Chauffeur's corner

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In order to continue this feature, as requested by many readers, I found myself driving the BMW to Malvern, that straggling hill-top town where it is virtually impossible to park, let alone turn round and retrace one’s route, unless one is a bus-driver with the right to use special bays for this purpose. I was on my way to interview a chauffeur whom I had been told about by a Ferrari owning member of the VSCC. Fortunately he lives at the Link end of the town, so I was soon in familiar Pickersleigh Road, turning right by the Morgan factory and right again as a fine Georgian villa, about the oldest house in Malvern, came into sight.

Reg Smith is 85 and only recently gave up driving, on doctor’s orders, because of arthritis, after a motoring spell lasting 68 years, during which he kept his licence clean. His family lived in Malvern, his father being house-carpenter to the Perrins, of Worcester sauce fame, for some 70 years. When his son was ready to leave school he tried to get him into the Engineering College but there were no vacancies. So he was sent to Birmingham to learn about motors, at a company who were agents for the high-grade, round-radiator Delaunay-Bellevilles. He helped the fitters and went out with the test drivers. The latter excursions led to a 30/-fine, because he had taken the wheel and when a stop was necessary on account of a puncture a busybody leaning on a gate came over and enquired his age. “Sixteen,” replied the youth. As he was too young to hold a driving licence this summons was no stain on his later impeccable record.

Having served his apprenticeship, Smith returned as second-chauffeur to the Perrins, at Davenhurst, their country estate, which in the end became a hospital. Smith’s experience in Birmingham, where he lodged with an aunt, had ranged as far back as a single cylinder Clement, so he was easily capable of taking up his duties when he returned borne. The Perrins had an early Arrol-Johnston, an old Argyll, and several Delaunay-Bellevilles. There was also a White steamer. One of the Delaunays had a very fine closed body, with many curved glass panels. Eventually the body of a bigger car would be removed, modified, and used on one of the smaller Delaunays as a luggage-brake. Mr. Perrin, whose famous sauces were in demand in America as well as in this country, had another house in Ross. Bought from Sir Kenneth Mathieson, it is said that it cost a fortune and to have been sold for twice its purchase price. As was the habit in those days, the family used to go there for three or four months each summer, complete with the servants and much luggage. The chauffeurs were allowed four days to do this journey from Worcestershire to Scotland, stopping at Preston, Carlisle and Perth en route. Even the White made this long journey, but Smith remembers that when it was allocated to him he used to take a canvas bucket, which required filling with water for the boiler every 40 miles or so. The petrol cans could be replenished less frequently, with “Taxi bus” and other petrol, from two-gallon cans.

The family used mostly the Delaunay-Belleviles, a fine body for one of them being made by McNaughton’s in Worcester. There were in the Scottish motor-house, in addition, two of those very magnificent, aggressive-looking 65-h.p. Napiers, one a tourer, the other with closed coachwork; as a faded photograph testifies, the latter probably that of a visitor, with its own chauffeur. Mr. Smith recalls the life of those far-away times, the great marquee, for instance, that was erected outside the mansion when one of the sons came of age, the celebrations lasting several days, concluding with a grand ball and including parties for all the house servants and another for the local children. The Perrins’ sorts were keen motorists, with Crossley, Minerva and Straker-Squire cars, etc., and a belt-drive vee-twin Royal Enfield bearing an “A” registration, all cared for in the family garages. After Mr. Perrins, Senr. died, Mr. Smith drove for a gentleman in Malvern Wells, who had a big poppet-valve, chain-drive Daimler. Then war erupted and he joined up. He was sent to Grove Park, Lewisham, then for more training at Bulford Camp, before the 2nd Division sailed from Avonmouth for Le Havre and Ypres. For a time he found himself driving a variety of lorries, Daimlers, Straker-Squires, Albions and “those lovely Leylands”. But mixed transport convoys were cumbersome to service and soon one-make companies were introduced, Smith spending the rest of the war on Dennis trucks, remembered as “nice old cars”. The roads in France were quite unsuited to mechanised warfare and if one convoy met another in retreat it was a case of moving off the duckboarding into the mud and spending hours digging and towing-out stuck transports. A shell demolished the back of Smith’s truck on one occasion, but he escaped unharmed.

Jobs were scarce after the Armistice, so Mr. Smith stayed in the Army for another two years, being sent to Hazledown Camp and then to Hitchin, shifting war-surplus vehicles to the auction sales at Slough and Earls Court, after having ended the war with the Army of Occupation in Cologne, driving a Vauxhall staff car.

A return was made to chauffeuring, with a job at Hammerley Hall, where they ran a big Wolseley and a Clement-Talbot. But Mr. Smith disliked the remoteness of this place, so he returned to Malvern and drove hirecars from Woodyates Garage. There was one lady customer whom he always drove, in a big Wolseley, as far afield even as Plymouth He then went to a Malvern doctor, who had a Rolls-Royce and a 25-b.f.-v. Vauxhall. Mr. Smith had had experience of a Silver Ghost for several months during the war, when its driver went sick and he was detailed to take over and drive it at the Front. When with the doctor he was asked if he would like to go to Luton, where he spent some time at the Vauxhall factory, although amused that this was mainly to learn to drive. That was around 1924, when he was clearly in no need of such tuition!

Much later Mr. Smith joined up with Sir Alan Cobham’s Flight-Refuelling project, driving all manner of cars to the various aerodromes and depots. Some of them were relics from Cobham’s Flying Circus days, with the name painted over. One task was to ferry personnel to and from Staverton aerodrome in an ancient Renault coach, another to drive “to a Welsh aerodrome in an ex-RAF Hillman Minx. Later Smith went to Telecommunications in Malvern, where he was responsible for working on their 80 or so Cole’s mobilecranes, again using a variety of bread-and margarine cars as transport. His personal vehicles have ranged from a single-cylinder Singer motorcycle with trembler-coil ignition and a flat-twin Douglas and sidecar which was used on his honeymoon, through a used 1921 Morgan three-wheeler and an early Morris Minor saloon and later Austin Ten, Ford Popular and similar cars. Some very ambitious runs were undertaken on the early vehicles, to John-o’-Groats, the Elan Valley, etc. His last car was a reverse-rear window Ford Anglia, sold when it wouldn’t pass its DoE test.

The Second World War found the subject of this interview engaged on ARP and St. John’s Ambulance Brigade duties. He looks back, he says, on “a most interesting life”, proud of his clean driving record, but now confined to his house. Asked about the many cars he has driven Mr. Smith exhibited the chauffeur’s loyalty of saying they gave few anxieties. He had a great respect for the Delaunay-Bellevilles and those huge Napiers, recalls lots of both with sticking automatic inlet valves on the Arrol-Johnson, but thinks the 40/50 Rolls-Royce “the finest car in the world”.—W.B.

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