The Ace Cafe: A Potted History
The Ace Cafe was established in 1938 on the then brand new North Circular Road surrounding London. It was a simple roadside Cafe catering to travelers, particularly truckers. With its proximity to Britain's fast arterial road network, and being open 24 hours, the Ace Cafe soon attracted motorcyclists too.
In 1939 the Ace added a service station with 10 pumps, a spacious washing bay, a showroom and a repair shop.
In world war two, the building was badly damaged during an air raid on the adjacent railway marshalling yards.
The Ace Cafe was reopened in temporary accommodation and subsequently rebuilt in 1949.
Long before its' 'greasy spoon' tag, the following set of pictures capture just what a state-of-the-art cafe/restaurant it was, with home-made food being prepared and cooked on the premises.
The post-war increase in road traffic and advent of the "teenage" phenomena saw the Ace booming, and with it, the arrival of the "Ton-Up-Boys". The British motorcycle industry was at its peak, and along came Rock 'n' Roll. Not played on radio stations, initially the only place it could be heard was at fairgrounds or on jukeboxes at transport cafes.
It became the place to meet, have a meal or cup of tea, arrange runs (often to other cafes or the coast) or simply to mend your bike.
People came to listen to the jukebox, many subsequently starting bands or clubs. Some gaining success and considerable reputation.
From this powerful fusion of motorbikes and Rock 'n' Roll came the legends of record-racing, "drop the coin right into the slot", and race to a given point and back before the record finished.
The Ace Cafe, with its combination of motorbikes, speed and Rock 'n' Roll was the launchpad for many famous racers and the birthplace for many bands.
The tabloid press carried many articles portraying cafes as the places where decent people didn't go.
....and WHAT a reputation.....!
Paul Trudelle from Canada is happy to share this brilliant photo of his father and friends taken in the 1960's. His father, Roger (aka Trad) frequented the Ace Cafe and founded the Scorpions. He was also a member of the 59 Club. If you recognise anyone in this group, let us know.
Father Bill Shergold: Changes in the social order, the growth of the car market at the expense of the motorbike industry, and the expansion of the motorway network saw the Ace Cafe serving its last egg and chips in 1969.
The Ace Cafe in 1969: The building has been used as a cafe, filling station, bookmakers office and latterly a tyre depot. It remains however, largely unaltered.
The cafe played a leading role in the 1963 Sidney Furie film THE LEATHER BOYS, which starred Rita Tushingham, Colin Campbell and Dudley Sutton, utilising many of the cafe's patrons as 'extras'.
Shooting scenes at the Ace Cafe, Furie, eager to achieve realism, took advice from the local riders. "You'd never find an Ace boy wearing them jeans" he was told one morning.
Furie's direction and strong performances combined to make The Leather Boys one of the great British films of the sixties. Rita Tushingham, Colin Campbell, Dudley Sutton, and author of the novel, The Leather Boys, Gillian Freeman, were all present for the Grand Reopening in September 2001.
The legend of the Ace Cafe lives on in the minds of those who went there, those who wish they went there and those too young to have been there.
ACE Cafe Reunion - The Return
The Ace Cafe Reunion is the brainchild of Mark Wilsmore. In 1993 he shared his ideas for an annual event to mark the closure of the original Ace Cafe, a book and film, documenting the history of the Ace Cafe and endeavouring to ensure that the original Ace Cafe re-opened, with relevant products being available.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the cafe's closure, Mark, with friends, formed the organising team for the Reunion and arranged for motorcycle runs to converge at the former Ace Cafe site on Sunday 4th September 1994.
The idea was well received by motorcycling organisations and clubs. Media support was sought and the event turned into a major free motorcycle and Rock 'n' Roll event.
It was estimated that over 12000 people gathered at the old cafe site. The event spread from the Ace site, along the North Circular Road, to the Abbey Public House. This was one of the largest motorcycle gatherings in the country that year and received unparalleled media coverage. A film was made, entitled " An Ace Day", the official Ace Cafe Reunion video.With its Rock 'n' Roll soundtrack it has received worldwide critical acclaim.
ROCKERS HAVE MORE FUN!
Based on Mark's idea "Ride With The Rockers", a run out on bikes for the day, further events have been organised and are being run at and from various venues. These have been enthusiastically received. Our main aim and primary objective has always been to re-open the Ace Cafe on its original North Circular Road site.
It is our intention to ensure that the re-opened Ace Cafe will accommodate and retain an integrity with its history, its looks, its feel and its ambiance, all combining to produce something powerful and unique. We are building on a legend and enhancing an icon. Ace Cafe Reunion is underlining that spirit.
