THE SON of a Wiltshire blacksmith, Mr. R. J. Wells — he likes to be called James — left school at 15 and entered the service of Sir Ernest Wills, of tobacco fame, as a gardener. The estate-gardens at Littlecote, near Hungerford, were the finest in the south of England, and you can still visit them today. When the lad started there in 1923 they were administered to by a staff of 24 gardeners and the house servants numbered the same. With the grooms, chauffeurs, laundry-maids keepers, carpenters, estateyardsmen and green-keepers for the private golfcourse the total in staff was 90.
Young Wells started in the glasshouse section of the gardens, which were divided into pleasure-grounds, kitchen-gardens and hothouses. The houre was always decorated and on occasions such as a daughter’s wedding the ballroom would also be given the full floral treatment. Wells was paid ten shillings for a 60-hour week. But there were compensations. For example, the staff were sent by coach to see the 1923 Empire Exhibition at Wembley, on special occasions they would be invited to Balls and buffet-suppers in the Great Hall, and on Saturdays surplus fruit and vegetables were taken to the Mess Room, with the understanding that my of the gardener; could take their pick. [This was also true of the Rothschild’s estate at Waddesdon, where the Head Gardener would send clerical staff off at the week-ends laden with boxes of peaches and orchids, etc.
At that time three chauffeurs looked after a fleet of four 40/50 h.p. Rolls-Royces. Two of these had estate bodies and were probably pre-1914 Silver Ghosts. When the family, which included two sons and three daughters, was at the family Castle in Scotland for the grouse-shooting these Rolls-Royce showing brakes made a weekly journey there, carefully loaded with hampers (afresh fruit and vegetables. The curs were kept in garages in the stable block, where there were workshops for their maintenance. Lady Wills’ 40150 Rolls-Royce was yellow-and-Mack and Sir Ernest’s was black. Electric light was put in the house at this period, generated by a turbine in the near-by river Kennett.
Having, for the tiine being, had enough of gardening (on an estate where, if you could find a weed, says Mr. Wells, the Head Gardener would give you ED he obtained a job in 1925 as footman to Mr. E. V. Lucas. the writer. Mr. Lucas had a Rolls-Royce Twenty and a Morris-Cawley. He used to be in London all the week, at Methuens the Publishers, and as the house was some ten miles from the nearest town Mrs. Lucas asked Wells to find out how to driye. He was sent to the i,ral garage for lessons, on the Morris. After he had had a mere two hours’ instruction Mrs. Lucas wanted to be taken to the station. James told her he was not yet proficient but she said she was sure he was. So to the station they somehow went, the Itetr Pillars seeming to close in on she car as they left the drive. They amved safely and Mrs. Lucas told James he was an excellent driver. He never had another lesson.
He then acted as the chauffeur, being paid £18 a year at first, but getting his uniform and keep. Big house parties were frequently given at which halocts writers of the calibre of A. A. Milne t with Christopher Robin, then aged about sty;, George Doran, A. E. W. Mason and Arnold Bennett, err-, were present. Wells had graduated to the Position of Butler and presided at these dinners, which always had six courses and might last Mr . nearlY an hour-and-a-half before the ladies retired. Wells’ hours were from hem, to II p.m.
with two hours rest in the afternoon, providing no one rang for him!
In 1930 Mr. Lucas was closing the house while he was abroad, sons a parting present he arranged for Wells to take the Chauffeur’s Course at the Rolls-Royce Training School in Cricklewood. He still possesses the descriptive booklet and his classroom notebook. He took the driving part of the course on. Phantom I and Phantom 11 Rolls-Royces and remembers that the gear change was much quicker on the latter, although this was before the synchromesh era. Mr. Lucas also sent a good reference to Mrs. Hunt’s Agency in Marylebone, from which the best servants were engaged. Mr. Wells duly went there and obtained the position of chauffeur-valet to Mrs. Phillipson, the widow of a millionaire who lived in a big house on the cliffs at Sandgate in Kent; every bedroom had its own bathroom, in matching colour. The dining table was solid marble, matching the fireplace, and would be laid with very old silver, inchiding silver dishes, for dinner parties, for which Wells acted as Butler, working with the Chef and helped by parlourman, parlour-maid and the footman, the full staff numbering 12. The car he drove was a big Humber, recalled. as “very, very nice”. The lady was a spiritualist and eve, Thursday the Humber took her to London to attend a seance, Mrs. Somerset Maughan being dropped at her house on she way home. When the count, house was closed Wells worked in the London house at Regent’s Park but found this no fun, what with short drives in traffic to theatres and on shopping expeditions, especially as tie had to climb 100 stone steps to his attic room to change into chauffeur’s uniform every time the car was wanted, and this might be between serving lunch in one uniform and changing into a different one before serving dinner. He left after eight