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:: [ Reigate Hill Climb 1880 - Report October 2020] ::


In view of the ban on public meetings, the Coronavirus has put paid to the normal range of Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society outside and inside gatherings. We have therefore encouraged all our members to take photographs instead of any of their allowable distancing machinery and share them on our website. Many of our Members are of the 'elderly variety' so were hankered deep down thinking of survival rather than escape, but some have been excercising their cars in very small select covid-secure ways and some have even been 'socially cycling' and have sent reports and photos to us.

Reigate Hill Climb - 1880
by Chas Moody

The 140th Anniversary of the Reigate Hill Climb was on 4th September this year. Readers will no doubt realise that no motor vehicles were involved in this event. It would be another five years before Karl Benz designed and built the world's first practical automobile powered by an internal combustion engine. On this occasion the vehicles, if they can be described as such, were 'Ordinary' bicycles or, as they are commonly known these days, Penny Farthings.

The course started at The Grapes Hotel in Bell Street, Reigate. The Grapes was near top left of Bell Street going north towards
the Tunnel). Then proceeded north, .....

Current map showing same route, when the Tunnel was main A217 London road and before motorways had been though of.

Grapes Hotel opened c1780 as Bunch of Grapes. Became bigger Knights Store 1912-2016. Currently Oliver Bonas, dress shop.

.... and up through Reigate Tunnel. The Tunnel was built in 1823 by Earl Sommers, who lived on the hilltop in the town centre. His estate stood between the town and the road north to London so he built a tunnel below his grounds so the locals could get directly to the London road without disturbing him. It is believed to be the first road tunnel in the world. It opened in 1823, and a toll was levied for its use: d for a horse and 6d for a coach and four. Pedestrians could use it free. It was freed of tolls in 1856.

Please Click on the thumbnail photos to see full size pictures

The Tunnel was eventually made one-way alternating north/south controlled by traffic lights at each end of the tunnel. Absolute joy blasting through on a motorbike !!

Under and around The Tunnel are Reigate Caves which produced fine sand and which some people illegally dug in their basements until their house collapsed.

....  Then over the railway line that was opened in 1849, and up the hill, finishing at the 'suspension bridge' at the top of Reigate Hill, as shown on the heading photo. The suspension bridge was an iron structure erected in 1825 when a deep cutting was formed through the chalk down in order to reduce the gradient of the hill. It was replaced in 1910 by the present concrete bridge, as below. 

The following somewhat lyrical, by today's standards, report of the event, which was inaugurated by Surrey Bicycle Club, appeared in The Cyclist journal of September 8th 1880, entitled: "Descriptive notes on the hill-climbing contest, Reigate - (By 'one of the crowd')"

"It was not long, however before arrivals made their appearance and 'ere one after another the 'great guns' arrived. The 'demon', wounded, with his left arm splintered and in a sling - for whose predominate quality 'pluck' is inadequately expressive - despite his recent ill luck, showed up like a Briton. We now ascend the - to most cyclists - unrideable hill, taking up our station some 800 yards above the falling off point, viz, where the narrow tracks of stone in the very loose and bad surface commence; a leeward breeze blowing the while, favourably for the Hill-climbers. 

The commencement of action was announced by Coleman, of the Leytonstone BC, in gold-laced jockey cap (O! vanity), heralded by a bustling referee on foot, sailed along, well upright. F Chiesman (unattached) pluckily pulling the handles of his machine, but labouring, preceded by a minute or so Cortis - wagging laterally a bit, but putting the pace on despite riding one-handed. Percival, of the Wanderers, followed, treading quick and sitting upright. Next came someone progressing but slowly, but going very straight. Query, was this Oram (Capt. West Kent)? Wigginton (Saturn BC), bearer of No.7, passed next, labouring; whilst No.8, Goodbolt (of the Civil Service BC) went straight as a die, as if feeling the importance, along that narrow track, of so doing, and though in a milder manner, as if experiencing the Shakespearian sentiment - 'I have set my life upon a cost, And I will stand the hazard of a die'. 

Darling, Captain of the Caledonian BC, a strong man with bare arms, pulling at his handles, bore No.6. 'Steady, Budd, steady!' was ejaculated as Budd, of the Surrey BC, though riding in good form, yet being on a racer too light to well negotiate the nasty edging of the flags, swerved somewhat perilously by. The riders left line of pavement had hitherto been patronised by the competitors, but Whittaker, of the Croydon BC on a good sized bicycle, preferred bowling by on the right hand side. 'All right so far; No.19' sung out a portly party near us as Abraham, an Isle of Wight BC man, navigated carefully along. Our stout friend then Bravoed! at the good form of Crute, of the Sutton BC. 

Twelve riders had now so far surmounted the hill....The interval over, Hamilton, of the Druids BC, riding in upright style, now spun by. Tacking rather from side to side, as if there was a screw loose in his back wheel, did No.22 (Watkins, of the Surrey United BC), in a puggaree, and, on a gleamingly-plated machine, sally by. No.23, grasping at handles, passed, pumped along slowly, followed shortly by (?) a competitor without a number, who came to grief just in front of us. Brown Blackwell (of the Canonbury BC) next passed on the left track, riding straight and looking sinister. No.25 (Gingell, of the Invicta BC), putting on a rattling pace, was quietly followed after an interval by No.26, riding straight and under-grasping. 

