Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Elusive Mrs Lace

Motor historians are far more interested in old cars than old drivers, after all old racing cars can be worth a pile of cash, while those who drove them, except for a few stars, are largely forgotten.

Still it comes as a surprise at how little is know of quite well-known names from the past. Take for example the pre-war racer Alfred Clucas Lace (1897-1978). Remembered mainly for the crash in which two spectators were killed at Brooklands in 1938. Lace was always known by his initials and historians seem quite unaware of his forenames or anything about him away from the track.

Then there was Lace's "wife" Mrs A. C. Lace - that's her pictured following a Bugatti in her Singer at a 1936 Brooklands meet. Now Mrs Lace can hardly be said to have had a distinguished racing career. She won the Ladies race at the 1938 London Grand Prix meeting at Crystal Palace and had two good finishes in the Monte Carlo rally, 27th with Elsie Wisdom in 1938 and 25th, driving alone from Riga in 1939.

So who exactly was Mrs Lace? With the help of the archives and some informed contributions to the Autosport Forum we learn that her maiden name was Phoebe Elizabeth Mylchreest, a grand-daughter of Joseph Mylchcreest, the "Diamond King," a Manxman who had made his fortune in South Africa. Phoebe was therefore a cousin of Tom Sheard the first Manx born winner of the Junior and Senior TT races, as well being the niece of the contralto Ada Mylchreest, an early favourite on the BBC.

Born in 1914, young Phoebe - she was seemingly called Betty - was barely 17 when she married a Mr McQueen in London in 1931. By 1934 she was competing on the track as Mrs A. C. Lace, although it's doubtful if the couple were ever married. By the late 1930s young Betty was the proprietress of the Hay Hill Club in Mayfair, subsequently having the misfortune to be made bankrupt just before war broke out. Around the same time Mr Lace, who optimistically described himself as a professional racing driver, was also bankrupted and soon left for Finland, where he was among the small group of British volunteers in that country's Winter War with the Soviet Union. Meanwhile in 1940 in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Britain, Betty Lace married the New Zealand fighter ace Brian Carbury. At the time she was using the surname Williams, although why is a matter for speculation. The marriage cannot have lasted long as Carbury remarried in 1948.

Given her profligate usage of surnames it's difficult to know what eventually became of Ms Mylchreest. She was seemingly alive in 1971, and still using the surname Lace which she had adopted in the days when she raced on the Brooklands track.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Radnorian Fascist

With a 50% drop in local BNP membership, from 2 to 1, it's highly unlikely that the good citizens of the county will contribute greatly to the probable upturn in the National Socialist (Nazi) vote in the forthcoming General Election.

Lonely Radnorshire fascists can however take some consolation from the county's link with the Mosleyite Jeffrey Hamm. Through his British League of Ex-Servicemen and Women, the Monmouthshire born Hamm was already seeking to revive English fascism as early as 1944. The prime mover in the series of street fights centered around Ridley Road in the East End during 1946 and 1947, Hamm went on to be Mosley's secretary and most loyal lieutenant. His connection with Radnorshire? His grandfather Edward Jones came from Walton.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Welsh Language Circulating Schools in Radnorshire

Between 1736 and 1776 over 300,000 adults and children were taught to read in the Circulating schools established by Griffith Jones and paid for and later managed by the philanthropist Bridget Bevan.

In Radnorshire, schools were held in fourteen parishes up to 1774, and although their impact was certainly less than in many other parts of Wales, in the best year, 1740, around 600 Radnorians were taught to read.

Academics occasionally express surprise that schools were held in parishes where the Welsh language was no longer used in church services. I think the mistake the academics make is assuming that the switch to English-only services denotes that a parish has become wholly English in speech. A more likely explanation is that folk unable to speak any English were no longer a significant factor in the parish. For example the cleric of Abbeycwmhir writing in 1813 confirming that church services had been in English for many years, added: "the young people do not in general understand Welsh, but the old people do understand English." To me this suggests that not only was the older generation bilingual but, in view of the qualifying term "in general," so too were some of the younger.

