That Notorious Hill

Approaching Westerham Hill from the south

A lone hill-climbing cyclist approaching the hill


Westerham Hill, now the A233, the steep bend by ‘Deepdale’ claimed many a victim in the 1900s

The early 1900s was the heyday of country cycling, a pursuit popular amongst the middle class families of south London for sport or pleasure. Westerham Hill was the course of an annual time trial dominated by the ‘Catford Cycle Club’. Tea rooms sprang up around the area to cater for this popular pleasure pursuit and would offer secure storage  for bicycles of those wanting to ramble in the surrounding woods and countryside.


It was not uncommon for passengers to have to dismount from their carriage as the hill got steeper, to lighten the load. Sometimes they even had to push to assist the poor old one-horsepower steed up the hill, at one-in-six, one of the steepest hills in Kent.

 

The coming of the motor car in the early 1900s was a time of challenge involving poor road surfaces, the capability of the drivers and the strength and durability of the mechanical components of the cars themselves.  From the Herald of 3rd July 1908: …motorcar overturned and caught fire on Westerham Hill. The chauffeur was injured and the car wrecked. And again from the 14th December 1913 issue: …a car belonging to Mr. C. T. Morris of Bromley, overturned on Westerham Hill. All six occupants were pinned underneath the vehicle but when released, were found thankfully to be suffering with only slight injuries.


An accident involving brake failure occurred at the foot of Westerham Hill in 1912
and shows the extent of damage sustained to the vehicle.


But not everyone escaped with slight injuries, there were tragedies too. 
From the Herald of August 11 1917: Motor Car Dashes Into House – Accident on Westerham Hill. There were two accidents on Westerham Hill on the Bank Holiday, both within half an hour, resulting in rather serious injuries to two persons, a cyclist and a lady motor passenger. The motor car that came to grief contained five persons.
The car belonged to Mr. G. A. Coulson, an aeroplane builder residing at 43, Lewisham Park S. E., who was accompanied by his wife and Miss Winnie Pentercoat (a friend), and a little girl. The car was driven by the chauffeur, Herbert Spencer. It is stated that the brakes did not act when applied as they began to descend the hill, whereupon the chauffeur endeavoured to change into a lower gear, and failing, the car ran absolutely free, gaining speed rapidly. It swerved around the steep bend passing ‘Deepdale’ at a tremendous rate, and finding he had lost all control the chauffeur steered for the bank in the hope of preventing a possible collision and worse result on the road. The car struck the edge just above the residence of Mr. A. Wells, limeburner, tore up the gatepost and hedge for several yards, and then crashed into the house. The sudden impact shot the car round, smashed the two off-wheels, and threw the occupants violently out – all except the chauffeur.  Mr. and Mrs. Coulson marvellously escaped with a sever shaking and a few bruises, the little girl received a few cuts, but Miss Pentercoat was seriously injured.  Dr Russell was at that time hastening to the scene of another accident close-by, to attend an injured lad – the result of a cycling accident under similar circumstances half an hour previously. He promptly attended to the young lady’s injuries, and she was quickly removed in a passing taxi to Bromley Hospital. It was feared she had sustained a fractured rib and a broken collar-bone.


THE INJURED CYCLIST The lad who had met with an accident was William Maybank, of 198 Grove Street, Deptford. He had only one brake on his bicycle, and finding that this failed to hold the machine he ran into the bank and was thrown over the handlebars, receiving a severe scalp-wound and concussion. He was laid on the bank in Mr.Wells’ garden – just where the car first struck the hedge, and he escaped almost certain death by a few feet only. He also was dispatched to Bromley Hospital with the injured lady.

DESCENDING THE HILL – is always an exhilarating experience, especially on a fine day. This view taken just before the first World War, shows the Hamilton-Greig’s house ‘The Mount’ on the corner of ‘The Avenue’ and an oast house – no longer extant – at Betsoms Farm on the corner of the Pilgrims Way.


Betsoms Farm barn can be seen on the left as a local baker’s cart ambles its way across the Pilgrims Way and to the start of the hill.

A view up Westerham Hill showing ‘Lime Villa’ on the left, the site of Westerham’s lime-works
and home of Abraham Wells, the lime-burner of one hundred and twenty years ago.

The view down the hill from Lime Villa in the early 1900s.
There is much more vegetation both sides of the road today which obscures this fabulous view

Somewhat difficult to place in modern times, but the lorry is turning from today’s ‘Main Road’ from Biggin Hill, to make its way to Tatsfield. The descent of Westerham Hill would be reached if the lorry was going straight on past the little grass triangle on the right. The area of fencing next to the lorry would today surround the ‘Shampan’ restaurant at the Spinning Wheel, and the lane disappearing behind the trees on the right is Greys Road… This photograph dates from circa 1912.

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