Cars in books

Those who have been reminded of the days when the far-flung British Empire was linked by Imperial Airways' flying-boats, from brief but nostalgic shots of these boats in the BBC documentary "Diamonds In The Sky", may be interested to know that when the author M. E. Bates wanted to go to Tahiti after the Second World War, he went by flying-boat, but by then operated by the BOAC, to Fiji, Calcutta and on to Samoa, to a perilous 25 m.p.h. cross-wind landing. This comes in "The World in Ripeness" (Michael Joseph, 1972).

From "The Mimosa and the Mango — A Memoir of Childhood", by The Duchess of St. Albans (W. H. Allen, 1974) one comes on the rather surprising statement that the old nanny the Duchess had as a child, because of that good woman's addiction to newspapers, was "very well-informed, particularly in the worlds of science, politics, aviation and motor-racing". That would have been not long after the end of the First World War. No consequences follow, alas. But there is the interesting information that the Duchess' father opened a book-shop on the Place du Grand Jardin at Vence in the South of France, from which he seems never to have had the heart to allow a single book to depart, and he also started a 'bus-service between Vence and Nice, because the normal service, Le Petit Train, ran only on alternate days between Nice and Marseilles, stopping at every village as well as at Vence on the way, which was inconvenient. The 'buses used for this local service were Renaults. "He bought half a dozen of these monsters from Messrs. Renault et Cie and put them into service. The chauffeurs were picked off the tables at the Café de la Regence, and press-ganged into the job." The venture is described as "enormous fun", even though the mountainous descent to Nice, on what was then little more than a track, with drops over the side, could be alarming. The 'bus would stop any-where to pick up or drop people off, and would apparently even make detours into the side streets of Nice if anyone required it to do so. The return run started from outside the Café de L'Univers and the uphill journey would cause the engine to splutter and groan. There is a picture of one of these 'buses outside the hobby bookshop, that was called the "Librairie Ligurienne" and which I believe still exists. The Renault looks like either a pre-1914 or a very early post-war type, a single-decker with the short coal-scuttle bonnet ahead of the wider, exposed radiator, disc wheels, and racks on the roof for luggage. The Duchess' father never used his own 'buses — he went by taxi. . . . In this book there is also a picture of an old Fiat tourer, very vintage but as it appears to have front-wheel-brakes, perhaps a circa 1924 Type 501. It was used by the family when they were in Malaya. It was apparently commendably reliable, only once breaking-down in the jungle, when, on a visit to Bukit Frazer, a front wheel came off and they had no spare. Fortunately the wheel did not go over the precipice and a leper driving a lorry stopped and helped them put it back on, presumably having a jack and wheelbrace which their chauffeur, Sandenam, had not remembered to carry. This aged Fiat would be used for long runs, such as to Jeram from Assam Java and back, in the cool of the evening for bathing parties, although its top speed is quoted as only 35 m.p.h. It would make monthly visits to Kuala Lumpur, the Duchess, as a child being crammed into the front seat with the dogs and suffering from car sickness all the way.

Then, in fiction, there is the aged 1925 Clyno with a dud battery that a girl in Winifred Holtby's "Poor Caroline" (Jonathan Cape, 1931) bought for £35 from a dealer in the Edgware Road (her father having driven a Clyno in South Africa) and in this period novel there is a clergyman whose father owned an Austin and who himself had a "tumble-down Singer for some years" and, of course, mention of the inevitable Rolls-Royce appears. — W.B. 

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Motoring items from that rather sordid "Forget Not — the Autobiography of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll" (W. H. Allen, 1975) include mention of her family's inevitable Rolls-Royce being sent to Eton from their country house, Queen's Hill at Ascot, to fetch boys for tennis parties and dances in the late 1920s, the boys having to lie on the floor until they had got beyond Windsor as Ascot was out-of-bounds to Etonians, and driving down from London with Georgiana Curzon, Earl Howe's daughter. It also refers to Aly Khan dying in a crash in his Lancia. Before she became a Duchess the authoress knew Woolf Barnato but was not allowed to stay for his week-end parties but was introduced by him to Lt./Comdr. George Pearson Glen Kidston, of Blackburne House in Cusross Street, and who had a large estate in Scotland (And also in Wales —Ed.). Incidentally, Barnato is described as the millionaire who hunted with the Whaddon, played golf at Sunningdale, "and raced his (foreign) cars at Brooklands", so here is another book referring to the Track, but presumably in the days of Barnato's Locomobile and Hispano-Suiza, before he raced Bentleys.

Margaret so nearly married Kidston, whose love letters she publishes; he gave her his Rolls-Royce to "use as your own" and in it she used to drive to Hanworth aerodrome to see himfly. After his fatal flying accident she got to know Max Aitken. There is no mention of his car racing but "His car caught fire outside Storoway House and three huge fire-engines raced up St. James's Street to put out the flames that leaped three feet high". Not one of his Brooklands' cars, one hopes? Some time later the future Duchess was on holiday with Charles Sweeny, again in the inevitable Rolls-Royce and the rough roads of Yugoslavia in 1937 " . . . all but ruined the car!" Other motoring personalities are mentioned apart from those named already, like the Chrysler heiress Thelma Foy, when, after the Duchess was in Adelaide staying with the Governor and the official car was "a large Rolls-Royce with flag flying". When the Duchess's son Brian was involved in an accident in New York in 1963 it is revealed that when a lorry bumped the traffic-lights in Park Avenue his life was saved because the car was a Porsche with a hard-top.

