The story of Lancelot Prideaux-Brune
By Steve Smith
The name of Prideaux-Brune has been attached to Toc H for its entire existence. Latterly this has been through the work of Ken Prideaux-Brune in his varied roles of Director, Editor of Point 3, International Secretary and much more. However, for decades the foremost Prideaux-Brune in the Movement was Ken’s father Lance. A Foundation Member and great friend of Tubby, Lance’s time with Toc H was just one facet of his incredible and fascinating life. This is a glimpse at that life.
The Reverend Edward Shapland Prideaux-Brune was the second son of Charles Glynn Prideaux-Brune of Prideaux Place in Padstow, the Prideaux family being of ancient Cornish roots (The Brune’s being from Hampshire). Edward took holy orders and from 1884 was incumbent Rector in the parish of Rowner in Gosport. Long associated with the family, the church of St. Mary contains a Brune family memorial dating back to 1559, and the manor can be traced back in the family to 1277 when it was granted to Sir William le Brun by Edward I.
It was in the Rectory that Lancelot Oglander Prideaux-Brune was born on 17th October 1894. At that time, the youngest of four – Humphrey, Cheston, and Hugh preceded him – he would gain a younger brother, Amyas, in 1903.
The happy father wrote to his cousin John Oglander, shortly after the birth thanking him for agreeing to be a Godfather.
Thank you very much for your kind letter and consent to be godfather to this quartus. My wife is delighted at your acceptance and it is indeed a great gratification to us both that the ancient relationship between the two families should be thus sealed, as likewise I am sure it will be at Padstow, when they hear of it. The baptism of this new arrival, which raises my mother’s grand-maternal status to the dignity of double figures, is fixed for Sunday next at the afternoon service, when I trust you will think of us. Our neighbour, Captain Martin of the 60th Rifles, is the other godfather and my sister-in-law, Rosalie Grant, the godmother. Alan Grant, my brother-in-law, will take your place (as proxy) on Sunday next. Then as to the name over which there has been a great discussion on the part of the 2 females (I mean my wife and Isolda) it is finally settled for Lancelot Grant Oglander. I was rather for Nicholas Oglander or Edmund Seldon, but the child’s mother has taken so much trouble, poor dear thing, as Mr. Carlton would say, that assuredly it is but fair that she should have the whole choosing of the name. When I say above that it was finally settled, it is of course subject to your approval with regard to the “Oglander”, as I am charged by the two, if you disapprove, to ask you if you would be so good as to write or should there be no time for that, to telegraph “No”. I am glad to give a good account of my father. He is going to and fro (Crediton to London) on North Cornwall Railway business. As the S.W.R. are assuming a hostile attitude, it is I hope some comfort to him to get something out of them by a frequent use of a free pass. I was much interested to hear that the Cadenabbia [retreat?] is known to Joan and yourself and equally sorry that Mrs. Oglander is suffering from a painful throat. With every wish from Rowner Rectory, I remain, etc.”
It was just a co-incidence, though an interesting one, that in 1910 a certain Tubby Clayton came to be a Curate at St Mary’s Portsea just 3 miles due east of Rowner and Lance’s family home. Moreover before Tubby’s time the Revd. Prideaux-Brune’s counterpart at Portsea was William Cosmo Lang, a great churchman who would have connections to both Talbot House and Toc H.
Educated at Marlborough College, a school founded in 1843 for the sons of Church of England clergy, Lance didn’t follow his father into holy orders but instead joined Lloyds bank in 1913 and moved to London. His career was soon interrupted by the war and Lance, who had an interest in all forms of motor transport, responded to an ad stating that the army desperately need motorcyclists. He applied and two weeks later he was summoned to a hangar and told “There’s a motorbike in that crate. Put it together and show us you can ride it.”
Two weeks later, on the 20th November 1914, he was in France as a Corporal in the Army Service Corps Motor Transport company attached to the Royal Engineers. As a despatch rider, his uniform came complete with spurs which were still issued to riders reflecting their earlier use of horses for transport. When he pointed out they were rather an impairment to motorbike riding, he was ordered to chuck them over a nearby hedge.
