Peer of many parts

As a Mr he was a mechanic; as an Earl he was a racer; as a Duke he created a circuit. ML considers a talented man.

The inspiration for the Goodwood Festival of Speed sprang from a meeting in the grounds of Goodwood House in 1935. It was a private affair, for members of the Lancia Owners’ Club, and consisted of driving tests and a hill climb. The latter was won by Frederick Lennox-Gordon, ninth Duke of Richmond and fourth Duke of Gordon, who was better known to the world of motor racing as Freddie March. He had organised the event and so was presented with the trophy which he had donated. Afterwards he threw a party in Goodwood House.

Freddie March was a remarkable man. He had a brief but very successful career as a racing driver and also as a team manager. He and his partner, Hugh Kevill-Davies, were the Lancia distributors for London and the Home Counties, and the Lancia he drove had a body which he had designed himself. In fact, he was a very influential stylist, far more so than previously has been recognised.

After the war he became known to a new generation of motor racing enthusiasts as the owner of the Goodwood motor racing circuit. For eighteen years it was Britain’s best-loved circuit, and much of its special ambiance was due to the personality of its owner. Only at Goodwood would you find Carroll Shelby turning out to play cricket.

Frederick was a second son. He was much younger than his siblings and had a fairly lonely and unhappy childhood. His adored older brother, Charles, Lord Settrington, was killed while attached to the Royal Fusiliers who were supporting the Russian White Army against the Red Army in the Russian Civil War of 1919. Thus, against all expectations, a fifteen-year old boy found himself in line to inherit a Dukedom and what was then the fourth largest estate in Britain, and he was not prepared for it.

He went up to Christ Church, Oxford to study agriculture, but found himself spending much of his time with the University Motor Club. He owned a flat-twin ABC motorcycle, which then the last word in ‘bikes, and later he owned an NS which was even more exciting. He raced them and ran in trials and rallies with great enthusiasm. Perhaps he was a little too enthusiastic, because as his finals approached he realised that he was likely to fail. Deciding to jump rather than be pushed, he left in 1924 and, through his friendship with Bertie Kensington Moir, he got a job as a trainee in the Service Department of Bentley Motors. Here the future Duke was known as plain Mr Settrington and paid 9d an hour, and, being a man without side, he was able to keep his identity secret for years.

His work at Bentley was that of any mechanic. It was basic and dirty, but he had been fascinated by mechanical things since he was a child and he revelled in it. He was a good mechanic, too, and soon he was allowed to graduate to the preparation of customers’ cars for racing. Like any racing mechanic he was familiar with the term ‘all-nighter’.

This work became a bone of contention between Freddie and his parents, who thought that a future Duke should not be lying on his back on a concrete floor removing axles. They had indulged his wish t° work there, confident that he would soon tire of it and take a commission in a good regiment. Instead, he was immensely proud of his job, of Bentley, and of his workmates: he was part of a team and he stuck to his guns.

Once, a newspaper man rumbled him. Freddie’s response was to take him to a pub and bury the story over a few convivial pints. He just wanted to get on with his work, and his workmates would no doubt have been astonished to know that the friendly young man who was up to his elbows in grease and oil would one day carry a sceptre at the coronations of George VI and Elizabeth II.

His own inclinations had led him to Brooklands as an undergraduate, but when he became a mechanic he became part of the scene. A F Rivers Fletcher, who was also a trainee at Bentley, remembers how he and Freddie were given instruction at Brooklands by the great S C H ‘Sammy’ Davies in the latter’s works Aston Martin. To judge by later events, he was an apt pupil.

Mr Settrington graduated to dealing with customer complaints, and thus had to deal with human nature at its most basic. There was the lady who had been loaned her boyfriend’s Bentley and who complained that the horn did not work. The horn was tested and found good. ‘Not that one,’ she said, ‘that one,’ and she pointed to the starter motor button.