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Some interesting correspondence has been received about the "Cars in Books" column. For example, a reader in the Isle of Wight recommends the fictional work "No Tears For The Dead" by Pierre Andemar, which features a Renault 45 breakdown-truck which tows the detective's car after its oil-pump has packed up, and which has a thrilling task to overtake a Berliet truck on a narrow road. Then a Cape Town reader, who obviously reads this column thoroughly, says that in Smut's biography of his father, General Smuts, it is mentioned that the General used a Vauxhall car in the East African campaign, which he brought back to S. Africa afterwards, for his personal use The same correspondent says that apart from our reference to Sir Winston Churchill using a Wolseley Ten in London in the vintage years, he remembers him having an 11/22 Wolseley four-seater in 1926, in which Mr. Baldwin rode. He also says that Churchill's third Wolseley was a 24/55 six-cylinder landaulette, supplied to him when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is interesting, because we referred to an aged Wolseley, perhaps a pre-1914 model, mentioned in another book as taking the family to look for the country house the Churchills bought, so although we believe they had a Napier at one time, their allegiance seems to have been very much with Vickers-built Wolseleys. Incidentally, the same correspondent says that he took delivery of an almost-new 1924 Wolseley Ten De Luxe two-seater at the end of 1925 and that although it ran and pulled very well indeed, its engine didn't like more than 2.500 r.p.m., equal to 25 m.p.h. in second and 40 m.p.h. in top gear, after which it became very rough, and fussy at less than 25 in 2nd, in spite of its robust two-bearing crankshaft. The engine of the 1925/26 Wolseley 11/22 was well balanced, and would get up to about 3,000 r.p.m. before valve-bounce set in, yet it had virtually the same engine as the Ten. The writer of this letter kept his Ten until May 1933 when it was replaced by a Riley Nine Monaco saloon, and later he had a 1938 Riley Big-Four Adelphi saloon. He remarks that surely the racing Wolseley Moths must have had special crankshafts and many other modifications, for them to go so fast. 

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Finally, although it concerns the recent review of Graham Robson's book about motoring in the 1930s, and not "Cars In Books", there is the following interesting letter from a reader together with another which does bear on this column.


I should like to mention that I find myself in the unusual position of being able to give Mr. Boddy some information. In "Books for Christmas" on p. 1827 of the December issue he mentions a Riley on Connel Bridge. I can confirm that the bridge had a single carriageway alongside the railway lines. Now that trains no longer use it the bridge is open to traffic at all times but years ago the crossing could be a protracted and frustrating experience. The crossing keeper in the 1920s and early 30s was a cripple who inhabited a house at the south end and whose modus operandi was to keep the gates closed at both ends. Having collected a line of vehicles at his end he would collect the fees and allow them onto the bridge where they would find the gate at the far end locked. When he decided no more customers were in the offing he would lock the south gate. trundle across the bridge in his wheel chair, release the north-bound traffic and repeat the operation in the opposite direction. I have known that crossing to delay me for well over an hour whilst I sat on my motorcycle in pouring rain which always seemed to find a way through my Sidcot suit.

In those days the railway company charged 10/- for a car which was quite a large sum then. I cannot recall what the other tolls were but I used to be issued with tickets reading "One m/cycle or one horse or one cow" and "One pedestrian or one sheep or one pig". 

Whilst still at school I spent a holiday at a farm a little way up Loch Etive from the bridge and the antics of the farmer loading livestock into quite a small rowing boat in order to avoid the toll bridge had to be seen to be believed.

E. N. B. Carmichael

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A number of items in the December issue are of interest to me in view of my Angus-Sanderson connections. There is more in J. B. Priestley's "English Journey" related to motor vehicles than at first meets the eye. If, for instance, you refer to the chapter dealing with the Tyne (page 273 in the Penguin edition), you will see the following passage: 

"We ran through County Durham, which offered us nothing but distant glimpses of coal-pits and mining villages. There was a nightmare place that seemed to have been constructed out of small army huts and unwanted dog kennels, all sprawling in the muck outside some gigantic works. What they made inside those works I did not discover. but even a Kaffir would not have envied the employees if it was they who lived in those forlorn shanties. A dingy huddle of cottage houses, bethels in corrugated iron, picture palaces with hardly a flake of paint left on them, butchers' windows decorated with offal, all announced that we were arriving at some great industrial centre, that soon we should be in civilisation again." 

This forlorn description is all that was left in 1934 of the great dream of Tom and Fred Sanderson. It is, in fact, the workers' village of the Angus-Sanderson works at Birtley, in Co. Durham. Originally built to house the Belgian refugees and their families, who manned the National Projectile Factory at Birtley during the First World War, the village was named Elizabethville, and was self-contained to the extent of having its own cinema, Post Office, Police Station, jail, hospital, sewage farm, church and burial ground, in addition to large workers' canteens and social clubs, a Selfridges, shoemaker's shop and various other stores, and camp photographer. When the War ended, Angus-Sanderson moved from their premises in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and took over the projectile factory from the Ministry of Munitions. Thc Newcastle premises had originally been used for coachbuilding (many bodies were built for Armstrong-Whitworth, although the firm of Sir William Angus Sanderson & Co. dated back to the 1770s). During the War the company built Armstrong-Whitworth FK8s and FK10s, and also Bristol F2As and F2Bs (which ties up a little with John Aley's letter in Vintage Postbag on The Diaries of an RFC Officer). 

Returning to the Priestley book, in the chapter concerning East Durham and the Tees, there Is also mention of a visit (on page 305) to Seaham Harbour, where between 1904 and 1906 the Seaham Harbour Engineering Works built at least one car of undeniably agricultural crudity — the SHEW — which has miraculously survived to this day.

Michael Worthington-Williams 
Burgess Hill