Out Of The Past, March 1995

There is interest in the cars of noble families, especially if they took to motoring from early times. I am grateful to Dr Neil Thorp, a VSCC member who runs the Hudson-engined Spikins Special, for news of some of the cars and motoring episodes of the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, based on Highclere Castle archives which Mrs Thorp, an archivist, is in the process of cataloguing.

Although a motoring accident in Germany had left him in poor health, Lord Carnarvon remained an enthusiastic automobilist, with a penchant for fast driving. In 1898 there had been an incident in Newbury, when Lord Porchester, later the Earl of Carnarvon, was summonsed for driving at over 12 mph and another in 1901 when he caused an elderly pedestrian to panic as he drove past him near Epping at an estimated pace of more than 25 mph, followed by his “mecanicien” in another of the Earl’s cars. A police constable standing at the top of a hill said he saw the autocars “dashing at a terrible speed down one hill and up the other, with a large number of holiday people about”. Worse, although the constable put up his hand, neither car stopped. One loquacious witness described the speed as “terrific, at least 30 mph”. The barrister who was famous for defending motorists, Mr Staple Firth, represented the Earl and his chauffeur, and the case was dismissed.

Neither of these early cars can be identified, but in giving evidence in the Epping case the Earl’s French engineer described one of them as being driven by a mixture of oil and air, with a heavy flywheel — a Rootes & Venables, perhaps?

A bill exists, from the Societe Anonime Paris-Automobile, whose director was the famous racing driver Henry Fournier, for 5672.80 francs, addressed to Lord Carnarvon in December 1904, which might have given a clue as to later cars; but as the company was concessionaire for Hotchkiss and Oldsmobile and also handled Mors, Renault, Mercedes, Fiat, Panhard-Levassor, Canota and other automobiles, it does not.

But we do know that His Lordship liked “scorching” as a young man, once describing himself as “an habitual record-cutter on a motor-car”, and that he liked to watch motor races; in 1907 he walked round the Dieppe circuit, taking photographs of the French Grand Prix. These photographs are currently in an exhibition in the Music room at Highclere Castle and merit a visit by Motor Sport readers. The other interests of Lord Carnarvon are covered by the Egyptian Exhibition and the Horse Racing Exhibition. The first-named collection includes items from the excavation of the Egyptian tombs, in which his Lordship was greatly interested, travelling between Luxor and the Valley of the Kings with his daughter Lady Evelyn Herbert in the Ihd black-radiator Model-T Ford tourer, a native clinging to its running board; when not in use the Ford was garaged in one of the tombs.

An earlier motoring interest had been the Rutherford steam-car, the work of the son of the Estate secretary E J Y Rutherford, and built by the Highclere Motor Car Syndicate Ltd, in which the fifth Earl probably had an interest. With a Serpollet-type flash boiler and a 3-cylinder single-acting engine rated at 30/40 hp, the EJYR tourer, later the Rutherford, went into limited production from 1907 to 1912; the company’s 1909 bill-head is amongst the Castle archives. By 1909, the fifth Earl was using a 38 hp Metallurgique. The motoring interest was inherited; there is a letter in the archives from Winifred, Lady Burghclere, the Earl’s sister, from Cannes, to his son, later the sixth Earl, persuading him not to make a winter journey across France to visit her in 1913 — he was then aged 16.

After the war His Lordship had a 1912 16-valve Bugatti (XD 9971), bought from Jarrott & Letts, in which he did two tours of France, cruising at 60 to 70 mph three up, and in 14,000 miles suffered only a broken petrol pipe, a slight radiator leak and the inevitable punctures. He was so impressed with its road holding and springing that he ordered a Type 30 but died, in April 1923, before he could take delivery. His love of motoring is reflected in a photograph taken between 1916 and 1920 in the Dover Street studio of Bertram Park, of His Lordship in a heavy fur-collared driving coat. Indeed, he is said to have owned some 60 cars.

Ernest Trotman, the Highclere chauffeur, drove the Bugatti and continued to serve the sixth Earl, who in 1933 had a Rolls-Royce (OR 2047). Lady Carnarvon, the present Earl’s mother, had an AC, serviced at the works in 1927, and Lord Carnarvon purchased another Rolls-Royce (chassis 76-A3) early in 1928. This or yet another R-R (OR 9742) was driven by Jack Gibbins, who had been Lord Carnarvon’s batman in 1916. Gibbins, who died in 1994, also drove King George VI’s armoured Daimler when serving in the Household Cavalry. The chauffeurs’ accounts for petrol, repairs, food, accommodation, overalls, uniforms, etc, from 1922 to 1932 are in the Castle archives, together with correspondence with Robert Warner, Hydraulic Engineers, about the ram water pumps made for the Castle in 1909, etc.

In later times the cars owned by the sixth Earl included a Derby Bentley two-door saloon (JE100 — now AAA 666) with horse-and-jockey radiator mascot, bought from Jack Barclay Ltd and sold back to them, and another Rolls-Royce. Highclere and the exhibitions are open to the public from July to September.