Tom Gilby’s Motorbike Myth Story - with a surprise ending!


Here’s a little story of a local ‘Motorbike Myth’ that over a long period of time haunted one of our SALHS members. Written by local engineer and vintage & classic ‘Motorbike Man’, Tom Gilby, he called it ‘Flesh on the Bones’.


     In the early 1950’s, Alf “Fella” Andrews who then ran the Cycles, Saddlers and Harness Makers Shop in Stanstead Abbotts High Street (almost opposite Stanstead Hall), told me a story he’d heard of a rare motorcycle being deliberately buried many years ago at premises in Cappell Lane (or Park Road as it was then called). Nothing specific about the location, but a rough indication and reason for the interment was given over a mug of tea and general chat about matters Motorcycling.


The story goes that a young man who lived in the lane had a fatal accident in the 1930’s at a place which was never specified, but the make of bike was rumoured to be one of the best bikes money could buy – a SCOTT, made in Saltire, Yorkshire . Such a beautiful British-made machine that if in good condition today would be the pride and joy of its owner.
















Then, we can imagine the flat-capped rider with goggles would have been the scourge of the old and the envy of the young. At the time it had little impact on me but gradually, over the following decades as I rode down Cappell Lane I would wonder if the story was true, where exactly this bike was buried and how much of it would still be useable? Or was it a myth?


     Many years on, in the 1970’s, I became friendly with an elderly chap, by the name of Alfred Dearman, who was in the same motorcycle club as myself. With a special interest in early models, he told me that he had recently bought a 1921 New Hudson motorbike, and its location was in Cappell Lane. During the purchase of his latest find, it was disclosed that the seller’s younger brother had been involved in a fatal accident in Enfield, and the same story was unfolded again, still without a specific location of the bike’s grave. But at least now we knew the area and likelihood of its fate – but without proof was it still a myth?

 

    Eight more years elapsed, and sadly Alf Dearman died. After some time, I purchased all his old bikes, and the New Hudson became mine. Checking back through the Log book I found a family name, Bunyon, this was the name of the family that had lived at the suspected “Motorcycle Graveyard”. I had the actual address in Cappell Lane! I had to track down the actual house too because house numbers had completely changed since. Quite what good this information was going to do me was another matter.


     After the passing of a further 11 years the property changed hands. I knew the buyers through my engineering trade contacts, so I was able to relate the past rumours to Brian Thomas the new owner and also a fellow engineer with an understanding in things mechanical. He was extremely interested, and keen to know where this relic might be buried, but it was not reasonable to expect that someone would want to have their estate excavated for such a scantily fleshed out story.


     More years went on, 20 in fact, and, during June 2017 on a Saturday afternoon, I received a telephone call from a wildly excited Brian Thomas. It worked out that his neighbour had been digging a hole to plant a new Apple tree, and struck something hard, thinking it might be some old brickwork. He carried on until the remains of a wheel was evident.

Tom Gilby and ‘the bones’…also in the background a youthful apple tree.

We can imagine the thoughts of the devastated parents toward the machine responsible for taking their young son away from them. We can understand taking a spade to it and burying it forever either in anger or frustration or even to prevent another young life shortened.

 

    So after nearly 70 years and dozens of times when I had passed by the property, I had wondered about the truth of this story. The one chance of a new life of an apple tree revealed it had been true and here it was in front of us but now has raised even more questions.


Who was the Man? Where was the accident? When and why was it buried? Year of manufacture of the bike is approx. 1929 and has laid in its place quietly... RIP, (not to be confused with RUST IN PEACE).

Tom Gilby                                                             Dec.2017


And now some surprising answers to Tom’s questions!

(The above was written four years ago and now, with the help of SALHS members in 2021 we can answer some of the questions above.)


More ‘flesh on the Bones’…


We can confirm the family living in the house in Cappell Lane in the 2nd quarter of the 1900’s were the Bunyons. Six brothers & sisters who, local knowledge believed, were unmarried and lived a semi-reclusive life in the Lane. They had moved to the village from Islington. However, the records tell us the “youngest brother” (believed to be the one who died on the motorbike) was in his late 50’s and none had children.

Just who was our rider then?


This is where the story might have finished until our researchers found two other Bunyon brothers still in Islington.


