Chauffeur's Corner

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I recently had an interesting chat with Mr. F. P. Mills of Walton, close to the Welsh border on the A44, about motoring long ago. Having helped the chauffeur to the Morland family of Gloucester (the match people) wash the two Rolls-Royces in his care, before the First World War, the 16-yearold youth naturally became interested in cars. So he joined the staff of Mr. Banks of Kington, who taught him to drive. The family had a tiller-steered Lanchester and a Hillman-Coatelen, later disposing of the Lanchester and getting a Siddeley-Deasy. Mills went to Coventry to learn about these cars before becoming the family chauffeur and when war broke out he went out to France with a Talbot ambulance, a 15/20 h.p., I think, driving this same vehicle all through the war. (The Staff had Vauxhalls.) He returned to serve Mr. Banks but after some two years was persuaded to join Owen’s Garage, as Mr. Owen owned a Talbot. Incidentally, the premises which Owen’s Garage occupied in Kington still exist, as furniture showrooms.

Mr. Mills went with Mr. Owen to the War Surplus Sales at Slough, where they bought a Talbot ambulance like the one he had had such good service from in France, and a 3-ton solid-tyred Halford lorry. The ambulance was converted into a char-a-bane, with bench seats along each side. So rare were motors in this part of England that when Mr. Mills had been married in 1916 there was only one taxi to be had in Kington—thought to have been a Model-T Ford. But Mrs. Mills remembers that a local land-owner, Sir Duff Gordon,. ran a big Leon-Boltee. Soon another Talbot was acquired and also made into a char-abane. Mrs. Mills, who was present while I chatted to her husband, remembers that Mr. Owen used to advertise in the local Papers: “Ride on air in the open air, through the Switzerland of Wales!” This was to encourage people to go on his 62-mile trips to Aberystwyth, in the pneumatic-tyred Talbots. The first was named “The Bluebird” and the second one the “Kington Belle”; the vehicle’s colour no doubt dictated the former name, as it seems unlikely that they had heard of Malcolm Campbell’s similar Talbot raced at Brooklands as “Bluebird”.

These outings from 1921 onwards were quite adventurous. The Talbots, often carrying 15 or 16 passengers, seated on transverse tench seats in the case of the “Kington Belle”, were too high-geared for the long hill out of Aberystwyth and it was frequently necessary to stop and top-up the radiators With water when they boiled. Some of the bends on the Elan Valley road called for two reverses, to the consternation of the passengers, as Mr. Mills maneuvered on this mountain road with hut rear-wheel-brakes betweeen him and disaster. Before a hood had been finished for “The Bluebird, the inmates were forced to take up the coconut-matting from the floor and hold It above their heads if it came onto rain as it frequently did. the luckless driver, howwever, being drenched to the skin. Often, the return tourney was made in the dark end Mr. Mills remembers having his eyebrows burnt-off when an explosion occurred as he was investigating a iault in the acetylene headlamps, The Halford was not used as a char-a-banc but on one occasion was fitted with wooden planks as seats, when it took some 40 people to the opening of Talgarth Sanatorium. It also took people to New Radnor, to pick whinberries.

The Willys-Overland car was invading Wales by this time and Mr. Mills used to go to Stockport and bring hack new cars, which would be sold to farmers and other local customers to whom he would frequently have to give driving lessons. There was later, towards 1924, a tendency for Morris-Cowleys to take the place of the bigger Overlands, Mills collecting some 20 of these. He once had to go to Newcastle-on-Tyne to fetch a new Angus-Sanderson, which the Green’s, of Lyonshall had bought; he recalls leaving at 8 a.m. and, due to being held up in a thick fog, not returning until the day after he was expected back . . . A belt-drive Triumph motorcycle used to get Mr. Mills home to lunch, from his daily chores, and his wife one day took it up the road, without difficulty.

Next, Mr. Mills transferred to Edwards’ Garage, lower down the town in Bridge Street, as he was a friend of Alf Edwards. That lasted about two years, when a letter arrived asking whether he would consider driving for a Mr. Crompton, a timber merchant. This meant moving to Manchester but Mr. Mills was tiring of decoking cars and doing other garage chores, so he and his wife decided to go. Mr. Crompton, who lived five miles nut of Manchester at Swinton, used Chryslers. In 1926, when Mr. Mills joined him, there was a big ribbonradiator-type saloon. These cars were supplied by Grinashaves of Prestwich and were changed approximately every 75,000 miles. They were very fine and comfortable vehicles, the only remembered fault being some front-wheel shimmy, cured by putting wedges under the front axle. In due time Mr. Crompton built a house for his chauffeur and Mr. Mills had a very pleasant time in his employment. In all there were three Chryslers, before Mr. Crompton died in 1948, aged 84. He used to buy a lot of timber in the Radnor Forest area and would be driven down in one of the Chryslers, sometimes to stay at the Eagle Hotel in Radnor, which is how he had first heard of Mr. Mills.

After the death of his employer Mills decided to retire and returned to live at Walton. a few miles from Kington. He then ran Morris 85 and still drives, in an immaculate 1960 Ford Anglia. In all this enormous mileage, 275,000 in the Chryslers alone, he has never had an accident and was only once in trouble with the law, when he was trapped in a 30 m.p.h. speed-limit at Craven Arms; but this was before the endorsement period, so his licence remains dean. Incidentally, his brother-inlaw found an ex-Gloucester Police 1934 Riley in a farm out-building which had run 169,000 miles, rebuilt it, and it was champion Riley at a recent Riley Register rally.—W.B.

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