There is a rather surprising number of motoring references, many of special interest to Rolls-Royce enthusiasts, in Bendor—The Golden Duke of Westminster by Leslie Field, (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1983),a biography of the fabled richest man in England.
We learn that the Duke’s first car was a Mercedes, which he appears to have used in 1901 or 1902, being described as a skilful and daring driver. When the Prince and Princess of Wales stayed at Eaton Hall, the Duke’s Cheshire seat, to inaugurate a war memorial at Wrexham, the Prince afterwards motored to the Chester races in the Duke’s car.
Although the Duke of Westminster is reported as never actually having raced at Brooklands, where the authoress knew about the drivers in those days wearing jockeys’ colours, he is said to have supported motoring events and placed land at Eaton Hall at the organisers’ disposal — presumably for speed-trials. He was a committee member of the BARC when Brooklands was opened, along with many other gentlemen high in society, such as Churchill, Lord Essex and the Earl of Dudley, which indicates the influence of its builder, HF Locke King.
Indeed, some of those BARC committee members, such as Prince Francis of Teck, figure in the book. That the Duke was a serious user of cars as early as 1903 is indicated by a 30-mile drive in pouring rain along dangerous and narrow roads, for the fishing at Lochmore. The Duke is said to have driven round Brooklands on the opening day, and been frequently stopped for speeding in subsequent years — his defence on one of these occasions being that his car was a very powerful one!
He also took in motor-boat racing, competing at Palermo in 1908 and returning to England in time to take delivery of a Wolseley-Siddeley-powered boat capable of 30 knots. That year he persuaded Maurice Farman (Farnam in the book) to take him up in his aeroplane. Later, he raced his boat at Cannes, to the consternation of his family.
The Duke’s Mercedes would await him in the private courtyard in Upper Grosvenor Street when he was in London, and when abroad the Duke and Duchess would take chauffeurs with them. There is a further reference to royal motoring when, in December 1909, King Edward and Queen Alexandra were staying at Eaton Hall and His Majesty insisted on accompanying Princess Pless by car to visit her grandmother at Brynedwyn.
Clearly a lover of speed, the Duke of Westminster was apprehended for driving at 19mph (what an exact estimate!) in Richmond Park, and in 1910 he ordered a new 40ft racing boat from Saunders for £3,500, said to have the most powerful engines yet fitted in a boat, but it sank on its first test. He had intended to race it in America.
In the latter part of this 292-page book there is much material relating to the Duke’s formation of Rolls-Royce Armoured Car Divisions in the 1914-18 war, and he is described as the first Englishman to lead such a squadron into action. In 1917 he provided Churchill with a Rolls-Royce, and a chauffeur called Patterson who had been driving at the front since 1914, for a tour of the liberated battle area. Incidentally, does the R-R EC know what became of the silver casket, topped with a model of the Rolls-Royce which rescued them from the Tara, presented by the survivors to the Duke in 1919?
In post-World War Two years, the Duke was a great Rolls-Royce user and it is said that six of them met his guests from Biarritz to Cannes. Some of the stories about them may be apochryphal, but the book should be read by those interested not only in the remarkable life and loves of the Duke of Westminster, but in Rolls-Royces, and yachts such as his famous Cutty Sark.
Apart from the Rolls-Royces, the Duke drove himself in a Ford V8 and his game department driver used an Armstrong Siddeley with a trailer able to take dogs and equipment. WB