Looking Back . . .

A chance contact at a VSCC meeting sent me to Hereford last month to talk to Mr. Percy Pritchard about ttte old motoring days. He very kindly showed me his and his father’s photograph albums. The family tailoring and outfitter’s business was started in Hereford in 1853 (a photograph of the original shop still exists) and is carried on today in very smart premises in King Street, by Mr. Pritchard and his son, Edward.

His father’s first car was a 1901 curved-dash single-cylinder Oldsmobile, bought after the good showing of one of these when Jarrott & Letts, the English agents, sent one to successfully climb Snowdon. Prior to that Mr. Pritchard’s father had used a very early Quadrant motorcycle with automatic inlet valve, surface carburetter, and the deep, flat petrol tank of the period, sometimes towing his wife behind it on a two-wheeled trailer. This machine (Reg. No. CJ 79) has recently been restored by a Mr. Foxon, who has a collection of old vehicles. Mr. Pritchard, Senr. was a keen ldte flier and his children used to fear that he might disappear into the sky when he flew a battery of these kites in high winds, the rope round his waist. That led to hint making his own balloon, the envelope, basket, netting and all. There is an old photograph showing hint sampling this sport in Paris, in 1895, before a flight over the Eifel Tower, as a passenger in a well-populated basket.

Balloons were very expensive, papers in the collection showing prices of from £700 to £1,700 even in those days, the lifting power from different materials, gases etc. being carefully listed thereon. Mr. Pritchard would fill his balloon with gas and take it to the riverside in Hereford for the lift-off (that morning, after parking the Rover, I had walked over the old pack-horse bridge there, and some very picturesque walks can still be enjoyed along the riverside paths). An amusing incident occurred when Gurney’s, the grocer’s, persuaded Mr. Pritchard to advertise “Gurney’s free teas” on his moored balloon, during one of Hereford’s summer regattas. This annoyed Lipton’s, who were giving away free teas, as the impression was that it was Gurney who supplied this, not Lipton’s, so they hired a boatman to row across the river and cut the mooring rope, causing the balloon to disappear into the far distance….

Another historic photograph I was shown was of Salmet with his Bleriot monoplane, the first aeroplane to be seen at Hereford. So the present Me. Pritchard Sue. had an exciting childhood, especially as his grandfather had a Wolseley with Ike “beehive” radiator, and a tonneau body in which he used to take visiting Americans to Hay-on-Wye to trace their ancestors. As he grew up he took over the old Quadrant, and other motorcycles followed.

During the first World War Mr. Pritchard served with the Imperial Camel Corps in the desert and he has since allowed the Imperial War Museum to copy his unique photographs of Turkish prisoners in German camps and of German military operations, in some of which Benz trucks and Mercedes staff-cars figure, and he helped Geoffrey Ishbald with photographs for his book about the Camel Corps. After the war there were more motorcycles, including a disc-wheeled Harley-Davidson sidecar-outfit, and a flat-twin Douglas combination.

Then Mr. Pritchard got a oft-twin thaft-drive ON, which wasn’t very successful as its engine was prone to seize-up and there were other troubles. However, this was followed by a four-cylinder Anzard-engined chain-transmission ON with a sporting two-seatcr aluminium body, which was apt to shed its wheels, doers the crude hub-fixings. There were at this time visits to Brooklands from Hereford, by train and later on the motorcycles, especially for the JCC 200-Mile Races, and no doubt the choice of car was influenced by these events. Snapshots of Parry Thomas, Segrave, and the 1926 straight-eight Talbot-Darracqs, have been retained, as mementos of those times. A Brescia Bugatti (Reg. No. KO 463) owned by the mechanic-brother of H. H. Beech, the well-known Norton agent of Great Portland Street in London and Brooklands rider, was passed on to Mr. Pritchard. Beech had cleverly converted the outside gear and brake levers to go inside the body and the Bugatti was further improved by the removal of its heavy running boards, etc. An extended square-ended tail enabled four persons to be carried in the car, which had the early pear-shaped radiator.

Next there was a pretty little M-Type MG coupe, behind which Mr. Pritchard towed a caiavan with extensible roof made for him by a friend, and a glider after he had taken up that sport. The caravan eventually broke away and plunged over a Welsh mountain precipice, never to be seen again. There was a fink with aeroplanes when a friend’s cabin monoplane with a seven-cylinder radial engine— the make has been forgotten but it may have been a Wicks, the Reg. was G-AADG, and perhaps someone remembers it? — was flown from the Lugg meadows. In the 1930s any field reasonably clear of a town provided an impromptu aerodrome! This ended in tragedy when she pilot took the machine out to the Middle East and was lost in the desert. His wife went to search for him and she, too, died. On the subject of aeroplanes, Mr. Pritchard recalls being taken as a boy by his father to the 1910 Aero Show at Olympia and he still has the Show Number of Flight of that year as a reminder of an exciting expedition. Before the war Mr. Pritchard’s father had a late-model flat-radiator Morris-Cowley saloon and when it had back axle trouble the cheerful Beech would obtain the necessary parts and repair it by the roadside. There had also been a 22 h.p. Ford V8 saloon and a Lincoln-Zephyr saloon. In more recent times Mr. Pritchard’s elder son has followed this, with a VW Beede and two Porsches.

During the second World War Mr. Pritchard trained RAF glider pilots at Long Mynd. At this time an Austin Seven and a Ford Eight saloon were used as economy transport, together with an LE Velocette motorcycle, “a beautiful little machine, so quiet you could hear the birds singing as you rode it”.

How interesting are these glimpses into the motoring past… — W.B.