Cars in books

A reader writing from Belgium has kindly contributed some extracts from Ho For The Borders by Michael Brander (Geoffrey Bles, 1964) to this now less frequent column.

The author recounts how, while exploring churches in Scotland, he called at a house to ask for the key to the church which contains four coffins of the Polwarth family, one of whom, as Earl of Marchmont and Polworth, had returned from escaped capture on the continent (to Scotland) in 1688, with King William of Orange. The minister who answered the door to Brander said that he served two parishes, using his vintage Bentley which he raced at Charterhall. He was also an internationally-known horologist.

He was none other than CW Bennett.

Brander was able to counter this by saying he normally drove a 1926 Rolls-Royce, which was at the time undergoing repairs. So here is something for the Bentley DC and R-R EC to ponder, unless all this is old hat to their historians.

Incidentally, our correspondent remarks that Polwarth is only a few miles from Charterhall circuit, which he visited in 1991 to find the perimeter track crumbling away. He says that it makes an interesting motoring tour, with the Jim Clark Room and another old airfield circuit, Winfield, not far away. The latter is still used by the Border CC for driving test events meetings.

The Country House At War by John Martin Robinson (The Bodley Head, 1989) adds very little to the motoring scene, apart from reference to a Rolls-Royce taxi in Rhyl at the end of WW2 (not surprising, because 20 hp RollsRoyces were used thus at this time, as were Austin 16s and 20s). I do not think any racing drivers' homes are included, though there is much about the 365-roomed Wentworth Woodhouse mansion of Lord Fitzwilliam, of Sheffield-Simplex associations, and of Waddesdon Manor, the motoring affairs of which I have touched on in MOTOR SPORT.

Apart from the fascination of this period piece, it makes one want to get out the car and look at some of the great houses which played their part in the Second World War.

Just as I was about to close this column, at least for this month, I heard of two interesting motoring items in The Secret Life of Wilkie Collins by William H Clarke (WH Allen), in which we learn that Charley, the son of the author Wilkie Collins' morganatic marriage, became chauffeur to the Earl of Orkney after leaving the Army in 1902 and drove a Vinot-Deguingand. He later opened a garage in Ramsgate and in 1907 invented a variable-speed gearbox (any information on that?). He is also said to have helped organise the SAMD, a society to look after the interests of mechanic-drivers and chauffeurs, before he died in 1911, aged 38.