Friday, June 30, 2006

That Gallant Little Lady, Gwenda Hawkes, 1894-1990

Gwenda Glubb's motoring exploits are well known - she raced variously as Janson, Stewart and perhaps most famously as Gwenda Hawkes in the pre-war period, a time when women competed against men at the highest levels of the sport.

The daughter of a general, the much decorated Sir Frederick Manley Glubb, her brother John, still remembered as Glubb Pasha the commanding general of Jordan's Arab Legion.

Better known as a record breaker than as a racer Gwenda was the fastest woman at Brooklands, 135.95 mph and the outright record holder at Montlhery, ( she lived in Paris for many years ) with a lap of 145.94 mph in husband Douglas Hawkes' Derby Special.

Adventure was in her genes and Gwenda's motoring skills had been honed in the First World War where she served as an ambulance driver with the Scottish Women's Hopsitals on the Russian front and the Balkans.

What the motoring historians seem to have missed is the central part played by Miss Glubb in what has been described as Britain's Dreyfus case, the public inquiry set up in 1919 by Churchill into the dismissal of, and perhaps also to publically discredit Violet Douglas-Pennant, head of the Women's Royal Air Force. Miss Douglas-Pennant had taken over a service of 14000 young women supervised by only 75 officers scattered over 500 camps. Correctly diagnosing that the training of a new officer corps was a priority, Douglas-Pennant was frustrated at every turn by what she perceived as an alliance of lesbian female and chauvinistic male subordinates. Despite bringing some order to the chaos and training-up 450 new officers, Miss Douglas-Pennant was sacked in 1918 because of her unpopularity with the service. The enemies of the Liberal Government saw that an inquiry would be an opportunity for trouble-making, while the Government realised that such an inquiry could be turned to its own advantage by destroying Douglas-Pennant's reputation. Enter Miss Glubb.

Miss Douglas-Pennant had made various allegations in a private letter to Churchill which he immediately published in the form of a White Paper. It was alleged for example that there was a good deal of sexual immorality at Hurst Park Camp involving the Camp Commander and a young air woman, Miss Gwenda Glubb. The 14 day inquiry - the salacious details were published in a Government Blue paper and lapped up by the press - found that there had been no impropriety between the officer and Miss Glubb, medical evidence was presented that showed that the "gallant little lady" was virgo intacta. Miss Douglas-Pennant was clearly a snob, a prim and vindictive primadonna.

The affair dragged on for 20 years being periodically raised in the courts and in Parliament by friends of Miss Douglas-Pennant who, it was said, had been driven somewhat mad by the whole business. As for Gwenda Glubb, she was indeed briefly married to the commanding officer accused of seducing her, Sam Janson.

A Radnorshire connection? A government report into the living conditions of girls in camps had been written by Lady Rhondda whose mother came from Pen Ithon, Llanbadarn Fynydd. Her evidence to the inquiry was not favourable to Miss Douglas-Pennant.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Radnorshire Bardic Poems, 17

No 147 A Request for Cattle to Annes Aubrey and Isbel vz Rhys

Two women more kindly bred
Than any two alive, as God is a surety.
Annes Aubrey, without flattery,
Daughter of Morgan, the vineyard of our nation;
The noble blood of Isbel, daughter of Rhys Fychan
From Is-Mynydd, Good day!

You are good, two Llywys for the land,
And good, too, your two fathers.
In terms of bloodline, you excel,
You are higher than the high woodland.
Your nobility grows Annes
From Aubrey, as pure as mead,
From Gwallter Sais and Rhosier Hen,
From the deer herd of Moreiddig Warwyn.
Isbel, your descent has been high,
Its place at the summit of pedigrees,
The descent of Ifor, supreme,
From Y Tanwr, no lesser man.
Two lands, your ancient tribe’s inheritance,
These are the two lands of your two tribes:
The two banks of the Wye as far as Monmouth,
The two well-cultivated lands of Elfael.
And your two husbands are placed
In the front rank as far as the land of Emlyn:
Fluent Hywel of the race of Rhydderch,
Brought to the affection of SiƓn ap Phelpod.
Neither of your two husbands would begrudge
Your honouring a bard or a musician.

I do not demand from anyone good,
But only for your two faces.
Two barrels of white ferment,
As dark as Weobley ale;
Not the nation’s wooden barrels,
But barrels that refill.
I shall ordain for the two
A house of straw and two torques.
Behold, two vineyards of Hirddywel,
Their liquor is like honey,
If the new Gascon wine is white,
Then their wine will be pure white.
And there were great portents
Upon them, like upon the cattle of Anglesey;
Bent like drinking horns
And marked on their foreheads.
Eight feet of the same age
Running with medicine from eight faucets.
It has the property to restore a hundred fellows
Who’ve been on the beer.
It does not cause an untimely mass,
Nor mess up my clothes or my head;
It does not make me tipsy, a sozzled weakling,
Nor drunk, nor deaf.
When I go on a journey
It saves me from giddiness.
It improves my muse,
And is the point that keeps my mind in time.

