CAMPBELL, Donald (1921-1967) & CAMPBELL, Sir Malcolm (1885-1948)
Plaque erected in 2010 by English Heritage at Canbury School, Kingston Hill, Kingston KT2 7LN, Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames
Land and water speed record holders
Sir MALCOLM CAMPBELL 1885-1948 DONALD CAMPBELL 1921-1967 Speed Record Holders on Land and Water lived here
Between them, Sir Malcolm Campbell and his son, Donald, set 10 speed records on land and 11 on water. Driving a series of vehicles called Blue Bird, they were the personification of British derring-do and engineering prowess.
In 1919 Malcolm Campbell moved to Canbury, Kingston Hill, in Kingston-upon-Thames – a substantial two-storey detached house dating from the late 19th century, which is now used as a school. He married Dorothy Whittall a year later and it was in this house that their son, Donald, was born in March 1921. On the evening of the birth Malcolm was notoriously absent, helping a neighbour to build a dog kennel, and leaving his father-in-law to call for a midwife.
Dorothy also had to tolerate his car fanaticism, which usually meant his retiring to the garage for the evening once he had bolted down his dinner. Returning home from his office in London, Campbell was inclined to get into casual races with other drivers; such was his competitive spirit that he would sometimes drive past his front door and not give up the chase until he had reached Esher or beyond. In Dorothy’s recollection, the house ‘suited us very well and I myself looked forward to spending many happy years in a delightful home’. Malcolm, however, became restless and in late 1922 the family moved to Povey Cross, near Horley, Surrey.
SIR MALCOLM CAMPBELL
Malcolm Campbell started racing cars in 1910 and in 1912 suffered the first of many near-fatal accidents at the famous Brooklands race track. This car was christened Blue Bird, after a stage play by Maurice Maeterlinck, and the name was used for all his subsequent vehicles and those raced by his son, Donald (though Donald used the single word form).
Campbell first broke the land speed record at Pendine Sands, Carmarthenshire, in September 1924. The following July, on the same course, he became the first man to exceed 150mph. The late 1920s saw him vying for the record with Sir Henry Segrave. Campbell set a new land speed high of 231.4mph at Daytona, Florida, in February 1931, for which he was knighted. The ninth, and last, of his land speed records saw Campbell become the first to top 300mph. This was achieved on the Utah salt flats in September 1935.
Malcolm Campbell next turned his attention to the water speed record, which he broke four times between September 1937 and August 1939 in a Blue Bird hydroplane, on the last occasion reaching 141.74mph on Coniston Water in the Lake District.
Campbell worked for Combined Operations during the Second World War but he later suffered from glaucoma – possibly as a result of his disdain for safety goggles. He died at his Surrey home on New Year’s Eve 1948.
Campbell’s son, Donald, followed in his father’s footsteps, making his first (unsuccessful) attempt on the water speed record in August 1949. He eventually triumphed six years later, taking a new, jet-powered Bluebird to 202.32mph on Coniston Water. For the rest of the decade Campbell ratcheted up more records on water. Following his sixth – 260.35mph in May 1959 – he made an attempt on the land record that nearly proved fatal. In July 1964 he finally claimed the land speed prize at Lake Eyre salt flats in Australia, recording a speed of 403.14mph.
He then returned to the water, and broke the speed record again on New Year’s Eve 1964 – at 276.33mph on Lake Dumbleyung, Western Australia. He thus became the first (and so far only) person to set both records in a single calendar year.
But on 4 January 1967 Campbell’s life was cut short when he was killed in an attempt to take the water speed record over 300mph on Coniston Water. The wreckage of the last Bluebird, and Campbell’s body, were not recovered until 2001. Donald Campbell was laid to rest at Hawkshead cemetery, Coniston.