One was Alfred, and died in our time frame – but in Cappell Lane with his brothers and sisters in 1938. HAD WE FOUND OUR RIDER? But at 61 was he our man?


Looking into his history we found he had married and in 1907 was the father of a son. A candidate for our rider… was it then ‘a young brother’s son’ that should have been our lead?


Our team looked into his records and found that young Alfred Henry Bunyon of Islington, Middlesex, died on 7 July 1933 at the tender age of 26 at North Middlesex Hospital, Edmonton, Middlesex. Not far from his home or where the accident was rumoured to have happened and was the nephew of our Cappell Lane Bunyons.


According to the handed-down story it was believed the scene of the crash was at Southbury Road Enfield. The hospital in Edmonton 5 miles away would be the obvious place to treat our young suffering rider. Equally, being close to home, may not have been involved at all.


A search through local newspapers was fruitless, especially in order to prove if our young Bunyon or even if his father was involved in some way.

Eventually, one report (from a library in the north of England) finally came to light after a call to other experienced researchers and answered the big question but with it, a shock.


Sadly, we discovered more to the story; according to the report, tragically, the accident involved two young lives. It did name young Alfred Henry Bunyon (Jnr) as the driver. The report also mentioned another death. James Horace Griffiths aged 24 also of Islington. No doubt a good friend of Alfred’s riding pillion on the bike with him. The accident, it was reported, was on Thursday night 6th July 1933 at Church Lane, Cheshunt. Such was the impact, another vehicle involved turned over.


The shock to both their families was undoubtedly great. Alfred’s funeral (likely in London) was no doubt attended by his bereaving father and mother, Alfred & Caroline (nee Collins), and all his Cappell Lane Uncles & Aunts; Henry, Robert, Albert, Lilian, Ada & Edith Bunyon and his Islington Uncle Charles and Aunt Amelia (nee Smitten) cousins Edith, Ada, Baly & John.


The wreckage of the motorbike, we have been told, was retrieved by Waltham Abbey Police Constable Avis (from the memories of his son Bob) and brought to the village. It was most likely father Alfred or his loving brothers and sisters took the decision to bury the machine in the garden of their house.


The fate of the Motorbike now?  


The bike’s engine and gearbox, unbelievably, has been discovered in 2021 by Tom Gilby through his club contacts and had another life for nearly 90 years. From owner to owner,it is now part of someone’s collection in Hemel Hempstead.

Records from its engine number has revealed the actual year of the bike to be a 1930 Scott 498cc Sprint Special, and possibly had some competition historyit is thought, by one of our SALHS contacts, in the hands of our departed Alfred.

Finally, the story’s end; from a rumour of a buried valuable motorbike with a sad tale passed on over a cup of tea nearly 70 years to become a reality is quite a story.


But how to end it? Whether right or wrong there is an end (for now!).If the grieving father orsix Aunts and Uncles felt burying the machine should be the Bike’s fate -maybe to save the shortening of other young men lives - their decision should be respected- and was.

Now really committed to clearing this obstruction, he also found the remains of a frame section, and parts of a fuel tank, "Can you come over and see this?" Brian asked, he didn’t have to ask twice. This could have been the culmination of my 70-year-old story that was already 20 years or so old, when it got to me. After nearly 90 years…could it be?


I promptly set off and,yes! They had found the mystery item to be the remains of the Scott, in a very bad state of decay. The front end of the frame had been sawn off at the point where the full impact of a collision had bent the frame. No sign of the engine and gearbox but now we had the Bones!

Brian Thomas has now,nearly 90 years after it was made, reinterred the rusting frame back in the orchard under the turf in Cappell Lane. Tom Gilby now knows that every time he passes, the story is complete and not just a motorcycle myth. Still in the orchard, buried near an apple tree - until who-knows-when it’s rediscovered, or rusts away.…

RIP both riders and their speed machine.


Further background to the story.

Living at 33 Cappell Lane in 1939

Henry J Bunyon  B   11   April  1875  Scrap Dealer Ret.

Lilian E      "        B   17 Nov   1879 Toy& Bookseller 

Ada B.        "        B   10 May 1882     Household duties

Rob C(?)    "        B   24 July 1884      Metal Merchant

Albert W    “B    17 Aug 1886     Metal Merchant

Edith J        "        B   21 Sept 1888    Tooth & Shaving Brush maker.