Read on and enjoy the below article which was published in Motorcycle Online! Daily News 3/18/98 London, England.
The Return Of the ACE Cafe
"See you at the Ace", says Mark Wilsmore kicking his Triton into life. The tea in our cups spills over and seconds later the London rush hour has devoured the founder of the Ace Cafe Reunion. He's in a hurry, as usual, since he founded the Ace Cafe Reunion five years ago. Mark's goal is to reopen London's legendary Ace Cafe. The Rockers met there, listened to rock n' roll and burned up the road doing The Ton (100mph) -- the magic speed -- through the city streets of London. They were daring and dangerous.
The original Ace Cafe opened in 1938 on North Circular Road in London. Planned as a transport cafe for truck and lorry drivers, it quickly became a place where motorbike riders gathered. An icon to English motorcyclists, it also has a significance for bikers elsewhere in the world.
In the early fifties the Ace Cafe became the destination for a new breed of bikers. The post-war generation, bored by old values and conventions and confronted with social changes, were searching for their identity. There were two significant influences: Rock n' roll and motorbikes. Leather jackets and jeans were worn, creating the black leather rebel cult. They lived on the fringes of society and were generally ostracised by "motorcycle enthusiasts." The young bikers developed their own identity and with it a tremendous group feeling. They met in cafes and rock n' roll clubs, arranging races on London's North Circular Road. They rode the hell out of their engines as they raced on their unofficial circuit. A general speed limit, when introduced, only added to the challenge.
Shunned by bourgeois middle-class society, the Ton-up boys attracted a lot of young people to their ranks and had a significant influence on the youth culture. Rock n' roll was their music, their uniform was black leather, their lives were wild and full of danger. The driving beat of the music was the rhythm, the drug was speed. Though most of the original influences were adopted from America, they were integrated and developed into a unique British phenomena. The bikes at that time, some of the best and the fastest, were English, and British musicians were as much admired as their American counterparts. By then the Ace Cafe had become the launchpad for many famous racers such as Dave Degans and rock n' roll bands like Johnny Kidd and The Pirates.
The riders who met at the Ace had their own sets of rules and codes, neither understood nor recognized by outsiders. Their wild and martial appearance didn't fit within conventional norms. Their racing, their music and the very distinctive way of expressing themselves frightened polite society and sensational press articles fanned the hysteria for all they could. Government officials often discussed counter-measures to be taken against these youths now known as Rockers.
The peak of rock n' roll was over in the mid sixties, made safe by the Beatles; in the succeeding years the Rockers were pushed aside by the spirit of Carnaby Street and the Mod era. In the eyes of society at large, however, they remained the very incarnation of all that was "evil."
The group cohesiveness of the Rockers wasn't touched and they continued to meet at the Ace. Only very rarely would Mr. Average dare to venture inside. But time was not on their side. At the end of the sixties, during the Vietnam war, hip kids read Mao, wore long hair and listened to Bob Dylan. In 1969 the Ace Cafe closed.
Driven by a passion for bikes and rock n' roll, Mark Wilsmore started planning in 1993 to re-open the legendary cafe. Twenty five years after the cafe closed, the first Ace Cafe Reunion was held in 1994, attracting 12000 people. The following annual Reunions, known as "Ace Days", took place on historic ground: Brighton's famous Madeira Drive. The original Ace site couldn't accommodate the steadily rising numbers of visitors. Over 25000 enthusiastic riders celebrated Ace Day in 1997.
Since then major steps have been made towards the reopening of the Ace Cafe, including securing the original site and launching the Ace Cafe Club, with parts of the original Ace Cafe opened to the public on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, ( please click HERE for present opening times) and on Bank Holidays and the first Wednesday of every month. Visitors can check out the place and see the progress. Based on the rich heritage and traditions of the 50's and 60's, the Ace Cafe still embodies the same values as when the original Rockers called it home. What could be found on a Triton going for the Ton in the sixties today can be found on a modern sportbike or streetfighter. The bikes, the music, and perhaps the whole world have changed, but the spirit remains the same: Non-conformist, rebellious, individual and authentic.
As you will doubtless know, times weren't only hard for Rockers and Black Leather Boys back in the fifties, but also for us nowadays in bringing the ACE back to life again.
Just read on and accompany Mark Wilsmore when he was taking the first crucial steps:
The momentous day dawned. The Council Offices are only 15 minutes ride away, but I checked the bike over to make sure I got there. The meeting commenced at 7.30pm, I had plenty of time to reflect on the four years work to date, involving architects, surveyors, engineers and many other professionals. Tonight's meeting was with the Planning Committee - without their consent, nothing could happen!
