Death Hill, Kent.

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Death Hill, Kent.

When I was a nipper my step Dad used to tell me stories of how bikers in the 50's and 60's used to race up a hill and back to beat songs played on a cafe dukebox, and because of the ammount of fatalities it's was nic-named Death Hill. I'm pretty sure this hill was either the A20 past Brands Hatch or it could of been Wrotham hill, and the cafe could of been the Oakdene.
Anyone in the know as to where it was?

Danny_Two wrote

When I was a nipper my step Dad used to tell me stories of how bikers in the 50's and 60's used to race up a hill and back to beat songs played on a cafe dukebox, and because of the ammount of fatalities it's was nic-named Death Hill. I'm pretty sure this hill was either the A20 past Brands Hatch or it could of been Wrotham hill, and the cafe could of been the Oakdene.Anyone in the know as to where it was?

I know the Oakdene used to have a bit of a rep for attracting loony cafe racers.

Wasn`t only the ace with record beating my dad used to be a rocker the oakdene was not a bike cafe then don`t even think it was there then. The guys from Catford used to go to the salt box at biggin hill. But yeah the a20 by brands was nicknamed death hill. Also the mad mile at the other end of the a20 by the dutch house was called the mad mile. heard many many stories how many are true god knows!

I remember my Dad telling me this, and he said it was the road near Brands.

Carl wrote

Wasn`t only the ace with record beating my dad used to be a rocker the oakdene was not a bike cafe then don`t even think it was there then. The guys from Catford used to go to the salt box at biggin hill. But yeah the a20 by brands was nicknamed death hill. Also the mad mile at the other end of the a20 by the dutch house was called the mad mile. heard many many stories how many are true god knows!

Yep, thought it was the A20.I've noticed the Gatso on the dual carrigway that goes past five arches has disapeared...nothing to do with you was it?

Yeah the bikers used to go to the busy-bee on the a41 in watford and then try to get from there to the ace before the song had finished on the juke box, my mum's boyfriends mate broke both his legs twice trying it out nutters they were then.

I was doing some research for an article on the Ace Cafe and as far as I could ascertain, the whole 'Record Racing' myth was conjured up for an episode of Dixon of Dock Green ( seriously ) by some BBC scriptwriter. As I wrote in the article: 'According to an Ace Cafe regular, Barry Cheese, the concept of Record Racing became 'reality' after the idea was dreamed up by the BBC to illustrate a storyline about the death of a young biker. Indeed, the script shows that after stealing a, and I quote, "seven-fifty, alloy heads, hight-lift cams, rev counter - it's a real potent bike", the two protagonists go for a race and one says, "Just up to the roundabout and up the hill. Put a record on - see if we can get back before it ends."But that was the power of the Ace. Take one innocuous line from a TV script and the aura of the Ace surrounds it and makes it is own. It sounded so reasonable, given the reputation of the real Ace Cafe, that surely it had to be true. Alas, it wasn't.' I'll post up ( or PM ) the whole article if anyone's interested. Rog

TRDman wrote

I was doing some research for an article on the Ace Cafe and as far as I could ascertain, the whole 'Record Racing' myth was conjured up for an episode of Dixon of Dock Green ( seriously ) by some BBC scriptwriter. As I wrote in the article: 'According to an Ace Cafe regular, Barry Cheese, the concept of Record Racing became 'reality' after the idea was dreamed up by the BBC to illustrate a storyline about the death of a young biker. Indeed, the script shows that after stealing a, and I quote, "seven-fifty, alloy heads, hight-lift cams, rev counter - it's a real potent bike", the two protagonists go for a race and one says, "Just up to the roundabout and up the hill. Put a record on - see if we can get back before it ends."But that was the power of the Ace. Take one innocuous line from a TV script and the aura of the Ace surrounds it and makes it is own. It sounded so reasonable, given the reputation of the real Ace Cafe, that surely it had to be true. Alas, it wasn't.' I'll post up ( or PM ) the whole article if anyone's interested. Rog

Did you read Mike Rogers (I think it's Rogers - might not be) "Cafe Racers" while researching that article??

Danny_Two wrote

Yep, thought it was the A20.I've noticed the Gatso on the dual carrigway that goes past five arches has disapeared...nothing to do with you was it?

no comment

garethruislip wrote

Yeah the bikers used to go to the busy-bee on the a41 in watford and then try to get from there to the ace before the song had finished on the juke box, my mum's boyfriends mate broke both his legs twice trying it out nutters they were then.

I'd have loved to have been a biker then...

RiceBurner wrote

Did you read Mike Rogers (I think it's Rogers - might not be) "Cafe Racers" while researching that article??

