Sensible Skegness

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A reader, Mr Jack Tatham of Wollaton, has drawn my attention to a feature which a local newspaper published last year about the old motor racing days at Skegness. The article shows how sensible, as well as bracing, Skegness must be. It managed to hold speed-trials on the beach as early as 1905, repeated in 1906, when motor-speed was not exactly popular in the land. The course was from opposite the Vine Hotel towards Gibraltar Point, and the support of the Earl of Scarborough ensured a successful outcome, by the Nottingham AC The highlight was the mile scratch contest, won by F A Bolton’s 30 hp Daimler; Huntley Walker’s 70 hp Darracq was not running well but on a demonstration run Cecil Edge’s 90 hp Napier was said to have reached more than 90 mph. Curiously, in view of later opinions, the sand was deemed too soft for the big racing cars.

In 1906, unfortunately, bad weather made the sands unsuitable for the faster cars and the monsters, like the Maharajah of Tikarri’s 130 hp de Dietrich, Edge’s 90 hp Naper, and the 80, 100 and 200 hp Darracqs had to be content with giving demo runs, instead of racing in the class allocated to them. However, interest had been added by running cars in groups instead of singly, and Instone’s 35 hp Daimler beat Cecil Edge’s 50 hp Napier in the mile sprint. For some reason Skegness then abandoned sand racing until 1923. Under very sensible arrangements, racing was then resumed. For instance, the aforesaid newspaper account says that the revival of Skegness speed was the idea of A E Barlow, of the town’s Advancement Association. An executive committee was formed, with a popular local doctor and town councillor as its Chairman. The Earl of Scarborough was elected President and a former local MP, Sir A Weignall, KCMG, and his successor, Alderman Pattinson, MP, Vice-Presidents. With such influential persons in control, the speed-trials could hardly fail? Another Councillor was encouraged to be the events secretary, a local accountant the treasurer, and there were two more Councillors, one a JP, another an MBE, on the committee. A local builder was persuaded to be the clerk-of-the-course and he measured a mile of the Seacroft foreshore and erected the fencing, positioned bathing-huts for the time-keepers, etc. and tents for the Press and other visitors. The Course secretary was the Earl of Scarborough’s agent, a Skegness ‘bus-proprietor was deemed capable of marshalling the competing cars, and the Press was looked after by the editor of the Skegness Standard.

All very sensibly planned! The RAC sent A G Reynolds, the well-known time-keeper, as starter and race official, and all seemed set. But, the best laid plans of mice and men. . The speed-trials were to be an attraction during the town’s Carnival Week, but the lack of experience of the municipal authorities, and bad weather, upset things. A race between an aeroplane and the fastest car backfired and on the first day the telephone links failed, so no times were taken. Spectators and competitors are said to have been sparse on the second day, the sand wet, the June wind cold: the course was now over an ss kilo, from the Seacroft Hotel to Gibraltar Point. 6,000 onlookers paid for admission, with “freebies” lining the sandhills, and the attendance figure for the second day was a disappointing 12,000. The sea encroached during the final runs and the chestnut fencing was rolled up and other equipment rescued just in time . . .

The snags not withstanding, a repeat performance of the 1923 event, in which Cook’s TT Vauxhall had made FTD, was held in 1924, with Councillor Jessop MBE as committee Chairman, the good doctor as his deputy. Most of the other influential persons were retained and as a crowdpuller Capt Malcolm Campbell with the 350 hp V12 Sunbeam and J G Parry Thomas with the Leyland Thomas were secured as runners. The big Sunbeam made FTD. It is stated that an attempt on “the half-mile sand track world record” was due but that spectator limitations obviated the required space for a flying start. In fact, the shortest world record distance was one kilometre, with no especial sand-course provision. But half-mile records were recognised at Brooklands, where the fastest at the time of the 1924 Skegness meeting was 126.40 mph by Thomas and the 7.2-litre Leyland-Thomas which he soon increased to 134.33 mph. The sand was now described as being like “solid concrete” on both days.

S G Cummings, whom we described last month as frequently being seen in an official capacity after giving up racing in 1922, was a Steward and Scrutineer at Skegness in 1924, A V Ebblewhite, the astonishingly hard-working handicapper, was there in that capacity, and the RAC Steward was the Rev Greenhill, the Essex MC’s Mr Bass, clerk-of-the-course, while the Judges comprised a Major, an Army Captain, and Sir Hickman Bacon, who had run a 1908 GP Austin in speed events in 1909 (FTD at Syston Park, for instance).

Skegness invited Capt (later Sir) Malcolm Campbell to use their sands for his 1925 LSR attempt but although he said they were “very good and faster than Pendine sands,” he declined, in view of the creeks interfering with the 5 miles he needed. Nor were the speed-trials resumed: they had lost money for the Council each year. . . Another project was the 1929 Wash Motor Speedway scheme. A newly-formed Automobile Racing Association hoped to build a 15-mile-long grandstand, parking for 50,000 cars, and a speed-boat area. But a sea wall was involved, and this 12-mile circuit never materialised, the company going into liquidation although it had the Board of Trade’s permission and Campbell, Woolf Barnato and Earl Howe were directors. A start was to have been made early in 1932: the recession was blamed for the scheme’s demise. But, looking back, Skegness had the right idea for promoting their seaside speedtrials — make sure influential folk are on your side! Now that the VSCC has lost Weston-Super-Mare, perhaps it, and other interested clubs, might find some other seaside town prepared to listen to a tourist attraction of this kind? W.B.