- Bourne in past times -
CIVIC RECEPTION MARKED THE BRM SUCCESS
FIFTY YEARS AGO
by Rex Needle
PREPARATIONS ARE NOW underway to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the BRM winning the World Championship in 1962 are a reminder of the rejoicing in Bourne half a century ago.
It was a momentous occasion because more than 100 people were then employed at the workshops in Spalding Road run by Raymond Mays who brought prestige to the town and took this country to the forefront of international competition on the track.
Cars were an obsession from an early age and after school, the army and university, Raymondís career as a motor manufacturer began quietly, almost secretly, at his home and few people knew about the venture until it was revealed by a local newspaper in 1934, the year English Racing Automobiles, or ERA as it was known, was formed, using workshops built on the orchard adjoining Eastgate House and he was soon enjoying success on the track.
Motor racing was halted during the Second World War from 1939 to 1945 but by then Raymond was pondering on the possibility of an all-British racing car to break the foreign domination of Grand Prix motor racing and so British Racing Motors, or BRM as it came to be known, was formed with financial backing from leading companies in the field, particularly the Rubery Owen and Joseph Lucas organisations.
The first BRM was demonstrated to the motoring world at Folkingham airfield on 15th December 1949 when the car was hailed as a world beater, although success was slow in coming. More tuned-up production cars followed and in 1960, new workshops for the development of the BRM were built on the site of the old gasworks in Spalding Road.
There were many failures and some successes. New engines and cars were designed and then in 1962 came the ultimate prize when the BRM became the first all-British car to win the world championship and the company's Number One driver Graham Hill became world champion at the same time.
This accolade from international motor racing received great acclaim in Bourne where it was marked by a civic reception in March 1963 organised by the old Bourne Urban District Council when Graham Hill was presented with a silver salver. Raymond Mays himself was to be honoured in 1978 with a CBE for his services to motor racing.
The civic reception and dance at the Corn Exchange was a grand occasion with many important guests and covered by television and radio, and as a BBC reporter at the time I interviewed both Raymond Mays and Graham Hill that night. There were many congratulatory speeches from the platform where the council chairman, Councillor Florence Tipler, presented an inscribed scroll to Sir Alfred Owen, head of Rubery Owen which had taken over the company in 1954.
Several models of BRM cars had been put on display inside the Corn Exchange although it was a predominantly male occasion. All employees of BRM had been invited but the council did not include partners, the explanation being that the number for dancing should be limited to a maximum of 330 persons and anyone who did not wish to attend should give appropriate notice in order that their ticket could be sold to the public for 12s. 6d. This restriction caused some resentment among workers and several refused to go but in the event, it did not mar the enjoyment of the occasion and apart from women guests, some of the office ladies who worked behind the scenes at BRM were also present.
The actual invitations were printed and sent out by post and during the reception many guests used them to collect autographs from the VIPs who were attending with the result that several survive as important mementos of the occasion. One of those who attended was Richard (Dick) Salmon who worked as a motor racing mechanic with BRM and travelled the world with the technical team, becoming a close friend of Graham Hill.
Dick, now 86, of Gladstone Street, Bourne, treasures his invitation and keeps it with an important archive of photographs including many of the BRM with Graham Hill at the wheel.
During another victorious year in 1965, BRM cars gained either a first or second prize in every Grand Prix race that was held. But mixed fortunes followed until the Mexican driver Pedro Rodriguez scored a comeback victory in the 1970 Belgium Grand Prix at Spa and although further successes came, advancement was dogged by mechanical failures.
Graham Hill was killed in a plane crash in 1975 but his name lives on in Graham Hill Way, a small industrial estate off Cherryholt Road. Raymond Mays died in 1980 and soon afterwards, Rubery Owen disposed of the BRM collection of racing cars at a sale which created international interest when it took place at Earl's Court, London, in October 1981.The workshops in Spalding Road were sold for commercial development to Delaine Buses and have since become an auction salesroom.
But that successful year in 1962 is not forgotten. A heritage day was held in 1999 when the streets were closed to allow a parade of racing cars, an event which raised £10,000 which was used to finance a memorial commemorating Bourneís contribution to international racing, to the ERA, BRM and Raymond Mays. The stone and bronze monument was unveiled on the banks of the river in South Street in November 2003, a site chosen as one of the few accessible places where it could be given public prominence and be seen by visitors approaching the town on the A15 from the south.
It also provided a fitting tribute to Raymond Mays who was cremated when he died in 1980 but his ashes were not preserved and so there is no tombstone in the town cemetery alongside those of his father and other members of his family although there is a metal plaque outside Eastgate House and in the summer of 2002, a new perimeter road around the Elsea Park estate was named Raymond Mays Way. There is also a memorial room dedicated to his name in the nearby Heritage Centre containing many BRM trophies and photographs illustrating his career together with artefacts from his days on the race track.
The town will again celebrate the BRM victory on Sunday 7th October with a series of events including a procession of vehicles through the streets and perhaps even an appearance from Graham Hill's son, Damon, former Formula One world champion, driving his father's 1962 car at the head of the parade.
Owen accepting an inscribed scroll during the
NOTE: This article was also published by The Local newspaper on Friday 6th April 2012.
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