Bouley Bay Hill Climb

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The first hillclimb was held in 1920 when the road surface was concrete and the club had just been formed at a meeting attended by seven people - From the Jersey Motor Cycle and Light Car Club website

This photograph is believed to show a competitor in the inaugural event in 1920

Today the club organises four hillclimbs a year and has a membership in excess of 500. Many different venues were used in the early years but Bouley Bay remained the favourite for competitors and spectators alike. The idyllic setting on Jersey’s north coast, with the French coastline visible on a clear day, is unsurpassed for its atmosphere and spectacle in British hillclimbing. The hillclimbs stopped briefly during the German Occupation but the club was quick to start again, by organising an international event in 1946. The following year Bouley Bay was one of only five venues in the inaugural British Hillclimb Championship and has held championship events ever since. Jersey Evening Post reports from the 1950s remark on regular crowd attendance’s in excess of 7,000

The original course was 1065 yards in length, but this was reduced to the current 1011 in 1949. Demanding, technical and challenging are just a few of the descriptions used by the UK competitors who visit each year for the British National Hillclimb championship. Unlike many UK events the JMC and LCC hillclimbs are open to all types of machinery from cars, to sidecars and motorbikes, to karts; all are welcome to entertain the crowds. With its mixture of blind bends through high banked tree lined corners to the tight hairpins towards the top, Bouley Bay has everything to challenge the best in the business. For spectators the high banks above the top half of the hill are a natural amphitheatre looking down the hill as the competitors race up.

History

  • From the parish magazine Trinity Tattler

There are occasions when the quiet, sleepy atmosphere of Bouley Bay is transformed into a boistrous, roaring celebration of speed and competition. Attracting participants from far and wide, the Jersey Motor Cycle and Light Car Club holds speed trials on the hill four times a year and, apart from the Occupation, has done so every year for almost 100 years.

Although the event is more popular than ever for participants, it probably peaked for spectators in the immediate post-war years. When it was first held by the newly formed Jersey Motor Cycle Club in 1920 it involved only motor cycles, and both participants and spectators were few in number. That first meeting featured machines with names that will bring tears to the eye of the toughest enthusiast. Manufacturers' names now lost in the mists of time such as Norton, AJS and Sunbeam took the honours.

Reliability trial

The fastest time on that day by Doug Le Caudey, riding a Triumph, was 70 seconds; an average speed of a little over 30 mph which, considering the rough surface, was quite remarkable. The event was called a 'reliability trial', which probably meant that finishing in one piece was an achievement in itself.

Motor cars were introduced a few years later. At some point before 1935 the hill was concreted and widened, which would have been a little more inviting for the four wheeled racers. A photograph from 1935 shows a magnificent array of vehicles outside what became the Black Dog pub. Among the Morgans, Chryslers and Aston Martins was a two litre Bianchi, which amazed all and sundry by making the ascent in 69 seconds, entirely in first gear.

Frank Le Gallais stormed up in a winning 63.6 seconds in the Chrysler; his rival John Benett was disqualified for driving without wearing a crash helmet. Racing was not confined to male drivers, however, as 1937 saw Mrs Pat Oxenden take the hill in 68 seconds in her 2663cc SS Jaguar. This was bettered in 1939 by Yvonne Oldridge in her three-litre Mark Special, who claimed the fastest time of the day with 63 seconds.

The Occupation years brought the whole thing to an abrupt halt. Many of the local racing machines were mothballed and, as far as possible, tucked away from general view. One in particular, a 16hp SS1 (J8320) owned by Percy Wakeham, was secreted in a garage in Colomberie for much of the war, but mysteriously disappeared some time in 1944. This vehicle has been the subject of some interest lately and is now believed to be somewhere in Switzerland.

Stirling Moss

The Liberation saw the hill climb roar back into life with a vengeance. The first post-war event was held on 9 May 1946, when the crowd was estimated to be in excess of 10,000 and it has been held on every Liberation Day for the past 20 years. A year later, in 1947, the 60-second barrier was broken by Raymond Mays. Another record was broken in 1948 in the 500cc Class when a Cooper finished in 63.8 seconds. The car may have been unremarkable and the time not the fastest overall on the day but the driver, 18-year-old Stirling Moss, went on to make a few more headlines later.

Pushing machines to the limit of performance on such a challenging course has not been without consequences. In July 1955, Bill Sleeman, an experienced driver who the year before had raced at Silverstone, while travelling at an estimated 60 mph, mounted the bank-side half way between Undercliffe and La Vieille Charriere, at what is now called Sleeman's, and overturned. Racing cars were then open topped and, with little to protect him, the unfortunate driver lost his life.

The modern speed record is remarkable in that it was achieved at the July 2016 'National' meeting when the record was broken three times on three consecutive runs. Having stood at 37.6 seconds for a number of years it fell to Scott Moran with a time of 37.47 seconds. Minutes later the previous holder, Wallace Menzies, broke back with 37.39 seconds but on the very next run Trevor Willis blew it out of sight with an amazing time of 36.48 seconds.

The obvious question is how those times were they measured with such accuracy. In 1923 it is believed that a man stood at the finish, by the quarry, and in the absence of any trees, could see the start line where a starter would drop a flag, at which point the recorder would start his stopwatch. This arrangement could not last and soon modern technology was harnessed to assist. An electrical impulse was initiated at the start of the run which, connected by cable, started the timing clock at the finish. The really revolutionary aspect to this, however, was the way in which the impulse was initiated. A plate was nestled under the vehicle front wheel which when, driven over at the off, would pull on a cord which was tied to a bakelite 'wall switch', and as the switch was flicked over, an electronic signal started the clock.

Having solved the starting problem, attention turned to the finish. Relying as it did on the timing judge stopping the watch as he perceived the vehicle to cross the line, this was less than satisfactory. On more than one occasion timings, which were unbelievable at best, were questioned even by the riders and drivers. Eventually laser beams were employed to put the matter to rest and now times are recorded to one hundredth of a second which, if the car is travelling at 80mph, is equivalent to it having gone some 40 centimetres.


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An Evening Post photograph of the 1946 event
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A page of pictures of the hill climb from the Trinity parish magazine Trinity Tattler
1949

1969

These pictures are taken from a cine film of the 1969 national event

1935
Competitors assembled at the bottom of the hill before a 21st century event
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