months and again M,. Hunt’s Agency found him a post, with Mr. Ben Warner, the race-horse owner, at his estate near Newbury. Mr. Wells’ wife was already a cook-housekeeper there. This was tree grand living indeed. There would be dinner parties lasting three days, the family present on the first evening, joined by their friends the following evening, with the horse-racing fraternity arriving for the final, lively, party. Mr. Warner had a 20/25 h.p. Rolls-Royce supplied by Vincent’s of Reading and a Rover, Mr. Wells thinking the latter “rather low hung”. There was also a little Singer for the daughter, probably a Junior. One day in 1934 Mr. Warner announced that he wanted another Rolls-Royce. He left for London by train and on his return he sent for Wells and told him to go to the Motor Show the next day and look at a car on the Park Ward stand. which was the only one he liked; if James approred, he was to buy it! This resulted in Wells getting £10 “for saying yes and Mr. Warner taking delivery of a new 20i25 h.p. Rolls-Royce six-light saloon, GAE 16. Reg. No. RD 6093, which is today owned by Dr. J. D. Bradshaw, of Middleston in Yorkshire. This was the beginning of some real motoring for the R-R chauffeur. Like a good chauffeur he always washed the car down. even if a journey had finished in the early hours of the morning but he was relieved to find disc wheels. because it had taken him an hour to clean the wire wheels of the former Rolls-Royce. On the driving front, as they were racing with champion hunters every day, Wells would drive upwards of 1,000.miles-a-week and he recalls one week when hr was sent for and asked jibe was ready lee 1.000 miles, starting the next day. He drove Mr. Warner up to Edinburgh, after which they went to Kelso. After that day’s
racing was over they spent the night at Blackpool, before going to Chester where Mr. Warner put up for the two days’ racing at Blommom’s. They then moved over to Manchester and after the racing ended went back north to Ripon. As soon as the racing ended Wells was told to return to Newbury. That week he clocked up 1,650 miles, in five days. When you remember that this was over the roads as they were in the 1930s, with even the Great North Road a very slow route, and that much of the driving was cross-country to the different racecourses, this was no ordinary chauffering. Although Mr. Warner was on the telephone all the time placing bets, he once took a week off and was driven to Land’s End. From there he rang his wife, saying they were off to John o’ Groats, to be told “You’re nor, you are corning straight home”. Mr. Wells says that as Mr. Warner smoked heavily he was glad of the glass division between them. He had to drive with circumspection, no that his passenger could read as they went along, working out his winnings and losses. This was no problem to R-R seamed chauffeurs. who were even told never to splash nursemaids wheeling prams in London on wet days! Incidentally, in his earlier days James had been thiven about London “on the box”, getting down to open the door of the Rolls Inc his Mistress, and with two chauffeurs up the London point-duty policemen would quickly stop other traffic to wave a Rolls-Royce on. . . .
His duties as Butler at Newbury were likewise assisted by earlier experiences, such as when going to the Aldershot Tattoo in the E. V. Lucas’ Rolls-Royce and serving the party with a fall-coarse dinner in their box, this, consisting of iced-soup, jellied-veal, and strawberries-andcream, having been packed into the car at the Bath Club in London. It was served by James and the chauffeur and after they had eaten their meal in the car two extra chairs would be taken into the box so that they too, could watch the Tattoo. Then, when he was with Mr. Warner, there would be great gatherings at the house after the Newbury races, with perhaps 30 guests sitting down to sea and a dozen at dinner, while a member of the staff was always present at Ascot. Mr. Wells has driven most of the great jockeys who were fitmous before the war. He remembers driving Steve Donoghue out in the early mornings to the gallops, where he would try and report on the horses. While waiting on one such occasion Donoghue told Wells that it was not “done” to enter a protest at Royal Ascot but he had once done so — and recently this happened for only the second time, I believe. in Ascot’s history, reminding James of Steve’s anecdote. Mr. Warner saddled no less than 240 winners. Other jockeys who rode for him were Harry and Sammy Wragg, George Pellerin for hurdle-races, and Billy Speck. The trainers included Ted Guilt and Owen Anthony. When Speck, who became Championship Steeplechase Jockey. was buried at Bishops Clreve in the early 1930s on a Good Friday when there was no racing, so many people attended the funeral that ears were unable to get within two miles or so of the church. All the gentlemen wore morning dress, an unforgettable sight. Incidentally, for racing the usual iron horse-shoes were taken off and light aluminium ones substituted, just Peru race — which has a motor-racing ring to it! Towards the end (if 1936 the constant driving had a had effect on James eyesight and he was told to give it up. So he retired and moved to Brecon to start a market-garden. Looking back, he will tell you that being in
