By Doug Nye
The Goodwood Estate, between the South Downs and Chichester in the county of Sussex, is synonymous with two great sports; top- class horses, and motor racing…
While Glorious Goodwood’s horse-race connections go back over 200 years to 1802, when the then 3rd Duke of Richmond & Gordon introduced the sport on his land for the amusement of local army officers, three of his descendants have continued to earn the respect of racing car enthusiasts worldwide.
Setting the wheel rolling was Freddie Richmond, as he became known to the motor racing world. He had never expected to become the 9th Duke of Richmond and Gordon. The title should have devolved upon his five-years older brother Charles. When Freddie was born in 1905 he was plain Mr Frederick Gordon-Lennox.
It became Freddie’s ambition to become an engineer, and he and big brother Charles cycled to visit Sir Henry Royce, of Rolls-Royce fame, in retirement at nearby West Wittering. The Great War broke out, and in 1918 Charles enlisted, but was captured after being knocked unconscious by artillery. After being freed, as an officer taken prisoner, he faced a Court Martial. Aggrieved and humiliated, he volunteered for further service, was posted to Russia and in action at Archangel in the far north, he was killed.
Freddie was devastated but as the 7th Duke’s surviving heir became Lord Settrington and a new life seemed mapped out for him. First Eton, then Oxford University before ultimately the Dukedom. At Oxford he spent most of his time and energy in the University motor club. On a motor-cycle he won several minor sprint events and became entranced by Brooklands, the great Speedway at Weybridge.
His studies suffered, and in 1923 he abandoned Oxford for a job, “wangled through a friend”, in the service department of the dynamic new Bentley Motors company at Cricklewood, North London. Lord Settrington became a shop-floor mechanic keeping his title secret from his work-mates, and was known to them as plain ‘Fred Settrington’. The friendships he made with his workmates became, “…the most enduring of my entire life”. At Bentley Motors, Freddie became a racing mechanic, then a salesman in their Mayfair showroom and excelled at it. His schoolfriend Edmund Hordern introduced him to flying in 1928. They flew one of the latest Avro Avian biplanes from Hendon to Goodwood, landing on the home lawn.
Upon his grandfather’s death Freddie’s father became the 8th Duke of Richmond and Gordon, and Freddie the Earl of March and Kinrara. In 1929 he competed at Brooklands, driving an Austin Seven, won a time-trial gold award, then finished third in a one-lap handicap race.
He left Bentley to found a car dealership with Bentley’s former sales manager, Hugh Kevill-Davies. Trading as ‘Kevill-Davies & March’ the company proved an instant success. Freddie was an attractive man of easy charm with considerable artistic talent.
At Kevill-Davies & March he virtually originated what became the ‘traditional British sports car body style’, with flared front and rear wings looping down beneath low-cut doors. His March body designs were bought by Riley, Hillman and AC. Brooklands’ biggest race of the era was the 24-hour ‘Double-12’, run over two days, 12-hours each day. In 1930, Freddie March and Captain Arthur Waite co-drove an Austin 7, and won their class. He was then teamed with Bentley’s past Le Mans 24-Hour race winner ‘Sammy’ Davis to co-drive a works Austin Seven in that year’s BRDC 500-Miles race, again at Brooklands. They won outright… He ran his own team of three little MG sports cars for 1931, and with Chris
Staniland, won the 1931 Double-12 in what was at that time MG’s greatest sporting triumph. His team MGs won the Irish Grand Prix and the major RAC Tourist Trophy race in Ulster. In 1935 after his grandfather and father had both died in quick succession, he became the 9th Duke of Richmond and Gordon, known henceforth as Freddie Richmond which was in many ways a poisoned chalice. Crushing death duties were due; 246,000 acres of Scottish estate, including Gordon Castle, had to be sold to cover them. Freddie’s enthusiasms survived. He ran a one-off Lancia Club driving test and hill-climb up his home driveway at Goodwood House. It was a sociable, skylarking fun day for friends but provided the seed for what would become his grandson’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, over a half-century later…
Freddie and Edmund Hordern designed and built a twin-engined aeroplane that was “… as easy to maintain and fly as an everyday passenger car. Their Hordern-Richmond Aircraft Company flew its prototype ‘Autoplane’ in October, 1936, before specialising in making propellers. The new Duke also became President of the enterprising Junior Car Club, organising motor races at Brooklands and elsewhere. War with Germany loomed and Freddie was approached by the Ministry of War. They wanted to take over part of his Goodwood Estate, Westhampnett Farm.
Freddie agreed, shrewdly retaining ownership of the land. Legendary legless ace Douglas Bader commanded Westhampnett units, and flew his last op from its grass field amongst Squadrons of Spitfire, Hurricane and later Typhoon fighter ’planes based there. But most significantly, to service them a tarmac perimeter track was built around the site…
Freddie March served with the RAF, mainly as a ground controller until 1946. Immediately post-war Britain was grey, cold, austere and near bankrupt. The only fun was to celebrate survival. Freddie remained President of the Junior Car Club, but not a single motor racing circuit survived anywhere on the British mainland. And then emerged the idea motor racing on redundant wartime aerodromes might be possible. After May, 1946, the Goodwood Estate found itself left with an abandoned aerodrome, the former RAF Westhampnett, with its surviving perimeter track intact in Freddie’s back yard. In June 1946, the Cambridge University’s motor club won permission to run an airfield race meeting. Freddie used used this as a precedent to steer his new ambition through the bureaucratic maze of 1940s government. He had to charm the Ministries of Air, of War, Town & Country Planning, Agriculture, Works, Supply and Fuel…the Board of Trade; plus the Sussex County and Chichester Councils.
Freddie was well-regarded locally and in June 1948 it was announced that a motor race meeting was to be held at ‘Goodwood’ on the former RAF Westhampnett aerodrome, plus a British Grand Prix, soon after, at Silverstone airfield near Northampton. Saturday, September 18, 1948 saw the Goodwood Motor Circuit opened, using the frost-heaved, hastily-laid wartime perimeter track resurfaced with a non-skid asphalt mix. It measured 2.4 miles round, and 30 feet wide. Sponsorship of £500 came from The Daily Graphic newspaper. The eight-race programme attracted 96 entries. BBC radio broadcast live commentary, and 15,000 excited spectators packed in. Paul Pycroft’s special-bodied SS Jaguar 100 won the opening race, and the day after his 19th birthday Stirling Moss became the day’s youngest race winner, while the feature Goodwood
Trophy for racing cars fell to Reg Parnell, in a sensationally exotic new Maserati Grand Prix car. The Goodwood Motor Circuit was active as a frontline International course from 1948-1966. Sir Stirling Moss recalled it as “…a very special place, a circuit with a unique atmosphere, and of all the British aerodrome circuits the most rewarding whenever you got it exactly right…”.
In his long career ‘Golden Boy’ won 22 of his 60 races there as Goodwood became a stage for superb motor racing at every conceivable level from club saloons