Saturday, 18 July 2009

History, Heroes and Hats

Farnham, a small town on the border of Surrey and Hampshire is a place steeped in history. It is an old market town on the A31 Winchester - Guildford Road. There is a delightful mix of architecture both ancient and modern. Above the town sits the 12th Century Farnham Castle Keep, with magnificent views across the North Downs. In the town itself a plethora of pubs and streets names stand as testament to it's brewing past.

Farnham was also home to Mike Hawthorn who in 1958 became the first British Formula One World Champion. Sadly in the winter of the following year he died when he crashed his Jaguar on the Guildford by-pass. One of the first on the scene was his friend, race team owner, Rob Walker. (
There are many homages to Mike in and around Farnham, including a street named after him and a car sales garage bearing his name.

I had a wedding there last week. First I had to take the Bride Groom and his two best men to the church. The place in question is located behind a supermarket, at the back of a large public car park. Having dropped them off, I had to high tail it to the other side of the town to collect the bridesmaids before returning to the same house to collect the bride.

There's something very special about driving a vintage Rolls Royce through the streets of such an historic town, particularly one with such motoring heritage. Certainly we turned many heads on our six trips along the high street over the course of the day.

As I dropped the bride at the church, I was informed by the photographer that after the ceremony there would be a wait of around an hour so that a small reception could be held for those not moving on to the Wedding Breakfast. Turning this to my advantage, I took some time to stroll through the lanes and explore this beautiful town.

To my delight I happened upon an outdoor pursuits clothing shop, and spent a while in there trying on all manner of hats. While I was looking at my reflection in a mirror wearing a Panama Fedora at a jaunty angle a sales man appeared, which startled me somewhat. To his credit he just checked with me that I had all I wanted and disappeared upstairs to his customer who was busy trying out all manner of fly-fishing gear.

After returning to the Royce I whiled away a little more time watching the Formula One Qualifying sessions from Germany on my laptop. Something of a juxstaposition in a 1934 car. In fact when someone stuck their head in the window and asked if wireless networking was an option in that model of car, I was briefly floored.

Finally we left for the reception at The Farnham House Hotel. I could have driven a short route, but elected instead to go through the town one last time. The sun shone, people waved and clapped at the happy couple. I hope it made a special moment for them.

On my way home I drove along the Guildford by-pass. As often happens when I drive that section of road my mind wandered to the events of 22nd January 1959. Mike Hawthorn died eight years before I was born, but, thanks to the people of Farnham and old racers his story and reputation will live on.