Wiscombe Park Estate
Coat of Arms -
Sir William Bonville.
Wiscombe Park is a 19th-century Gothic country house and estate in Southleigh - some 7 miles south of Honiton in Devon. The house looks out over superb rolling parkland and is a grade II listed building.
Wiscombe belonged in medieval times to Otterton Priory and was granted in the reign of Henry III to Sir William Bonville, in whose time the Park was stocked with deer. It then passed to the Marquis of Dorset, later the Duke of Suffolk, after whose attainder it passed first to the Petre family and then to the Hows, from whom it was bought c.1815 by Charles Gordon of the Gordon family (The Earls of Aberdeen).
The present house was built in 1826 by Joseph Power of Colyton for Gordon on the site of the old manor house. It is a two-storey double depth building of plastered stone rubble with slate roofs. A large single storey billiard room projects at right angles to rear of the left end of the house.
Photo - Sarah Forsyth
The 'Motoring Majors'
It was purely by chance that Major Richard Chichester met Major Charles Lambton when they were both independently posted to Jerusalem after the war. Both men had a love of 'proper cars' and Richard found a 'Rolls Royce Phantom Sedanca de Ville' as his personal transport whilst in Palestine ..... and it was this car that caught the attention of Charles.
Their common interest in motoring brought the two men together and when they found a Silver Ghost in a Tel-Aviv scrap yard they decided to buy it, revive it and drive it back to England. Their 5,000 mile journey together in the Silver Ghost resulted in a life long friendship.
After marrying Bunny in 1951 and having left the army, Richard and Bunny bought the much rundown estate of Wiscombe Park in 1953.
In 1954 when a Tarmac drive was created for access to Wiscombe House, Daniel Richmond from Downton Engineering paid a visit and drove Richard up the drive at speed: it both terrified and excited Richard - the seeds of competition at Wiscombe Park had been sown!
Charles Lambton had already gained some hillclimbing experience and on his first visit to Wiscombe Park the duo decided that it would be ideal for a hill climb course.
The planning and preparation was completed by a group of enthusiasts led by Major Richard Chichester - known as the 'conspiritors'.
After much hard work the first hill climb meeting was staged on August 24th 1958. At this time the course finished about 35 yards after Sawbench hairpin.
"A HILL WITH A FUTURE"
Click on the PDF icon to download a copy of the Autosport report on the first ever hillclimb event at Wiscombe Park.
Castle Straight and the Martini Hairpin were added during the winter of 1960/61. The following year saw the first visit of the National R.A.C. Championship.
The First Hillclimb ....
Autosport - Sept 1958
The Motoring Majors at Wiscombe Park ....
Charles Lambton in the HWM suggesting something might be broken
The Motoring Majors in a HWM which they shared at Wiscombe Park
And today ?
Wiscombe is still owned by the Chichester family, with Tim & Sara, children of Richard and ‘Bunny’ Chichester, both still living on the estate with their families.
They are both keen to preserve the heritage of Wiscombe for future generations and are passionate about the nature and wildlife which abounds there.
Tim farms the old traditional way. The estate is partly grazed by Red Devon Cattle and sheep and the other half is devoted to mixed woodland (much of which was planted by Richard), with involvement in the 'Higher Level Stewardship Scheme'..
Tim, and his son Jack, are also renowned for the quality of traditional cider they brew, with the aid of his horse driven mill or using power from his steam engine to crush the apples.
The 1960s and 1970s -
It was during this period that the reputation of Wiscombe really developed - with many championship events taking place on the Wiscombe hill.
On 11th April 1965 whilst 'Freddie and the Dreamers' were number 1 in the singles chart, Wiscombe Park was hosting the famous Daily Mirror Trophy event with additional sponsorship from Autocar Magazine. This was part of the RAC Hillclimb championship.
The Motorsport magazine review of the Championship reported -"The first three events, at Loton Park, Prescott and Wiscombe all followed a regular pattern, Tony Marsh with his Oldsmobile V8-powered Marsh Special winning from Peter Boshier-Jones' supercharged single-cam 1.3 Lotus 22-Climax".
Tony Marsh (1931 - 2009) - 6 times British Hillclimb Champion
It was during this era of the late 1960s when Tony Marsh was a regular at Wiscombe Park national championship events.
On his death in 2009 The Independent summarised his life as follows: "Tony was one of Britain's best all-round motor racing drivers, a "privateer" who took on the mighty works teams of his era, including Maserati and Ferrari.
He may be best remembered by enthusiasts as an unmatched six-time winner of the British Hillclimb Championship, but he also raced in a handful of Formula One Grands Prix – against such greats as Juan Manuel Fangio, Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss and Graham Hill – and once in the 24-hour race at Le Mans, finishing 14th overall in a Lotus Elite, but memorably winning his class".
The 1980s and 1990s -
Wiscombe continued to thrive and provide a real challenging hill for the national hillclimb championship - Chris Cramer (photo) was the man to beat at Wiscombe in the early 1980s.
Woolbridge Motor Club took responsibility for organising the Wiscombe round of the national championship from the late 1980s and continue to organise it to this day - moving to its current July date in the early 1990s.
The Thompson family featured frequently in the national championship and also in the BARC Guyson championship which run for several years at Wiscombe - mainly in the Woolbridge events.
2000 onwards .....
The new millennium saw the dominance of Gould racing cars in the national championship - new lighter cars with lighter and more powerful engines which resulted in many new hill records across the country.
Between 1998 and 2016, the only non-Gould driver to win the championship has been Trevor Willis, who did so in 2012 with his OMS 25, a less powerful but lighter car with a V8 engine derived from two Hayabusa units. In his Championship winning year, Trevor set a new Wiscombe hill record at 33.92 seconds - only to lower it again in 2014 to 33.79 seconds. The current record is 33.13 seconds set in July 2019 by Wallace Menzies in a Gould.
Probably the most successful car was the Gould GR61X which won the national championship 7 times. By the end of the 2016 season the car had won 157 'top ten' shoot outs.
Vintage Sports-Car Club (VSCC)
The 'Conspirators' always had close connections with the VSCC and the club ran their first Wiscombe event in May 1983.
The annual visit of the VSCC always generates a lot of spectator interest. To see these ancient machines driven up the twisty Wiscombe hill at a competitive speed is a treat for any car enthusiast.
The club’s greatest contribution to the Wiscombe heritage was in 2007 when no less than 14 E.R.A. owners brought their cars to Wiscombe from all over the world. Such an incredible display was a fitting tribute to the memories of Martin Morris, Charles Lambton and Richard Chichester.
Long may the partnership between Wiscombe and and VSCC continue.
"Vision, enthusiasm and determination...."
Thank you to Colin Rolls who provided much of the reference material on this page.
Colin's book 'Fifty Years of Wiscombe Park Hillclimb - A Brief History ' is currently 'Sold Out'.
But we will have some additional stock available later in the year.
Major Richard Chichester
Major Charles Lambton