Incidentally the Welsh school referred to in the letter was held at Wernfawr farm.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Put it in Perspective

We tend to view history from the perspective of today. Nowadays Radnorshire is very much a pipsqueak when compared with, say, London, but was that always the case? In medieval times, when London had a population of around 50000, the lands that became Radnorshire probably had around 16000, not much less than today. Look at history from that perspective and this part of East Central Wales was a much bigger player than it is today. Historians sometimes miss that kind of thing.

Something similar happens when we consider Britain in the immediate post-Roman period. This blog is written in English and not Irish, so it's natural to see the Anglo-Saxons - the eventual victors - as being the greatest threat to Roman Britain. If you lived at the time perhaps you would have seen things quite differently, with the Irish and the Picts posing far more of a problem.

Look at a map of Irish placenames in Wales and we find that they are concentrated in West Wales, including Ceredigion, and from there into the strategic heartland of Britain run two great rivers the Wye and the Severn. Guarding the headwaters of these two river routes you find the old Welsh kingdoms of Gwerthrynion (basically the old hundred of Rhayader) and Arwystli. Gwerthrynion itself seems to be named after Vortigern, a likely military leader of Britain in the early 5th-century. So were these little kingdoms originally established as military provinces against the perceived major threat of Irish expansion into the Midlands?

Anyway here's an interesting link which argues that Stanage - that part of Radnorshire on the Teme, east of Knighton, has important Vortigern connections. Perhaps Time Team should dig them up.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Welcome Back

After a couple of weeks of deep freeze when the only folk on the roads seemed to be people with jobs, lowly paid care workers and the like, it's nice to see so many swish cars out and about in the thaw. People with careers getting back behind their desks ever did we manage without them?

Meanwhile a "climate expert" is warning about the formation of glaciers on Snowdon. Gosh, it wasn't that long ago that the "experts" were telling us that snow on Snowdon would soon be a thing of the past. Not to worry though it seems that we misheard all that "global warming" stuff anyway, as Friends of the Earth point out, what they were really saying was "global storming." Er .... right.

The Day the Music Died

A couple of tales from the Evan Jones book. Firstly concerning the famous Llandrindod minister, Kilsby , something of a celebrity in his day. Annoyed that his congregation turned to look back as the stragglers came into church, the preacher decided to announce each late arrival,
"Here's Mr Jones, Dolberthog" and so on.
Finally a lady visitor to the town appeared,
"Well I've no idea who on earth this is, everyone turn around and look at her."

Secondly the sad tale of Tomos Prys, a fiddler from Llangamarch who maintained the old tradition of circulating around the gentry houses and farms of the district until the end of the 18th Century. At a time of religious revival when folk eagerly turned their backs on fun for the pleasures of the pulpit, Tomos happened to come across a noted local preacher,
"Hang on you can have my fiddle,"
"Why are you giving me your fiddle?"
"Well you've already taken my audience."

And in such ways passed away Hen Gymru Llawen (Merrie Old Wales).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book Review

This is a selection taken from the papers of "the doyen of peasant historians" Evan Jones (1850-1928) of Ty'n y Pant, Llanwrtyd. As the editor points out in his foreword, some aspects of the author's interests have had to be largely omitted from this edition - archaeology and music for example. What remains are 300 pages covering the folk culture of the Builth Hundred, its farming, local history, social life, sports, religion, customs, poetry, superstitions and traditional proverbs.

It is a book that will be well received by anyone with an interest in Mid Wales, agricultural history or folklore in general. By its nature it is the type of book that can be dipped into at leisure, divided as it is into numerous short paragraphs on a myriad of topics which had caught the attention of Evan Jones during a lifetime of collecting.

Checking out the occasional item of Radnorshire interest, I was quite excited to see examples of the work of, what the author described as a Radnorshire born country rhymer in the Welsh language, Shams Clee. Unlike Evan Jones, we now have access to the 19C Census Returns which show that Clee was infact born in Llanfihangel Bryn Pabuan.

