Family Connections with Sir Henry and Lady Segrave

Lady Doris and Sir Henry Segrave with Golden Arrow
Lady Doris and Sir Henry Segrave with Golden Arrow

As part of the Arts Council England funded Golden Arrow project, National Motor Museum volunteer Alan Kingwell researches his family ties with Kingston Vale, its place in Land Speed Record history and his connection with Sir Henry and Lady Segrave.

For the first 20 years of my life, I lived in Kingston Vale a small development of pre-WWII private houses nestling between the rolling Royal Richmond Park and leafy Wimbledon Common.

The Vale was originally known as Kingston Bottom, but the pious Victorians decided to rename the area The Vale for decency’s sake. The location is in the County of Surrey but just north of Beverly Brook the dividing boundary with London; the adjoining London area was called Putney Vale, referred to later. The Vale development was built on the slopes of Kingston Hill over which the A3 London to Portsmouth Road ran before the construction of the Kingston Bypass in 1927 – one of the first arterial roads in the UK.

Kingston Hill road commences in The Vale from the former Robin Hood Pub towards Norbiton on the outskirts of Kingston – a distance of about 2.8 miles. The Hill has been very popular since Victorian times with the affluent to build their imposing mansions due to its picturesque setting, and it offered easy access to the high life in the West End of London.

From the dawn of motoring to WWII and beyond, Kingston Hill was a favourite location with the motor sport fraternity hosting such names as Sir Malcolm Campbell, John Cobb, Capt. Archie Frazer Nash, Lionel Martin (Aston Martin), Kenelm Lee Guinness and Sir Henry Segrave. One of the attractions for them was the easy passage to Brooklands Motor Circuit, then hub of British motor racing, or London in the evenings.

Other Kingston Hill notable residents include Lily Langtree, Dorothy Paget – sponsor of the Le Mans Bentley Boys, Herbert Austin, John Galsworthy the author and General Eisenhower who had a weekend retreat in Warren Road, an exclusive private gated road just off Kingston Hill.

It is interesting that Campbell, Segrave and Cobb were all Land Speed Record holders.

Kenelm Lee Guinness and Henry Segrave
Guinness and Segrave

Kenelm Lee Guinness and Henry Segrave were great friends having raced together with factory Sunbeams and Talbots and later became close neighbours. Guinness, of the brewing family, developed a new spark plug being more reliable than those existing and for their manufacture purchased in 1912 the derelict pub the Bald-Faced Stag alongside A3 at Putney Vale just 3 miles away. The pub previously had been a notorious highwayman’s haunt.

Guinness converted the premises to a manufacturing facility for his new KLG Spark Plugs and behind the factory he set up a workshop – Robin Hood Engineering Works Ltd. The name Robin Hood Engineering was derived from the frequency of this title used locally for roads, school, farm, and of course the Robin Hood pub on Kingston Hill.  Segrave was the one-time competitions manager for KLG Spark Plugs – a position that suited him as it kept him in touch with the racing scene and was local.

As a boy I passed the iconic KLG Works at least twice a day on my way to school on the 85 bus to school in Roehampton and later on the 72 travelling to the grammar school in Richmond, unaware of its history. Every morning at 7.30 the KLG factory hooter would sound across both Vales summoning the workers to work and letting me know how late I was for school.

The 1920/30 period was the era of World Speed Records whether on land, air and water. The British led the LSR field with the Americans close behind. In 1927 Segrave made a successful attempt with the 1000hp twin engine Sunbeam achieving 203.792mph at Daytona, Florida. But Segrave wanted to go faster.

So, a new LSR car was built – The Irving Napier Special ‘Golden Arrow’, a sleek, stunning gold painted aerodynamic art deco body with a powerful Napier 900hp engine designed by Capt. J S Irving and crafted by the Robin Hood Engineering Works at Putney Vale. Several of my local chums mentioned their fathers had assisted on Golden Arrow much to my envy.

On March 11, 1929 at Daytona in front of a crowd of 100,00 spectators, Segrave took the record by a wide margin at 231.36 mph. The following day an American rival, Lee Bible in the Triplex Special, was killed in trying to regain the title and that was enough for Segrave, who immediately returned home with his team. He was knighted by King George V on his return to England.

Sadly, Sir Henry O’Neal de Hane Segrave was tragically killed on Lake Windermere when his boat Miss England II overturned and sank whilst attempting the World Water Speed Record. The date was 13th June 1930. Segrave wanted to be the fastest on land and water which he achieved – posthumously.

Doris Stocker
Doris Stocker

Back in October 1916, Henry Segrave married Doris Stocker – a comedy actress of considerable ability and charm. The Segraves initially lived in St John’s Wood, London and in 1928 moved to a new abode at Warren End, Warren Road just off Kingston Hill. They were located very close to their friends the Guinness family, who lived nearby on the Hill with two golf courses on their doorstep.

Lady Segrave continued to live at Warren End and during WWII certain staff buildings were requisitioned by the Government to temporarily house displaced families whose properties had suffered bomb damage. One such family was the Carter family who were moved to the staff bungalow in the grounds of Highdale immediately adjoining Warren End. The father, Bill Carter, was a master panel beater hand making specialist body components for fighter aircraft, which was a reserved occupation. Joan Carter allowed her daughters Ann and June to play in the grounds of Highdale which often involved dolls tea parties on the lawn. Lady Segrave could hear the children at play and would often bring cakes and drinks for the girls to add to their fun. They remember her as a kind, gentle person; she had no children of her own.

The Carter family moved back to their repaired house in New Malden after a few months, but the memory of Lady Segrave’s presence and gentle kindness lives on.

I know this for a fact as I married Ann Carter some 57 years ago.

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