Cars in books, May 1992

From Leap Before You Look by Aiden Crawley (Collins, 1988) we learn that when he was at Farnborough School in Hampshire, part of the playing fields of which had been requisitioned by the War Office during the First World War for the use of the RFC, the former tunnel to them from school to field being blocked up, he would sometimes be driven by one of the headmasters quickly up to the Hartford Bridge Flats in an Austin 20, of which the master was very proud. There he would put his foot down, and with the boys telling him what the speedometer registered, the car, which must have been an early model, might do 50 before the bend and there was a possibility of it just showing 60mph on the flat (years later DSJ and I used to use the Flats for similar bursts of speed, me in my Chummy A7, he on his Norton, with me on the back. But I do not recall a bend on this road, over which the 200hp Darracq and the racing Sunbeam had been tested in much earlier times).

Aiden Crawley (whose very full life the book reveals in fascinating style, including action in the RAF and escape from a German prison camp) recalls that in April 1914 his Uncle Ernest travelled to Bishopsthorpe from London in a new Sunbeam tourer and that soon afterwards Archbishop Cosmo Lang bought a Wolseley, in which he liked to go for long drives in the old car, sitting on the back seat with the author and a girl-friend he had been invited to bring, covered in rugs. Around 1928 Lang used to persuade Crawley to borrow an Alvis belonging to his London flat-mate Anthony Winn and, slipping out of the back door, dressed like Sherlock Holmes, having dismissed his chaplain, be taken for evening drives, happy to see the car let out along two straight stretches on the Dover road, where they reached 80mph a Saver Eagle, maybe?

The first of the many aeroplanes mentioned is an Aeronca owned by Max Aitken which, when being flown by barrister Roger Bushell. overshot the field in which they were landing on Romney Marshes, went through the hedge into the road and demolished the “To Dymchurch” signpost. Aiden Crawley was taught to fly in an Avro 504 at Hendon. around 1938. But read it for yourselves. (ISBN 0-00 217950).