TODAY we are cruising back in time to meet the boy and girl racers of almost 100 years ago. 

In recent years Southend has become a hub for boy racers, cruise nights and ‘motorcycle shakedowns’, but as our archives show, it wasn’t so different in the roaring twenties.

In July 1922 a massive motorcar and motorcycle speed trial event was held on Westcliff Esplanade.

It saw some of the top racing drivers in the country descend on the town to compete in a range of speed or ‘sprint events’.

These included Surrey based Captain Alisdair Miller who was famous for his love for racing and who thrilled Southenders as he raced around in his ‘Viper 1’ motorcar.

Thousands of spectators brought their own deck chairs and lined the esplanade to watch the action and even when it rained, the crowds refused to budge, such was the excitement for the event.

There had been plans in the pipeline for a similar speed trial event some five years earlier, on Chalkwell Esplanade, but this never materialised amid concerns by local residents and councillors over noise and safety issues.

However, things were changing. By 1920s motorsport in the UK was gaining momentum and motorcycles in particular were rapidly increasing in popularity and becoming more accessible to young men, and women.

Speed trials became popular in the early 20th century in seaside towns, due to their long, flat esplanades and smooth sands. 

Saltburn in North Yorkshire, especially, led the way in hosting motorcar get-togethers. In 1906, the Yorkshire Automobile Club organised the first Motor Races and Speed Trials at Saltburn where a colossal 60,000 spectators watched as Warrick Wright set a Yorkshire record of 96.5mph. 

The real star of the day, however, was said to be W Ashford, whose 15hp steam car reached 54mph!

Throughout the 1920s and for decades afterwards the Essex Country and Southend -on- Sea Automobile Club became a popular group across south Essex. This club was famous for its annual benevolent event in aid of disabled children.

And here’s a bit of trivial info you might find interesting. Boy racers, take note - the first person to ever be slapped with a speeding ticket was a man named Walter Arnold, of Kent, who was fined on January 28 1896 for travelling at the outrageous speed of 8mph/12.87kph. 

The limit at the time in urban areas was 2mph/3.22kph Arnold was fined one shilling and costs. He had been caught by a policeman who had given chase on a bicycle. 

Check out our vintage photo gallery of pictures from the Southend Westcliff Esplanade speed trials of July 1922.