You both could, were my request greater,
Reward me twice over from your store of cattle.
You shall have while a vine grows
my wine from a green shoot.
I shall have, Isbel and Annes,
Your wine and more of your profit.
To you two, and to your two husbands
A life twice as long as an oak in water.
To me your good cattle without condition,
To you the blessings of your bard.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Lewis Formula One Car

Welsh constructor Cyril Kieft's Formula One car could have been a world championship challenger in the 1950s. The project came to a halt when Coventry-Climax took fright at the power outputs claimed by its Continental rivals and ceased develpment of the FPE V-8 engine. We now know that the bhp figures claimed by the European manufacturers were fictitious, the Kieft project has been completed and the car is running with great success in present-day historic races.

Another "Welsh" car that never made it to the track was built for Jack Lewis's H&L Motors team. In 1960/61Ted Jeffs, the Lewis team mechanic built a straight-tube chassis designed for Formula One, reaching the stage where it stood on its wheels in the Lewis team's Stroud workshop. The project was then abandoned and the chassis sold on for completion as a hill climb special.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Right Stuff?

I guess everyone knows that Max Mosley, president of FIA, is the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the pre-war British Union of Fascists and National Socialists, that's National Socialists as in Nazis by the way. This isn't the only link between the party and the world of motor sport.

The BUF had a number of prominent motor racers in its ranks. It's said - on what evidence I know not - that the Brooklands car park was packed with vehicles bearing the flash and circle symbol of the party (see picture). Certainly Sir Malcolm Campbell, best known for his land speed record breaking, is still celebrated on Mosleyite web sites as being a prominent member of the BUF and again with the claim that the flash and circle adorned his famous Bluebird cars.

At least four individuals with motor racing connections were amongst the thousand or so British fascists imprisoned under regulation 18b. Welshman Captain Douglas Marendaz was a leading Brooklands racer and constructor of the Marendaz Specials, cars which were driven amongst others by Stirling Moss's father Alfred. The Irishwoman Fay Taylour was amongst the most famous of the pre-war lady drivers, originally a speedway rider she turned to motor racing when the speedway authorities banned women riders for safety reasons, in reality because Fabulous Fay was winning too often. An out and out fascist, Fay's wartime file has recently been released by MI5. Here is an extract from the autobiography of Mosley's secretary Hamm which confirms Miss Taylour's continued allegiance to the cause, he is describing the old fascist leader's 80th birthday party in 1976:

“I had placed Lady Mosley on his right, and beside her two 'old girls' of her Holloway Prison days, class of 1940. One was my old friend Fay Taylour, former star of speedway and motor racing. (In the early, pre-war days of speedway women had been allowed to compete, and Fay had beaten all the leading male riders, breaking a number of track records). When I last saw her she was still a very attractive woman. She told me that a journalist once asked why such a beautiful girl had never married, but had taken up such a rough sport as speedway. She replied: "I was engaged once, but he broke off the engagement and asked me if I wanted to buy his motorbike!"

During 'The Battle of Ridley Road' Fay used to drive me home after the meetings in a rather magnificent Jaguar car.“I never experienced the slightest fear at these meetings, however many bricks were flying, but I used to be terrified by Fay's driving, and would clutch the seat with both hands, as she took every corner on two wheels. Years later (when she had returned from selling sports cars to film stars in Hollywood) I was talking to her about this magnificent car, and I was surprised to learn that it had not been hers. She told me that in Holloway she had met among the prisoners a rather high-class call-girl, and when they were released she had given her friend driving lessons in return for the occasional use of her Jaguar. “The Special Branch must have been quietly amused when they first noted its number and checked on its owner”.

Incidently the "Battle of Ridley Road" were a series of fascist street fights in 1946 and 1947. It's remarkable how quickly the fascists reorganized in England so soon after the war.

The last two detainees were W. G. Barlow, who raced Bentleys in the 1920s, and Dorothea Duff of whom I know nothing.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Innes with his Replica Testarossa, 1991

Old News

The County Times failed to recognize a former Grand Prix driver and Radnorshire resident in this story from the back end of 2004.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Radnorshire Amusements

A Letter to the Times dated 16th January 1878

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Radnorshire Bardic Poems, 16

This a praise poem by Lewis Glyn Cothi addressed to Bedo Chwith of Bryn Pennardd, Cregrina. You can see the site of Bryn Pennardd in the photograph on the left. All over Wales you can find these old halls of the uchelwyr, the English historians and their followers think they are motte and bailey castles.

No. 150 Praise to Bedo Chwith and Gwenllian vz Gwilym

This man whose home is above the fair meadow,
And the quiet, excellent wife:
Bedo Chwith, there his six fold payment
Will be given to me;
Next there is Gwilym’s daughter
Wearing the gold of the south upon two dresses,
Good natured Gwenllian
From Caio, from the line of a fair knight.
From Gwilym and from Meilyr,
A beautiful vine and earth’s increase.
God and the Church have rolled
Two names into one under their protection:
The strong, dark man of Glasgwm,
The sun of Cil y Cwm.

