It is often said that despite Peter Craven being a full-blooded scouser and passionate Liverpool FC fan he is held in greater esteem in Manchester than he is in his home town. It was as a world champion speedway rider with Manchester-based Belle Vue Aces that he rose to fame in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
Peter Theodore Craven was born on 21st June 1936 in Liverpool, the son of Benjamin Harold and his wife Edna May (née Stevens). Peter was one of twins but sadly his brother died when just 3½ years old. He had an older brother and four sisters, the family living in Norris Green at 24 Prestbury Road L11. Peter attended Ranworth Square primary school and after time at Abbotsford Road Senior School, aged 13 he moved to Walton Technical College.
He first rode a speedway motorcycle the day after his 16th birthday. He rode the machine, which belonged to his brother Brian, at the newly re-opened Stanley Park Stadium and after several laps crashed and sustained concussion. His enthusiasm remained undimmed and he was fortunate to be working as a motorcycle mechanic in a garage run by ex-speedway rider Charlie Oates who gave him training sessions. Craven progressed well and was soon riding for the Liverpool Chads team who were in the second division of the national league. After the Chads became defunct he raced for the Belle Vue Aces, joining them officially in 1953. During his two years national service he regularly travelled at weekends from his army camp to keep up his racing.
He rapidly improved as a ride, breaking lap records at Manchester and becoming the Ace’s leading rider as they finished in second place in the 1955 season. At the end of the season, against all the odds, and aged just 21, he became World Champion on 15th September in front of a crowd of 54,000 at Wembley Stadium. He came close to gaining the title on several occasions before his second World Championship victory came on 8th September 1962, again at Wembley, this time with 62,000 watching on. Craven also rode for the England international team 47 times.
In 1963 his Belle Vue team at last broke the stranglehold of Wembley and Wimbledon and won the national league. However, the season was to be marred by a terrible tragedy. On Friday 20th September 1963 the Aces were racing in a challenge match at the Old Meadowbank stadium in Edinburgh. In the fourth heat Craven was just behind Edinburgh rider George Hunter when the Scotsman’s engine seized and his back wheel locked. Craven swerved to avoid him, clipped his opponent’s machine and crashed into the barrier fence. He was rushed to Edinburgh Infirmary where he died the following Tuesday, 24th September. His brother Brian, who was racing for Newcastle Diamonds, immediately retired from speedway.
The diminutive Craven he was just 5 feet 2 inches tall, was arguably England’s best ever speedway rider. Known variously as the ‘Mighty Atom’ and ‘Pocket Rocket’ he was seen as quite fearless and unlike most of his contemporaries he neither smoked nor drank and was a regular the gym. A modest, quiet man, he was renowned for his kindness to both fellow riders and fans.
Peter Craven married Brenda Pauline Williams on 17th October 1956. They had a son and a daughter. In 1958 they were living at 4 Brock Street L4 (now demolished) and in 1959 at 7 Gorst Street L4 (a stone’s throw from his beloved Liverpool FC). At the time of his death they were living at 11 Castlegate Grove L12. 30 years later Brenda married Peter’s friend and pit helper, Leon Leat.
In October 2021 Granada TV screened a short tribute to Peter Craven which included an interview with his widow Brenda. It can be viewed on YouTube.
The Craven's home at the time of Peter's birth.
Peter and Brenda Craven's home in 1958 (first on left)
The Cravens' home in the early 1960s.
© Liverpool Footprints