Chauffeur's Corner

To continue this feature, which I see a weekly contemporary has Copied, if in a somewhat different context (excellent, because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!), I went not long ago to talk with two exchauffeurs nearer home. First I drove up that winding road (where officialdom hasn’t straightened it) from Penybont to Newtown, which was fun in an MG Midget 1500, its Pirellis protesting at times, and on into Montgomeryshire, to see Edward Walters, who at one time was chauffeur to the two Miss Davises at Gregynog Hall and who still lives in one of the picturesque Lodge cottages.

It began when Mr. Walters started a three-year apprenticeship with the Aberystwyth Motor Co., in 1923. They were Ford dealers and for three days a week he found himself collecting new Model-Ts, occasionally a chassis but mostly tourers and saloons, from Trafford Park, Manchester and there was also the job of converting these Fords to magneto ignition, which “made them altogether different”. Another day might be occupied by taking them to agents in Carmarthenshire, Brecon, etc. Then, looking for a job involving motors, he happened one day to come upon Sir Walford Davies, the famous Professor of Music at Aberystwyth University, outside the building unable to start his Model-T. It seems that for a prank some students had inserted paper beneath the points of its trembler coils. Young Walters came to the rescue and Sir Watford was so pleased he offered him driving job. But he refused to go to Windsor, where the Ford’s owner was Master of the King’s Musick. Instead, he was recommended by the great musician for a job at Gregynog Hall, helping the chauffeur, Mr. Harrington, who had fitted up completely equipped workshops there, strip to the last nut and bolt and overhaul the family Rolls-Royce, a Silver Ghost dating from around 1908. This occupied three months, after which a new landaulette body was ordered, probably from Windovers, which took i further week to fit.

When he went to the estate to work on this Rolls-Royce in 1925/26 Walters was surprised at the number of really old cars still in service, which included a Singer two-seater of like antiquity to the Rolls. When he became chauffeur on Harrington’s retirement he said he could hardly serve his mistresses properly with such cars. So there was a conference with the financial secretary, who looked after the business side of this country estate of hundreds of acres, with many servants in the fine black and white timbered Hall, 26 gardeners to maintain the landscape surrounding it, and two boys to help in the motor house, and a visit was paid to the Motor Show, where a poppet-valve Daimler, a Humber Snipe and a Morris for the housekeeper were purchased. The Humber was chosen because the Miss ,Davises wanted a medium-sized saloon and liked the quiet running and the colour of its paintwork. Walters had an additional side-mounted spare wheel fitted, to give a more balanced appearance and to ensure against tyre trouble on long journeys. In addition, the estate used various other vehicles, such as a 15 cwt. Austin truck and a Dodge lorry, for journeys into Newtown and back.

Although wealth was abundant, the chauffeur recalls that it was difficult to extract a termer from the financial department when he needed two new tyres prior to a tour. The cars went down to London frequently, where the family kept a flat in Buckingham Palace Road, up to Scotland, and on holiday to N. Ireland. The Daimler was bought in the 1930s because the Rolls-Royce was becoming expensive to run. The latter was disposed of for a few hundred pounds to a local garage hut was rescued and restored by an enthusiast.

During the Abdication, in 1935, Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister, stayed at the Hall, and Mr. Walters used to take him to Shrewsbury station, or sometimes to Derby, to catch the night express, in the Daimler. It was all very mysterious at the time, especially when a French chauffeur arrived at the Hall with an out-dated Cadillac saloon, to await orders. The story was that Baldwin used this car on his Continental holidays and it seems that he may have had ideas of using it for Mrs. Simpson’s departure, although, in fact, she used a Buick.

Some time before the war Wales & Edwards of Shrewsbury (now Kennings), who were in the habit of sending the latest cars up to the Hall for trial, told Walters of a fine new American car. This was an eight-cylinder Packard, which replaced the Daimler. If ever it or any of the other cars gave trouble Windsor Edwards always sent a mechanic up to the house immediately, so the workshop went out of regular use. Mr. Walters recalls how he mistook the big throttle lever on the right of the Packard’s steering wheel for some other control and, opening it, ran into a London ‘bus This was a fast car, he recalls, in which he once let the speed.creep up to 70 m.p.h. on the road down into Henley-on-Thames, quick for one who had found 30 plenty fast enough in the Model-Ts. His lady passenger remarked that they seemed to be getting along well and should be in London in time for lunch; fortunately, says Walters, she did not look at the speedometer.

