Nostalgia: Enduring appeal of hill racing on Yorkshire’s roads

In today’s world of six-speed gearboxes, turning something as simple as going up a hill into a competition seems like an anachronism. But a sport created in the earliest days of the motor car has an enduring popularity.

The Talbot team prepare for the Yorkshire Automobile Club hill climb at Pateley Bridge. Third from the right is Lambats' car.   (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
The Talbot team prepare for the Yorkshire Automobile Club hill climb at Pateley Bridge. Third from the right is Lambats' car. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Hill climbing has been practiced as a sport in Yorkshire since the early 1920s, although as these pictures from the archive bear witness, it was going strong in other parts of the country long before. One of the first events on open public roads in the Ridings was up Greenhow Hill at Pateley Bridge in July 1922. It cost £1 to enter and competitors could carry a passenger.

Holme Moss above Holmfirth, better known today as the location of the BBC radio mast, was another early venue, and was where in 1920 the legendary racer Sir Malcolm Campbell took his Talbot around a one-and-a-quarter mile section of what was then a dirt track route in a minute and 42.6 seconds. Two years later, he was back, in a Sunbeam. A centenary celebration race had been planned for last year, and would have been the first for decades to be allowed on the public highway.

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Yorkshire’s other early public hill climb routes included the so-called Hepolite Scar, near Bolton Woods on the fringe of Bradford, which was named after the family behind the Hepworth and Grandage engineering firm.

Cars line up for the hill climb during the Scottish Trials (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

But it was in the post-war years that hill climbing reached its peak, both in popularity and altitude, with popular events at Harewood – which continue today – and a weekend-long festival in Scarborough.

By the 1960s the Yorkshire branch of the British Automobile Racing Club was hosting 30 events a year and had a membership of around 1,000. But that figure was dwarfed when it staged the first American drag racing event at Church Fenton, near York, in front of a crowd of 20,000

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10th September 1910: A J Hancock rounds a hair pin bend in his Vauxhall during the Wolverhampton Automobile Club hill climb at Ironbridge. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
18th July 1914: Miss Henry nears the top of South Harking Hill in her GWK during the Cycle Car Club hill climb. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
10th September 1910: Racing driver R Lisle finishes the Wolverhampton Automobile Club Hill Climb at Ironbridge with a tyre missing. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)