There are some very interesting motoring references in “Mr Home, pronounced Hume” (the title is a skit on an unfavourable review one of his plays received) by William Douglas Home (Collins, 1979), brother of the one-time Prime Minister. Mr Home is obviously a keen motorist. The first car he bought was a small Ford, in pre-war days, using part of a £1,000 legacy from an aunt. But it was in a Humber Super Snipe that year, belonging to George Mercer Nairne, that they drove through Germany, Italy and Spain, reaching Fez.
After the war, out of the success of his play The Chiltern Hundreds Home purchased a secondhand Derby-Bentley, which a photograph shows to have been a 1938 open tourer with the spatted back wheels; possibly a 4 1/4-litre Vanden Plus. Driving it up to Hirsel, one of the family homes in Scotland, his mother instructed him to “Take that vulgar little car away, and put it in the stables!” However, persuaded that it was a Rolls-Bentley, she went for a drive round the lawn in it and even sat in the driving seat and steered it, to the utter astonishment of the family butler, Mr Collington, who had seen this from his adjacent garden. Later, following a girl he fancied, who had departed for Spain with a male cousin and his sister, Home jumped into the Bentley with Otto Herschen, his secretary, and arrived in Madrid two days afterwards. Unable to locate the girl, he then drove back to Liverpool for the opening of his play The Thistle and the Rose.
Married in 1951 to Rachel Brand (the girl he had chased to Madrid), whom he had met at a party at the Albert Hall given by Max Aitken (who raced at Brooklands), they flew from Northolt to Paris as part of their honeymoon. By 1953, having an overdraft, Home sold the Bentley, replacing it with a Volkswagen. I think it must have been in the VW, that Home did a quick trip to Paris for some film-making, driving to Dover in a snowstorm. He preferred this to flying. Although there was previous reference to filling the boot of the VW with pigeons, this may have been the front-boot, as the mention of the VW’s ignition light showing red before Paris was reached is strongly suggestive of a Beetle breaking its dynamo-drive belt; earlier the car had run out of petrol, a case, perhaps, of no fuel gauge in a Beetle? The battery certainly seems to have gone “flat”, unless the engine had seized up, as it was found to be immobile outside the Royal Monceau Hotel and a taxi had to be substituted, after the hall porter had been asked to have a garage tow it away.
This or another car was driven to Rome when Home was writing film-scripts, and there is an amusing reference to Wilfrid Hyde White, the celebrated actor, being upset at the improved box-office takings for
The Reluctant Debutante while he was off sick and being understudied by Home himself, and their lapse after he had returned to the Cambridge Theatre, until he realised that the upward fluctuation had been due to the influx of Motor Show visitors to London. Incidentally, Hyde White’s accident on the Bath Road that had incapacitated him had been in a hired car, which he said “was made of Ryvita”.
Later in this very readable book Home mentions his Volvo, which had covered 187,000 miles on the clock as he was writing it, so perhaps I have confused the VW with this. There are also interesting references to his unsuccessful play Rolls-Hyphen-Royce, in which Alfred Marks played Royce, Peter Egan Charlie Rolls. I remember reviewing it for Motor Sport at the time. There is a tiny error in Home’s text, where he writes of Royce turning, after Rolls’ fatal aeroplane accident, to aeroplane construction, whereas, of course, he means aero-engine construction. (Since writing the above the author has generously told me, in reply to a letter, that his second car was a Lagonda bought for £5, which he overturned on the front at Shoreham, that the Volvo eventually notched up 250,000 miles before they gave it to their Vicar, who has recently passed it on to a friend, and that a secondhand Rover 3500 with 21,000 miles behind it served the author and his wife for another 109,000 miles before being part-exchanged in December 1983 for a Vauxhall Cavalier.)
There is less of a profitable kind, so far as motoring anecdotes are concerned, that is, in “Memories” by Frances Partride (Gollancz, 1981). The authoress, writing largely about the between-wars “Bloomsbury set,” does however tell of her father buying in 1909 a brown saloon motor-car which was supposed to do the amazing speed of 30 mph and she thought actually did (not a very great speed by 1909, although one has to remember that closed cars would be more pedestrian than many tourers) but was a good deal more dubious up hills, when there was always the fear of it gliding backwards out of control. Alas, the make is not given but it was driven by a chauffeur who, being young and pretty, with a mop of curls, caused piercing squeals and cackles at mealtimes in the servants’ hall at the family house at Hindhead. He wore a brown uniform to match the car, which was used for a tour of the cathedrals of Southern England, going to Winchester, Salisbury, Wells and Exeter, the ladies dressing up in dust-coats and motorbonnets.
The next reference to a car comes in November 1928, when the authoress and her friend Clive Bell took a hired Daimler from the London bookshop where she worked to Gordon Square, reminder that such cars were commonly available then, this one perhaps from Stratton-Instone Ltd, the Daimler-Hire concern. Rolls-Royces have played many parts and the book refers to the battered and shabby old model, driven by a chauffeur called Jackson, that was used by Hayley Morriss of Pippingford Park near Ashdown Forest, who had used the car for his alleged orgies in Brighton and elsewhere, which resulted in a prison sentence, although the chauffeur managed to get him a divorce while he was serving sentence. As the case broke in 1926 one assumes this to have been a Silver Ghost; which was still used by Morriss in the 1930s, driven by the same chauffeur. I wonder if the R-REC knows which one it was?
That’s about it, apart from mention of a girl-friend buying a motorcycle, and dressing in black leather coat, in 1932, the Baby Austin into which Julian and Vanessa Bell and friends packed for a tour of France that year, and of Julian Bell having bought a new Morris in 1929, which he drove at tremendous speed, once knocking over a Colonel in Brighton.
A reader living in N. Yorkshire writes to this column to tell us that “Days of Yore — A History of Marsham” by Susan Cunliffe-Lister contains some items of motoring interest, such as the memoirs of a Mr Arthur Wynn who was posted in First World War to a remote site in Costerdale, where most of his time centred on the Motor Transport Section of Leeds Pals. They were loaned a Model-T Ford, and Sunbeam, Vauxhall and Daimler cars, all open tourers, while Mr Wynn drove a 2-ton Karrier truck called “The Old Belaize”. (Could there be confusion here between makes, or was this a pet name for the Karrier, for some reason unexplained). Petrol was supplied by Tom Calvert, trained engineer who had served his time in ship-building yards and who had a garage at Marsham. He was building himself a small two-seater, with a water-cooled two-cylinder engine already in the chassis and awaiting a gearbox from manufacturers, who had default due to war work, so the project was abandoned. Today, I am told, one of same Calvert family of Swalesdale is a well-known motorcycle trials rider.
The book refers to Lord Marsham buying his first car in about 1910, a Daimler, which resulted in the man Beale, who previously driven the carriage and horses being sent to Daimler’s to learn how drive. In 1926 an estate lorry was acquired but otherwise all the estate transport continued to be horse-drawn. However, by the 1930s, a photograph shows Lord and Lady Swinton and their two sons with an open Alvis Speed-20.