CEO Spotlight: James Brearley and the History of Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb
Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb is the oldest motorsport venue in the world to still run events on its original course. Here, we’ll explore the story of Shelsley Walsh, how it was almost lost, and why James Brearley, one of the founding directors of Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb PLC, the company behind the preservation of the site, believes it is such a crucial piece of motorsport history.
The History of Shelsley Walsh
In the early 1900s, the British Midlands was a centre of the fledgling motor industry, alongside German cities such as Munich and Stuttgart. When the Midlands Automobile Club (MAC) opened in 1901, one of its founding members, Herbert Austin (the founder of the British motor vehicle manufacturer Austin Motor Company Limited) and his manufacturing peers wanted a place to race the cars they were building.
They hunted for a venue and found a hill that was ideal for hill climbing at Shelsley Walsh, Worcestershire. Hill climbing is a motorsport where drivers compete for time to complete an uphill course on a tarmac surface. It has been renowned as one of the oldest forms of motorsport since the first known hill climb took place in France in 1897.
In 1905, Shelsley Walsh saw its first competitive hill-climbing race, and races have continued through to today.
Another 100 Years
Motorsports enthusiasts know Shelsley Walsh as a place of special significance to the sport. However, without the input of Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb PLC, its history would most likely have been lost. Shelsley Walsh piqued Brearley’s interest back in 2002 when he first visited the site. At the time, it was run down with many buildings in disrepair. At the time Brearley was looking for a venue that could be used to encourage many Stratstone customers (where he was Managing Director) to meet and enjoy their sports cars. Shelsley was the perfect location especially when he learnt that one of the founding partners of Stratstone, Ernest Instone was the winner of the first race there in 1905. Subsequently Brearley acquired the cottages at the start line and began to refurbish them.
A year later the Midland Automobile Club that ran Motorsport events at Shelsley explained that, after a hundred years of hosting motorsports, the lease for the site was about to expire. If the lease was not renewed, it would mean a huge blow to the MAC and motor racing as a whole.
Brearley joined a group of established hill-climbers with a shared interest in helping save Shelsley Walsh. They formed a public limited company (PLC) and met their fundraising target of three-quarters of a million pounds. With the investment, they secured the lease in 2004 for another hundred years.
Shelsley Walsh Today
The Shelsley Walsh project has grown over time, seeing the restoration of buildings to exactly as they were at the turn of the 20th century. On top of this, a water mill, which lay dormant for years, has now been restored to its original working order. And a new secure archive stores records that date back to 1905.
Today, Shelsley Walsh is a thriving attraction for motorists, classic car lovers, and history enthusiasts alike. It is the venue for several events hosted by the MAC, such as the MAC Classic, which gives keen motorists the chance to try the famous hill climb themselves. It also offers breakfast clubs, classic car clubs, driving schools, and corporate events.
Learn more about Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb.
About James Brearley
James Brearley is one of the founding directors of Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb PLC. He has played an integral role in the preservation and reinvigoration of the historic site over the last two decades. His involvement with Shelsley Walsh is entirely philanthropic, and he hopes to leave the venue behind for future generations to enjoy. Brearley has enjoyed an extensive career in the automotive industry spanning 35 years with many of those in managing director and CEO roles with companies such as Stratstone and Inchcape.
Learn more about James Brearley.
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