There was the irate customer whose engine had almost melted. He was a manufacturer of furniture polish and thought that his fine product was a fitting substitute for engine oil. There was also the problem of breaking the news to that most irascible of men, Sir Thomas Beecham, that his ‘Bentley’ was not a Bentley at all, but a ‘bitza’ which some shady motor trader had cobbled together from scrapped parts.

Eventually, his good humour, diplomacy and charm saw him working as a salesman in Bentley’s Cork Street showroom. Then in 1929, worried about the direction in which the company was headed, he left to become a motor-trader with Bentley’s sales manager, Hugh Kevill-Davies. He had experienced the best years that Bentley was to have.

While up at Oxford, Freddie had become friends with Cecil Kimber, who was making the specials which would soon become MGs. This connection led him to be entered in a team of three MGs in a Reliability Trial at Brooklands in 1929. He won a Gold award, and later that afternoon came third in a one-lap handicap, beating his two more experienced team-mates.

That prompted Captain Arthur Waite, M C, Austin’s Sales and Competition Director, to invite him to drive an Austin Seven in the 1930 Brooklands Double Twelve. By this time he had become the Earl of March and was public with it. He was also the President of the Junior Car Club and contributed a column to the magazine The Light Car and Cyclecar. Perhaps it was the knowledge that a drive in the race would generate column inches which prompted Waite to issue the invitation. In the event, the March/Waite Austin came home seventh overall — it was run as a handicap — and first in the 750cc class. They also won the ‘Price Handicap’, which was based on the cost of a car’s chassis. Austin took a full-page advertisement in Motor Sport to trumpet this triumph.

Later that year, Freddie March and Sammy Davis, in a works supercharged Austin Seven, won the BRDC 500 at Brooklands at an average speed of 83.41 mph. It was the fastest long-distance race in the world at the time, faster even than the Indianapolis 500. It is also regarded as the greatest victory ever achieved by an Austin Seven. The popular press had a field day — the dashing young’ heir to a Dukedom winning a major race was a gift to the papers, and Freddie became a celebrity overnight, but his natural modesty remained intact.

Rivers Fletcher is of the opinion that Freddie March’s great strength as a driver was his self-discipline: he was not an ace, but he excelled in long-distance events and had the ability to bring a car home in one piece. In fact, he suffered only one retirement in his career.

Despite Freddie’s enormously happy time at Bentley, he always preferred small, light cars. He was very slightly built (he’d coxed the Christ Church rowing eight) which no doubt influenced his choice. He also admired good engineering, so he was one of the first owners of a Riley Nine and he later became a great fan of Lancia cars.

Having decided that he liked motor racing, Freddie March bought three ‘Monthléry’ C-Type M Gs to form his own team. Their first race was 1931 Brooklands Double Twelve which, as a novelty, was run clockwise. The surface at the track had always been rough, but after years of cars pounding round it, the sharp edges had been worn down. Running clockwise presented a new set of sharp edges and a much bumpier ride.

History records that Freddie March, driving with Chris Staniland, won outright and headed an MG 1-2-3-4-5, with the March team of M Gs taking the prestigious Team Prize. It was the first major victory for the young marque. Motor Sport called it an ‘uninteresting race’ and hoped that the handicappers would learn from the experience — cars from one class were not supposed to dominate the results. Since every race that Freddie ran in was a handicap, one always has to be aware that his overall placing was affected by the skill of the handicapper.

On the other hand, the March/Staniland M G was one of 24 cars in the 750cc class, and by any standards that was a healthy field. Forget the overall places, which could be influenced by the handicap, and concentrate on class places. By that reckoning, Freddie March emerges as a very accomplished driver indeed.

In fact he had played the handicap for all it was worth and had run his cars without superchargers. The blowers went back on for the L C C Relay Race which he entered to get information about running supercharged cars under race conditions. The March team finished only seventh, but got the information it needed.

The team next appeared in the Irish Grand Prix at Phoenix Park, Dublin, where Freddie, deciding that he rather liked team management, nominated himself as the reserve driver. The cars were run unsupercharged and Norman Black, driving in his first road race, came home a decisive winner.