His stint as a rider was only a few months long as Lance was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and transferred on 1st July 1915. It wasn’t all plain-sailing though as his son Ken recalled:
“Although he was supposed to be sent to a motor transport unit, the order was such a scribble that MT was read as HT and he found himself in a horse transport unit. He loathed horses and had never ridden but they said “We’ve been ordered down to the Somme so you’re going to have to come with us while the mistake is being sorted out. But”, they went on, “We’ve got a horse that even you will be able to ride. It pulled a milk cart in civilian life so it moves slowly and stops every 20 yards or so.”
The mistake was sorted out and Lance was assigned to the supply trains – columns of lorries – getting ammunition and other supplies to the batteries around the frontline near Ypres. This was how he came to be near Poperinghe and how in February 1916 he made his first visit to Talbot House. It would clearly impact his future. We don’t know how many times he visited but it was believed to be several.
Lance survived the war despite collecting bruises after being blown clean off his motorbike early on, and suffering ptomaine poisoning towards the end. Like most people though, he didn’t escape the period totally unscathed. A cousin, Edmund Prideaux-Brune was killed during the fighting in May 1918 but, perhaps more tragically, in October 1917, Lance’s younger brother Amyas died after a short illness. He was away at Gresham’s School in Holt at the time and was only 14 years old.
In March 1919 Lance left the army and returned to his job at Lloyds. At first the bank refused to employ him saying that he had been dismissed when he signed up in 1914 but the government had in fact made it illegal to sack anyone who enlisted so they had to take him back.
Soon afterwards he became an early resident – a Marksman – at Toc H Mark I in Queen’s Gate Gardens. This was the start of a lifelong relationship to Toc H Marks. In May 1921 Lance took over as a Warden, an honorary position where one of the Marksmen was responsible for overseeing the day to day running of the house. Lance replaced Herbert ‘Shi’ Shiner, Mark I’s first warden and a man who was a close friend. Shiner and his new wife Elizabeth moved to Petworth in Sussex where he was a big name in local government and a stalwart of Toc H in the area. Shi and Lance probably first met in Belgium where Shiner commanded a heavy gun battery. In 1921 Lance represented hostellers on the London Club Committee, his first, but by no means last, committee role for the Movement.
Lance was not cut out for banking and in 1921 struck out and formed the Automobile Service Company of Marylebone to sell and repair motor cars. The initials, ASC, paid tribute to the branch of the army in which he had served. This homage was reflected in his early choice of business partners and employees. His initial partner was George Henry Cope Morgan, formerly a 2nd Lt. in the Royal Garrison Artillery and they opened their first premises in half of D H Bonnella and sons showrooms at 60 Mortimer Street. Bonnella made small electrical appliances for the aviation industry but also supplied Ford so there was some synergy.
The business soon moved to larger premises at 166 Great Portland Street. Another former soldier joined the team as workshop manager. Cuthbert Marc Anthony (better known as Dick), was formerly a Staff Sergeant in the Army Service Corps in Lahore. The showroom and garage became agents for the French Seneschal car which Dick Anthony regularly raced to publicize the marque.
Cope went on to become a farmer (Possibly in South Africa) and at some point Lance recruited Geoffrey George White as his sales manager. White lived for a time at Mark VII in Fitzroy Square, a few hundred yards from the garage. Born in 1905, he was too young to have served in the war.
Lance also became a worshipper at All Hallows once Tubby was appointed there in late 1922. Tower Hill was to become another integral part of his life. He would become a Churchwarden at All Hallows from 1929 until 1937 and is commemorated with a stained glass window in the north aisle.
Lance remained living at the Toc H Mark until 1926 leaving only when he married Constance Tetley on 5th June. I am not certain how they met, nor is their son Ken, but Constance’s brother Geoffrey Tetley was Tubby’s aide de camp in 1925. They were both the children of the wealthy industrialist Henry Greenwood Tetley and his second wife Charlotte. Charlotte became a key benefactor for Tubby in several of his guises. She provided trusts for his ordinands’ scheme and for his work on Tower Hill with the Toc H and All Hallows, and Tetley Trusts. Through the latter she did Toc H a great service by providing them with 42 Trinity Square as a base for their works. Originally gifted as a clergy house, it performed a myriad of roles and I intend to tell the story of this Talbot House later this year. Lance would be a Trustee on both of these schemes.
