Tony Moss

Ten years ago at the age of fifty our Memory Lane contributor finally took up his life long ambition. “ For as long as I can remember I have had one dream and one ambition.”

Only a person so dedicated and knowledgeable of his sport could have risen to this particular challenge, or as he says, “It was something I had dreamed of all my life so when the opportunity came I knew it was meant to be.” If you don’t actually know our ‘Memory Laner’, then I am sure you will know his motorcycle specialist garage on Aston Street, he is Tony Moss and he has lived in and around Wem all his life.

Motorbikes have always been present in Tony’s life. His grandfather Stuart Moss and great uncle Percy Moss ran a motorcycle business before the first world war. The shop was also an ironmongers and traded from where the present Indian Restaurant stands on the corner of the High Street and Market Street.

They had a store and yard off Noble Street, in the old Tannery, which is now Tannery Court. A lot of bikes and motorbikes were stored there for young men who enlisted into the first world war. Many of these bikes were never claimed and remained in the yard for over thirty years with the soldiers name labels attached, a sad reminder of those who went to war and never returned. Tony told me that a few of these old motor cycles were eventually sold, but the rest were removed in the forties, treated as scrap, and dumped on the council tip at Sleap. “It is hard to believe that those lovely old bikes could have been considered worthless, for nowadays they would be highly sought after.” says Tony.

“My father, Peter Moss, competed in the Isle of Man Grand Prix from 1947 to 1952. He knew Graham Walker, the father of Murray Walker, and mentioned the old motorbike store and to him and Jock West of AJS Motorcycles. They came to Wem and bought a couple of the old motorbikes, which they restored and later rode in the London to Brighton vintage race. It would be lovely to hear if those two bike are still around.”

Tony’s grandparents lived at Minton House in New Street, where Welch and Philips Builders and Sherratts are now. “When my grandfather became ill in the forties my father began to run the business. Shortly after my dad brought the business to Minton House and he opened a shop in the stable yard to the rear. My father took on the Triumph Agency, but my grandfather made him send the first Triumph motor bike back because it was too expensive, at £100.”

Tony was born in 1943, he has an older sister Sue, his mothers name was Gwynedd and she was a school teacher. Tony had lived first on the Shawbury Road and then at Higher Heath until he was about four when they moved into Wem to live at Minton House. Tony remembers Minton House with no affection. “It was an incredibly gloomy house and it had been badly neglected. I never really enjoyed living there. The house was said to be haunted, it had been used to convalesce prisoners of the first world war and the story was that an Italian prisoner died after falling down the back stone staircase, and his ghost still walked the house. When I was young I hated going upstairs alone, it was not a welcoming place and my mother must have found it a difficult house to manage.” Tony however like his father and grandfather before him was beginning to enjoy just being with motorbikes. “I was happy to play out in the street or the vast garden to the rear of the house. I loved to go over the road and look at the dinky cars in the window of Wem Motors. I remember being happy as a child, but my main happiness was to be found with the motorbikes and our trips out.”

As a child Tony enjoyed going racing with his father. “My earliest memories are of watching the convoys of soldiers coming to Aston Park, but my best and happiest memories are of being placed on the tool box in the back of my dads van to travel with him and his friends who were going grass track racing.”

By the time Tony was ten his father Peter had become a noted motor bike racer and Tony had spent a lot of his time watching his father race. “My dad was a popular man to be around, especially if you liked motorbikes. He had lots of friends that came along to watch and compete on the grass track circuits in Cheshire. One man who was invaluable to my dads business was Geoff Young, he was dad’s right-hand man and a very good friend to me, he went everywhere with us. Along with the Grindley brothers, Harold Barr, the Taylor brothers, Maz and Barry who gave me my nickname, Joe, which I am still called to this day. We would take cheese and tomato sandwiches then always stop at a pub on the way home when I would sit in the van happily being fed pop and crisps.”

