The Ray Page Story

Ray Page was, without doubt, the epitome of a club cyclist. He was born in September 1927 at the family home near the entrance to Carding Mill Valley, famous beauty spot on the outskirts of Church Stretton. Those who knew Ray in later years held no doubts that it was his early life in these idyllic surroundings that induced hid deep love of the countryside. It was also the quietude which him room and safety when he first experimented with the art of cycling.
He wrote in Wheelmarks in 1987 that he had no recollections of learning to ride. But it was probably on an old loop-framed ladies cycle used by his mother and his older sisters. This was in the early 1930s when…’ my only ‘ wheels’ was a scooter which I foot propelled at speed round the small market town of Stretton’.
Ray went on to say that his father had an all steel Raleigh which, with its 28in, wheels was much too large for him to borrow.
On the outbreak of was in September 1939 the family moved into lodgings in Harlescott on the northern edge of Shrewsbury, the moving during April 1940 into their own house near the Severn on Underdale road. Maybe it was the frustration of living in a larger town or just the adventure for a thirteen year old boy, but soon after arriving in Harlescott Ray used his mother’s BSA to ride to Market Drayton and back, which was about 36miles in total and, as Ray stated in 1987 … ‘ it was my first long ride’. In 1940 Ray’s father bought him his first personnel bike a Hercules with 20in wheels purchased for the princely sum of ten shillings (50pence). Now he was a true cyclist and exploration could really begin!
The first long ride, records Ray, was in the autumn of 1940 with his parents. They cycled down to Church Stretton the via pretty Hope Bowdler and Harton to a house near Middlehope where they stayed with an aunt and her family. It was ironic that having briefly left the county town for the remote countryside, they were all waken in the middle of the night by a loud explosion; a bomb had dropped in a nearby field killing a cow! During the remainder of the war years he made more rides to Church Stretton, but on his own to visit an old school pal, and short Sunday excursions using an old map. That was essential, as signposts and milestones had all been removed in 1940 to ensure there was no help for the Germans if they invaded. A ride etched deep in Ray’s memory was one in a south west direction climbing through Pulverbatch followed by the steep Cothercott Hill and, as he wrote later ‘ Magic! From the top, I looked into the wild hill country which in later years I came to know so well’
In 1944 Ray commenced an apprenticeship in a radio repair shop, earning about £1 per week from which he eventually bought the only new cycle available, labelled Utility Model. It was finished entirely in black including handlebars, rims, and brakes. It was this bike on which he had his first seven-day cycling holiday although he returned home each evening; he explored further afield including the fringes of Montgomeryshire. Ray admitted he was a bit of a loner, as a result not meeting anyone who could tell him about the activity offered by the CTC or other local cycling clubs. Somehow, he must have gleaned information because he recollected seeing his first race in August 1945. It was the finish of the British League of Racing Cyclists National Championship and he saw local hero Ernie Clements win the title in a sprint finish on the grass of the cricket pitch adjacent to London Road, Shrewsbury. Impressed Ray may have been, but he still did not join the club, one reason being service in the RAF from October 1945 until May 1948. Interest in cycling continued and his knowledge of the pastime increased when he stared to read Cycling – now a rather different Cycling Weekly – the first copies given to him by a fellow conscript. As demob from the RAF approached and with a little cash to spare, Ray visited a Shrewsbury dealer, Brayley’s Cycles and there purchased BSA built with ‘531’ lightweight frame tubes, fitted with a Sturney Archer 3 speed and dropped handlebars. A total of 56 days demob leave during the summer months gave Ray the opportunity to use the new bike for many miles around the area before finding employment in August.
It was during this period of freedom that Ray was told about the local CTC and a visit was made to Frank Thomas, secretary of the ‘Western Section’. Ray was invited to sample club activity before signing up and he h=readily agreed. The next requirement was for a pair of khaki shorts ( clothing coupons required!) and he was now ready for his first club ride on Sunday 1st September. The start was 9.00am in Shrewsbury then by main road, with hardly any traffic, to the midday venue at Llanidloes. This meant Ray had covered 50miles in the morning in the company of about half a dozen members. Sandwiches were carried for lunch and pots of tea purchased at Lloyd’s Hotel hardy a service that catering establishment would provide in 2004! The afternoon was spent threading through the hilly lanes of Montgomeryshire to a plain tea at the Goat Hotel in Llanfair Caereinion. Then back along the main road to Welshpool for the 27 remaining miles to Shrewsbury. They stopped at the Halfway House for a drink which was a very few yards inside England, Wales still being ‘dry’ on a Sunday.
