Chauffeur's Corner

Having interviewed the Miss Davieses’ chauffeur of Gregynog Hall, I was encouraged to trace his opposite number, who worked for their brother, Lord Davies of nearby Plas Dinam. It was a case of driving to a pleasant Montgomeryshire village, the main road through which runs parallel with the River Severn, and seeking out Mr. Alfred Chapman. He retired at 70, a good many years ago, but his memory is still as clear as his bright blue eyes.

How did he become associated with motors? Well, leaving the family bakery at the age of 16, young Chapman decided to emigrate to Canada. But he had six weeks to wait for a boat and in the meantime he heard that Mr. Willoughby, the composer, wanted a coachman to look after his horses for 25/-(125p) a week and everything found. This gentleman lived on the new O’Connorville Estate at Heronsgate, near Chorleywood, which attracted retired wool merchants from the Midlands and other wealthy folk, as it was then in very rural country but was only half-an-hour’s train journey from Baker Street. The occupants of these houses kept gardener/coachmen to take them in pony-and-gig or horse-and-trap to the station. Chapman took the job, finding two fine horses, which he drove in full livery. However, he had become interested in cars and kept his copies of The Autocar and The Motor in the harness-room. The Doctor used to visit on a Kerry belt-drive motorcycle and later got a 4 1/2 h.p. De Dion Bouton, which so frightened his gardener when it back-fired that he refused to go near it. This led to young Chapman going over to the Doctor’s house to clean it and it was the first car he drove; he remembers that it was flat-out at 27 m.p.h.

His employer spotted the stack of motor-papers in the harness-room and borrowed some of them. This led to him saying that he thought he would get a motor. Asked for his advice, his young coachman said he thought the simplest one to start with would be a Renault. The reputation of this great French make was by then well established, perhaps because of their racing successes, and new ones were difficult to acquire. Indeed, people were paying more than the new price for good used Renaults. Consequently, when an advertisement for a secondhand one was spotted, which a rich scent merchant in Birmingham was disposing of as he had bought a new 14/20 of the same make, a visit was paid to inspect it. It turned out to be a twin-cylinder with automatic inlet valves and side radiators. But it seemed just the job and when asked how he would get it home Chapman said that if he could he accompanied to the end of the tramlines out of Birmingham, open country in those days, he would be all right. So his employer paid for the Renault and got up beside him. They killed a dog in the first ten miles but didn’t dare stop for fear of not being able to restart the engine. The 70. miles or so home were successfully accomplished, although the strain, on an empty stomach, caused the keen young driver to collapse on arrival.

He drove the Renault (which all too readily came to the boil) instead of the trap until his employer decided he could not afford such living. Chapman then saw an advertisement in the Morning Post which took him to a servants’ agency in Connaught Street, in London. He learned that it concerned a gentleman who had had so much trouble with chauffeurs he was contemplating going back to a carriage-and-pair. Given a note to the secretary of the household, he duly got the position, as chauffeur to a Surgeon who worked for Scotland Yard. The car was a very smart 16 h.p. Panhard-Levassor, devoid of windscreen, its driving chains, which were so noisy the occupants could hardly hear themselves speak, covered by the back mudguards, and with different sizes of tyres, front and back. Those chains weighed about a hundredweight and were brutes to change. But a liveried footman rode beside the chauffeur to open the doors and tuck the occupants in, etc., so all Chapman had to do was drive, and maintain the car. Because of his employer’s association with Scotland Yard, Chapman was close to the Crippin murder drama, as on the day preceding the arrest, he drove the Surgeon to “The Yard” to confer with another Doctor. But it was not the Panhard that was used when the detectives who arrested Crippin at sea called for a fast car to rush them to Liverpool. To find his way about London with his new employer Chapman made use of the ‘bus routes. The job ended because the Surgeon died of blood poisoning.