Riding there alone, I was apprehensive, having done so much, still I was finding myself wondering if it was enough. Had we overlooked anything? We were entirely dependent on the outcome of this meeting, but I focused my mind on the support you have all shown. Cutting through the evening traffic along North Circular Road, it occurred to me that of course they would give us the go ahead, this is unique, this is the ACE!
I arrived early with time to spare and found my way to the Council Chambers. Surrounded by people in suits, I felt very concious of being the only person in the room in black leather. Hundreds of eyes looked in my direction from faces that told me to keep quiet. Numerous applications were dealt with on a wide range of different topics, progress was slow.
When would our application be heard?
I dare not move, my leathers were noisy. If I went out for a smoke, I may miss it. So I sat tight. After three hours, the clerk announced "Ace Cafe", I sat up straight whilst everyone was looking at me. The clerk continued with a solem voice "change of use" and all he said sounded so technical, so unimportant, giving me a feeling that our case already was to be dropped. The chairman of the committee welcomed me. "Well", he said, "it's the ACE, right, we've already gone through the case, haven't we, Ladies and Gentleman". He looked around to his colleagues, the Councillors, stating "We want this", "A piece of our heritage", I'm for it". There was no debate, just a clear unanimous decision, YES!
I could not get out of there fast enough, my leather boots slipping on the polished marble floor. I kicked the bike into life, grinning from ear to ear, feeling the adrenalin pumping through me. I took a detour past the ACE, with one thought,....
WE CAN DO IT NOW!!
We got the planning permission, and ACE CAFE LONDON bought the original Ace Cafe site. Finally, after a complete rebuild, September 2001 saw the Grand Opening of the famous bikers haunt. The Ace Cafe is back and is here to stay!
As from December 7th 1997, we re-opened the original and legendary Ace Cafe site on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Bank Holidays and on the first Wednesday of every month. Check for our present opening times get a taste of the atmosphere!!
We have opened part of the ground floor and the entire upper floor of the building to the public.
The riders enjoying themselves whilst having a a cup of tea or coffee and exchanging the latest news and gossip from the biking world. The Sunday openings have been enthusiastically received and the plans to re-open the complete site are being pursued.
The architects plans and model are on display, as well as our specially selected clothing and accessories from the Ace Cafe London Catalogue, The One Stop Rockers Shop, also available on this website on our interactive Ace Cafe London Online Catalogue.
Bikes, history, photographs and other related memorabilia and a football table for your fun and pleasure. The refreshments are served up by Bob and his crew.
On the Forecourt:
Every type and style of bikes have turned out during the last months, representing an impressive kaleidoscope from the fifties to the nineties.
Featuring In Order:
- Classic and Modern Machinery
- Cafe Racers
- Milwaukee Twins and Japanese 4-cylinder machines
- Classic Racing Bikes
- Ducatis ...
- .. and powerful streetfighters
There's always something going on at Ace Cafe.
Whether it's a presentation of new bikes, prototypes, runs starting to other cool places or rock n' roll concerts.
From Hot Rods to Custom cars, and in particular, on the first Wednesday of the month when the Executioners Car Club meet.
Nearer My God to Thee
The Revving Rev is on a mission from God. He's in a hurry, as usual, since he's founding a new youth centre complete with bike workshop to get the streetkids out of trouble.
Since we've reopened the original Ace Cafe site, thousands and thousands of riders have visited us, re-establishing it as The Destination Bike!
We want to thank all of you for your continued support, and watch out, there's much more to come!
Read On!.... The day began like any other, starting with a successful bike run at lunchtime to the Museum Of London which is now showing an exhibition entitled "Rocking at the Ace Cafe", featuring powerful black and white photographs taken by RICHARD BYERLEY over the last two years at the Ace and other Ace events and rallies.On 6th March, Mark Wilsmore and the regular Saturday night crew were sitting in the cafe discussing the days event over a last cuppa before closing.
At approx. 11pm, Mark and Ron went outside and continued chatting over a fag, surveying the assembled bikes when a strange "whooshing" sound caught their attention.It was one of those noises that one just knows isn't right and they looked at each other wondering what the hell it was. Returning their attention back to car park they saw the tarmac lifting up about 4 feet in front of them. By now they thought they must be hallucinating (hey Bob what do you put in that tea!).
This was followed by a rumbling and cracking sound, at which point they turned back on their heels and dived back into the cafe shouting for everyone to evacuate through the back fire escape. Outside the ground exploded and with great roar, a wall of water erupted some 20 feet wide just where Mark and Ron had stood.
