Scrambling on Hadleigh Downs in the 1970s

A noisy forerunner of the Olympics

In a supposedly flat Essex it may come as a surprise that a sport such as ‘Mountain’ Biking is being staged here as part of the London 2012 Olympic Games, but it has its precedents.

It’s more than 30 years ago now – probably 1978 – when I followed the roar of motorbike engines on Hadleigh Downs and went over to check it out with my camera. The area owned by the Salvation Army is a hidden landscape gem that can only really be appreciated by actually visiting it. Being on ‘private’ land, I made the best of looking at the convoluting terrain. At the time it was not so tranquil.

It was a very dry and dusty day and the bikes, sometimes with pillion passengers and sometimes with sidecars, churned up the local mud in trails of dust and the noise and loudspeaker announcements added an onslaught to the ears. It was exciting stuff, though, as one could wander about outside the markers and cordoned-off trail.

(Some of the machines had actually been made nearby, at the Manor Trading Estate in New Thundersley, by Greeves Motor Cycles. Greeves stopped production in 1976.)

Hadleigh’s Downs and the Country Park are a delight to the senses, but I fear that with the promised ‘legacy’, tranquillity may no longer be one of its secret assets.

{Ed:  here is a video from the film of a scrambling event, with the preparations needed.}

Waiting for the 'Off'.
© Robert Hallmann
Dust trails mark the route.
© Robert Hallmann
A rural setting...
© Robert Hallmann
A test for men (boys?) and machines
© Robert Hallmann
An overview of the battlefield
© Robert Hallmann
With Hadleigh Castle on the horizon, a Thundersley-built Greeves 'Griffon' (No.207) shows its mettle...
© Robert Hallmann
Black fields as background when stubble was still being burnt
© Robert Hallmann
Spectators in the landscape
© Robert Hallmann
Scrambling out of a dustbowl...
© Robert Hallmann
Up and over on three wheels
© Robert Hallmann
A spot of beauty...
© Robert Hallmann
Made it to the Finish...
© Robert Hallmann
Ups and downs of motorbike racing in the 1970s

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  • In the dust trails picture, bike 2 is Brian Atkinson on his Yamaha, I think.

    By Ron Suffield (04/02/2021)
  • Used to race there in the 1970s and aways enjoyed racing there. Pity it is no longer used for Moto Cross or Scrambling. First bike I raced on there was a Greeves built just down the road at Thundersley.

    By Chris Bright (09/12/2019)
  • Claire, I knew your father when I worked at Greeves. Initially the Comp shop was at the back of the stores in Manor Trading estate and then moved with the stores to a new purpose-built factory in Church Road almost opposite where you lived in Kents Hill Road North. It also incorporated the foundry for casting the cylinder blocks. I remember your father as a quite tall man with black combed-back hair and a real talent for riding a trials bike.
    Directly below your father (in rank) was John Mansfield and I wonder if you remember him?

    By Alan Emery (25/08/2018)
  • This brings back wonderful memories, my father Bill Brooker was the comp manager for Greeves, I was lucky to have known Dave Bickers, Badger Goss, Bryan Wade, Aurther Browning to name but a few….happy days !

    By Claire Milligan (24/08/2018)
  • The 2nd photo by Robert Hallmann titled “Dust marks the route” shows Monkey Hill in the background where the riders go up, turn right round a few trees and down. Monkey Hill is short and steep and was very difficult to get up for scramblers. Not enough speed and you won’t get over, too much and the scrambling bike will somersault backward. Not sure what it’s called now. When I was walking over on Olympic race day talking about the scrambling with my brothers a lady behind us politely said she remembered Monkey Hill.

    By Graham Ross (24/08/2018)
  •  This link is for Hadleigh scrambles 1964/1965 on YouTube.

    By David J (05/03/2017)
  • This article takes me back to my ‘teenage years’ and if I remember correctly there was always a scrambling event held on the August Bank Holiday Monday

    Living in Scrub Lane at the time, if the wind was blowing in the right direction, you heard periodic bursts of engines roaring as the competitors raced around the circuit.

    In those days, the sound created by those machines travelled across Hadleigh and came across as loud nuisance background noise, as Hadleigh was then so much quieter. Nowadays you’d be hard pressed to hear that same noise as the constant flow of thru traffic would mask it!