When, later in the year, the March M Gs entered the Tourist Trophy Freddie had become so much a celebrity that the mere fact that the March team had disembarked in Ulster made the papers. The attention paid to the entrant could have ruffled feathers among the drivers, but Freddie had the ability to get his entire team to work as a team — no easy matter when dealing with racing drivers. For the Tourist Trophy the cars were run with superchargers and again Norman Black won. At the time it was thought that the great Baconin Borzacchini and his Alfa Romeo could have won, but were defeated by superior team tactics. Borzacchini was driving for Scuderia Ferrari.

There is a nice touch in the fact that the March team won the Tourist Trophy in 1931 and, from 1958, Goodwood circuit would host the Tourist Trophy.

Having won the three most important races in the British Isles, and put M G on the map, the BREA. 500 could have made a perfect score. It was, however, a disappointment. All the March cars failed to finish, and the Team Prize went to E R Hall’s M Gs.

After that, it seems, the cars were sold. The M Gs raced five times and won three major races. It is likely that Freddie made a profit on the enterprise given the size of the purses for winning. Together with the teams run by Lt Col Goldie’ Gardner and E R Hall, the Earl of March had established MG as a force to be reckoned with, but by any reasonable standard of assessment, he had done more than any other individual.

The rest of his brief career as a driver did not touch such heights although he won his heat in the 1932 British Empire Trophy at the wheel of a works single-seat Austin, and had to scratch from the final. There was to be no repeat of his triumph in the Double Twelve because, in 1932, it was replaced by the Brooklands 1000 (run over two days in two 500-mile legs) and Freddie was refused an entry by the organising club, the JCC, on the grounds that he was insufficiently experienced. That was no way for the JCC to treat the previous year’s winner, let alone its President.

In all, Freddie took part in nine races. He won two of those outright and took class wins in a further two. It was an impressive strike-rate, especially when you consider the status of the races he won. He did not completely retire from competition driving, however, and he often ran in rallies, usually driving one or other of his own march Specials.

1932 saw him busily styling cars, assisted as a draughtsman by Rivers Fletcher who was to be a life-long friend. Like all successful stylists, he left an indelible signature on the cars he styled. They were notable for a flowing wing line, at a time when most British sports cars had cycle mudguards, and a stiff and fairly high scuttle which allowed the instruments to be easily read by the driver. Other characteristic features were wide doors and plenty of elbow room.

They were all very practical designs and their elegant lines were widely imitated. You, can see the March influence in a host of British sports cars of the 1930s, including, the Jaguar SS 100. This statement may come as a surprise, but when the March Specials first appeared SS body designs still had cycle mudguards. William Lyons copied the March line for his second version of the SS1.

Kevill-Davies & March subcontracted their designs to coachbuilders and, within a very short time, March Specials could be bought on Hillman, Alvis, Lagonda, AC. Wolseley and Riley chassis. Hillman, Riley and A C all offered March styles as standard bodies; Hillman on the Aero Minx (in two: and four-seat forms, and sports and coupe versions), Riley on the Nine for 1933, while most A Cs built 1934-39, including all 16/80 models, had March bodies. From 1934, there was also a range of special bodies on Lancia chassis, since Kevill-Davies & March had become the Lancia distributor for London and the Home Counties.

His last car designs came in 1936 and they were ‘utility’ cars with wood-panelled bodies on Commer or Ford commercial chassis. The Commer ‘Tender’ and Ford ‘Brakevan” were particularly clever designs — the passenger seats folded flush into the floor and the tailgate could be lowered to create a platform. It was therefore possible to carry loads larger than the interior cabin Space, which is something not even their modern equivalent, the MPV, can do.

Freddie was, therefore a successful racing driver, team manager, car salesman and influential stylist. He was also a photographer of professional standard; he worked very hard at this and made endless experiments. It was his profound knowledge of photography which inspired his grandson, the present Earl of March, to become a Professional photographer himself, just as Freddie inspired his grandson with the idea of reviving motor racing at Goodwood. Freddie had achieved a great deal before he reached his thirtieth birthday (he was born in 1904), but there was much more to come.