Next, our chauffeur found himself in Coventry, the idea being that he should drive for the Earl of Cobendry’s son, who had a Renault for himself and another for Lady Cobendry, and required a chauffeur for journeys down to his estate at Henley-on-Thames and to his London house in Grosvenor Street. However, Mrs. Chapman had fallen seriously ill in London, war was looming up, and when the lease of Stonor Park expired and a new place was purchased on the Suffolk/Essex border, Mr. Chapman decided it was too far to go. So he transferred to a job with the elderly daughter of Wallace’s of Holborn, the drapery firm, who had an aged Lanchester with wheel steering but a wick carburetter, on which Mr. Chapman used to play a gas-jet to facilitate cold starting! There were frequent runs to call on the Bishop of London in his Palace at Fulham. Chapman left when the lady moved to Bournemouth.

Between such jobs he had done a spell as a free-lance, delivering cars to customers. He was one of the tyre-changing team at Brooklands in 1907 when S. F. Edge established his 24-hour record with the Napier and he went round the Track on a 105 h.p. Mercedes owned by a gentleman who is said to have wanted to buy the racing car that killed Marcel Renault in the Paris-Madrid race but whose wife persuaded him against it, causing him to buy the Mercedes. (I have heard from another chauffeur that this Renault was, in fact, bought by the McBains and taken out to Hong Kong, where it may still be incarcerated—has anyone any comments?).

Mr. Chapman also worked for a time for Renault in London, taking the post of delivery driver. The story is that the Earl of Clarendon, as was customary in those days, had had a special body built on a new 8 h.p. chassis, which was a heavy 4-seater brougham, quite unsuited to such a low-powered car. Thus hampered, it was seldom out of bottom gear and the delivery driver was so annoyed that he told His Grace what he thought of it. He was duly reported for rudeness and Renault’s had to look for another driver. Mr. Chapman was asked to fill the role, so he took off his overalls, put on a smart suit, had sonic cards printed, and was in business. One job was to take a new 10/14 to a client in York, the journey taking two days. He found that the lady had her own carriage-and-pair and disliked motors. She said she could not understand such a nice young man associating with a stinking thing like a motor car. However, he persuaded her to take a short trip round the drive and then go out on the road. She was soon delighted at the way the Renault passed horses which were walking up the local hills and how easily longer journeys could be accomplished. In the end, instead of staying a week, Mr. Chapman was there for a fortnight, taking the new owners to Oxford to see their son and getting back to York in time for dinner the same day. That would have been around the year 1907. Mr. Chapman still has his licence for that year and has never had an endorsement, only two summonses for speeding, in Woolwich and near Chalfont St. Giles (20 rn.p.h, limit). Another job he did was driving Archibald Norman, brother of the Director of the Bank of England, who had a big Wolseley.

The 1914/18 War found Mr. Chapman working seven days a week on night-shift, for nearly three years, in a munitions factory at Shepherds Bush, run by a Jew. Nothing could be more strenuous and for a break he joined the Army late in the war, obtaining entry via his former Scotland Yard connections. He drove Model -T Fords, with the 6th Light Railway Company, going out to France for the Big-Push, after training at Bulford Camp. He tells the story of a Manchester tram-driver who ground-in his Ford’s bearings with emery powder and oil, thus ensuring a run big-end in a very few miles, which kept him out of the action!

After the war there was the night of the Victory Ball in London. Mr. Chapman, with a friend, had the use of a big pre-war Renault and used it for hire-jobs throughout that night. They worked non-stop, for people wanted to be driven to the celebrations or taken home from them, often the worse for wear—they were even hailing hand-carts and market-drays, anything on wheels. The takings that night were £100—aided by generous tipping, often of paper money, because this new form of currency was mis-trusted and frequently a £-note, even a fiver, seemed easier to part with than real silver, say a half-crown…