    Oh happy days they were!

    By Simon Clare (20/04/2016)
  • I raced in the 70s, good track, I loved it. It could be me in picture 4 [“A test for men (boys?) – Ed] on machine number 89.

    By kelvin.wilson (17/11/2015)
  • I raced  at Hadleigh in the 1970’s on a cv com and a Greeves the best track to ride and watch. Happy days.

    By Andy hare (17/08/2014)
  • I raced there in the fifties as it was run by the Southend & District MCC, my home club. Always run on a Bank Holiday Monday, as they wouldn’t let us run on a Sunday. I raced a Greeves Hawkstone; best place was second to Jack Hubbard in the 200cc class.

    By roy bannister (09/05/2014)
  • There is a wonderful quote by Murray Walker in the book Motocross On Air which is about BBC Television Scrambles.  He was commentating for the BBC event at Hadleigh and his wife booked an overnight hotel in Lavenham and in the morning it was realised that they needed to be in Hadleigh in Essex  not Hadleigh in Suffolk.

    By Roger Chaplin (09/05/2014)
  • The Greeves Griffon was actually a ‘Trials’ bike and wasn’t the best scrambler (underpowered and the gearings had to be changed from standard); the later Greeves scramblers with the ‘trailing-link’ front suspension (which became a Greeves’ trademark) combined with the Villiers Scrambler and Starmaker engines were of the type used by the famous Dave Bickers and Brian Stonebridge. At the time, the Thundersley-built bikes were probably the best 2-stroke scramblers in the world!

    By Pete Smith (02/10/2013)
  • I remember riding there during the ’70s and riding alongside my childhood great Dave Bickers. In May 1974 at a National Grade meeting, I battled to the line with Dave Bickers. He finished 8th and I came 9th, it was a great track to ride on with all the top riders of the time. If anyone has an old programme of that day would love to have a copy.

    By Bill Gibson (02/09/2012)
  • Magic comments brought back the memories of competition as a rider and that CR40 smell in the air and yes to the Rayleigh rockets at the stadium as well as the bikers’ cafe just down the A127. Those were the days…

    By Dennis Brooks (23/08/2012)
  • My Mum was Secretary to Bert Greeves and I remember going to the scrambles in the early 60s. Met Dave Bickers and Brian Goss and collected badges and other memorabilia.

    By Sally Ewin (06/04/2012)
  • I remember the “Scrambling Meetings” on the Downs very well, mainly in the 60s and enjoyed the Rayleigh Rockets at the Stadium in the same era.Happy Days.

    By Brian Baker (30/03/2012)
  • i remember going in the sixties with mum, dad and elder brother, we used to go via Hadleigh Castle; find a gap in the fence and get in for nothing, a great spectacle for a young boy to see.

    By chris boyce (12/03/2012)
  • I remember watching Graham Noyce on his works Honda in the early 80s. Excellent fun.

    By Alistair Randoll (02/12/2011)
  • The scrambles! We lived in a top floor flat in Templewood Court during the 70s, so could hear the gear-grinding riders up and down the hill. Occasionally you could switch on World of Sport and watch the live action on TV with the sound coming through the windows.. Monkey Hill is a name that always reminds me of the scrambles…

    By Dave Collins (31/10/2011)
  • I remember going to the motorbike scrambles too.  I went with my Mum on bank holidays I think. This was about 1958 or 1959. It seemed very exciting. Does anyone remember going as a child also?

    By carol powley nee southward (19/08/2011)
  • I remember the scrambling at Hadleigh very well. My time frame is from 1963 to 1966. I started work at Greeves/Invacar when I left school in 63. I worked in the stores so met many of the works riders who seemed to me like gods. Dave Bickers (then the current 250cc champion, Bryan Goss and many others. I think that the one thing I will never forget is the smell of Castrol R engine oil (better than any ladies perfume) and still to this day, just one smell and I am transported back 50 years. Great days, lovely people and terrific memories.

    By Alan Emery (05/07/2011)
  • Oh my goodness I remember this. But for me it was around 1970 I think. All I remember was going unknown to my parents, with a young man in a sports car. And coming home really filthy from the dusty dirt.

    By Bridget Underwood (01/06/2011)

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