No. I'll see if I can get hold of a copy. I assume there's some relevant info detailed in it? Edit: Just had a Google for Mike Rogers and Cafe Racers but came up wi' nowt.

I've heard this story too and always thought it was the A20 past Brands Hatch. The song of choice was 'Diana' by Paul Anka as it was longer than most so it gave them a bit more time.

It is the road past Brands, now called Gorse Hill I believe.

garethruislip wrote

Yeah the bikers used to go to the busy-bee on the a41 in watford and then try to get from there to the ace before the song had finished on the juke box, my mum's boyfriends mate broke both his legs twice trying it out nutters they were then.

I got a question. How did they know when the record had finished if it was put on at the Busy Bee and they were racing to the Ace?

Wingnut wrote

I have this book at home, very good indeed www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0850456770/qid=1121352728/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_0_2/026-4191502-5632462

That's the one. (I bought my copy with the money from a school prize - the headmaster was rather taken aback when he picked it up off the table at the prize-giving. )

TRDman wrote

I got a question. How did they know when the record had finished if it was put on at the Busy Bee and they were racing to the Ace?

yeah - that confused me too....

There's a fair few stories about Record Racing, the Iron Bridge, Specials, "playing Chicken" (normally across busy Junctions on the red light, but alledgedly one group used to do it head to head!)Also some hilarious stories about the characters Mike Clay used to know.

RiceBurner wrote

There's a fair few stories about Record Racing, the Iron Bridge, Specials, "playing Chicken" (normally across busy Junctions on the red light, but alledgedly one group used to do it head to head!)Also some hilarious stories about the characters Mike Clay used to know.

It is really entertaining to read! My copy was sent in to the office for review. I stole it and it now lives on my bookshelf

Wingnut wrote

It is really entertaining to read! My copy was sent in to the office for review. I stole it and it now lives on my bookshelf

The best story is the one about the guy with the wooden box sidecar.

RiceBurner wrote

The best story is the one about the guy with the wooden box sidecar.

Which one was that? I recall there being some morbidly funny stories about headless bikers

Wingnut wrote

Which one was that? I recall there being some morbidly funny stories about headless bikers

The sidecar with 15 guys standing in it - taking turns at the controls...

RiceBurner wrote

The sidecar with 15 guys standing in it - taking turns at the controls...

Lol! Don't remember it, but cool! I do remember one story where everyone outside the Ace became utterly bemused as a riderless bike went past. When it returned, it turned out that the rider had jumped into the sidecar and was lying down with his foot on the throttle/handlebar!

Wingnut wrote

Lol! Don't remember it, but cool! I do remember one story where everyone outside the Ace became utterly bemused as a riderless bike went past. When it returned, it turned out that the rider had jumped into the sidecar and was lying down with his foot on the throttle/handlebar!

IIRC - that was the same bloke!!

RiceBurner wrote

IIRC - that was the same bloke!!

Ahhhh! Bloody loony! Obviously they didn't have vulnerable kittens around in those days Just remembered the headless biker story - apparently a lorry was driving along carrying plate glass. It went over a bump and a sheet of glass came out and neatly decapitated an overtaking cafe racer. The story goes that the driver of the truck was so shocked to be overtaken by a headless biker that he crashed as well!

Wingnut wrote

I have this book at home, very good indeed www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0850456770/qid=1121352728/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_0_2/026-4191502-5632462

F'kin wants to be good at that price...£135.

Danny_Two wrote

F'kin wants to be good at that price...£135.

Is it? Fark... I'm sure it was retailing for about £20 when it came out

Danny_Two wrote

F'kin wants to be good at that price...£135.

blimey!

Danny_Two wrote

F'kin wants to be good at that price...£135.

I did find a paperback copy here for £29 and some pennies.

You can have my copy for £100

www.realclassic.co.uk/ridesfiles/rides03123000.html"The Ace Café was my regular hangout, but we would often ride to the Saltbox or Johnson's on the A20, where there seemed to be lots of old race bikes converted for road use. It wasn't particularly unusual to see a Manx Norton or AJS 7R with lights on being thrashed past the café. I can remember them renaming the road Death Hill due to the many bad accidents, and heard that at one time an ambulance would be permanently parked at the bottom of the hill, but I don't know how true that is. This was the café where the guys would put a record on the jukebox, leave the café, and try to get up to the roundabout and back before it ended. The café bike scene in the early 1960s was great! "HTH