How I came to acquire this book provides a sad comment on the history of Builth Hundred. I had meant to buy a copy before Christmas, but had never got around to placing an order. Visiting some relatives I was told that one of them had just purchased the book after reading a review in the local paper and, since Evan Jones' sons Emrys and Afan had been regular visitors to her parents during her youth, she had hurried out to place an order. Unfortunately the book was of little use as she had failed to notice that it was written in Welsh. I purchased the book (at a small discount!) and reflected on the sad truth that many of the families whose ancestors and farms are mentioned within its pages would be in a similar position - unable to read about their own history.

The book is published in an attractive hardback edition by Gwasg Gomer at £16.99.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


Browsing the 1891 Census I was surprised to discover that a majority of the Talgarth born population of the town aged over 30 were able to speak Welsh. Look at the wider parish and there must have been bilingual natives of the district who spoke the language - presumably the historic dialects of the place - well into the Twentieth Century. I suppose most people will shrug their shoulders at this, but it left me a little bit amazed. Of course big Victorian families being raised as monoglot English speakers put paid to any chance of bilingualism persisting.

Looking at wikipedia I see that "Talgarth is also becoming a place for artists and writers." Oh well.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Just Popping Down the Shops

Here's the cover of Autosport picturing Innes Ireland's 1962 Tourist Trophy winning Ferrari 250GTO chassis number 3505GT. Now there's a quote in the Lis book that confirms that Innes drove this car on the roads of Radnorshire:

"I used to take 3505 home quite often and drive it to the races I was taking part in. I remember driving it down to Brands Hatch on the road, when I arrived the mechanics put a hot set of plugs in it and changed the wheels and I drove it in the race, then drove it home again. My wife used to use it to go shopping, it was a very docile animal."

Wonder if anyone remembers this car piloted by Innes on the Radnorshire roads or even his wife taking it out shopping!

Freno Bene Si!

Innes Ireland, works Ferrari driver, it's something you read occasionally, usually when someone has a car or piece of memorabilia to sell. Yes, Innes did once race a Formula One Ferrari 156, nominally for the British Racing Partnership but in reality for the works, and yes, he did drive the legendary 250GTO to victory in the Tourist Trophy. Yet works driver is stretching a point. Perhaps if the fuel contracts could have been sorted out in 1962 he would have joined the Maranello team, but it is as a Lotus driver and, given his long association with the company as Consultant Engineer, as an Aston Martin man that Innes is more properly remembered.

Of course Innes was a student of motor racing history and also a romantic, so it is little wonder that he could declare that "the ambition of any racing driver worth his salt was to drive for Scuderia Ferrari". And although he never really achieved that lofty aim, his relationship with the Modenese stable is certainly worth recalling.

1962 was the year that Enzo Ferrari was so desperate to secure Stirling Moss's services that he agreed to enter a car for the Rob Walker team in the Formula One World Championship. A car, by the way, which was to race in Scottish racing blue rather than Italian red. As part of the deal Stirling would also drive Ferrari sports cars for the UDT-Laystall team and in this Innes Ireland was to be his co-pilot. Innes, for whom Stirling was always a hero, looked forward to the partnership with relish.

A February outing in the UDT-Laystall 250SWB (2735GT) in the Daytona Three Hour race, had seen Innes retiring after 59 laps with brake problems. Then came the first drive with Moss, the Sebring 12 Hour race, where they shared a 250 Testa Rossa (TR/61) entered by local Ferrari dealer Chinetti's North American Racing Team. Stirling has described the NART pit work at this meeting as chaotic and the car was disqualified for refuelling too early. The long delayed disqualification robbed Innes and Moss of victory, they were leading by two laps when they were eventually black-flagged. That was to be Stirling's last endurance sports car race, for he would soon suffer his career ending Goodwood crash. It was to this fateful Sussex meeting that Innes had driven up from Modena, in the new pale green UDT 250GTO (3505GT). The car in which he and Moss were due to attack the coming season. A journey that Innes has described as the most memorable drive of his life.

