Life of Racing Pioneer Commemorated. Plaque Erected Ahead of Goodwood Festival of Speed 2009.
Sir Henry Segrave has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at 6 St Andrew’s Mansions, Dorset Street, W1, where he lived for three years (1917-1920). It was while living at this address that Segrave started motor racing with his first outing at Brooklands, in the spring of 1919.
Sir Henry Segrave’s achievements include:
- Winning four Grand Prix race victories between 1923 and 1924
- Breaking the world land speed record three times and the world water speed record once, and;
- Being the first person to hold both records concurrently.
Henry O’Neal de Hane Segrave was born in Baltimore, USA. As a boy he was schooled at Bilton Grange, near Rugby in Warwickshire, before going on to Eton. He spent a brief time at Sandhurst, but was soon commissioned in the Royal Warwickshire regiment, and saw action in France during the First World War. In May 1915 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, achieving the rank of major, but was twice shot down and wounded. Segrave later recalled: "I was a rotten pilot - I always seemed to make a mess of landing".
From a young age, Segrave had developed an interest in cars and motorcycles and started motor racing soon after being demobbed. After winning several races at Brooklands, he joined the Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq team in 1921. A mere two years later he won the French Grand Prix at Tours, becoming the first Briton to win a major international motor race for twenty-one years. He was also the first British driver of a British-built car to win in continental Europe.
Success at the French Grand Prix was followed by a win at the Spanish Grand Prix in 1924 at San Sebastian. His racing successes multiplied, and in 1926 Segrave reached a speed of 152.33 mph in his four-litre Sunbeam Ladybird at Southport Sands, Lancashire: over a kilometre, this broke the existing land speed record.
Depiste this huge success, Segrave retired from Grand Prix racing in 1927 and took a job as director and sales executive for Portland Cement. He was concerned that his luck might run out, and also believed that ‘owing to the near state of perfection which the automobile has reached … the curve of what is physically possible will intersect the curve of what is practically worthwhile’.
Yet Segrave continued to make world record attempts: he achieved a land speed record in March 1927 (achieving over 200 mph) in his double-engined, chain-driven Sunbeam at Daytona Beach, Florida. Two years later, Segrave attained yet another land speed record of 231.36 mph over the mile, achieved in the British-built Irving-Napier Golden Arrow. Both Segrave and the Golden Arrow returned to Britain as heroes; he was knighted in May 1929.
In 1927, Segrave begun racing boats, and on 13 June 1930 piloted Miss England II in an attempt on the water speed record at Lake Windermere. Segrave reached 98.76 mph, beating the previous best by 6 mph. However, disaster struck on a further run, when his boat capsized after hitting a floating object. He suffered a punctured lung and – though conscious when rescued – died shortly afterwards, aged thirty-three.
Messages of condolence came from all over of the world; a leader in The Times hailed Segrave as a ‘man of genius’. His ashes were scattered over the playing fields at Eton from his self-designed monoplane.
Since Segrave’s untimely death several biographies have appeared in addition to his own ghost-written account of his exploits, The Lure of Speed (1928). One biographer wrote that he had been 'a remarkable character by any standards, a charming, persuasive, ruthlessly determined person, who saw his goal, pursued it with an intimidating single mindedness, and became the hero of a generation'.
For further press information, please contact Helen Bowman.