Cars in books, February 1977

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From “Window on My Heart” by Olave Lady Baden-Powell, GBE (Hodder & Stoughton, 1973) comes an interesting reflection on how dependable the better cars were even before the First World War. When searching for a house her parents decided it would be easier by car than in trains and the carriages so they purchased one in January 1908. It is described as “. . a bright yellow (Crossley) limousine with a landaulette hood and we were all entranced by it”. It was “so quiet” and the chauffeur Williamson “drives so awfully well”, wrote the young Olave, in her diary. Alas, the chauffeur was dismissed shortly afterwards for taking the Crossley out on his own without permission. The freedom of the road in those days is nicely portrayed by the references to shopping in Regent Street in London with the Crossley patiently waiting, and of whirling up to Hampstead Heath, Barnet and Finchley. The Crossley is described as “so fast and so safe too”. “It is a joy, that car”.

The book contains a reference to the Bournemouth Flying Meeting in 1910, which Olave watched from a big hired motor-boat at Southbourne, and saw the Hon. C. S. Rolls killed. There is a picture of the 20 h.p. Standard landaulette which was the Scout Movement’s wedding present to the Chief Scout, Sir Robert and Lady Baden-Powell in 1913 and the text describes the car as finished in the Scout colours of very dark green with a fine yellow line, and with the Scout badge discreetly painted on the panelling and a silver figure of a Scout on the bonnet, although the latter does not appear in the picture. I find it interesting that in 1927 the Baden-Poevells had a fleet of cars, consisting of an IS h.p. Standard saloon, a 10 hp. Standard saloon, and Lady BadenPowell’s Standard Nine two-seater (quite a rare model, surely?; unless the earlier 9.5 Standard is intended), the last named used to tow a “wee green trailer”. Interesting because it is possible that the gift of the 1913 Standard endeared the famous family to this make.

There is a reference to the progress made in commercial aviation, comparing a presentday 3 1/4-hour flight from Warsaw to Heathrow with that of 1932, when the route was Warsaw, Berlin, Hanover, Amsterdam, Croydon, which occupied nearly 14 hours. In 1929 Baden-Powell was given a Rolls-Royce saloon, an Eccles trailer caravan, his portrait by David Jagger, a cheque for £2,800, and a pair of braces (the last his own suggestion. for a present, on the occasion of the Scout Corning-of-Age Jamboree, to pay for which every Scout had contributed Id.) King George also bestowed a Peerage. I was never a Boy Scout but I remember this R-R, which was, I think, a P1, towing a two-wheeler Eccles caravan. Perhaps the RREC can tell us whether it has survived.

I am now pleased to refer to yet another book in which Brooklands Track is mentioned It is “The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle” by John Dickson Carr (John Murray, 1949), which tells of how the famous author, notably of the Sherlock Holmes stories, bought his first car, a dark blue 10 h.p. Wolseley with red wheels, in Birmingham in the spring of 1901 It replaced six saddle-horses in the stables at Undershaw, near Hindhead, and the coachman, Holden, was sent to the Wolseley factory for three-weeks’ driving instruction. But Conan Doyle drove the 150 miles home himself, his first attempt at driving a car. This was obviously successful and by 1906 we are told that there were two cars in the stables, as well as a Roc motorbicycle. One of these cars was the solid-tyres Wolseley, which had escaped a collision with a farm cart full of turnips when Sir Arthur’s mother was riding in the tonneau. The other is not named, but was of 20 h.p. I suspect it was a De Dietrich, for Conan Doyle is described as competing in the 1911 Prince Henry Tour with such a car. In fact, this is described as a “…twenty h.p. Lorraine-Dietrich, with a horseshoe stuck on the front as a mascot” apparently a landaulette. The start from Homburg is said to have consisted of 50 British and 50 German competitors, and the implication is that when the “race” reached England the German Army and Navy observers used their cameras to photograph items of use in the forthcoming war. In fact, the 1911 event was non-competitive and certainly not a race. It may be thought that Sir Arthur would not have used a six-year-old car, however, so perhaps he had by then acquired another De Dietrich, especially as the Wolseley met with a serious accident, when it overturned in the house-drive in the winter of 1904, pinning Sir Arthur beneath it. Incidentally, they had a model passenger-carrying monorail in the house-grounds.

I think that the big Benz cars he encountered on this Prince Henry Tour that took in Brooklands caused Conan-Doyle to make the German spy in the last Sherlock Holmes adventure use a 100 h.p. Benz limousine. But as to Holmes ever having used a motorcycle in his early days, as propounded by a writer in The Sherlock Holmes Journal, when Conan Doyle was interviewed by The Motor Cycle in 1904, having bought his Roc, he apparently said “No” with some vehemence, adding that in Holmes’ early days motor bicycles were unthought of. And as regular followers of this column know, I am of the firm opinion that the Model-T Ford which features in that last Holmes adventure, during the 1914/18 war, was the Property of Dr. Watson.

And, finally, for this month, on the subject of crime, but real crime this time, there is a brief reference to a car in “The Riddle of Eirdhurst Rise” by Richard WhittingtonEgan (George Harrap, 1975). The second of the unfortunate victims in the unsolved Croydon triple poison-murders of 1928-29. Vera Sidney, enjoyed her motoring, in, the author tells us, a 7.5 h.p. Citroen, There is mention of her concern for its frozen radiator, in this pre-anti-freeze age, and of needing hot water to thaw it out; it was kept at a public garage in Ben-sham Lane, Croydon. Later in the book there is an amusing account of what happened to a local nolicernan when he called to apprehend a doctor while that gentleman was being interviewed by the CID, who had told him to leave his unlit car, which he was about to move, outside his house—hut it would be unfair to the author to recount it here.—W.B.