Next, Mr. Chapman resumed his delivery driving. He was doing this for Clement-Talbot, and was asked to take a new 25/50 to Blackpool, where a wealthy coal-owner was staying. Although a new car, it was soon after production had been resumed following the war, and the radiator leaked. the speedometer was faulty, and until Mr. Chapman discovered that oiling it. did the trick, where bits of tin thrust into it were useless, the. Talbot’s clutch slipped. Anyway, he made the delivery and stayed on to take the family on a Lakeland tour. The back axle eventually broke and His Lordship (for the eoal-owner was Lord Davies) went on to Dumfries by train; But Mr. Chapman’s services were appreciated and eventually, after being interviewed in the London office, he got the job as chauffeur at Plas Dinam, then an estate of not much less than 20,090 acres, with a full staff, presided over by Lord Davies, grandson of David Davies, whose statue stands in the village beside the A492 road.

When he went there Mr. Chapman found only a little Swift and the aforesaid Talbot, now in pieces, awaiting repair. He was able to build up a fully-equipped workshop, with four boys to assist him in maintaining the cars, so that he never had to resort to a public garage, and coped with the paint and varnish so that his charges always looked like new cars. He recalls with scorn how you could detect the whorls made by the use of the wrong kind of sponge by ignorant chauffeurs, on otherwise well-groomed coachwork. . . .

He took up this position in 1919/20. Soon afterwards another 25/50 Talbot was bought, and an S h.p. Talbot for the Lord Davies Agent. The big Talbots are remembered as very good cars, their transmissions able to withstand the hard driving of His Lorthhip, Incidentally, Lord Davies had commenced motoring when up at Cambridge with an Alldays & Onions. But it took him three days to make Shrewsbury, so the vendor was told to take it away! As was customary, the chauffeur advised his Master of what cars he should have. Mr. Chapman says he would not let His Lordship, who enjoyed fast cars, have a Rolls-Royce, as he didn’t think his driving was suited to it.

Although Mr. Chapman remembers the early days better than this between-wars period, he told me of a big Sunbeam, probably a 20/60, of a more sporting Chenard-Walcker bought circa 1925, and of the 4 1/2-litre Bentley that he found very tiring on long runs, all kept at Plas Dinam. There were also a Fiat, a big late-model Vauxhall, and then several American cars, restful compared to the old Bentley, a Chevrolet estate lorry. Mr. Chapman used to order cars through Henlys commencing when this was just a small business.

Before another World War broke out there was a little Sunbeam-Talbot, and a Humber Super Snipe. Long journeys were made up to the Scottish estate, etc., but war meant filling all the cars with petrol from the 300-gallon estate supply and laying up the big ones, the Humber last of all. Mr. Chapman then bought a Vauxhall Ten for official journeys and an Austin 10/4 for his own use.

During the war a good price was offered for the Humber but anticipating a shortage of new cars afterwards, this was refused. It had been laid up at Lord Davies’ Scottish estate, which the military had taken over. It survived and had remained in service after the war, until His Lordship’s death in the 1950s.


Chauffeur No. 1

Our recent discourse about old chauffeurs has brought a most interesting Presscutting and photographs from a reader, relating to someone who was almost certainly, we would think, Britain’s professional chauffeur No. I. He was Mr. G. W. Barclay, who was engaged by Sir David Salomons, Bt., the pioneer autocarist, in 1895, the year in which Sir David organised the first Exhibition of the new-fangled motor cars at Tunbridge Wells.

The Press cutting is undated hut it seems that Barclay died in 1934, aged 76. He had been 22 years in the Royal Navy before becoming chauffeur. He travelled extensively abroad with Sir David Salomons and after his employer’s death continued as Lady Salomons’ chauffeur at Brooinhill. A photograph shows him with a very early car, in 1895, almost certainly his employer’s Peugeot, and in 1894-5 he was presented with a diploma and medal for good services by the AC de France. At Mr. Barclay’s funeral the outdoor and indoor staff at Broomhill were represented, Sir John and Lady Bryce were present, and Lady Salomons sent a wreath. The photographs show Mr. Barclay with two cars which I think are Delaunay-Bellevilles, one registered D-4, the other, an enormous laundaulette with twin rear wheels, D-7.

W. B.