Friday, 25 August 2023

Tracing the DART's origins (2)

Following the earlier contact I had with Nigel Fraser Ker (click here), Nigel became very curious about where exactly the workshop could have been, where Edmond 'Dizzy' Addicott built his DART. I had one old picture of the outside of the premises, showing just a part of it plus a sign for a company named 'Wakefield & Sons'. After a while Nigel came back to me about it: "Crikey!" he wrote, after he'd found reference to Wakefield & Sons in an online issue of ‘Byfleet Heritage’. What's more: there was further reference to the place: "We began our tour at Parvis Bridge where the boathouse still looks pretty much the same. To the right of the bridge were Wakefield & Sons who made Formula 3 racing cars. After passing the cricket club and Mr Derisley’s highland cattle you came to the War Memorial..." etc.

Nigel: "Parvis Bridge is right next to where BAC was based and where Dizzy worked, and only 11 miles from where I am now. Incidentally, when I used to work at the Brabham F1 team, some of the fabricators had worked at Brooklands. Many of the skills used in building aircraft during the Second World War were the same as those needed to build racing cars prior to carbonfibre becoming the favoured material. What appears to be an aluminium-bodied car that you can see in the photographs (it is in fact steel-bodied - JB) would almost certainly have needed a very skilled craftsman to make - I don't think even Dizzy could have done that one! A job for people working up the road at Brooklands, I'm sure. These buildings look like they are old enough to the place in the photo. I wonder if they are the same? Perhaps I can pay them a visit - it would be great fun locate the site of Dizzy's garage!"

Another day passed. Then: "Dear Jeroen, I have found it! The building is a mile or two further to the west than I believed, but the good news is that it is still there. I will visit it as soon as I can and find out what the current occupiers know about its history."

And yet another day went by. "Hi Jeroen, I'm happy to say that I have now visited the workshop in Byfleet and have walked through the door shown in the photograph! This is what I found out... The building is actually associated with the canal that it is next to - the canal was built in 1653 and the building has been in existence since at least 1760. It was originally single-storey, but had the additional floor added some time later. There is a 19th century building/shed next to it and in the 20th century this had been used by an engineering company but the people who run the canal boat business at the wharf (Stuart and Julia) don't know anything about them. The couple arrived 20 years ago and when they got it the buildings had been empty for at least 10 years, and had been previously occupied by a company which made exhibition stands. Some time before them, it had been owned by Wakefield & Sons, but they had moved to West Byfleet. Stuart remembers that his father used to bring his car to Wakefield & Sons to work on. Stuart and Julia don't know anything about the motor racing or Mini Marcos history of the building, although over the years several people have visited them and said that they remembered the car workshop on the site, which is now all owned by the National Trust, including the canal."

"Two points to note: They were interested that the upper outer walls (which are now wooden and dark coloured) are white in your photographs. They don't know how that happened. Was it external cladding? I wondered if the upper wood is new. They are positive that the pictures of Dizzy working in an office are definitely not taken in that building - there are no windows of that style there. Stuart has heard that before WW2 the site had been used by ERA, and that they would take the cars to Brooklands for testing. However, I can find no verification about this, but I might see if there is an archivist at Brooklands museum who can help. That's about all I found out. Please feel free to use the attached photographs and any of the above as you wish. Stuart and Julia were amazingly helpful and spent about an hour with me, talking about the history of the site. They were fascinated to see your pictures. I hope this is of some small background interest to the whole Mini Marcos history. Regards, Nigel"

I absolutely love it!

Dizzy Addicott's workshop in 1963. The 'Wakefield & Sons' sign was the clue to its whereabouts
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

The same workshop in Byfleet, Surrey, 60 years later in 2023. Not much has changed!
Picture Nigel Fraser Ker

The building, now owned by the National Trust, exists since at least 1760 and is now a boat wharf
Picture Nigel Fraser Ker

"The current owners don't know anything about the motor racing or Mini Marcos history of the building, but over the years several people have said that they remembered the car workshop"
Picture Nigel Fraser Ker

Excuse me, I simply could not resist doing this...
Picture editing Jeroen Booij

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