The Grim­sthorpe Speed Tri­als aimed to recre­ate the racy ro­mance of 1920s mo­tor sport in the grounds of a stately home – and suc­ceeded in achiev­ing those heights


Petri Hitches parks his 1928 speed­way Douglas by the chest­nut fenc­ing, takes off his pud­ding basin, pulls his Aran-knit jumper straight and is barely able to con­ceal his glee at hav­ing com­pleted the open­ing com­pet­i­tive run up the hill in the first Grim­sthorpe Speed Tri­als since the 1920s.

“I worked my way to the front of the queue so I was first one away,” he says with a broad grin of child­like ex­cite­ment. “The first sharp right after the start line is close to the lake on your left, but after that it’s pretty much flat out on this. I’ve rid­den at Sys­ton (an­other Lin­colnshire speed trial) and while the course there is a lit­tle wider, I’ve never got into top gear there like I have done to­day. It’s great to be able to give it full beans.”

Petri is one of over 100 com­peti­tors with pre-1939 bikes and cars ‘giv­ing it full beans’ up the sin­u­ous sin­gle­track stretch of tar­mac in front of Grim­sthorpe Cas­tle, Bourne, which has its ori­gins in the early 13th cen­tury. It’s cur­rently owned by Jane Heathcote-drum­mond­willoughby, the 28th Baroness Wil­loughby de Erseby, and has been in the de Eresby fam­ily since 1516. The dra­matic frontage of the house was the work of Sir John Van­brugh (the ar­chi­tect of Blen­heim Palace and Cas­tle Howard) who gave it the grandeur of a cas­tle. Not only that, Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown is said to have land­scaped the gar­dens of this 3000-acre site in South­ern Lin­colnshire. That’s proper her­itage.

Grim­sthorpe Cas­tle has real mo­tor­sport her­itage, too, first host­ing a speed trial for cars and mo­tor­cy­cles back in 1903. Ray­mond Mays, who de­vel­oped ERA rac­ing cars and sub­se­quently launched BRM, raced there in 1904. Speed tri­als, the early life-blood of mo­tor­cy­clists with sport­ing pre­ten­sions, con­tin­ued at Grim­sthorpe un­til the early 1920s.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports in The Mo­tor Cy­cle, events at Grim­sthorpe used one mile and 1¼-mile cour­ses, some

of up­hill gra­di­ent, some down­hill. At the East Mid­lands Cen­tre ACU event in April 1921, Geo Dance recorded a top speed of 96mph on his Sun­beam 3½, which caused some­thing of a con­tro­versy in the press. The Mo­tor Cy­cle, one of the two weekly bike pub­li­ca­tions of the time, couldn’t be­lieve the top speed and queried it with Mr T F Bid­lake, the of­fi­cial time­keeper of the event and the sur­veyor who laid the course. He con­firmed the high speeds at­tained on the day were due to: ‘the course be­ing on a slightly down­ward grade and there was a strong fol­low­ing wind’.

This year’s ‘re­vival’ was run by Vin­tage Speed Tri­als, a com­pany formed by Richard Pow­ell in March this year with the in­ten­tion of es­tab­lish­ing a club for mem­bers and the vol­un­teers who help out. He says: “We’ve talked to the foresters work­ing on the es­tate, who have an in­ti­mate knowl­edge of the ground we be­lieve the orig­i­nal track was in the ‘Old Deer Park’. It has the gra­di­ent The Mo­tor Cy­cle men­tions, and is in some of the orig­i­nal pho­to­graphs. We would like to use this track and the own­ers are pre­pared to let us use it, but the pro­tec­tion of the trees with bales is very ex­pen­sive and will only be pos­si­ble when we are a lit­tle big­ger.”

Back in 1911, the Lin­colnshire Au­to­mo­bile Club (formed in 1900) used a new for­mula at Grim­sthorpe to de­ter­mine over­all re­sults based on merit, as well as those of elapsed times, the think­ing be­ing that rid­ers should be re­warded for get­ting the best out of smaller-ca­pac­ity ma­chines. The Mo­tor Cy­cle’s for­mula took into ac­count the height and length of the hill plus the av­er­age gra­di­ent


to de­ter­mine the con­stant for the hill, then fac­tored in ma­chine weight, ca­pac­ity and time to cal­cu­late over­all po­si­tions ir­re­spec­tive of ma­chine class. Com­pli­cated? It took two peo­ple per­form­ing cal­cu­la­tions be­tween each run – but, pro­vided rid­ers were sep­a­rated by at least two min­utes on the course, it was pos­si­ble to pro­vide a rolling up­date of ‘for­mula’ re­sults through­out the event! Grim­sthorpe was also used by the same club to carry out Acu-ob­served test­ing to re­vise the for­mula again in 1916. There was no tim­ing dur­ing this year’s event at Grim­sthorpe, but it’s likely there will be in fu­ture.

The 2018 course mea­sured just half of a mile with an up­hill gra­di­ent of about one in six, and at­tracted an en­try of over 40 bikes across four classes. The va­ri­ety of ma­chin­ery was quite re­mark­able and although there was a 1939 cut-off date for bikes, there was a def­i­nite Roar­ing Twen­ties theme to the event, with peo­ple in pe­riod dress and a sound­track be­ing played in the club tent on the lawns of the cas­tle.

