Tommy Milton was born in Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland in March, 1916. Sadly, his mother died a few days later, so he was raised in the home of his mother’s aunt. He attended Yardheads Primary School and Leith Academy, but left when he was fourteen to begin work. From his early teenage years, he had enjoyed cycling and ‘tinkering’ with his bicycle, a necessity since he did not have the means to buy a new one. His circle of friends were into motorcycles and he duly acquired a 1936 New Imperial, on which he competed in a few reliability trials prior to 1939. He joined the recently formed Melville Motor Club around this time.
With the advent of war, he enlisted early, without waiting for his ‘call-up papers’, so that he had a good chance of becoming a dispatch rider, and this he did.
He was selected to attend a three week course in basic maintenance which, in the confusion of the early war years, turned out to be a three month course to train Army fitters, and he was allowed to remain, passing out with flying colours.
After the war, the trade unions recognised this qualification as equivalent to an apprenticeship, thus enabling Tommy to become a Navy fitter at Port Edgar in South Queensferry, his job for the rest of his working life.
While Tommy was in the Army, he was sent to the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and his particular friend there, also from Leith, had left his new Ariel Red Hunter at home. Sadly, his friend was drowned in an accident and so, after the war, Tommy acquired DFS 122 from his friend’s mother, the bike on which he was to compete in trials, grass tracks and, especially, hill climbs in the forties and fifties. He won the Scottish Hill-Climb Championship (Standard Class) in 1949.
In the early fifties, as his riding career was winding down, he became a committee member of the Melville Motor Club, going on to become Secretary and Treasurer, and generally the main pillar of the Melville for the next fifteen years or so, eventually handing over to the next generation to Trevor Hay (see article: Great Scots – Trevor Hay).
Tommy married Margaret (Peggy) Wood, also from Leith, in 1942, while on leave. The couple were separated by the war, meeting for a few days over Christmas, 1944 in Sheffield, before Tommy was de-mobbed in mid-1945.
Tommy and Peggy had two children – son, Tommy Junior and daughter Maureen.
In addition to his Melville duties, Tommy was also a member of the Scottish Auto-Cycle Union Management Committee, serving as an SACU Steward at many events, especially scrambles. He was also one of the founding group of the popular ‘Scottish Clubman’ magazine, under editor Fred Stephens of Stonehaven. Tommy undertook distribution of the magazine to all the Edinburgh motorcycle shops each month, as well as roping in son Tommy and daughter, Maureen to sell them at each Sunday’s events. He also contributed a regular monthly column on whatever took his fancy, under the pen name ‘NOTLIM’ – simply his surname reversed!
With his outgoing nature and willingness to help others, Tommy had become a mentor to a legion of younger riders. These included Scotland’s celebrated racer, Bob McIntyre who began his illustrious career competing with Tommy in hill climbs. In recognition of his many years of service to the Club and the sport, the Melville made him an honorary life member, an honour the SACU also made him later as an honorary vice-president.
In addition to his Melville Club activities and his day job, Tommy also had a dance band, which specialised in ‘old time dance’ music and had regular ‘gigs’ in various clubs in and around Edinburgh and the surrounding townships. Members of Tommy’s band included pianist Tommy Merrilees, the brother of Edinburgh’s celebrated Police Chief Constable Willie Merrilees, and drummer Sammy Marks, whose brother Bob was captain of the Edinburgh Monarchs speedway team. The band would play at the Melville’s frequent social evenings at the Edinburgh Southern Harriers’ sports club at Fernieside in Edinburgh.
With the closure of the Port Edgar in the mid-seventies, Tommy transferred to Rosyth. In the Queen’s 1977 Birthday Honours he was awarded the Imperial Service Medal, recognising his 30 years of meritorious service.
Tommy decided to take early retirement in 1978 as he did not enjoy being a regular user of the Forth Road Bridge, having famously led a vigorous campaign against tolls prior to its opening in 1965! He had also started to take a back seat in Melville activities but continued to be involved in motorcycle sport and, especially, the Clubman magazine. In the mid-eighties he suffered a stroke from which he recovered but with some vision impairment which meant he could no longer drive.
For the first time in his life, he became a regular bus user, still getting around Scotland’s capital city. Although a non-smoker since his mid-thirties, Tommy sadly contracted lung cancer in 1993 and succumbed to this the following year, at 78 years of age.
Trials Guru: Tommy Milton was a 100% died in the wool motorcyclist of the old school. A respected member of the Scottish ACU, Melville MC (Scotland) and the Scottish motorcycle sporting community. He was a true enthusiast who was a stickler for fair play and sticking to the rules.
On one occasion, Tommy decided to prove a point. He inserted a clause to the standard rider’s declaration of the entry form at a Melville scramble which read: “I promise to pay the sum of five-pounds sterling to Thomas Milton on signing on at the start”.
When Tommy was signing the riders into the event he asked them for the five-pounds! Many asked what the extra five-pounds was for? Tommy had proved the point – many riders had simply signed the entry form without reading it!
Tommy Milton decided to encourage his son Tommy junior to stick in at school. He gave Milton junior a challenge, get good results at school and he would be bought a new trials bike of his choice. Young Tommy not only stuck in at school he became ‘dux’ at his school, the top performer. True to his word Tommy senior bought his son a brand new Greeves in 1962 straight from the Thundersley factory.
The article about Tom Milton Junior’s first Greeves TE250 is HERE
Tommy junior was one of only three Scot’s born people to have ever won the Sunbeam MCC Pinhard Prize in 1967 for his services to trials. The other two Scot’s born winners are: Gordon W. Phillip (Enduro) in 1978 and Paul Chatham (Enduro) in 2005.
The Pinhard Prize – Sunbeam MCC
We thank the Milton family, Tom Milton Junior, Maureen McInally (Milton) and Trevor Hay for their assistance during the making of this article.
Copyright: Trials Guru / Moffat Racing, John Moffat and Thomas Milton Jnr.
Photos: Tommy Milton Archive.