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History of Madeira Drive

Gotta Read It...

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Lambourghini London Transport Veteran Motorcycle and sidecar Customised Mini plus Umbrella!

Seawalls, Shingle Bank and a Tarmac Road

Volks Railway
Running since 1883

Madeira Drive would not be safe against the encroachment of the sea were it not for the massive shingle bank between it and the waves.

The town began to use groynes, barriers that reach out into the sea at right angles to the shoreline, as far back as the early decades of the eighteenth century to try to defend the beach which was home to the local fishing industry.

The coastline of Sussex is subject to a west-to-east longshore drift, that is, the prevailing winds and currents drive the shingle in an easterly direction. The groyne's function is to stop the movement of shingle and to let it accumulate it on the beach. The shingle bank thus formed acts as a barrier, absorbing the pounding force of the waves.

In the middle of the nineteenth century the wooden groynes were progressively replaced with much larger concrete ones. The shingle bank today is as much as 15 feet deep. The size of it is best appreciated at low tide - see the photo below of the Banjo Groyne.


But how and why did this road on the beach become a venue for motoring events.

You will be aware that the speed of the early motor cars (the horseless carriage) was limited by law to walking speed (2 mph in town, and 4 mph in the countryside) and that the car had to be preceded by a person carrying a red flag. That law was abolished in 1896 and as it happened a celebratory run from London to Brighton was organised - which incidentally was won by a steam-engined car!

In 1905 Harry Preston, owner of the Royal York Hotel in the Old Steine, and who was both a motoring and flying enthusiast, proposed to the local council that Madeira Road (Drive) be resurfaced with tarmac, and be the venue for a Motor Race Week. The event was a great success and the top speed achieved was a very impressive 97 mph!

The National Speed Trials have continued ever since, and today is a one-day event in September.

Many other motoring events have found their way to Madeira Drive. In 2006 the Historic Commercial Vehicle Society held their 45th London to Brighton Run. More are likely in future years. For example, an official scooter run wouldn't surprise me; there already seems to be an unofficial one.

Banjo Groyne or Paston Place Groyne, built 1877
The groyne is 270 feet long, 14 feet wide, and has walls over 3 feet thick. Together with the other concrete groynes along the seafront it has built up a massive, protective shingle bank.
Madeira Drive: scooters lined up


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