Thundersley Hill revisited

A facet of speed-trial history, which a reader has drown to our attention — the accident at Kop Hill early in 1925 — is usually blamed for the subsequent ban on all such events on British public roads, although the increasing attendance at such speed events and thus the problems of safe crowd control made such a ban inevitable, sooner or later.

Less known is that during an Essex MC speed hill-climb at Thundersley Hill in 1923 a motorcycle and sidecar ridden by R Cotgrove ran into a Mr F L Davin when the machine’s front wheelnut apparently came loose and caused it to swerve across the road at a bend and onto the grass verge. Mr Davill, who was out for a walk and had paused to speak to friends, and was not it seems spectator, suffered two broken legs and a fractured wrist in the collision.

He sued the rider and in spite of pleas by the defence claiming that the club had police sanction to hold the event and had put up a warning notice at the bend, the Judge, Mr Justice McCardie, found for the plaintiff. He was awarded £420 damages by the King’s Bench jury; which does not seem much, even for those days, considering that he had lost his job and would probably limp for the rest of his life and most likely never regain full use of his wrist.

The Judge reversed Council’s arguments for the defendant, saying no-one had the right to use a highway for racing purposes, quoting a case of 1863. As the police were involved the Chief Constable of Essex, Caps Unett, agreed he had given permission for the event to be held (he was present; was he an enthusiast?) but said he had no authority to do this, simply guaranteeing that the police would take no notice of excessive speed, providing the event was run on a byroad, with permission from the local authority, and no objection was raised by locals.

The Judge remarked that he could not see that the police or any other body had the right to close any part of a highway for motor-racing and implied that there might be other considerations — presumably breaking the then 20mph speed-limit.

The case was heard in October 1924, and must have had an influence on the RAC’s eventual ban. If the Chief Constable’s ‘by-road’ was Two Church Hill, it was an unlucky venue, because it was where Parry Thomas in the Leyland, at a meeting earlier in 1923, had damaged two motorcycles and the heel of a policeman’s boot…