From his childhood, Freddie had enjoyed making models, and he was skilled at it. Most of his efforts were aircraft (and many are today in Goodwood House) but he also made models of cars whose engineering he admired. In 1934 he set up March Models Ltd to make custom-built models, usually to 1:24 scale. He had a hands-on input in this enterprise, but most of the work was done by a chap named Seldon, although the great model-maker, Rex Hays, may also have worked for March Models. The little company made models for Freddie’s motor racing friends and also for companies. A March model of a single-seat Austin was displayed in Austin’s London showroom for years. There was a model lorry for I C I, and at the 1934 Olympia Motor Show Shell-B P displayed a diorama featuring ten March model racing cars.

In the summer of 1935 March Models became available to the general public, with prices starting at £4 19s 6d for a Mercedes-Benz W 25 and going up to £35 for a Veteran Panhard, but customers could specify any car because each was built from scratch, often using the manufacturer’s blueprints. There was also a line in ‘half models’ which were actually hand-carved plaques for display on the wall or as a desk ornament. These models were so well received that they were commissioned for exhibition at major international shows.

In 1935 Freddie March became the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, but he placed the running of his estate — much depleted by death duties — in the hands of managers and continued to pursue his interests in engineering. In 1936 he lined up all his mechanical toys in front of Goodwood House and photographed them. There was a Klemm monoplane (he was also a pilot), a B M W motorcycle, a Ford Brakevan, two Lancias with March bodies, and a venerable Wolseley for formal occasions. He captioned the photograph ‘The Home Fleet’. In the grounds of Goodwood House he had built an aircraft hangar, but being a man of style and aesthetic sensitivity (he was also a gifted amateur painter) this was designed by an architect and was made of dark wood with a thatched roof.

An old friend, Edmund Hordern, had introduced him to flying; this interest grew, and in 1935 he founded the Hordern-Richmond Aircraft Company. He designed a twin-engined low-wing monoplane, the ‘Autoplane’, which was successfully flight-tested and was due to go into production until the war scotched that plan. The Autoplane joined the Klemm at Goodwood and it was scrapped during the war.

Hordern-Richmond turned its attention to making aircraft propeller blades from ‘Hydulignum’, a wood laminate similar to the Jabroc used for the ride height planks on current Formula One cars. This was largely Freddie’s invention. Fitted to Rotol variable-pitch propellers, these blades played their part in the Battle of Britain. Rotol (formed by Rolls-Royce and Bristol) took over Hordern-Richmond and the Duke joined the RAFVR for the duration of the war.

He had allowed the Air Ministry to use Westhampnett Farm, close to Goodwood House, as a satellite station to RAF Tangmere. (He allowed Goodwood House itself to be used as a hospital). Although only a satellite station with grass runways, Westhampnett became one of the busiest airfields during the Battle of Britain when Tangmere’s permanent runways were bombed.

Westhampnett therefore became much more important than had originally been envisaged. It was decided to upgrade the site with a perimeter track and dispersal bays. Without these, aircraft were in danger of becoming bogged down in the mud in wet weather. Thus, by sheer chance, the only tarmac on the site was a 2.4 mile-long strip which was perfect for motor racing.

Today there are consultants who use computer technology to design circuits, and few get it right. In 1940 an anonymous draughtsman was given the job of moving aircraft around a field on Sussex farmland and, quite by chance, he came up with one of the finest circuits ever raced on. He probably earned less than £5 a week and he did not sit at his drawing board and think “We’ll have a double-apex right-hander after the start, that’ll sort out the men from the boys…”

After the war, Sn Ldr Tony Gaze, a racing driver friend of the Duke, suggested that the Westhampnett perimeter track could be used for racing. Freddie was feeling particularly inactive — it was ten years since he had designed a car body or done something of an entrepreneurial nature. He was at a loose end with nothing much to do except be a Duke and while he was always conscious of his position and duties, being a Duke was not enough to satisfy him. He said, “Let’s get cracking.”

