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A Short History of
British Speed Hillclimbing
Hillclimb
Cricket St Thomas
Finlake Park
Gurston Down
Longleat
Oddicombe
Porlock
Tregrehan
Werrington Park
Wiscombe Park
Like so much in motorsport, speed-hillclimbing began in France - the first ever event was held at Chanteloup in November 1898. The following year saw the first British hillclimb when 40 competitors climbed the 325yd Petersham Hill at Richmond-on-Thames; this actually being part of the proving trial organised by the Automobile Club of Great Britain & Northern Ireland. With a 12mph speed limit in force at the time, the overall winner was a Barriere tricycle which only just infringed the law with an average speed of 14mph. An equally obscure device, an electrical Undertaking Dog-Cart managed 11mph, while the fastest proper car was the 6hp Paris-Marseilles Panhard-Levassor oh the Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls which managed 8.75mph. Apparently the most exciting part of the event was the descent after the finish, when speeds were considerably in excess of the vehicles' braking capabilities".

Mucklow Hill, Halesowen, was the venue for the second hillclimb, but there was no fear of braking the speed limit at this one, for the whole event was run on snow. In fact the winner for the 1 mile course only achieved a best of 9m 2.4s!  In the years that followed, various venues were used and by 1903 there were 26 hillclimb courses in the country - all on public roads. Naturally there were rumblings about the use of public roads for motorsport (not all of which were closed during the events) and it was normal for the local farmer to insist on coming through with his horse and cart while the meeting was in progress. The Midland Auto Club had the novel idea of persuading the tenant of Shelsley Walsh, a certain Mr Claude Taylor, to allow 1000yds of his private drive to be used for motorsport. Thus on the 12th August 1905, the oldest surviving motorsporting venue in the world saw its first event - and event which was won by Ernest Instone in a 35hp (8.5 litre) Daimler in 77.6s.

By 1911 the number of hillclimbs began to dwindle - Brooklands had become the centre of British motor racing, although the MAC managed to keep Shelsley Walsh popular as did the Hertfordshire AC with their Aston Hill (the place, incidentally, after which Lional Martin named his legendary Aston Martin marque). Many manufacturers became involved in the sport at this time and there were "works" entries from such people as Singer, Rover, Riley and Humber. This saw a slight increase again in hillclimbing activities and when, in 1913, out and out racing cars took to the hills, much quicker times were being recorded. With better road holding and improved surfaces, the times began to tumble, and on June 7th, 1913, the course record at Shelsley Walsh fell no less than 7 times.

After the first world war, hillclimbing once again became a popular spectator sport, and the cars were mainly British. At the time vehicles from "enemy" countries were excluded: in fact, the only non-British cars to gain any sort of victory, were the 16v Bugatti's.  Road surfaces were pretty poor and bore a striking resemblance to modern-day forest stages and the crowds came out in droves - sometimes as many as 4,000 and 5,000 - to watch the stars of the day; top drivers such as Archie Frazer-Nash, Malcolm Campbell and Raymond Mays; drivers who were going increasingly quicker in their highly specialised equipment. But even up to the mid twenties, it was not uncommon to witness an entrant being driven by his fully liveried chauffeur!

Crowd control became a major issue for organisers and after a number of nasty accidents involving members of the public, road racing came to an abrupt end on the 2nd April 1925 - a state of affairs that remained until the streets of Birmingham were used in 1986. The only hillclimb to continue was Shelsley Walsh and with the economic slump, all other motorsporting events were re-arranged around the Worcestershire venue's two annual meetings.

The early 30's brought a number of new hillclimb courses, including Prescott, near Cheltenham and Tregwainton in Cornwall. Alongside the many racing and Grand Prix cars of the time that took part in hillclimbing, were a number of very able specials including the 981cc JAP-engined "Bloody Mary" of John Bolster and the Morris based machine of one Carl Skinner (the S of SU Carburettors).  Raymond Mays continued to dominate and with the ERA R4B had lowered the Shelsley record to an astounding 39.6s - an incredible feat for the time.

After World War II, with Donnington Park, Brooklands and Crystal Palace not available, hillclimbing became the first motor sport to be reactivated. There were 18 events in 1946 and among the entries were such racing legends as Prince "Bira", Reg Parnell and Peter Walker.   The National Hillclimb Championship began in 1947 with Raymond Mays taking the title, and that of the following year, using his ERA R4D.  New hillclimb courses appeared on the Channel Islands - Le Val de Terres on Guernsey and Bouley Bay on Jersey.

In the 50's there was complete versatility in motor sport with famous racing drivers appearing in hillclimbs and vice versa;  Stirling Moss and Roy Salvadori were seen on the hills, while Ken Wharton and Tony Marsh contested a number of Grand Prix and it was at a Shelsley Walsh hillclimb that Murray Walker began his remarkable career.  1951 saw the complete domination of British speed-hillclimbing by the 1000cc and 1100cc Cooper-JAP racing cars.  This domination continued for 11 years and saw Ken Wharton take the National series from 1951 to 1954, Tony Marsh from 1955 to 1957, David Boshier-Jones 1958 to 1960 and that incredible man David Good, 1961.

Wiscombe Park and Oddicombe were added to the calendar and nationally Tony Marsh returned to take another 3 championships with his own chassis - making him the most successful hillclimber of all.   Longleat appeared on the National calendar and disappeared almost as quickly (could it be because some of the original marshals were on horseback!).   Gurston Down and Tregrehan appeared in the 60's for south west racers with Werrington and Cricket St Thomas coming along in 1980. With the addition of Finlake Park in 1995 and the use of Porlock for the sport, the region can boast the best concentration of hillclimb venues in the country.