Chauffeur's Corner

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Chauffeur’s Corner

CONTINUING this feature, the next retired chauffeur I interviewed was Mr. Bernard Randle of Leicester. Apart from his professional duties he is an enthusiast who started to read The Autocar in 1918 and MOTOR SPORT in 1950 and who, with his wife, missed very few of the race-meetings at Donington from the opening of the Midlands road circuit until the war. Today, at 71, having retired six years ago, he takes great pride in a Mark MA Hillman Minx saloon, maintained in immaculate order.

It all began when he was a boy. He suffered from bronchial asthma and after the family doctor had got him over a serious bout of it he was told he must work in the open as much as possible, a tailoring job being no good to him. So he went to Keate’s Garage in Leicester, who apart from the usual activities did hire-work and coachbuilding. Here, under an excellent Foreman, George Kisby, the lad studied the mysteries of the motor-car. That was during the First World War; incidentally, Charles Street now runs through what were the garage premises. They were Spyker agents and kept an old Renault for taxi work. Mr. Randle recalls how the driver of the latter was told one day to go to the station to meet a Bishop’s daughter and drive her to Wardley Hall. The road to Uppington embraced a deep ford but all went well on the outward run. Coming back, perhaps in a bit of a hurry, piston trouble developed. Fearful of his Foreman’s wrath, the driver worked in the rain, dropping the sump and removing the offending assembly, returning on three cylinders rather than send for help! It was the ambition of many to get a job on the big estates in those days. So when a message arrived by maid to say Mr. Fielding wanted to see the lad, Randle lost no time in going to Goscourt, where his mother had been a lady’s-maid. Mr. Fielding owned the estate and was married to a Paget girl. Calling him “Boy”, as everyone in the village did, a name his employer subsequently always used unless in formal circumstances, the interview went off successfully, for young Randle had taught himself to drive on the garage cars, along the deserted, gated roads of the

country. He felt he should ask his Foreman what to do but when told of this chance of working for the Fieldings, that worthy sent the boy to Mr. Fielding’s estate office in Leicester post-haste, to clinch the job before someone else took it.

Thus he started as under-chauffeur on the Goscourt estate. The family had a town house in Leicester, where they lived in winter, and Mr. Fielding hunted three days a week, with the Quorn, the Cottesmore and other packs. The cars at that time had not been long in use, for the coachhouses still contained many horse-drawn vehicles. An 18/24 h.p. Siddeley-Deasy was joined later by a 12 h.p. Belsize two-seater, bought because of its conveniently wide body. The big car was very reliable, apart from a few leaks that would develop in its radiator behind the coal-scuttle bonnet, but if cornered too ambitiously the cantilever rear springs would encourage tyre shedding. The Belsize, too, was “very good, over an enormous mileage”. After he had grown tired of replacing the speedometer-drive pulley on the propshaft the mileage had to be guessed at, but it was formidable.

Eventually “the boss’ managed to drive the Belsize and he reciprocated by asking Randle to learn to ride. It then became the custom for Killick the groom, and the chauffeur, to ride spare horses to the Meets, the latter driving the car home. There was an estate cricket team and once more I heard of the many advantages of working for a family, and on an estate, of this calibre. When the son was home from the RFC he would be apt to call to “Boy” that he was playing cricket that afternoon and when the chauffeur politely said he was on duty he would be told that permission from Mr. Fielding had already been given. It was only when he became too heavy, for he is a tall, big-boned man, that Randle gave up riding. Promoted to full-time driver, he never wore uniform, his “guy’nor” preferring him in a suit and even at times wearing a bowler hat. Naturally he became known to most of the wealthy families in the area—the Colmans, the Hartleys, the Crawfords, the Greens, etc., all of whom were great hunting folk.

The Fieldings were wool-spinners and Mr. Fielding’s estate covered some 7,550 acres. He used to keep a pocketful of halfcrowns in his waistcoat for the sole purpose of rewarding tramps met on the road. His cars numbered a White steamer, a 24/30 Wolseley with special, very tall, landaulette body and a 16/20 Wolseley 7-seater tourer with leather bellows SU carburetter, in which this 20-stone gentleman used to stand up, holding onto the hood sticks, for the purpose of inspecting his vast estate that abutted onto the London road. His wife, who wrote about country and historical affairs, still kept a trap and a mail phaeton for attending hunts and had her own chauffeur.

