They will never know what they started. Back in the early days of the Abingdon factory its runaround became spattered with paint from the paint shop giving it a mottled appearance, the workers calling it “the owld speckled ‘un.” This became corrupted to the “old speckled hen” and, just like the paint, the name adhered. Nearly fifty years later, in 1979, to celebrate 50 years of MG in Abingdon the local brewer, Morlands, produced a commemorative beer, naming it after that van and so Old Speckled Hen beer came into being. Morlands were later acquired by Greene King, but, ever supporting the MG marque, the brewery continued with the Old Speckled Hen brew. A very nice brew it is too. I wonder how many classic car events are named after a beer.
Only a week to zero hour and everything was under control; the route had been plotted, surveyed, double checked and then triple checked, the route books had been prepared and printed, the MSA permit was on file, the start and finish and lunch venues booked, fine weather ordered. Everything was spot on, nothing could possibly go wrong, or could it? We completely underestimated the power of those evil little gremlins and three days before the big day (D Day minus three!) the caterer realised that he had a double booking and had no choice but to bale out. In any lesser organisation this would have created panic and confusion but that efficient, well oiled machine that is the AWC swung into action, completely unphased by this glitch. Abingdon was scoured for all those vital supplies – bikkies, jam, cream, tea, coffee, sugar, milk and, of course, scones. On the big day those magnificent AWC ladies, plus the odd gent, leapt into the breech, swapping driving gloves for rubber gloves and rally jackets for aprons.
The traditional starting point of the Old Speckled Hen Run, the historic and imposing Radley College, just a stones throw (if you have a very strong throwing arm) from Kimber House was a sight to behold. Those fine, imposing school buildings were completely overshadowed by over eighty MGs arrayed on each side of the drive. On one side the grand old school and on the other side sweeping green playing fields provided a fine backdrop to our cars. Route books and rally plaques were issued and one by one the cars set out, under the stone arch and waved off by the Union Flag, wielded by Club Chairman, Bill Silcock. Oxfordshire is the MG’s home ground and the narrow, winding lanes were clearly designed with the MG in mind. A meandering sixty mile run took us to the imposing Rousham House. Set in its extensive gardens it made a spectacular setting for our cars and our picnic. This fine old house dates back to 1635 and is still in the ownership of the same family, that must be some sort of a record.
After lunch an easy thirty mile drive, over the Thames, through Abingdon and back to Radley College. It seemed so frightfully British, sitting on the balcony of the pavilion with our traditional cream tea and gazing over those verdant playing fields. All that was missing was the whack of ball on willow and the cries of “owzat.” Rather brought to mind that painting by Kevin Walsh, the one with the M Type beside the village green.
It may or may not be true that behind every successful man there is a woman but it is certainly true that behind every successful event there is a dedicated band of workers. Tony and Lin excelled themselves in planning the route and preparing an excellent set of route instructions. Malcolm handled the entries, Tony no 2 looked after the regalia sales, Richard and Gill acted as co-ordinators on the day and the parking marshals and pressganged catering ladies all did a faultless job. We had a terrific run but our workers sacrificed their chance to participate and to them all it is a huge “thank you.” We must also thank our principal sponsors, Greene King Brewery and the MG specialist, Summit Motors of Maidenhead. The support of these businesses play a significant part when calculating the entry fee and, in turn, we should give them our support. Finally, of course, we must thank those unknown workers whose van inspired the naming of that iconic beer and the equally iconic Old Speckled Hen Run. Without them we would have neither the beer nor the run.
Text: Mike Gething. Photos: Malcolm Bailey.