"If it weren't for Littleport...there'd be no Harley Davidson!"
These were the words the older gentleman said to me as I stood in the light but cold rain as I asked for directions. He had a smile as he stood there paint in hand, I apparently interupted the touching up of the front of his small village store. With his white hair pulled back into a ponytail, earring and tattoo this friendly looking fellow obviously knew plenty about Harleys to make such a comment.
But how did I come to find myself in the village of Littleport, located in the eastern part of Great Britain, on the edge of a very flat area known as the fens? With a 'growing' population of approximately 5500 it wasn't exactly bustling with people. It was however another beautiful English village with a small High Street and surrounded by beautiful Norfolk farmlands and fields.
The story began with a phone call not even an hour earlier from my brother who'd obviously mentioned my visit and motorcycle enthusiasm to one of the farmers he delivers chemicals too. The farmer told him about a metal motorcycle statue dedicated to one of the founders of Harley Davidson in a village about twenty miles from where we were staying during our English vacation.
Did I miss something? Although I hadn't read books on the subject or never really made much of an effort to learn the history of Harley Davidson, but surely I would've seen something in my casual reading about one of the founders being born in England.
Between my brother and I, we convinced my mother to take me out to the statue for a quick visit and some pictures. Knowing Littleport's a small village we both assumed we'd stumble across something as obvious as a metal statue of a Harley Davidson, but a couple of trips through the village proved us wrong.
So here I was, hugging the wall of the store trying to stay under the overhang and consequently out of the drizzling rain which started just as we pulled into Littleport asking for directions. Within minutes we were looking for parking around the village green where the statue had been erected. As if to add to this day filled with strange occurances, my mother and I waited for a funeral procession to assemble and leave the church located directly across the street from the statue.
The Truth Revealed
After we took the pictures and wandered around the village green to take in the atmosphere of a 'true' English village green we headed home and I had the chance to research the statue a little further.
The statue was dedicated to the father of one of the founders of Harley Davidson. I guess he could be called the grandfather of Harley Davidson!
William Harley was born on May 2nd 1835, in a house in Victoria Street, Littleport. In 1859 William Harley left Littleport and emigrated to Oswego, USA. Soon after arriving in the USA he enlisted in the army and fought on the side of the Unionists, in the American Civil War. He fathered several children with Mary Smith and one of these was William Sylvester, born December 29th 1880 who later went on to form the Harley-Davidson Motor Company with Arthur Davidson in 1903.
There's the link between Harley Davidson and Littleport!
The 'unofficial' site of Littleport has a great review of the unveiling of the Harley Davidson statue on July 20th in 2003 with interesting pictures of quite a few harleys rumbling up a small street in the village. It seems by the official site of Littleport Harley that they'd planned a 101 year celebration but was seemingly cancelled due to lack of funds or maybe even interest.
As a side note, the BBC has an interesting story about a riot that occured in Littleport during 1816 where the crowd were read the 'riot act'. Maybe the origin of the phrase?