Motorbike Scrambling on the Downs

Oral History of Richard Yetton Recorded January 2011

Dave Bickers at Hadleigh Track
Harry Emery
Dave Bickers at Hadleigh Track
Harry Emery

The Senior Meeting – May Bank Holiday Monday.

‘The scrambling started in 1952; I became a member of the Southend Motor Cycle club in 1961, 1962.’

‘I was involved in organising and getting the track ready for the two meets a year. The first was the senior international event with all the works riders, they were paid to attend. The Greeves’ riders from the Benfleet factory would come down, there were international riders, it was a big event. One year Murray Walker was doing the commentary for the television.’

‘There would be between eight – ten thousand people attend; it was the biggest event in East Anglia that weekend, perhaps in the country.  It was always on the Monday the Salvation Army would not let us work on a Sunday in those days it was taboo.’

The Club Event – August Bank Holiday Monday.

‘Average club riders could take part, ‘I competed once it nearly killed me.’ I had a 350 Matchless, a big old beast, I did 6 or 7 laps and I could not hold the thing up, the course was very, very bumpy, I had only ever ridden on flat grass fields before.  This was hilly, you went up what we called “Monkey Hill” and then down and then up again.  The course was about three quarters of a mile to a mile long.  I think it was about 10 laps and then a final of perhaps 10 – 15 laps.’

Final Events 1982

‘It was perhaps the noise abatement society that may have been behind the closure.  The motorbikes had open exhausts and standing next to one was ear splitting, the 2 strokes were like megaphones.  I later took up sailing and you could hear the start coming out of the Medway. They started to put silences on but that took all the fun out of it.’

The Greeves Motor cycle factory

‘Greeves made world class bikes; they did really well for such a small factory on Manor Trading Estate. They made scramble and Trials bikes and later moved into road racing.’

The Greeves factory on Manor Trading estate still stands but no longer manafactures motor bikes, however new ‘Greeves’ motor bikes are now made in Sandon near Chelmsford.

Comments about this page

Add your own comment

  • I can’t remember where monkey hill was, I’m thinking it is the long ridge heading towards the castle from the Leigh side. Does anyone know for sure where it is?

    By Susan Horton (11/05/2023)
  • Between 1979 and 1984, I was the local community officer. It became apparent that during the Summer of the 1980 school holidays kids were (begging, borrowing or unlawfully acquiring) motor bikes to ride on 40 acres at the back of the Manor Trading Estate, Thundersley.
    Although they were enjoying themselves, the noise of these machines without exhaust systems was unbearable to the local residents. I spent a lot of time dealing with residents complaint, locating and speaking to the kids to the extent that I approached my Chief Inspector Brian Townley, with a view to try to set up a club for the motor cyclists. With assistance an approach was made to Castle Point District Council to help with a motor cycle project.
    I had 21 acres of land situated between Benfleet Creek and the old sewage works off Watlington Road licenced to me.
    Together with a number of interested adults a steering committee was set up. The local residents, whose homes backed onto the railway lines were not too pleased with the potentials for excess noise, but eventually times and days were agreed and in 1981 The Castle Point Kickstart (MX & BMX) Club came into being.
    The adults that assisted were Bob Wastall, Councillors Mary Tucker and Bill Brum, Gordon Barton, Frank Mayo, Brian Welham, Brian Tomlin, Peter Vine (Greeves Motor Cycles) and Mr Mitchell.
    Peter Vine had been a trials rider with Greeves and it was a joy to watch him ride and control a motor cycle up and down very steep angled slopes. There were others’ and perhaps your readers can add names in due course?
    I recall a conversation where the committee suggested that if we could get hold of some old railway sleepers, these could be used to construct jumps and berms. I had a conversation with a friend who knew the son of Sir Peter Parker, (Head of British Rail at that time). I wrote a short letter to Sir Peter and within a short time a considerable number of old railway sleepers were delivered and deposited over the safety fence of the railway onto the scrub land of Watlington Road opposite the old sewage works.
    Initially it was my aim to encourage the young riders to use the facility to gain a better control of their machines in the ‘trials riding’ sense, but it became apparent that they really wanted to scramble.
    The Yellow Advertiser newspaper offered to print the membership cards and to join participants had to show they had safety kit with a minimum of at least a proper helmet.
    The club was affiliated to the Essex Association of Boys & Girls Clubs.
    Together with the invaluable assistance of Brian Welham the BMX aspect of the club was brought into being. Racing gates were constructed and donated by Farthing Brothers, on the Manor Trading Estate. From time to time Roberts Plant Hire (from Church Road, Thundersley) would donate a driver and digger to come down to the site and work as needed.
    (I can add more information from time to time if it is wished)

    By J Wimbleton (09/12/2019)
  • Ha, finally sorted it out. Yep sorry you was right, it was Dave Bickers, but what do you know. Chris knew both men through Greeves. Dave Bickers and Dave Vickers. Anyway RIP to both Dave B and my father in law. Keep riding in heaven guys.

    By Garry Merrifield (05/11/2019)
  • Hi the chap’s name was Dave Vickers, not Bickers. My late father-in-law worked at Greeves and knew him.

    Editor’s note: Sorry Garry, definitely Bickers, a member of my family also worked at Greeves, he confirms the name on our site is correct. We have followed this up with a search on the internet and this link provides further confirmation.

    By Garry Merrifield (27/09/2019)
  • The legacy of the Downs Scrambling still go’s on. The Kickstart Motor Cross has their own track on the land between the water treatment works and Canvey creek at the bottom of Watlington Road Benfleet. I believe the club has been running since the late 50’s early 60’s
    with over 130 members now. The track has had major improvement this year (2018) and is non profit making and completely run by volunteers. We have strict noise regulations that only allow us to ride Saturdays and start bikes at 12:00 and switch off at 16:30.

    By Gary Prior (07/12/2018)
  • My father worked for Invacar and was aware of the development of the Greeves motorcycle but didn’t work on it. As a young teenager I followed its birth and trials on the works test track( roughly where Parsons Road is now), then later, its rise to fame with Dave Bickers. Old man Derry ‘Cobb was a mad driver in his special, rear loading chariot. On more than one occasion he came down Church Hill too fast and rolled the contraption on the bottom left hand bend. He’d then lay there, laughing until some-one came to his aid. He certainly enjoyed life. 

    Invacar finally came to an end when, on the advice of Graham Hill the grand-prix driver, the layout of the carriages (single wheel at the front) were deemed inherently dangerous and were banned.

    By Doug Mansfield (06/05/2012)
  • In 1962 at the tender age of fifteen I left school and started work as a trainee storekeeper for Greeves Mototcycles/Invacar Ltd. Initially, I worked on the Manor Trading Estate opposite the main Invacar factory with the Competition unit and the Foundry at the rear. Later, a purpose built stores and Foundry unit were built in Church Road next to E.H.Roberts plant Hire. Bert Greeves lived in a flat above the stores.   I have fond memories of meeting Dave Bickers, Brian Goss and many others during my time there.

    My overwhelming memory is of Mr Derry Preston-Cobb who was disabled and I believe was the main reason Invacar was started. He called me to his office one day and decided I was worth another 1/2p per hour (that’s old money) and I was so ecstatic I couldn’t wait to tell my parents. My father (a storekeeper) was as pleased as I was, so all was well. I left Greeves after three years but never really thought I made the right decision

    By Alan Emery (05/03/2011)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.