As for the chauffeur’s own cars, before the war a local garage found him an Austin 7 Chummy for £20, which he had up to the war. It was supremely reliable, but not very weather-proof, even with the hood up, so that he and his wife often had to stop and bale water from the footwells in Welsh rainstorms. After the war he had one of the first Hillman Imps, which suffered from overheating, requiring free replacement engines, leading up to his present car, a Michelin-shod Austin 1300 Estate. It is nice to find the old house still looking as well kept and in as immaculate surrounds as ever—because it is now used by the University of Wales. Rumour says the family trustees provide £14,000 a year for its upkeep.

Incidentally, Mr. Walters’ recollection of very old cars still being in service in the mid-1920s reminds me of when I was a boy, spending holidays at Waddesdon, near Aylesbury. In those days what is now the teeming A41 road had such an infrequent passage of vehicles that taking a census-of-makes was somewhat unprofitable and even boring; and that was around 1930. A pre-war Singer Ten two-seater was still in use at Waddesdon Manor for meeting servants at the station and the clock-winder used to drive out from Aylesbury in his 1914 9.5-h.p. Standard two-seater. Incidentally, it was said that around that time Lord Rothschild had changed his allegiance from Lanchester to Rolls-Royce, and that nothing Fred Lanchester could do, would make His Lordship change his mind — can anyone comment on this?

Next, it was a shorter run, out beyond Llansantffraed Cwmdauddwr, to talk to Mr. Sylvester at his cottage above the Wye. He told me how he got into motors. it was when he was working for a Bank Manager in Nottingham, who contemplated getting a pony and trap in which to make his daily six-mile journey to the Bank. But it was 1910 and, instead of the trap, a single-cylinder 6-h.p. Rover was bought. Mr. Sylvester drove this and was bitten by the bug. So he took a butler’s job in Bradford, in order to earn sufficient to attend a course of driving and engineering at the Manchester School of Motoring. Passing out successfully, and being Welsh, he became chauffeur to a family living seven miles from Brecon, who had a big Humber. When war was imminent he was in Birkenhead, but he drove the car down to Brecon, to be laid up “for the duration”.

It was then a case of joining up and being posted to Aldershot, then to the training-camp at Wincanton, and out to the Somme in 1915 with the 17th Supply Column, which was equipped with Maudslay lorries. They were known as the “Mad Seventeenth” because of the fearless manner in which they drove their lightless transports past six-horse limbers when a push was on, steering by the line of the roadside tree tops…

Towards the end of the war these splendid Maudslays were taken into Italy over the Alps, via Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo. Then, when the retreat on the Somme commenced, they were driven hastily back again (but Mr. Sylvester cooked his crew’s turkey on Christmas Day). He was demobbed in 1919 and rejoined the Brecon family. But the Humber had been neglected during the war and was in a bad state, and all he had to drive was a Model-T Ford, like those he had encountered at the Front, along, he recalls; with Matchless motorcycles. This was not very exciting, even on the Welsh roads of those times, so when he heard that a mile away there was a family with a pre-war ArrolJohnston which their coachman was too nervous to handle, Mr. Sylvester went to them as the chauffeur.

The old Arrol-johnston proved an excellent car, especially after he had driven it to Dumfries for a complete overhaul, returning by train a week later to collect it—Mrs. Sylvester still remembers being alone on those occasions. It was then like new and so stiff that it was difficult to crank-up. This car eventually passed into the hands of the son-in-law, who moved to the location where I interviewed Mr. Sylvester. In service up to the 1930s, it was at last replaced by a smaller car, an Austin Ten. This lacked acceleration, so was changed for an Austin 16/6, the first of its kind, for it had been on the Austin stand at the Show, being delivered from Norton’s in Llandrindod Wells (The Automobile Palace, still in business). It was taken for a tour of Scotland, after which much gearbox trouble was experienced.

This Was when the owner heard of a used Minerva in London that took his fancy. So the chauffeur was asked to go and look at it, a big circa 1928 saloon. It was purchased and driven home. But the family were not confident in this big car in London traffic, so they took the train to Hereford, joining it there on this initial journey.

The Minerva proved “a lovely car” and it served up to the Second World War. But spares were becoming a problem, parts for its Scintilla magneto having to be obtained from Belgium. It was replaced after the war by an Austin Ten Cambridge saloon, the Minerva being broken up locally and its sleeve-valve engine employed to drive a saw-bench. Later the Austin, soon after it had had a new engine, was pushed into a wood, where it still lies, because a new Austin 16 had been acquired and, today, this has given place to a Princess. Just before the war Mr. Sylvester took the son’s Lagonda up to Oxfordshire and brought hack a Wolseley for him to use when he was posted to Aldershot. Today, at 88, this ex-chauffeur enjoys driving his Vauxhall Viva on short runs although not enamoured of congested traffic and the enormous changes he has seen on the roads. W.B.

*[Their Major Hody wrote, a history of these remarkable journeys, of which one copy at least has survived.– Ed.]