Their father Henry, a London coppersmith died in the 1890’s. Mother Edith (nee Chapman) in 1927.


From local memory it transpires that the above lived a fruitful if a little reclusive life in the house in the orchard in Cappell Lane,occasionally going back into London on business. They would make beautiful dolls houses and toys for people and were mechanically creative. Albert had a vintage van in the back garden that doubled as a bedroom (the reason for this may be due to his ill brother Alfred Snr moving in and to die there 5 years after his son’s accident). They usedit to take friends, sisters and brothers to the seaside.It then became a small local attraction when a tree grew through it!  Our SALHS member’s mother’s fond memories of Edey and Ada is they had good voices and would sing up the stairs while their brother(s) would throw pennies down to encourage them…The last of our Cappell Lane Bunyons’ died in the 1970’s.


Thanks to Brian Thomas and Tom for the photos, Research by our team, Gerald Coppen, Terry Gibson, Brian Wright, Holly Bailey, important and fond memories of their mother from MaryGrethe (nee Pugh) and her sister Chris Hinson(nee Pugh) and of course Tom Gilbyfor hanging on grimly to a myth for 70 years…

Dick Dixon SALHS 2021.

And there we leave it, except a last addendum from our researchers; their discoveries continued outside our remit and found one last feature of this story. We haven’t delved into our original author Tom Gilby’s background and don’t intend to (and we hope he’s sitting down when he reads this) but it may be that incredibly, he is related to the rider of the rare motorbike in the story he held on to for so many years.

Going back in time to the early 1800’s the family of Bunyons had many offspring (fourteen children at one point) one of whom married a Gilby…When Tom picks himself off the floor we’ll let him decide if he wants to take this further…


Editors Notes from researchers;1939 information.The Bunyon family lived at 33 Cappell Lane, 3 men and 3 women, all siblings and single. The eldest Henry 64 a retired scrap metal dealer and the youngest Edith 57 a tooth and shaving brush maker (possible Addis of Hertford). Robert 55 a scrap metal merchant and Albert 53 a scrap metal dealer. Lilian 60 ran a toy and book shop and Ada 57 did the housework and kept house. They were all born, bred and worked in Islington London, they moved after 1911 with their widowed mother Emily who died in1927. Their father Henry was a coppersmith and died in the 1890's. There were 2 other brothers Charles and Alfred who left home in the 1880's.


Our rider’s father, Alfred Bunyon, born 1877 in Islington and died in Cappell Lane 1938).He married in 1906 and a son was born in 1907, Alfred Henry.(Caroline, wife and mother, lived in Roydon until her death in 1960).


From the National Probate Calendar& Registry also General Register Office (Death Certificate)

1) Our rider;Bunyon, Alfred Henry 26 years of ageof 139 Essex Rd. Islington Middlesex. Died 7 July 1933 at North Middlesex Hospital, Edmonton, Middlesex from head injuries sustained in a collision with a car which he was driving. Accident. Inquest held 11th July.  FM Hill Dep Registrar. Administration London 3 September to Alfred Bunyon metal merchant effects £284 10s 3d.


2) James Horace Griffiths. 24yrs of age. Islington Middlesex. Died 7 July 1933 at North Middlesex Hospital, Edmonton, Middlesex.


This late 1800’s/early 1900’s photo is Elizabeth (above), sister of Henry Charles Bunyon, father of the six Bunyon’s who moved to Cappell Lane from Islington and great aunt to our young departed bike rider Alfred, announcement below.

Newspaper cutting of the 7th July 1933

The Scott motorcycle was the product of Alfred Angas Scott an engineering genius born in Manningham, near Bradford in 1874.

A.A. Scott himself.

His first motorcycle was built using a homemade twin-cylinder engine installed into the steering head of a modified bicycle. He went on to produce a motorcycle which, on paper at least, would not look out of place in a modern motorcycle catalogue: his machine incorporated water cooling, all-chain drive, telescopic forks, low slung weight and a lightweight duplex frame giving superb road holding. This was in 1908 and these features were to remain an integral part of the Scott motorcycle for the next 70 years.

PS Editor’s note.

No doubt, in time, our young riders’ distant family may come to read this. If we have made any errors we apologise. We do hope we have done true justice to his and the Bunyon family’s memory.

Any further information we will be more than happy to amend.

Dick Dixon, SALHS, 2021.

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