Being daily found wandering on the van
From yonder Roman town;
Bryn Pennardd is so beautiful,
The dinner that awaits us.
It seems to me that the Edw
Flows with Weobley ale and
That the Tywi pours with mead,
They placed it there on the river gorge;
As if the gold of the Bishop of Durham
Was in this court above the church,
And the silver of ancient Cyrys
Was placed there in Rhys’s grandson’s house;
As if the wheat of the Golden Vale or more
Were there in the house of fair Elfael,
Repaired to in one night,
Then spent the second night.
Let the lad out of love of drinking mead
Go along to Llwyn Hoeddliw and its dwelling.
There I’ll climb the bank,
Climbing to the home of an angel,
To Rhiw, to the house of Hywel’s grandson,
To the spot where honey is brought.

The world swarms about his head,
He and the moon of Mallaen.
A river grows bigger as it goes to the sea
And then is no more;I go, like a river,
To their house upon the breast of the hill.
There are children, good blessings,
To the round margin of Cregrina;
To Bedo they come in pairs,
From the fair woman they spring.
Come Powys and the South
As far as Gwent, to the house of these two.
Good Gwenllian invites them,
Her husband hands them gifts,
Her husband tunes the bards
With gold each day, the lord of Pennardd.
Great the seas about Anglesey,
More are the talents of my people.
Great is the seed of Britain,
More is the rent of these Welsh folk.
Mary, guard them on the shore of the Edw,
Amen! For as long as they wish.

The Mysterious Mr O'Brien

Considering that he was the first statesider to compete in a World Championship Grand Prix (Belgium 1952) precious little seems to be known about Robert O'Brien. Lacking the barest biographical detail or even a photograph most encyclopedias ignore him. Theories abound, he was a more famous American racing under an assumed name or, as some claim, a CIA agent taking time off from the day job of crossing into East Germany.

There certainly appears to have been an American racer called Robert O'Brien who appeared briefly in SCCA events in 1951 and 1952 racing his own Jaguar XK120. Bob hired a Ferrari 166MM to take 4th place in the first Sebring 12 Hour race and also drove a Connaught at Bridgehampton where he was photographed, a picture that confirms that the gentleman (shown left) observing Bira at the 1952 Spa race is indeed the mysterious Mr O'Brien.

It's strange that more is not known about O'Brien. He seems to have been a run of the mill SCCA racer and one would have thought that there would be many people from that era who would remember the man. There is also some confusion with Bill O'Brien, a Frazer-Nash owner, who entered but did not compete in the 1952 Targa.

A final mystery, on the last day of August 1952, O'Brien competed in the Grenzlandringrennen F2 race in a Simca-Gordini entered by the Viscomtesse de Walckiers, a lady who does not seem to exist except on motoring web-sites.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Brynfan Tyddyn

Brynfan Tyddyn, great 1950s road racing circuit, lot of big names raced there.

Like who?

Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill

So it was an old airfield track?

No, a proper road racing circuit, three and a half miles long, Hill called it a mini-Nurburgring. It was on an estate owned by a local politician, big breeder of trotting ponies, name of State Senator Woods.

State Senator? This track wasn't in Cardiganshire then?

Brynfan Tyddyn? No, it was near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Llanidloes, a typical Welsh town?

DNA, archaeogenetics - all exciting stuff for those of us with an interest in Welsh history - a chance to discover lost origins and population movements from the information locked within our own genes. It would help though if the scientists conducting the research had a little more understanding of old fashioned document based history when designing their tests.

Take studies in Welsh DNA, much of it based on three market towns tested for the BBC's Viking project, Llangefni, Llanidloes and Haverfordwest. Leaving aside Haverfordwest, which being in South Pembrokeshire is hardly typical of Welsh Wales, what about Llanidloes? Llani, as the locals call it, is slap bang in the middle of the ancient Welsh cantref of Arwystli, and in the sixteenth century this area was the scene of an Ulster style plantation organised by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Large numbers of tenants from Derbyshire and Lancashire were settled in the area at the expense of the local Welsh population.

Now as it happens, and mainly because both locals and incomers shared a common religious faith, this English plantation became integrated into the local population, indeed became thoroughly Welsh in speech and sentiment. The only trace left today of this is in common local surnames such as Ashton, Woosnam, Wigley, Jarman, Hamer, Breeze, Chapman, Cleaton, Bumford etc.

I wonder if the scientists were aware of this unique genetic background when they picked Llanidloes as one of their centres to test? More likely they just looked at the map and found what they assumed was a typical market town in the middle of Wales.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Another Mid Wales Road Racing Circuit

At the back end of 1968 the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society submitted plans to the local authority for the provision of a road racing circuit on the Llanelwedd showground site. Approval was also sought from the RAC and the ACU, the plans including a mile long spectator gallery. This was all reported in the December 30th 1968 edition of the Times newspaper. Great idea, what a shame it came to nought.