The Goodwood crash put paid to Moss's Ferrari plans and also the promising partnership with Ireland. A Sharknose 156 did turn-up at the Silverstone International Trophy meeting complete with Scuderia mechanics and technicians for Innes to drive, a tribute to Moss it was said at the time. Innes found a car with a superb gearbox, a V6 engine that no longer matched the power of the V8 Climax and poor handling that the Scot put down to the flexing of the spoked Borrani wheels. Fourth place was a good result for a machine that could no longer compete with the green cars.

Innes carried on without Moss in car 3505, retiring after fifteen hours at Le Mans while in seventh place and ending the European season with a memorable victory in the Tourist Trophy, a race that was won with a chassis still bent from a practice crash.

That winter Innes drove another 250GTO, the Texan Rosebud team's 3589GT in the Nassau races, a third place in the Nassau TT being soon overshadowed by his victory in the Governor's Trophy race in Rosebud's Lotus19. Innes continued to drive the Rosebud Ferrari in 1963, an early crash at Daytona being followed by a sixth place (third in Class) at Sebring with Ritchie Ginther as co-pilot. An experiment with a Ferrari engine in Rosebud's Lotus 19 nearly put paid to Innes that Fall. The Scot crashing into a marshall's car which had been foolishly parked in an escape road during practice for the NW Pacific GP in Seattle.

A long and no doubt painful recovery saw Innes back for the 1964 season, where he drove Ferraris for Colonel Ronnie Hoare's Maranello Concessionaires team. Let Innes describe that first outing at the Nurburgring for the Colonel's equipe:

"I tore out of the pits in a crescendo of noise and spinning wheels, glancing briefly over my shoulder. Up through the gears and away, for the first time at the 'Ring I felt free and confident as I chased after the leaders.

Although the 330P was more of a handful, more skitterish, more sensitive and more unforgiving than the 250GTO, it was also faster, more urgent in its voice, more challenging and even more exciting. But still it gave a wonderful feeling of security, that it wouldn't suddenly do anything nasty.

We fairly flew through the twists and turns, a touch of the brakes here and there, a flick of the steering wheel to point her at the apex of the next corner, then lots of throttle and a touch of opposite as we screeched past the earth bankings and trees as one, clipping them as if they didn't exist. Oh, the total joy and exhilaration of such moments, for they happen but seldom. The Foxhole held none of the usual terrors as we hurtled steeply downhill through its curves, foot hard down, flat out in fifth. The Flugplatz was an exciting anticipation of the moment of landing when a flick of the wheel took her round the following right-hander on full song without going anywhere near the brake pedal, Control and rhythm seemed to be absolute as we swallowed up the gap on those in front, that wonderful V12 engine willingly and happily revving its heart out on the long straight, the exhaust note bliss in my ears. Still we closed passing first one, then the leader and we were out in front. And still the rhythm flowed; we pulled away and left them behind and it was almost as if they weren't there at all. There was only that magical Ferrari and me living out a dream just for our own enjoyment. We sang in the wind and nothing could touch us."

Like his career, Innes's occasional Ferrari drives finally petered out, a sixth place at Le Mans in 1964, a sixth place in the 1965 Monza 1000KM race, and finally, an outing at Daytona in 1966 in the Drummond Racing Organisation's 250LM.

Who knows how Innes's career might have turned out if the petrol contracts had allowed him to join the Scuderia in 1962 as some had hoped. Enzo Ferrari would surely have approved of Innes's tigerish driving, but would Innes have found fulfillment in Modena's political arena. In any case it wasn't to be. Oh and the title of this piece? The words spoken by Enzo Ferrari after he jumped on the brakes at 125 MPH on the occasion in 1962 when he took an ashen-faced Innes out for a spin in a little baby prototype, the distant forefather of the Dino 246.