There is a story told that during the desert campaign of the recent war a motor racing enthusiast with the Eighth Army found a tin of Castrol R. He took it back to his headquarters where his mates lit a stove and poured some of it on the lid to obtain the famous blue haze and pungent smell that was the very essence of pre-war Brooklands, the Isle of Man and the Ards circuit. For wherever men raced cars or motor-cycles there was the smell of Castrol R — the perfume of the romance of speed.
Now that the Wakefield Company are celebrating their Jubilee it is a suitable occasion on which to tell the story of Castrol. In 1899 Charles Cheers Wakefield started his oil company in modest circumstances for his capital was limited. His experience was, however, extensive, and although his total staff was only eight, they were men with considerable knowledge of lubricants. His headquarters was three small offices in Cannon Street, London.
For the first six or seven years business was mainly confined to the sale of lubricants and mechanical lubricators to railways. So closely has the name of Wakefield been associated with motor oils that few people know that this concern is still one of the country’s largest producers of railway and industrial oils. But to return to the story of Castrol R. This was the first and one of the most famous of the Castrol grades. It was introduced in 1909 and almost at once proved itself to be the ideal lubricant for the rotary aero engines of the period. In the October of the year of its inception every event in Britain’s first aviation meeting at Doncaster was won on this oil. Because of its unique properties, Castrol R became a favourite lubricant of the pioneer racing motorist and sporting motor-cyclist.
It formed a blue haze around the cylinders of the Gnome engines and spread a sticky-sweet film along the sides of the fuselage. It rose from the sizzling engines of the motor-cycles and came as a blue haze from the exhaust pipes of the racing cars when they opened up after the turns. It got into your hair and your clothes and you wore it proudly, for it was the perfume of romance of the pioneer days. It grew so popular that in 1912 the Company had to expand its production arrangements.
In the first world war it was one of the principal lubricants of the Allied Air Forces and during the early days of that conflict it received a unique testimonial from the Kaiser. My mischance one of the first “hush-hush” Handley-Page bombers sent to France was captured intact by the enemy. The Germans, in the course of demonstration before the Kaiser, took the machine up to an altitude of 10,000 feet. Afterwards, the Daily Mail reported, the German ruler asked his Chief of Staff, “How is it that at such a height on such a cold morning the lubricant does not freeze?” “The British have discovered the secret which we have been seeking for months,” came the reply.
The most famous of the modern Wakefield lubricants is, however, Castrol XL, which was brought into being in 1920. It is a pure mineral oil and has the advantage of being generally suitable for most of the cars on the road. Its rise to popularity was rapid and it became used by more motorists and motor-cyclists than any other single grade. To meet the apparently insatiable demand the Wakefield sales organisation was extended to cover the world, branch companies being formed in all important countries.
Charles Cheers Wakefield, in addition to building up a great company, was closely associated with the civic life of the City of London. He served as Sheriff of the City in 1907-8 and in the following year was elected an Alderman, and knighted. He became Lord Mayor of London in 1915 and, at the end of his eventful year of office, was created a baronet and received the C.B.E. He was raised to the peerage as Lord Wakefield of Hythe in 1930, four years later he became the first member of the motor trade to be created a viscount; at the same time he was also awarded the G.C.V.O. Despite his many honours Viscount Wakefield lived simply, most of his considerable income being devoted to charity.
Viscount Wakefield was always keenly interested in the development of the internal-combustion engine. He was described as the “Patron Saint of Speed.” In 1932 his boat “Miss England” captured the water speed record. He supported many great record attempts on land, sea and in the air. Famous names, among them the following, were associated in these enterprises: — Alcock and Whitten Brown, the brothers Ross and Keith Smith, Bert Hinkler, Jean Batten, the Mollisons, Alan Cobham, Parry Thomas, Segrave, Malcolm Campbell, Kaye Don and George Eyston.
On the death of Viscount Wakefield in 1941 a public company was formed with a capital value of many millions of pounds, and the present directors are men who have worked their way up in the Company’s service. The outstanding event of the Jubilee Year will be the opening of the new £1,000,000 installation which is nearing completion near Liverpool.