Big_Daddy wrote

http://www.realclassic.co.uk/ridesfiles/rides03123000.html "The Ace Café was my regular hangout, but we would often ride to the Saltbox or Johnson's on the A20, where there seemed to be lots of old race bikes converted for road use. It wasn't particularly unusual to see a Manx Norton or AJS 7R with lights on being thrashed past the café. I can remember them renaming the road Death Hill due to the many bad accidents, and heard that at one time an ambulance would be permanently parked at the bottom of the hill, but I don't know how true that is. This was the café where the guys would put a record on the jukebox, leave the café, and try to get up to the roundabout and back before it ended. The café bike scene in the early 1960s was great! " HTH

Not really. This seems to indicate that it was a cafe near the A20 ( 'Death Hill' area ) where the 'Record Racing' happened. Others say it was the Ace which is a fair few miles away on the other side of London. How much is truth and how much is wishful thinking?

TRDman wrote

Not really. This seems to indicate that it was a cafe near the A20 ( 'Death Hill' area ) where the 'Record Racing' happened. Others say it was the Ace which is a fair few miles away on the other side of London. How much is truth and how much is wishful thinking?

I believe Mike Clay (based at teh Ace) actually quoted record names - but can't be sure.

Riceburner wrote

I believe Mike Clay (based at teh Ace) actually quoted record names - but can't be sure.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that they're all mistaken. I freely admit that my information could be wrong as I based my statement on the recollections of an Ace Cafe regular as well. It's just that there is more than one place where 'Record Racing' is supposed to have started/happened and given the propensity for bikers to embellish the actual truth I do wonder whether 'Record Racing' in the form we're talking about here actually happened to the degree we're led to believe. Or am I just a cynic?

It happened all over.You southeners didn't have the monopoly. ....and we didn't all die. :smoke:

Adriano wrote

I was told the story by a bloke who was a regular, and is now a furniture remover in Woolwich. He remembers the night when someone left an unlit lorry parked on the downhill side of the road, and several of the riders went into it and died.

That's quite spooky, as my step dads mate back then was killed riding into the back of a parked lorry at night. Would be quite a coinsidence if he was one of those mentioned.

never heard any stories of "record racing", just ones of last to the Ace or Busy Bee buys the tea when me dad used to ride..mostly it all sounded fun and most of the coppers then were supposed to be reasonable, got told a story of when me dad whacked the baffles out of his Triumph (rigid framed pre-unit 3t ) and was giving it a bit of stick up to the Busy Bee when he suddenly realised there was a copper in the car park on an old speedtwin, he ducked his head and pretended to be having/suspecting trouble with the bike, when the copper rolled over and started chatting (dad was nervous) and then suggested he took dads bike for a try out to give him his opinion, so next thing there was the copper running up and down the road on me dads bike complete with noisy pipes , when he got back he handed the bike back with a smile and said there was nowt wrong with it, sounded and ran just fine..i've heard several stories involving him and his mates from round those two cafes, unfortunately i've not really bothered to remember them, just smiled as i've listened ..it was obviously a time of his life that he found very enjoyable

Well.....the road is/was the A20 running through West Kingsdown (in Kent), down to Farningham Roundabout (passing Brands Hatch).The start point was the Blue Chalet transport cafe.At a signal, a record (a 45 rpm single) was started and a bike (or bikes) raced to the roundabout (and back) before the record finished.The casualty rate was such that Gorse Hill was renamed Death Hill. It was changed back to Gorse Hill within the last 20years.

this old post really got me interest......and if anyone's still interested i found the book in question on play.com for the baragain sum of £14.99

.

 Death Hill was afew miles from Joes Cafe. One rode past Brands hatch to get to it. The Death Hill section was as you rode towards London  a downhill section turning right but halfway around the sweping bend a turn off on ones left for Seven oaks etc so cars would take an age trying to turn right as people came rather fast towards them.For many years the hill was signed by the council 'DEATH HILL'. The last time I looked it had been resigned 'GORSE HILL' with written beneath in smaller letters 'FORMALLY DEATH HILL'(There are a fewgorse bushes around on the vergesand I assume the localsdid not like the postal address Death Hill. Mind you its better than 'Pratts Botom' only a few miles away!!I suspect a few motor cyclists died on that hill over the years and it has not been improved since either.