Ray joined the CTC almost immediately and went out on every Sunday ride. He recollected going on a CTC weekend that October, organised by Dennis Jones, and finding it so fascinating he admitted that from then on, he was hooked on club riding. Within three years Ray had taken up hostelling, did a CTC tour of the Alps with fellow Salopian Tom Nickless, and tried his hand and legs at time trials with the Mid Shropshire Wheelers. The average weekly mileage was 200miles and that was not all touring.
In 1951, Ray, in addition to his CTC membership, became a member of the Mid Shropshire Wheelers, this being usual in the period when riders used to mix their activities including riding to and from races. He competed in all distances on the road from 10miles to 24 hours collecting a number of handicap awards during the early years. A highlight, using his undoubted stamina built up by long distance touring, was when he was third counter in the Mid Shropshire Wheelers team which took first place in the National 24hour championship of 1964, Organised by the North Road CC, the event was ridden over the roads in the Fenlands. The first and second counters of the team, Ken Hughes and Stan France, were fellow members of the CTC Western Section as well as the ‘Mids.’, as was the fourth member ‘Taff’ Brissenden, who retired with sickness, Ray always claimed that anyone could ride distances, ‘it’s going too fast that burns you out!’
Ray was not seriously tempted to road racing, or ‘massed start’ as he described it, but did enter on at least one occasion. Circuit of Breiddens provided the challenge, organised by the Oswestry Paragon CC it was two laps of a triangular course, Oswestry – Pool Quay – Shrewsbury ( Shelton) and back to Oswestry. Ray is not remembered for winning, or even an outstanding performance, but for the nonchalant manner with which he rode at the front of the bunch. On long rides, particularly in club groups, he had a habit of whistling in a rather unmusical way or gently humming to himself. When the race was climbing the long hard hill up the side of Breiddens he did just that, and all the fancied men were gritting their teeth to stay with him!
But Ray was not a racing man; it just came as part of his cycling activity. He was always willing to assist, delighting in riding out to act as a marshall or general helper as friends and colleagues raced. He had a flare for organisation, leading weekend and evening CTC rides, reliability trials and similar events, but more than anything he was renowned for the tours he created, be they one day or two weeks, in Shropshire or overseas. Even forty or fifty years later the happy memories of Ray’s Bank Holiday Tours into Wales fill many of us with pleasure.
Motoring never held any attraction for Ray, although he did once take a driving lesson and then made a firm decision. He felt that he did not ‘take to it’, and as a result he would rather be comfortably off and happy cyclist than a poorer and stressed car owner. Lessons ceased and he never owned a car. Ray was certainly contented and always seemed relaxed. Even his bike appeared to follow his mood. Never immaculate and often with a large saddlebag rather askew it gave an indication of some neglect which was not true. Ray always made sure his bike was roadworthy, for his huge mileage he wanted reliability not a showpiece machine.
Sadly Ray did not live to retirement age which if he had achieved it would have given him the freedom to find even more adventure awheel. He died in March 1988 from an inherited heart condition something he had been aware of for some time but chose to continue his life on the bike taking pleasure in the cycling and countryside he loved so much.
He closed his article in Wheelmarks about cycling with the sentence – ‘ looking back I don’t regret a moment of it’. And I am sure that was true right to the end.

One Response to The Ray Page Story

  • Of the four people mentioned, Bill Brissenden and Stan France are still around, but Tom Nickless died sometime in the 1980’s as far as I remember.
    I didn’t know Ray very well, but I clearly remember seeing him looking completely at a loss to know what to do when, in the winter of 1980/81, the county was gripped by snow and ice for weeks so that he couldn’t ride his bike.
    My main reason for posting now though is to mention Ray’s wife Sheila, who sadly passed away a little while ago. I first met her in the early 1980’s when she first began to ride out with the DA, and she continued to cycle, albeit to a steadily declining level, for many years.

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