The first man we noticed adopting the hanging over style was No.28 (Hitchcock, Crystal Palace BC), in white 'unwhisperables', and going straight; a few minutes after whom No.30 an Isle of Wight man, in conspicuous brown uniform, formed a good contrast as he cycled quickly by, sitting well erect. Cramphorn (where was your No.ticket, Mr CWC?) with the big nob surmounting his cap, came next, riding well; then on the right hand flags, 34, clad in grey, upright and going straight; and No.36 on the left-hand side. Slow and unsteady, sticking his 'funny bones' out slightly, was No.37, who had chosen the left track, and was pulling at his handles as he passed us ...Saunders (of the Clarence BC) worked his machine along the left track with some body movement. 

Soon after, 69 (an unattached rider) bowled steadily by on the same track. Reynolds (of the London BC) next excited some demonstrations of admiration as (on the left) he wound up the acclivity seemingly faster than any of the previous strugglers. Followed by several wheelmen propelling their steeds hind wheel foremost and cocked up in the air. No.47 wobbled gallantly by on the right; then on the left, Cunningham, of the Temple, passed pulling visibly with F C Neville (72) London BC on the right track in his rear, whose good riding, an inebriate, who was quickly collard, endeavoured to check. No.50 (on the right), passed well, as did 64 Morgan, a member of the Bristol BC - did you ride up expressly, Morgan? Bravo! 'I bet you a pound he don't go up!' cries a spectator, 'Who won't?' we lisp, and turn our eyes at No.52 (Philpot, of Sevenoaks BC) on a plated machine, sitting upright, squeezed along with difficulty. 

Rucker (who had just previous to the competition successfully scaled the hill) and Watson of the Surrey BC, riding respectively on the right and left tracks, next passed close together going well. Steering straight and sitting upright, McCaffrey, of the Brixton, next went on the road to glory. Then came No.78, a Rover's man (G R Brown), with conspicuous white gloves meandering along on the right hand track and looking rather hard pressed... 

Everybody seemed pleased with success of the hill climbing competition, but of course there is 'no rose without a thorn', and the enjoyment of two individuals was marred through the backbones of their well plated machines snapping in an extraordinary manner.... Particulars of hill Length from Grapes Hotel to Suspension Bridge, 2640 yards (1 miles). Rise, 420 feet. Average gradient, 4 feet in 100 feet. Average gradient on tramway, 10 feet in 100 feet. Severest gradient on tramway, 12 feet in 100 feet."

The 'tramway' mentioned had nothing to do with trams. Reigate Hill was a narrow road constructed like most at that time with graded stones rolled flat, probably with a liberal coating of mud or chalk washed out from the side banks together with horse dung, etc. Early photographs show the tramway, which consisted of two continuous parallel stretches of flagstones approximately eighteen inches wide on the steepest part of the hill, set in the road surface at a suitable distance apart to suit the track of a horse drawn cart or carriage, the purpose being to reduce the rolling resistance of the wheels of the vehicle. Note the reference to " the very loose and bad surface" where the tracks of stone commenced. The aim of the 'Wheelman' therefore would be to try to keep his machine on one of these tracks in order to make the best time. 

At least 74 riders entered the event from as far afield as Derby and Bristol, of which 29 did not start and around 27 failed to complete the course, three recorded as having fallen. The winner was Charles Crute, Captain of the Sutton Bicycle Club, in a time of 8 minutes. In the 'Remarks' column on the results sheet his performance was described as "Fast and in excellent form". 

Please Click on the thumbnail photos to see full size pictures

       Winner of the 1880 Reigate Hill Climb 
  Charles Crute, Captain, Sutton Bicycle Club

      Equal second was H.L.Cortis, with broken arm.
The Wanderers Bicycle Club

Equal second was H.L.Cortis of the Wanderers club (the chap with the broken arm!) in a time of 9 minutes - "In his usual style, but with one arm in a splint". The same time was accorded to J R Hamilton of the Druids Club - "Splendidly ridden". Three riders recorded the third best time of 10 minutes, G J Hunter of the Isle of Wight - "Very well ridden", F W Payne of C.B.J.C - "Ridden in good form" and T G Neville of the London Club - "Moderately easy, in good form". The slowest time was 15 minutes recorded by H.R.Reynolds of the Dark Blue and London Club who rode "Very steadily and well". Bronze medals were awarded to all those who completed the climb. 

So, what's it like to ride a Veteran bicycle up "the unrideable" Reigate Hill? There's only one way to find out - dust off the trusty old bike and have a go! 

Results to be advised next month, after a bit of a rest, 
.... Chas Moody  

Classics at Penshurst - October 2020

We have received a lovely photo from Andrew Randall to prove there is still some life outside Covid and that at least some of our Members are taking their machines out for a communal drive in the country. The location is Penshurst Place in Kent, a 14th century Manor House and Gardens. 

1934 Aston Martin Mk II         -        1952 Jaguar XK 120         -        1968 Jaguar E-type

This is a venue that the SVVS has visited a few times; very attractive and with a very chequered history. The present manor house was built in 1341 for a London merchant and four times Lord Mayor of London who wanted a country residence within easy distance of London. This was at the time when such properties ceased to be castles: they were more dwellings that could be defended in an emergency. A subsequent owner Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham was executed in 1521 by King Henry VIII following a lavish feast held at Penshurst Place hosted by the Duke in honour of Henry. Henry then used Penshurst Place as a hunting lodge, being only a few miles from Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn. In 1550, Henry VIII's son, King Edward VI, granted the house and estate to Sir Ralph Fane but it was forfeited two years later after Sir Ralph was executed for treason. 


King Edward VI subsequently granted the estate to Sir William Sidney in 1552. The Sidney family have been in continuous occupation for more than 460 years.

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