Death hill was originally "Gorse Hill" on the A20 on the way to "johnsons cafe" by brands hatch, and it was renamed due to the amount of the deaths/accidents.We used Johnsons Cafe in the later half of the fifties. All big bikes with lot`s of vinnies, tigers,dommies, gold stars, internationals and manx`s (many of these due to `charlie the manx`)never heard of the `racing a record story` at johnsons, think it would have been too far )
We were Ron Hatchman-Tiger100,Jim Hatchman-Racing tuned speed Twin, Ray Foreshaw-Norton Model 7, Johnny Cox-Dominator ,Charlie the Manx-Manx`s and Inter`s, and myself Ken Bartlett- Gold Star.Not forgetting `Little Ray`- Douglas Dragonfly and `Dave`-Triumph 110 (one of the ones that died on death hill)
We called ourselves "The Checkers Club) with red and black striped helmets.

Hi
I have just been reading these posts and I'm hysterical with laughter.
I'm putting a website together which is all about Johnsons in the sixties.
I must put some of this folk lore on the site. Whats interesting is its the dads telling their offspring these stories.
I was a Gold Star riding regular visitor to Johnsons in the sixties and I or none of my friends ever heard about the record run. What there was were 'runbys' performed by two bikers who had made a challenge to see who was the fastest.

The stuff about racing a record from West Kingsdown to Farningham roundabout and back is really hot air. The total distance is about 7 miles which means keeping up an average of 120 mph over say three and a half minutes including pulling away, slowing down and going round the roundabout and then going back up the hill. Not something your average 50s or 60s cafe racer or even road going race bike could do.
I think the real reason for the name of Death hill came from swarms of bikers exiting Brands Hatch, flying off back towards London down the hill, and some, thinking they were Phil Read or Surtees. The corner at the bottom of the hill would catch the ones whose abilities did not live up to their expectations, and that was where the ambulance was parked on saturday and sunday afternoons.

I too was a Goldie mounted regular at Johnson’s café [also known as Joe’s] in the 60’s. The ‘record run’ from Johnson’s to Farningham roundabout and back before the chosen record ended, as stated was pure myth and in all my attendance at the café I never heard of or witnessed anyone doing this. As has been said you would have needed some super-fast machine to cover the distance in around 3 minutes, the average time for a 60’s tune. A dash down Wrotham may have been more realistic but even that would have been highly improbable. Incidentally the bend at the bottom of Death Hill was nicknamed ‘suicide’ and indeed it was if you got it wrong. The road used to called Gorse Hill and was actually officially renamed Death Hill as a reminder to people just how many lives were regularly  lost on this highway ‘black spot’ and not only motorcyclists. As stated it has now been renamed back to Gorse Hill but many of us will always know it as Death Hill. The ‘run-by’ was a great attraction and the most memorable one of all for me was a bike called Voodoo a black T120 Bonneville encased in a black dustbin fairing and sporting a very loud high level exhaust with mini gold star silencers and breathing through a pair of GP carburettors, wonderful. Does anyone else remember Voodoo or its owner? I think his name was Alan and I know he lived in Dartford. I have only just signed up for Visor Down and have not read this thread completely so my apologies if I have repeated what others have said; what a great thread though.

Johnson's Cafe (aka Johnno's) is still there, it's a white bungalow, now a solicitor's office or estate agent, on the LHS as you leave West Kingsdown heading for Wrotham.I met a bloke, a removal man from Woolwich, who was a regular there, he remembered the night a bunch of riders left the Cafe to head towards London, but someone had parked a lorry, with no lights, on the hill. Several of them died.Also, was the Farningham roundabout there in the 60's? Or was it a later addition?  

I first went to Joe's cafe in 1963 - 64 and the roundabout at Farningham was there at that time.I think you’ll find the new owners of the old cafe are a firm of accountants, when they took over the building, after a considerable amount of building work, they had an open day for many of the patrons who used the café in past years; they were initially unaware of the massive history with the link to its café racer past. If you visit the place now in the entrance lobby there are a considerable number of bits and pieces of memorabilia on the walls.It is sad that a good few of those who used the venue met their end; I have witnessed some good times there though and have very good memories of the place. Perhaps I will relate one or two of the amusing ones later and keep this nostalgia going.

Death Hill was the A20 past brands hatch. The cafe was called JOHNSONS. Anyone remember the NIGHTINGALE CAFE?

Oh my god I remember Voodoo in the 60,s. can't believe I am reading this !!! Yes I remember the Nightingale cafe and the motorway cafe . This was the days of Paul Smart and Hailwood at Brands Hatch. Awesome memories. Used to go to the cafe with Bob, Brian, and Alan. You guys still out there? 

There was a lot of accidents yes, not all of them involved motor bikes. I have been trying to remember the name of a comedian or actor who was hurt in an accident there backin the 60's.  It is annoying the hell out of me because I can't formulate any name in my mind.  My friends lived in Eyensford village and I was visiting them from Sidcup and was told about the accident on my arrival.  Can anyone help please.   

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