Tony spent every spare moment around motorbikes. He passed to go to the Adams Grammar school which pleased his mother, but he rushed home to help mend the bikes and didn’t enjoy school very much. “Part of my weekend and evening job was to walk up to the railway station and wheel back the new bikes that were ordered for the shop. In the fifties companies such as Triumph, BSA, Ariels and AJS all put their orders on the train. They would have wooden cases around the frames and tanks but the wheels were left free, so I could push them up Aston Street and down New Street to the shop.”

The Motorcycle business was doing well and by the mid fifties if you passed the shop down New Street you would have seen illuminated BSA and Triumph signs along with advertising for Castrol oils and new shiny bikes in the showroom. “ I remember all those customers from back then.” Recalls Tony, “ Some were real characters, Reverend Nevitt vicar at Newtown, had a Norman auto cycle that he always started on the stand then would suddenly shoot off. We called him ‘Rev Nev’. ‘Herman the German’ rode an NSU and ‘Peter the Parson’ a lay preacher who would swear like a trooper. The motorbike shop had a good reputation and was respected for it’s good engineering, I owe a lot to the apprenticeship I got there.”

Tony was so tuned into motor bikes that he recognised makes from their engine noise, as one memory explains. “On summer nights my father would go up to Prees Heath to practice his racing, I could sit on the step of the shop and hear him riding and changing gears. I soon became familiar with different sounds of bikes and one bike I knew well belonged to Gordon (Jockey) Richards. Jockey would go for a drink on a Saturday night at the Castle. He parked at the back and I would hear him leave at closing time, I could lie in bed and tell from his engine noise where he was on his journey home to Loppington. It was a noisy bike and I could hear him take the bends out past the Ditches and up to Horton corner. One night I could tell that he hadn’t made it around Horton corner. When I saw him with his arm in a sling the next day he was surprised to hear that I knew exactly where he had come off his bike.”

It wasn’t until Tony was sixteen that he was allowed to ride new bikes for delivery. “Like all young lads I liked to show off and one lesson I learnt the hard way was not to cut a bend. I was taking a bike out on the Aston Road and knowing there were some work men widening the road I decided to give them a demonstration on how to take that corner. To my horror I came round that bend to face a Logging wagon driving straight towards me. I only just managed to swerve but hit the full side of the lorry and wrote off the bike. My injuries were minor considering the situation, but my pride plummeted as the workmen came to my aid. The driver of the lorry was Brian Cliff, Ian Cliffs father. You can imagine the trouble I was in when I got home. But I have never forgotten that incident and still treat corners with respect.”

Tony explained to me that during the early sixties things began to change. The family business, for all sorts of personal reasons, began to deteriorate and finally collapsed.

“There was nothing else for me to do, but to leave home, so I got a bed sit in Shrewsbury and found work at Jack Meredith’s motor cycle shop. A little later on I moved back to Wem and lived with my mother at 68 High Street. Gradually, people began calling on me, asking if I could take a look at their motorbikes, they were missing the old shop.”

In 1964 Tony met and married Barbara. Although they had some tough early days Tony gradually built up his own business and as he says. “I felt proud the day I saw my name on my own motorcycle workshop. My own first premises were at McGowans Fruit and Veg Yard on the High Street formally Jones’ Timber Yard and now the entrance to Fothergill Way. I paid rent of £1-10-00 per week and when business was slack I used to help deliver the fruit and veg. In 1967, I moved to the old blacksmith shop and yard in Aston Street, where Ian Cliff now runs his business. Then in 1975 we moved a little nearer the Town to where you can find me today.”

So we come full circle and that young Tony Moss who dreamed he would one day ride the races he had enjoyed watching as a boy. At fifty he began racing in the gruelling Irish Road Races then later the Isle of Man TT. Maybe a few years later than he had once imagined, but never the less he has achieved his life long ambition. “I can honestly say I have never been happier, I have a wonderful wife Barbara, two smashing sons and daughter in-laws with two lovely grandchildren. I enjoy my work and have lots of very good friends in Wem. Some people bring their bikes to me that I have repaired since I was a lad and it is rewarding to have such loyal customers.”

Reproduced from 'The Wemian' magazine, with thanks to linda Etherington.
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