of the village. If you’ve been reading these posts, then you already know that…
Each year in Horndean on a Sunday in August, Geo Gale Breweries play host to one of the many vintage and veteran motorbike events popular throughout the UK. They generously make their large yards opposite the Ship and Bell, situated behind a row of company owned cottages and the brewery shop, available for the event. The staff from the Ship and Bell man the beer tents handing out pints of HSB, Butser and other Gales’ beverages to all and sundry for a pound as the day progresses.
The many bikes usually assemble a couple of hours or so before the kick-off at ten am; some of the participants stay in the Ship and Bell for the weekend. The bikes are first registered for the event and then directed by volunteer marshals to where they should park according to age and make, filling the vast yards with what has to be one of the finest displays of ancient motorbikes I have ever seen. From memory, when I saw them they numbered over eight hundred.
The event grows larger each year. Classic marques like HRD Vincent, Manx Norton, AJS, BSA, Triumph, Rudge, Vellocette, James, Villiers, all names that conjure up fond memories, and many more besides, can be seen in all their glory shining brightly in the sunshine with their proud owners giving them a last minute polish as they wait for the event to begin.
The police turn up to keep the traffic flowing through the village and when the time comes, to allow the armada of bikes to exit the area in their groups. The whole day is a friendly affair. No one causes any trouble. Young and old alike line the pavements along the road outside the brewery to get a look at and to listen to the old bikes as they roar off up the road on the first leg of their run.
They follow a prescribed route around the surrounding villages, stopping at different Gale’s pubs for a breather and to give the older bikes time to catch up. Then in the afternoon around two o’clock, they begin to return to the brewery yards having spent an enjoyable day out in the Hampshire countryside. If you get the chance, go to the event. Anyone in Horndean can tell you the date. Its free and its damned good fun for all concerned.