Grim­sthorpe has the po­ten­tial to grow and re­placed Sys­ton, which didn’t run this year. “Sys­ton is a lit­tle bit of a sen­si­tive sub­ject. Suf­fi­cient to say, the land owner did not share the ma­jor­ity of the founders’ vi­sion for the event,” says Richard. “Grim­sthorpe is en­tirely its own new, unique event. The his­tory lays at the heart of why we choose a venue; we were aware of the Grim­sthorpe his­tory, and there is prob­a­bly more to un­cover.”

It’s ru­moured that Ray­mond Mays also tested his cars at Sys­ton and Grim­sthorpe, but Richard ex­plains: “He

tested the ERAS mostly on the road be­tween Bourne and Col­ster­worth. What we have un­cov­ered is that he had plans post-war to build a rac­ing cir­cuit at Grim­sthorpe with a Mr Clut­ton to test the BRMS. There was even go­ing to be a branch line of the lo­cal rail­way from Stam­ford to get the pub­lic in!”

The su­perb en­try for Grim­sthorpe was partly cu­rated from pre­vi­ous speed tri­als at Sys­ton, but en­tries were also in­vited. “We had a good fol­low­ing from Sys­ton and they all mi­grated to us, but we ad­ver­tise on our web­site and all our group go to race meets through the year seek­ing in­ter­est­ing cars and bikes. Word of mouth is best. The Ed­war­dian groups are al­ways look­ing for new venues that bet­ter suit the brak­ing and top speeds of their cars, and a group that call them­selves the ‘Fes­ti­val of Sloth’ want to come next year with cy­cle cars.”

There were race bikes, mod­i­fied road bikes and ful­lon spe­cials at Grim­sthorpe, not to men­tion an in­cred­i­ble ar­ray of pe­riod cars. Richard adds: “All our bikes are pre-1939, some are built from parts of old ma­chines, but our ap­proach is to cre­ate as var­ied a field as pos­si­ble. Some of our en­tries Good­wood would be proud to have

on the grid, and for a fledg­ling event I was im­pressed with the turnout on what was a damp day.”

The weather might have de­terred ca­sual day trip­pers, but it didn’t put off the hard­core vin­tage en­thu­si­asts, which de­lighted Richard. “I was ex­pect­ing a small loss that is to be ex­pected on the first event, with such aw­ful weather. But we will be back next year and with good weather, I am con­fi­dent now the for­mula will work.”

He also has a pretty clear view of how the event can


de­velop. “We are plan­ning to in­tro­duc­ing more un­usual at­trac­tions to cap­ture the pub­lic in­ter­est, a pen­ny­far­thing race along the main drive be­ing one. We need to en­hance the spec­ta­tor ac­cess to the start line and get them closer to the track. We need more vin­tage stall hold­ers and food, and per­haps a ball or 1930s din­ner dance the night be­fore, with runs up the track for our guests. The pos­i­tive feed­back we have re­ceived is heart­en­ing and any neg­a­tive feed­back we will lis­ten to care­fully and im­prove upon.

“I want the event to have a sim­ple for­mula; I have no in­ter­est in bolt­ing on trac­tion en­gines and fun fairs. The cars and bikes will al­ways be the main event, but the key is to be cre­ative as our vis­i­tors al­ways no­tice the de­tail. The brown dust coats, vin­tage com­men­tary car­a­van and tra­di­tional start posts are all trade­marks of ours.

“I am proud of what we have achieved so far, and with cir­cuit rac­ing and big re­vival events get­ting more ex­pen­sive and com­mer­cial, I hope we can fill a niche in the mo­tor sport cal­en­dar. The own­ers and trust at Grim­sthorpe are 100% be­hind us and the com­bi­na­tion of a lovely set­ting and great en­tries will help us grow.”

We loved the won­der­ful, re­laxed at­mos­phere of the event and it’s no sur­prise to hear that Richard has al­ready been ap­proached by sev­eral groups in other parts of the coun­try to help them pro­mote and get sim­i­lar speed tri­als off the ground.

Dave Inglis on his Harley ‘D’, orig­i­nally de­signed to take on In­dian Scouts and the Hen­der­son Su­per X

Mag­nif­i­cent Se­ries A Rapide looked en­tirely at home in the aris­to­cratic sur­round­ings

ABOVE: The Mistress of Cer­e­monies was suit­ably at­tired BE­LOW: Even the course car was in pe­riod style

Carl Rear, suit­ably at­tired for the rain on his Sun­beam Model 9. He has par­tic­i­pated in Sys­ton speed trial and Grim­sthorpe com­pares favourably, he says

Brown dust coats are an event trade­mark

Roger Moss has re­ally gone to town on his 1934 Scott: dif­fer­ent crank, deflector pis­tons, big­ger car­bu­ret­tor... and much more

Some of the en­trants looked like they might be a bit of a hand­ful...

Shee­lagh was suf­fer­ing from a crash in­jury to her hand, but still rode her Velo and Tri­umph out­fit

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