Motor Sport on Church Hill

From 1920 until 1923 Church Hill Thundersley was used by motor vehicles for the sport of hill climbing.  The course at Church Hill is believed to have been approximately 520 yards in length.  The drivers would attack the hill one at a time in an attempt to travel from the bottom to the top in the shortest time.

In 1920 the fastest time was set by Capt. Archie Frazer-Nash in 20.8s driving a GN car that was given the name ‘Kim I’. Probably the best known competitor was Malcolm Campbell (later Sir) who later held multiple world land and water speed records. In 1920 he drove a Talbot with the name ‘Blue Bird’.

Motorcyclists also competed, in a separate class.  E.J. Anderson set the motorcycle fastest time of the day in 1921 on a 2¼ h.p. side valve New Imperial.  Incidentally, on the same day Malcolm Campbell made fastest car time at the wheel of a 200 h.p. Peugeot.

In 1924, in the High Court of Justice, a Mr. Davill brought an action against a Mr. Cotgrove, claiming damages in respect of personal injuries suffered as a result of the defendant knocking him down with his motor cycle in the course of a hill climb. The accident occurred on October 20th 1923, during the Essex A.C.’s hill climb at Thundersley.   This almost certainly contributed to the ban, in 1925, on speed events on public roads, putting an end to hill climbing on Church Hill.

The following is a report of this incident and the associated court case that appeared in the Motor Sport magazine of December 1924


A LEGAL case of considerable interest to motor sportsmen was decided last month, when, in the High Court of Justice, King’s Bench Division, a Mr. Davill brought an action against a Mr. Cotgrove, claiming damages in respect of personal injuries suffered as a result of the defendant knocking him down with his motor cycle in the course of a hill climb. The accident occurred on October 20th of last year, during the Essex A.C.’s hill climb at Thundersley.
The plaintiff was walking up the hill and stopped at a curve to talk to two friends. They stood on the grass border of the road. While conversing, the defendant came round the bend, but did not slacken his speed, which was from 40 to 50 miles an hour. The motor cycle suddenly shot across the road and charging against the plaintiff, pushed him against the bank. As a result both his legs were broken by the ankle, and his right wrist was fractured. The defendant had pleaded that the police had been given notice of the intended contest and that warnings had been posted, indicating the fixture to the public. The plaintiff by his presence had presumably accepted the risk. It was further pleaded that the accident was due to a latent defect in the motor cycle. It could not be said, however, that the defence of accepted risk was open to the defendant because he was engaged in the commission of an unlawful act. With regard to the defect, no accident would have occurred if undue strain had not been put on the machine.
Mr. Davill, the plaintiff in evidence, said he had not been warned that it was dangerous to stand in the position he had taken up. A notice had been posted on the opposite side of the road warning people not to stand there. He saw a motor cycle come round the curve at about 40 to 50 miles an hour, when the wheel of the sidecar attached to the cycle was lifted off the ground, the machine then dashed across the road and knocked him down. His Lordship said that in the absence of clear statutory authority, the police had no right to restrict the use of the highway to any of His Majesty’s subjects. People had a right to pass and repass along the highway and to make a reasonable delay on it, but no one had the right to use a highway for racing. It had been laid down in a previous case that a right of highway did not include a right to race, and therefore it might well be unlawful for other reasons to carry out races at a maximum speed.
The Chief Constable of Essex said he was present at the contest and that he had given permission for the event to be held, saying at the same time that he had no authority to allow hill climbing contests, but that the police would not take action for excessive speed, providing the contests were carried out on a by-road which was little used, that the permission of the local authority responsible for the upkeep of the road had been obtained and that residents in the neighbourhood raised no objection.
His Lordship in summing up said that there was no authority to turn a highway into a race course, but every effort had been made not to impair the rights of anyone who desired to use the road. This, however, did not absolve the defendant from the duty of exercising reasonable care.
The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff for £420.

Thundersley Hill c.1915. The bungalow in the background is still there today.
Thundersley Hill 50 years on.
This advertisement appeared in the Yorkshire Post published on 2nd July 1920
Malcolm Campbell in his 12 horsepower Talbot 'Blue Bird' clocked the second fastest time of the day at Thundersley
A queue for the start line at Thundersley hill climb in 1921
Captain Keddie's Silver Hawk part way up the Thundersley hill climb course in 1921.
Captain Keddie's 'Silver Hawk' approaching the finish line in 1921

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