“The Wandering Years,” by Cecil Beaton, the photographer (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1961), based on his diaries of 1922-1939, contain some unusual references to cars, although unfortunately makes are mostly omitted. However, the author does tell us that Eddie Gathorne-Hardy hired an Overland in Oxford in 1922, which he drove in “a pea-soup coloured cap” when taking a party of undergraduates for a run, and that in 1923 the Beaton family had “a little Calthorpe,” in which they are described as driving from London to Cowdray Park. There is also an account of a run from London to Bournemouth in 1924, Reggie Beaton driving, to shouts from his father of “Steady! Steady! This sent Reggie into defiant skids. We had ten close shaves: Reggie can’t resist passing cars at inopportune moments, especially on narrow roads with another vehicle coming towards us like a bat out of hell.” (Before any anti-motoring propagandists make anything of this, Reggie was killed eventually by a tube-train.)
Whether this 1924 journey was in the Calthorpe I do not know, but as it took a long time to start, in Hyde Park Street, carried the whole family, lots of parcels and “an additional trunk had to be put on the carrier at the back,” it may have been something larger. The only clue is a later reference to a hard seat, which is insufficient to identify it! There is a small 1924 conversation piece worth quoting : ” What car was that that passed us, a Rover ? No, a Ruston. Are they good cars? Fairly. Steady! Steady! .”—this on a run from Bournemouth to Poole. On another outing the car went to Sandringham and they saw Queen Alexandra “—arriving by motor instead of by carriage.” The make isn’t mentioned, but presumably it was her 1904 Renault landaulette.
In the summer of 1924 Cecil Beaton tells of driving their car himself : “My parents shouted at me the whole time. I went round a difficult corner with a shrieking chorus from the back seat, ‘Another car wants to pass you!’ Several minutes later, a lot of vehicles got stuck on a steep and bendy hill. I stopped, then daren’t start again for fear we would roll backwards and hit joy-riders behind. The pater changed places with me while Lord Cholmondely rolled down the hill in a black automobile done up in that yellow basketwork which used to be smart years ago. He looked at us as if we were mad.” So perhaps there is some reason for driving tests, after all! And what was the car Lord C. was using in 1924 which young Beaton thought so old-fashioned even then?
There is a fantastic amount of the most fascinating flying reminiscence in the gigantic 299-page “Centenary Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society and we have, already quoted from Sir Roy Fedden’s contribution to it. It would be unfair, and infringe copyright, to quote more, but I was intrigued to read Air Commodore F.R. Banks’ opinion that as a driver the Schneider Trophy pilot Stainforth, who took the Air Speed Record to 407.5 m.p.h. in 1931, was terrible, “always in trouble with his little 7-h.p. Austin at Calshot.” Ten minutes were enough for Banks when, as he was taking the Schneider Trophy pilots to Sir Henry Royce’s celebration at Derby, Stainforth asked to be allowed to try “the latest Buick” they were using—it was presumably one of the recently introduced straight-eights. In contrast, Banks describes Lord Hives as “a fast driver and his well-known sixth sense seemed to work when he drove a car.” He also recalls that Rolls-Royce Phantom I chassis fitted up to convey the Schneider Trophy practice engines to and from Calshot. “There were many records claimed for the time between Derby and Calshot, and return, which now escape me, but I do know the Police stopped them once after they had ‘toured through a village at some 80 m.p.h. – W.B.