Mr. Randle advised his boss to get rid of the White—”We don’t want that!”—but to keep the touring Wolseley. This eventually passed to the son-in-law, Major Vicars, and was still in use in the 1930s for long hauls up to Scotland. Meanwhile the SiddeleyDeasy was replaced by a Daimler 35. It was one of the first in Leicestershire and, although the make never had a high-speed reputation, this one could be coaxed up to 75 m.p.h. It was “magnificent”, but hard on tyres, which were worn out after 2,000-3,000 miles, until they tried twin rear wheels shod with Indias. These lasted for a fabulous 5,000 miles, so this make was fitted thereafter. Major Vicars also had a Daimler, “8 really magnificent car”, which he had bought from the War Office after it had seen service at the Front. He bought his batman home with him and engaged him to drive this ex-Staff car. As the years rolled on the family cats changed. There was a 12/20 Humber d.h. coupe, a “good one”, very smooth-running, but a bit difficult for Mr. Fielding to get into and out of, so it was replaced by a 14/40 Humber saloon, which Randle drove all over Scotland, from the family hunting-lodge. This was joined by a 9/20 Humber shopping car, for Mrs. Fielding’s use. Every morning at 8.30, if they were at home, the big car would be brought round to the front door of the Hall for the journey into Leicester. Later came a battleship-grey open Humber Super Snipe, “a lovely roomy car, with Whaunough

head, a joy to work on, even if I did de-coke it every 6,000 miles”. Then the ageing Mr. Fielding wanted a saloon, so he got a Daimler for his wife, and a 2-litre Rover Meteor for himself, together with another 12/20 Humber for local work, the farm being 74 miles from the house. The Rover proved “very reliable” –but then I have yet to meet a chauffeur who will criticize the cars he drove!

After the death of Mr. Fielding, Randle stayed on, sharing driving duties with Mrs. Fielding’s man and also driving her Secretary, a daughter of the Bishop of York. There were 28 servants at Goscourt at this period, 12 employed on outside duties and some of them being employed on the farms. When the old lady died the estate was sold up and Randle went to work for two surgeons in the town, a Mr. Kendall and a Mr. Lodge. They were Rover enthusiasts, the former having a Speed-20 Weymann saloon, later changed for a metal-panelled Speed-20, and the latter a small Rover that he replaced with an Austin 18, remembered as “a very good car”. Mr. Lodge also had a Morris Eight tourer for his wife. He eventually joined his friend in buying a Rover Speed-20.

Having had such good service from the old Rover Meteor, which ran 57,000 miles Without a brake re-line, Randle advised the doctors to have this make. He recalls a visit to Coventry on which he accompanied them, when Humber, Vauxhall and Jaguar cars were sampled. The Humber Imperial was “a beautiful car but didn’t match up to a Rover”, a 24 h.p. Vauxhall “hopped about at the back” and the Jaguar “didn’t seem quite their sort of car”. So the surgeons stayed with their Rovers. Mr. Randle recalls that Mr. Kendall also bought two Speed-I4 Rovers, one in 1934,

the other in 1936, “two of the finest mediumsized sports cars” he ever drove, “very reliable and sheer joy to handle”. Both had streamlined coupe bodies with metal sunshine roofs, 6-cylinder engines with triple SU carbs and free-wheels. The 1936 one stopped better because of Girling brakes. During the war Mr. Randle looked after Ministry-of-Supply transport, driving all over England in an Austin, and after that he was employed as chauffeur to a local Company, driving a Humber Pullman and five Bentleys, starting with a Mk. VI and finishing with a Continental Flying Spur. There was also a Sunbeam-Talbot Ten saloon in about 1946, later a 1952 21-litre Sunbeam-Talbot. Mr. Randle performed on the engine of a 1948 MG TC for his employers and “made the beggar go some”. Apart from those he drove professionally,

Mr. Randle has owned cars of his own since 1923, starting with a bull-nose MorrisCowley, which he tuned to do 58 m.p.h. instead of the customary 45. Another bull-nose followed and in 1938 he was presented by Capt. G. E. T. Eyston with the Runner-Up Cup in a Morris OC Concours d’Elegernce at Donington, for his pristine Morris Eight. His wife is also motor-orientated. She rode a BSA solo, a 21st birthday present from her father, who had a Campion motorcycle, and she remembers how eagerly the young male riders would stop to help if anything went amiss, as when two girl-friends were riding their two-stroke Levises with her and one of them broke a belt. She went to the early dirttrack meetings at High Beach, bought her first car, a Singer Junior saloon, in 1929, drove ambulances during WW2, and rode an Arid l 600 quite recently.—W.B.

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