Southam and Speed Records

Speeding vehicles on our roads is a problem that we are all aware of, and most of us will know of someone who has been ‘caught speeding’. With two of the country’s leading car manufacturers, Jaguar and Aston Martin Lagonda, having facilities within seven miles of the town, it is interesting to discover that a Southam resident in the very early days of motor vehicles, was very much associated with faster-than-normal road travel.

In the early 20th Century, the son of a Southam Rector, Ivan Beauclerk Hart-Davies, did make quite a name for himself on several occasions by beating the “End to End” speed record on a motor cycle. This is the record for riding a motor cycle from Lands-End to John O’Groats, a distance of over 880 miles. His first attempt took place in 1909 when he successfully won the record and held if for over a year before having it snatched away from him. He regained the title in 1911 with an improvement of over 3 hours. Amazingly this 1911 record still stands because the Auto-Cycle Union refused to recognise subsequent attempts when they discovered the average speed recorded broke the then UK speed limit!

On both occasions Hart-Davies rode a 3.5 horse power single-cylinder Triumph motor cycle which had a single gear, pedals, and a belt drive. During his last attempt in 1911 he had six punctures, broke two drive belts, and towards the end had valve problems which caused his machine to lose power and become almost impossible to start. Furthermore, he fell off at least once, ran out of petrol in Penzance, had to push the machine up several hills, drove on the wheel rim for 2 miles, and finally had to push the motorcycle for the last 1.5 miles over the finish line. He lost his way several times, had to have friends en-route to show him where to go, and where to get supplies – all this before telephones were commonplace. He didn’t have a crash helmet either, but he did have a “fat cushion” on the saddle.

Motor cycling wasn’t the only risky venture that Hart-Davies participated in – another was bob-sleighing. In 1914 he won the Murren Cup while on holiday in Switzerland never having seen a bob-sleigh previously. Given the hazardous nature of his record-breaking activities, it is interesting to note that Hart-Davies was an insurance broker by profession.

Despite what might be considered a privileged upbringing, Hart-Davies was by no means living life entirely for his own enjoyment. He founded a Boy Scout troop exclusively for boys who had no educational prospects, and was criticised for not involving the sons of gentlemen.

Sadly, Ivan Hart-Davies was killed in an air accident in July 1917 while serving in the Royal Flying Corps, and just prior to leaving for active service in France. He is buried in the graveyard at St James Church, Southam, and his name is recorded on the War Memorial.

The photograph shows Ivan Hart-Davies at the end of his first record breaking Land’s End to John O’Groats run in 1909 with a time of 33 hours and 22 minutes.


If you are interested in local history, contact Southam Heritage Collection. We are located in Tithe Place in High Street, Southam and are normally open on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday mornings from 10am to 12 noon. Contact: 01926 613503 email visit our website and follow us on Facebook: Southam Heritage Collection.