Brighton Speed Trials

Brighton & Hove City Council’s e-Petition service has proved to be useful way of raising awareness of architectural and historic matters.

Until recently, the petition to save Saltdean Lido attracted the most signatures with 2,494 supporters. Numbers vary entirely though. 129 people called on the council to compulsorily purchase Anston House and just five petitioned for the removal of “& Hove” from the name of our city.

As I write this column, 11,310 have signed a petition, started by Brighton & Hove Motor Club, calling on the Green council not to cancel the historic Brighton Speed Trials that famously take place on Madeira Drive every year. When I think of the many assaults on our local heritage that I have witnessed, incidents involving developers vandalising buildings usually spring to mind – the possibility of a council destroying such a key element of our local history is quite shocking.

The history of the Speed Trials begins with the London-to-Brighton ‘Emancipation Run’ of 1896 that was held to celebrate the cancellation of a law which required a motorist to ensure that his moving vehicle was preceded by a man with a red flag. Very much in this spirit, a Motor Race Week was held in July 1905 following a successful campaign by local hotelier Harry Preston to have tarmacadam laid on Madeira Drive. It attracted various famous names from the motoring world including Charles Rolls, co-founder of Rolls-Royce.

The Emancipation Run lives on as the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run and the Motor Race Week as the Brighton Speed Trials which collectively attract tens of thousands of supporters each year. They are the world’s longest-running motoring and motorsports events respectively.

These events and many others take place in front of Brighton’s East Cliff. The huge seawall in front of the cliff was constructed in 1830-8. What became Madeira Drive was laid out following the construction of the Aquarium in 1872. Madeira Terrace was added in 1890-97 and serves as my own special viewing spot for the Speed Trials.

A fatal crash involving a competition entrant being thrown out of a motorcycle sidecar at 100mph in September 2012 led to the cancellation of the 2013 event. The brother of the lady who died – doing what she loved – has appealed for the competition to continue.

The council is meeting on 23rd January to make a decision – there is still time to sign the petition.