Bikes were flung into the air, disappearing in the torrent as they landed. The foaming white jet of water pitched tarmac, earth and rocks in all directions breaking windows and showering the building with assorted debris. Mark dashed back to check that everyone had got out safely, but some had run outside to rescue their bikes. By this time the water was coming through the door. The emergency services were called.
Meanwhile, the water found a natural course onto the new North Circular Road underpass at the A406 Park Royal Estate junction, which became flooded to a height of over 25 feet, eventually reaching the tops of the bridges that cross the dual carriageway. Several cars were submerged underneath and frogmen were despatched to check that no-one was trapped in their vehicle.
The early morning light revealed the extent of the damage. A huge crater depicted the spot where a main London water supply pipe had burst approximately 10 feet underground.
The mammoth task of clearing up began almost immediately, with some 16 water pumps working together sucking up more than 14000 litres per minute.
The hole is now being filled in, returning 200 tons of earth to the car park.
The pictures on this page were taken by Del (newspaper picture from the Evening Standard) over the weekend, showing the extent of the area exposed to the incident. We would like to take the opportunity to thank all our patrons and others for their good wishes and kind offers of help and apologise for any inconvenience. As BLONDIE sang "The tide is high but we're holding on..."
On site works started at the begining of January 2001 with the delivery and set-up of our temporary accommodation.
Fencing was then erected to meet the requirement of the health and safety laws.
With the contractors site office installed, deliveries of various items of construction equipment, together with materials, then proceeded.
The next phase of the refurbishment saw the strip out and removal of panelling, suspended ceilings, partitions and stud work, all of which had been installed since the cafe closed in 1969. This stage has nearly been completed.
During the course of the demolition/strip out and removal period, aspects and items hitherto unknown have been revealed.
As a consequence, careful cost control and planning has been required. However, a number of original windows and openings have also been revealed which we now intend to utilise.
Installation of structural items, reinforcing to foundations, load-carrying steel beams, erection of support columns (removed following the cafes closure) has just begun.
Following the first set of photographs, showing the strip-out, removal of roller shutters and cladding from the former tyre fitting area, more of the original building was revealed (including enough grease to fry our chips!)
Plant machinery was required to break up and remove masonary flooring which had endured over thirty years of vehicular use as a tyre fitting bay, as well as to pull out "false" ceilings installed since the cafes' closure in 1969.
Temporary propping of concrete roof was neccesary, whilst the old steel beams were removed and replaced and brickwork reinstated. The strip-out phase of works are now complete and the construction refurbishment phase has now started.
Works are proceeding!
The following set of pictures documenting the status during the 3rd week April 2001.
This shot shows the demolition of the internal back stair way, which was inadequatly housed in a timber structure added since 1969.
The stairway is now replaced with one constructed of brick to comply with current day building regulations.
The Upper floor has now been partitioned off to accommodate Toilet facilities, staff changing room, office and storage, with three large windows lending themselves to a view of the North Circular Road.
Panoramic view before the installation of the windows.
View from the inside, looking out of the new windows.
Front view with windows installed. The face of the Ace!
The next pictures were taken in July 2001, showing the steady progress of the works.
Workmen laying the floor. The 'jailhouse' at the far end is painted dark red with a black and cream chequered floor. This area will be where bands and DJ's will perform. The floor shows first layer before chequering to cream and maroon.
The staircase leading to toilet facilities, staff room and storage area.
The strip lights are covered with wire caging to give the flies a chance!
To the left the bar structure can be seen as well as the hatch into the kitchen.
Next two shots show the logo patterned floor. Here is the Rockers logo ..
..and here is the Ace Cafe London logo.
The cafe comes to life!
A portion of the inside was decorated with posters, memorabilia and our old tables and chairs.
This and the next photo were taken when the BBC came to film for a new Autumn series called 'Mary Anne's Bikes'.
Mary Anne is in the red leather suit, just interviewing Mark for the programme.
New steps leading to the `jailhouse' have just been installed.
Ace Cafe London front elevation - not complete yet, but full of promise ...
Today we've made it - and the Ace Cafe is alive and kicking.
Thanks for staying tuned and watching history in the making!
No - it's not 1964, Welcome Back Ace Cafe!
This year's Ace Cafe Reunion was the biggest ever yet. From Wednesday to Sunday, an officially reported 75000 riders from all across Europe and even from America and Australia enjoyed partying at the Ace, joining the Ride With The Rockers and rockin' & rollin' on Madeira Drive in Brighton!
Flamin' Ace Riot with The Executioners Lowbrow Lowriders, Kool Kustoms, Krazy Klassics and Hot Rods!