25 Apr Lord Howe’s family visit FMM
Earlier in April, FMM had another notable visit when the daughter of British nobleman and racing legend Lord Howe, Lady Frances Denman, her son Roly and his two children Ozzie and Tilly, called in unexpectedly while on vacation from their home in Kent. Apart from viewing the displays, the family enjoyed looking through some of the library’s books that depicted Lord Howe racing in South Africa. Lord Howe, whose father was the Earl of Athlone and had been Governor-General of South Africa between 1923 and 1931, was a major force in establishing pre-war Grand Prix motor racing in South Africa. His affinity to South Africa even extended to marrying Johannesburger Joyce Mary McLean Jack after a 14-month romance.
Lord Howe not only regularly competed in the local race series driving various Bugattis and ERAs, he was instrumental in establishing the first circuit in the then Transvaal. In the wake of the success of the early South African grands prix held in East London, the instigator of those races, Daily Dispatch motoring editor Brud Bishop, was encouraged to move to the Witwatersrand to kick-start motor sport in the area. In 1936 he bought the farm Bergvlei in Kelvin, 15km north-east of Johannesburg and set about constructing a purpose-built track on the 600-acre site adjoining the Pretoria Road. In a race against time, hampered by the area’s worst rainfall for 35 years, in only four months the 3,56 km circuit was completed just 30 minutes before the inaugural race, the Rand GP on 30 January 1937, was due to start! The GP was won by Pat Fairfield in an ERA R4A from Howe’s ERA R8B. The circuit was named after Lord Howe and boasted a natural amphitheatre setting. It was both demanding and exhausting but everyone involved enthused about the layout.