- About us
- Through Time
In the fifth of an occasional series about people who are now sometimes forgotten, but who have a connection with Guildford in one way or another, Bernard Parke recalls 1950s motor racing champion Mike Hawthorn.
Make Hawthorn – the Farnham Flyer
It was a wet afternoon on January 22, 1959, when the placard of the newspaper man read in Guildford town centre read: “Famous Racing Driver Killed.”
It was the popular world champion racing driver Mike Hawthorn. He crashed his 3.5 litre Jaguar on the A3 Guildford Bypass. Hawthorn was just 29 years old.
Reports suggest that Hawthorn was travelling between 80mph and 100mph where his car left the road, and that it was fitted with a hand throttle which had stuck. This was in the days before cruise controls. Evidently, the tyres were experimental ones and were not suited to wet weather.
Other theories suggest that he may have suffered a black-out, in which the car may not have been at fault all.
Hawthorn was known as “The Farnham Flyer”, as he was based in the Surrey town. He owned the Tourist Trophy motor garage there.
Born in Yorkshire, Hawthorn was educated at Ardingly College and Chelsea Technical College. For a while he was an apprentice at Guildford’s specialist motor vehicle manufacturer Dennis Bros.
During the time he was at Dennis Bros most of the apprentices were under the watchful eye of Sister Joan Craig and her sick quarters staff.
Before they started work each morning the young employees were seated in a row and given a mug of cocoa. These were the postwar days of food shortages. It was important to ensure that they were well nourished for their tasks in the factory.
Surrey can lay claim to have had more than its fair share of motor racing drivers, but none were as charismatic as Mike Hawthorn. He and his fellow drivers of that period enjoyed life to the full. Parties and racing went hand in hand.
It could be said that the stretch of road at which the accident happened was not noted for safety features such as crash barriers that we take for granted today. When the Guildford and Godalming Bypass was opened in the 1930s cambers did not mean much to the engineers of the day.
However, it could be said that “the stable door was bolted after the horse had gone”. Later the road was redesigned into its present dual carriage way format.
What was not generally known at the time was that Mike Hawthorn was suffering from an incurable kidney disease. He had less than two years to live.
Floral tributes were placed at the crash site but a permanent memorial was not favoured. In 1998, the then Mayor of Guildford, Keith Childs, planted a tree in the Onslow Village arboretum alongside the A3 near Hawthorne’s crash site. It was initially marked by a simple plastic plaque. It is believed that the plaque has long since gone – hopefully there tree is still there.
Nearby is a steel footbridge that spans the A3. When the footbridge was new it was suggested that it could be named The Hawthorn Bridge, but the idea did not find favour.
The handsome blond racing driver is still remembered, perhaps something else in Guildford could be named in his honour.