Speed dynasty commemorated
A blue plaque has been erected to remind people of the family with racing blood coursing through its veins
In November an English Heritage blue plaque was unveiled at Canbury School, Kingston-upon Thames, in memory of Sir Malcolm and Donald Campbell, the father and son who between them set 10 Land Speed Records and 11 records on water.
Malcolm was born in Kent in March 1885 and started racing in 1910. In 1921 when driving a Darracq in a race at Brooklands he suffered the first of many near-fatal accidents. The car was christened ‘Blue Bird’ after a stage play by Maurice Maeterlinck, and the name was used for all his subsequent cars and boats, and later those raced by Donald. Malcolm Campbell first broke the Land Speed Record on Pendine Sands, in Carmarthenshire, in September 1924, and in the following July, on the same course, he was the first driver to exceed 150mph. The late 1920s saw him compete repeatedly for the record with Sir Henry Segrave, the two men swapping the honours several times. The ninth and last Land Speed Record, at the Utah salt flats in 1935, saw him in a Rolls-Roycepowered car, again named ‘Bluebird’, in which he became the first person exceed 300mph. He then turned his attention to breaking the Water Speed Record which he did four times between 1937-39 in a to hydroplane named ‘Bluebird’, like his racing cars. On the last occasion he reached 141.74mph on Coniston Water in the Lake District.
During the Second World War he worked for Combined Operations but subsequently he suffered from glaucoma — possibly from not wearing goggles during his record attempts. He died in his Surrey home in 1948.
Donald followed in his father’s footsteps, making his first unsuccessful attempt on the then American-held Water Speed Record in August 1949. Six years later he took this record in a new jet-powered boat named ‘Bluebird’ to 202.32mph on Coniston Water.
This was followed by further records in speedboats, achieving 260.32mph in May 1959. He then returned to Land Speed Records, taking the prize at Lake Eyre salt flats in Australia with a speed of 403.14mph in the fourwheel-drive gas turbine car. Back to the water, on which he raised the record to 276.33mph on Lake Dumbleyung, Western Australia, on New Year’s Eve in 1964. He was the first and so far only driver to set both records in a single calendar year. These triumphs were an improvement on his father’s attempts but on January 4, 1967 his life and career ended when he was killed in the attempt to raise the record on Coniston Water. The wreckage of his last ‘Bluebird’ and his body were only recovered in 2001.
Donald’s daughter Gina went on to race and set records in power boats, while his nephew Don Wales holds the Electric Speed Record.
Malcolm Campbell lived in and around London but the only house where he and his son could be commemorated together is Canbury, a detached house on Kingston Hill dating from the late nineteenth century, which is now used as a school. This is where Donald was born in March 1921. His parents had hoped to live there for many years but Malcolm became restless and late in 1922 they moved to Povey Cross, near Horley, Surrey. At one time Kingston Hill was the address of Campbell, John Cobb, Sir Henry Segrave, Archie Frazer-Nash and Kenelm Lee Guinness, whose KLG spark plug factory was down the hill by the Robin Hood roundabout.
Unveiled by Don Wales, the grandson of Sir Malcolm, the new plaque will help to keep their names and achievements in the public eye.
Brooklands’ uphill challenge
In 1909 Major F Lindsay Lloyd took over from Ernst de Rodakowski as Clerk of the Course for Brooklands circuit. He had a sound knowledge of electrical and civil engineering and went into his new task with enthusiasm. He did not retire until well after the First World War and did more than words can tell for the Surrey Track. He was also well liked for his keenness and his discipline.
His first new venture was to have a Test Hill built from the top of the Finishing Straight opposite the Paddock and up the Members’ Hill. It was a concrete strip wide enough to accommodate a car, totalling 352rt 3in long, with an average gradient of 1 in 5.027. Because there was a road from the top to the bridge over the banking for spectators to reach the Hill from the entrances, drivers could continue back to the Paddock after making an ascent. With the new Holden electrical timing apparatus now in operation, Brooklands offered the industry a valuable testing ground, which the Test Hill enhanced. I believe the first car to try a climb failed ignominiously; then an 18/22hp Armstrong-Whitworth went up, then down to test its brakes. On March 26 the first certificate was issued stating that Kidner’s 20hp Vauxhall had climbed from a standing start in 15.041seconds. When RGJ Nash’s Frazer Nash established the ultimate hill record of 7.45sec in 1932, it became airborne for a short distance at the top as he was going so fast.
The Test Hill was in frequent use thereafter by the motor industry and by private motorists who wished to establish and then improve on their own ‘to the top’ time. There was a small charge for the public to use it though members could use it for free, but all received a certificate which recorded their ascent time. The Test Hill also became increasingly incorporated into the courses for road car trials. In 1925 the Junior Car Club organised an event involving the Test Hill called the High Speed Trial, in which competitors were asked not only to negotiate the major portion of the Outer Circuit, but were required to turn off at the Paddock return road and hairpin on to this delightful road section at the bridge leading to the top of the Test Hill, down which, in single file and under a strict speed limit, they would then descend to the Finishing Straight, there to commence another joyous lap.