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Significant Scots
Dr Kelly Swanston


Dr Kelly Swanston, who has died aged 104, was a formidable pre-war amateur motorcycle racer before becoming a Yorkshire GP.


Kelly Swanston racing on Monifieth Sands in 1929

Known as “JK” in racing circles, Swanston first competed on a BSA Sloper, gaining five wins from five starts. From 1929, on a Velocette, he notched up more than 100 firsts racing on sand, grass and roads — allegedly provoking other contenders to whisper: “No use racing today, Swanston’s here.”

It was on the mountainous 38-mile Manx Grand Prix road circuit that Swanston had his greatest racing adventures. In the Junior race (for bikes of 350cc or less) he finished a respectable 17th in 1933, despite a five-minute stop to detach a section of broken mudguard and tie the remains to the forks with a handkerchief. The following year, on a New Imperial, he was 18th; and in 1935, on a borrowed Norton, he came third.

He also rode Nortons in the Senior race for more powerful machines. Having finished third in 1932, he could have won in 1933 but waved on another competitor, Harold Daniell, and followed him home — Daniell was about to turn professional, and Swanston wanted to help launch his career.

Second again in 1934, he finally achieved victory in 1935 — averaging 79.62mph, breaking the lap record by two seconds, and beating a future world champion, Freddie Frith, to the finish line. Swanston’s restored 1931 Norton was displayed outside the church porch at his funeral.

James Kelly Swanston was born on March 26 1908 at Kirkcaldy, Fife, where his father was a well-known architect of Scottish theatres, cinemas and public houses who also served in the Black Watch; Kelly was his mother’s maiden name. After a wartime interlude in Brighton, when his father was in charge of PoW camps on the south coast, Kelly was educated at Kirkcaldy High School.

At 16 he learned to ride a 1913 FN with sidecar on a cousin’s Aberdeenshire farm, and he and his brother Jack became founding members of Kirkcaldy’s motorcycle club. He went on to Edinburgh University, where he won a gold medal for medicine and a silver for surgery.


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