On 18th September 1948, two weeks before the first meeting at Silverstone, Goodwood staged its first race meeting. The JCC (soon the BARC) organised the event with the help of the Goodwood Estate. The, Duke owned the Goodwood horse track, of which Edward VII once memorably said was “a garden party with a race meeting attached” so the Estate had the accumulated experience of 150 years of organising major sporting events. That initial meeting also made a profit of over £1,000 thanks in no small measure to sponsorship and Freddie’s own astuteness.

Surely no circuit has been held in greater affection by drivers and enthusiasts alike. Goodwood had style because Freddie had style — and he also knew motor racing inside out. Roy Salvadori once said, “Give me Goodwood on a Summer’s day and you can keep the rest of the world.” Nobody is on record for raising an objection to this statement.

The Duke developed the circuit and supervised its operation in conjunction with John Morgan of the BARC, whose experience of organising events went back to Brooklands days. Some people have tried to make a connection between Brooklands and Goodwood, but while they shared a strong social scene, and some of the personnel were common to both, they were completely different. Brooklands was a hive of industry every day of the week, with dozens of outfits dedicated to cars and aviation. Goodwood was simply a race circuit, although in more recent years it has become a thriving airfield.

The Easter Monday Goodwood Meeting, usually with a Formula One race as the feature event, became one of the highlights of the British racing calendar. In 1952 Goodwood introduced night-time racing to Britain with the Nine Hour race which started at 3pm and finished at midnight. From 1958, it hosted the Tourist Trophy and not many people realised that the Duke had once won this race as a team manager. It was a feature of the larger meetings that there were parties at Goodwood House — you cannot disassociate the circuit from the man or from his heritage. Among his ancestors was Macbeth’s ill-fated friend, Banquo, and Goodwood House contains magnificent art and artifacts including the world’s best collection of Canaletto’s works.

When Goodwood was first created as a motor racing circuit, some people felt that the run-off areas were too generous and would lead to drivers over-reaching themselves. Indeed, the Goodwood chicane was added in 1951 to stop drivers from ‘straight-lining’ on the grass. The Duke was always very conscious of safety and even considered closing the circuit after the 1955 Le Mans tragedy. In 1966 he decided that the new breed of racing car made the circuit potentially dangerous because there was no room on the site to provide wider run-off areas since it is bounded by two public roads. Therefore, in July 1966, he called a halt to racing.

The circuit was thereafter used for testing, sprints and driving instruction — until the early 1980s it was a popular choice for many F1 and F2 teams — and it is still used for up to 334 days of the year. As is widely known the present Earl of March is trying to persuade the local council to allow him to run a limited programme of historic racing at Goodwood, to develop the site with car and aircraft workshops and to build a motor racing museum there. As anyone who has been to the Goodwood Festival of Speed will know, if racing does resume at Goodwood, it will be like travelling back in time.

By 1966 Freddie was 62 years old and soon afterwards he passed over the running of the estate to his son while he went into retirement pursuing his hobbies of painting, photography and model making, at all of which he was unusually accomplished. He died in November, 1989 aged 85.

The following week a letter appeared in The Chichester Observer from someone who had run a small local garage which the Duke had used. The garage owner had no idea who the quiet man was whom he served with petrol and who patiently waited his turn until, one day, a police constable saluted him — after all, Freddie was the Lord Lieutenant of Sussex. The writer of the letter said what a contrast was the Duke to some of his self-important employees who blustered that their connections with the Goodwood Estate should give them special treatment.

Obviously, none of those people had ever had to break the news to Sir Thomas Beecham that he did not own a Bentley. Freddie was a diplomat. He was also a man who knew the worth of people as well as mechanical objects. As one who lives close to Goodwood I can also attest that he and his Duchess were greatly loved by the local community. Nobody would have noticed if the Goodwood horse track had not built a playground for children which is open the year round, but it did.

Freddie Richmond was a mechanic, racing driver, car stylist, team manager, model maker, photographer, artist, inventor, aircraft designer and a major influence on the development of post-war British motor racing. He was also Hereditary constable of Inverness Castle and a few other things besides. Best of all, however, he was a Good Bloke.