Cars In Books, February 1964

Just as I thought this feature, which has been well supplied with material for many years, until it seemed that there are not many books in which cars are not mentioned, was going to rest awhile, I chanced to spot the name Linda Rhodes-Moorhouse as an author, amongst the biographies on the shelves of the local library. Remembering that Rhodes-Moorhouse was a pioneer racing motorist and aviator, my hand reached out. . . .

I was astonished when, flicking the pages of this book, I came upon pictures of early aeroplanes, a Coupe des Voiturettes Peugeot and a 27/30 Austro-Daimler, astonished that I hadn’t discovered it at the time of publication.

“Kaleidoscope,” by Linda Rhodes-Moorhouse (Arthur Barker, 1960), is a delightful book which sets out to capture the atmosphere of the Edwardian days and contains plenty about what motoring and flying were like then and during the nineteen-twenties and ‘thirties.

A reflection on the change that has taken place since the authoress was brought up as a girl at Rokeby House in Yorkshire is nicely portrayed by reference to dinner being served by butler and footmen, “as it was not the thing to have parlour maids. These came later, but at the date of which I write, it would have been considered very common to employ them to serve at table.” Later, in the big Elizabethan house in Dorset called Parnham, which her husband had bought just before the 1914 war, Linda Rhodes-Moorhouse resorted to parlourmaids waiting at table (the war was on!) but recalls what a let-down this was. “Now,” she observes, “in the days when guests frequently meet over the kitchen sink in mutual washing up, this attitude seems completely unintelligible.”

That sets the period and range of “Kaleidoscope.” What of the cars and aeroplanes featured in it ? Mrs. Moorhouse really writes of her husband and son, her two Williams, the former the first pilot to gain the V.C., who was fatally wounded in 1915 after bombing Courtrai railway junction, and the latter killed when his Hawker Hurricane crashed near Tonbridge in 1940. The father was a Lieutenant in the R.F.C., the son a Pilot Officer in 601 Squadron, who had won the D.F.C. The letters from Lt. Rhodes-Moorhouse’s Flight-Commander and the Padre, who were with him in hospital as he was dying, to Mrs. Moorhouse are a moving reminder of the pathos of that, or any other, war.

There is a reference, as early as page 29, to Rhodes-Moorhouse’s races in high-powered cars through Cambridge before the First World War, and his skidding club, which caused him to be blackballed from the Pitt Club. He was friendly with Noel van Raalte, who later owned the first production 3-litre Bentley. The authoress recounts how Rhodes-Moorhouse’s mastery of skidding stood him in good stead when in 1913 a German in a large Opel led him up the Corniche Road behind Monte Carlo at a speed at which his Austro-Daimler would never have taken the hairpin. Only his mastery of skidding saved a serious accident. Back in 1911 Rhodes-Moorhouse is described as making and flying an aeroplane of his own design, the Radley-Moorhouse monoplane, which he eventually took out to America. It had an Anzani engine and in it he was the first pilot to attempt a tail slide – tail-sliding in the air after mastering it on the ground! His wife-to-be first realised he might care for her when “one of the first cars he raced at Brooklands had a large LINDA painted on the bonnet.” This would be his 58-h.p. Fiat, which he raced during 1908 and 1909 attired in a light mauve coat, dark purple cuffs, collar and cap, lapping at over 70 m.p.h. He does not appear to have driven at Brooklands again but he flew a 50-h.p. Bleriot-Gnome monoplane there in the Aeroplane Handicaps in 1912, and the Radley-Moorhouse there later that year.

We are told that in 1910 Rhodes-Moorhouse had a shed at Huntingdon where he built his aeroplanes and there are interesting Press reports of a landing he made on Parker’s Piece, Cambridge. In 1912 he made the first crossing of the Channel with two passengers in a Bréguet biplane with Salmon engine. One of the appendices gives in full the excellent account of this written by J. H. Ledeboer, for Aeronautics. He was the front-seat passenger, the intrepid Mrs. Moorhouse sitting behind him: they all survived the crash landing at Bethersden, near Ashford. This account is a fine balance between humour and technical facts, but if written today would surely bring a libel action from the Hotel du Grand Cerf at Douai, where the aviators stayed.

As nothing much changes in France, I wonder whether the Breguet sheds at La Brayelle aerodrome are still standing. And whether J. H. Ledeboer is still alive? Incidentally, the hectic preparation for this flight constituted the honeymoon of Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes-Moorhouse!

At the time they had a 40/50 Rolls-Royce “with a body Mulliner had built to his design, which was an enclosed 2-seater body and a seat behind in the open for his mechanic, Tookey.” This car salvaged them after the crash and obviously averaged far more than the legal 20 m.p.h. from Ashford to Piccadilly!

There is an account of a charge of manslaughter wrongly brought against the pilot in 1913, when a wagon drawn by horses swerved as his car went past. At the time Rhodes-Moorhouse had 12 previous motoring convictions; he was fined £20. At this time the authoress’ brother and his wife had a Hispano-Suiza in which they accompanied the Moorhouses on a holiday to Cannes in their 27/80 Austro-Daimler. The latter ran badly and Moorhouse spent some time under it repairing it, as a photograph testifies. At Cannes they stayed at the Carlton Hotel. The car had an open streamlined body designed by its owner.

The picture of Moorhouse in the little Lion-Peugeot interests me greatly. There is no reference to the car in the text but it is clearly the chain-drive 1910 Coupe des Voiturettes car, with the absurdly lofty bonnet, road-equipped but sans lamps. The number can clearly be read as LK 5427, and the year is given as 1910. It would be, unless I am gravely mistaken, the astonishing Type VX5, 80x 280 mm. twin-cylinder in which Goux finished second in the Coupe des Voiturettes behind Zuccarelli’s 4-cylinder Hispano-Spiza.

After her husband’s death Mrs. Moorhouse used his Austro-Daimler and “a little Bugatti on which he had built his own body. Both these were open and neither had a self-starter, so it was a mixed pleasure, especially trying to swing the big Austro-Daimler.” Was the Bugatti an 8-valve or an early 16-valve car, I wonder ?

While at Eton, around 1930, young William Rhodes-Moorhouse took his pilot’s licence at Heston and a stamp collection was sold to buy him a D.H. Gipsy Moth, G-ABOA. There are nostalgic accounts of flights to Chirk Castle in Wales, to a rally at Cologne, to Cannes and across France. Linda Rhodes-Moorhouse will earn the gratitude of all who flew in those carefree days for her infectious enthusiasm and her comparison of “real” aeroplanes with the jet-liners of today. Later she, too, took her “ticket” at Heston, and her book continues with descriptions of her cross-country flights, to land at Lenwade in Norfolk, in a field beside Constantine Bay House in Cornwall, which ended in a crash, and later at Gote on the top of the Sussex downs, in the B. A. Klemm Swallow she had purchased.

She also mentions a desert expedition in model-T Fords, hiring a D.H. Fox Moth in Cairo, buying a D.H. Rapide and flying in an ancient Moth, ex-Lady Bailey, in Nairobi.

What a fascinating peep into the distant and diminishing past! – W.B.