The daredevil dirt track racer of Eastergate

[This story was published on July 28 in the Observer series. Read the original story at]

[All images: West Sussex Record Office]

Mrs Jessie Ennis and Mr Bill Ennis
Mrs Jessie Ennis and Mr Bill Ennis

July 1989 was a special month for an Eastergate couple who celebrated their golden wedding anniversary – after love blossomed over a motorbike.

Mrs Jessie Ennis, 80, then of Cherry Tree Drive, was a former motorbike stunt rider and dirt track racer.

She met her husband, Mr William Ennis, also 80 at the time, at the Crystal Palace dirt track. William was known as ‘Bill’.
She said: “I was the one girl with 40 chaps in the Stamford Bridge motorcycle club and Bill was a mechanic.”

Jessie asked him to repair her car, which she had crashed, and the request led to a romance.

She had bean riding motorcycles at the age of 11, and was one of a handful of women taking part in motorbike trials – but in 1930, women were banned from dirt track racing based on fear for ‘diminishing their fertility’.

Women were banned from all speedway tracks in England in 1930, meaning that some female dirt track racers switched to racing cars.

The ban lasted, until it got lifted in 1968.
However, Jessie formed the Dare Partners with her brother George and performed stunts at shows such as zoomingthrough blazing hoops and panes of glass.

She said the trick was smashing the glass quickly so the sheet did not fall and cut her into pieces.

Jessie said: “There’s nothing in going through a fire hoop. I believe I’m still the only woman in England that has ridden through glass and now they just use sugar glass.”

Bill, who made colour plates for a printing firm, was also interested in motorbikes.
The couple lived in Surrey and moved to Pagham in the late 60s when Bill retired, before coming to Eastergate.

They spent 15 years as West Sussex County Council drivers taking local handicapped children to schools in neighbouring towns – though sometimes they had to drive to Exeter or Margate.

Jessie had last ridden a motorbike six years ago. The couple planned to hold a party with close friends and relatives to celebrate their anniversary. They had a son, Mr Roger Ennis, and two grandchildren.

The first official UK speedway meeting took place at High Beech on February 19, 1928, although there are claims that meetings were held in 1927 at Camberley, Surrey and Droylsden, Lancashire. It is generally accepted that the sport arrived in the UK when Australians Billy Galloway and Keith McKay brought dirt track racing to the countr

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