— gentleman’s service was a very happy, contented and secure life. “After a year with the same family you are regarded as a friend, and a part of the place”. This is borne out by the ma, times Mr. Wells took Mr. Warner’s daughter to race meetings when he was unable to go and how, whey Mr. Lucas’ daughter was married many years later and James offered to do the flower arrangements at the wedding (where silver salvers won at Lingfield were used and Sir John Bcilernan proposed the iciest), he was invited to lunch, was included in a photograph with the bridal couple before they left, received a charming postcard while they were on their honeymoon, and still hears from them. We talked of chauffering in general terms. Of knowing your place: When James was with Sir Ernest Wills the letters for posting were left in the hall and he took them to the post after lunch, unless the family was going out, when they would take them. One day at lunch bethought he heard Lady Wills say they were going out, so he did not remove the waiting mail. The bell rang and her i Ladyship wanted to know why. When James ed explain that he thought they were taking them he was told curtly: -You are not paid to think. James”. Of thc chores: Mr. Wells says he cannot think of any night in which he did not wash down the Rolls-Royces in his care, no matter how late he got in, even at 4 a.m. or after. And, remembering the old joke about washing only the Side of the car the Boss would set, he will tell you that he would have been ashamed to resort to such S trick. At Newbury the Rolls was cleaned every night, the Rover in the morning, and the daughter’s little Singer every Sunday. He also had the electric light plant. charging at 110 volts, to attend tn. Waiting with the can was another chore. The longest wait James remembers happened
when his Boss, Mr. Warner, was buying hotels in Torquay (such as the Queen’s, and the Globe at near-by Newton Abbot). He was ordered round at 11 o’clock, drove a mile to the hotel, and stood to attention by the Rolls. At 1 o’clock he was told to get himself some lunch and come back. At 5 o’clock he was told to get some tea and come back. At 8 o’clock be was told vigor some dinner and come back. “I have nearly bought it”. said Mr. Warner. At midnight he came out again, said briefly “I have bought it”, and James was free to drive away. However, he was well looked after. For example, on our Mr. Warner would stop at an hotel, look at thr condition of the toilets, and if they were clean, would take a suite of rooms; James would usually be accommodated in one room of the suitc, not in the chauffeurs’ quarters. Of prejudices: When cars were parked at race-meetings the Rolls-Royce chauffeurs tended to remain together, avoiding those who drove lesser makes. I asked “What about Daimler chauffeurs?” -1 didn’t like Daimlers”, was the reply, -all those split-pinned nuts and sleeve-valves”. The Rolls were comparatively easy to maintain, even if thc schedule was complicated, and he had a workshop with pit at Newbury. Herr he would take infinite pains to adjust the clutch pedal and toggles, so that a smooth cake-up was achieved, and would remove the floorboards to watch how the gearbox-driven servo-brake was functioning, adjusting it until the thud as the front brakes came on was eliminated. The second 2025,1 by thr way, weighed-out at 36.37 cwt., ol’ which 19.27 cwt. was on the back wheels. Mr. Wells says Sir Gordon Richards had a chauffeur-driven 40/50 Rolls-Royce with the instruments duplicated in the rear compartment. Mr. Wells, now aged 72, developed his flower shop in Brecon into a very successful business and
he is a highly respected flower arranger, having done some very famous floral decorations, including one for a visit to Brecon by Her Majesty The Queen, and he was responsible for thc f 1,000 worth of flowers that graced the Altar at Drogheda for the Pope’s recent visit.
I thought James Wells might have done so much driving as a chauffeur that he wouldn’t have wanted motor vehicles of his own. But it turned out that he had started with a belt-drive two-stroke Francis-Barnett motorcycle, followed by a flat-twin Douglas, and then he had a black-tank 3-speed BSA. Mr. Lucas then bought him a Triumph motorcycle. The next day James received a hand-written letter, from the great author’s London office, telling him that while he was being shown the new motorcycle Mr. Lucas had forgotten to remind James of the motto “Safety First”, which he asked him to do, “not only for yourself but for others”. It would be unkind to suggest that he didn’t relish losing such a good chauffeur! Another Triumph came next and after his retirement James bought a used FWD twin-cylinder BSA three-wheeler. He used this to tow a trailer on occasions, in connection with his business, and it proved to be a “wonderful iob, giving no trouble” in 13 years. It was never rebored and when it was abandoned someone bought its engine, offering —£50. Since then this still very active ex-Rolls-Royce chauffeur has owned many cars. including a Hillman estate-car and a Morris Marina estate-car, and at present he runs an Aunt. Allegro. — W.B.
Previous articles in this series appeared in the following issues of MOTOR SPORT — July, October and November 1975; March. July and August 1976; Fehruary and July 1977; July and September 1978. Standard House can quote for photostat copies.