The newlyweds lived at Stanhope Court in Tyburnia, part of the Hyde Park Estate but in 1934 moved to Thrift Wood House, Limpsfield, Surrey, a 1920s property in a wood running alongside the old roman road that ran from Peckham, to Lewes. Here they would spend the rest of their days.
Lance’s interest in motor cars went well beyond just selling them. He was a keen driver too. Although they never drove in motor circuit races they did compete in motor rallies throughout the thirties. The first major rally of the modern era in Great Britain was the Royal Automobile Club Rally and Coachwork Competition of 1932. 341 competitors in unmodified cars started from nine different towns and cities (London, Bath, Norwich, Leamington, Buxton, Harrogate, Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne and Edinburgh.) Lance was in that number, as was Dick Anthony, both driving Aston Martins, which as we’ll see shortly, was their main marque of the time.
Lance and Constance specialised in the coachwork competitions (Concours d’Elegance) which required drivers to first complete the rally and then show their cars for the judges which required lots of overnight polishing, picking out the letters on the tyres in white paint, and generally making the car gleam. They achieved considerable success in this somewhat esoteric endeavour and their son Ken has a number of their medals.
Ken said of his parents:
Lance liked to say how, when they got married Constance agreed to teach him to dance and he agreed to teach her to drive; and, he added: ”I was much the better teacher!” He always maintained that she was the better driver and she did all the night driving on the rallies.
They also owned a 1926 Sunbeam with a crash gearbox and she was the only person who could drive this smoothly. She once said that the invention of synchromesh had taken all the fun out of driving. The Sunbeam was a magnificent vehicle. There was a large gap between the front bench seat and the rear bench seat and so when the top was down the rear passengers had their own windscreen which they could unfold and pull towards them. Lance claims on one occasion to have conveyed two cricket teams about a mile from the field of play to his house for tea. Men stood on both running boards and crammed together in the space between the front and rear seats. The 1930s was indeed a different world!
I have compiled a table at the end of the blog showing Lance’s (and Constance, since she was regularly his co-driver) participation and performance in some of the major rallies of the era.
Meanwhile the premises on Great Portland Street were no longer adequate for Lance’s successful business and in early 1928 they moved to 10-14 Macklin Street just off Drury Lane. The premises adjoined the rear of the Winter Garden Theatre and although Lance continued to trade as Automobile Services Company at first, in the early thirties he changed the business’ name to Winter Garden Garages (previously the name of the premises only). They continued to sell Senechals until 1931 when Lance turned his attention to Aston Martin and they were loaned a recent Le Mans entrant from the factory, which Dick Anthony raced at Brooklands. At the time Aston Martin was somewhat circling the drain and, impressed by the car he had borrowed, Lance pumped money into the company in return for the sole London concession. By January 1932 he was a board member at Aston Martin. Although his time with them was short, he is known is some circles as the man who saved Aston Martin. Certainly he bankrolled their entries into the 1931 Le Mans. However, orders were not coming in fast enough and after poor sales at the Olympia Motor Show, Lance sold his stake in the company to Arthur Sutherland in March 1933.
Lance opened an additional garage at 179 Tottenham Court Road (aka 2-10 Pancras Street) where he continued to sell Aston Martins alongside other sports cars. His employees now included a junior salesman, Geoffrey Dunning Hunt who lived at the Brothers’ House in Kennington. Also too young to have served in the First World War, Hunt would join the Royal Artillery during the Second World War.
Despite no longer having a say in the running of the company, Lance did much to support Aston Martin including driving them in various rallies (See table at end) and supporting some independent drivers racing standard Astons at the 1934 Le Mans with Dick Anthony in charge of the pits. Lance and Dick were also on the first committee of the Aston Martin Owner’s Club convened in May 1935. Lance became the Honourable Secretary and occasionally hosted tea at his house if the club were on a trip in the Kent area.
One notable customer was Cicely Ethel Wilkinson, a pioneer aviator who qualified as a pilot in 1916 although her service was driving ambulances on the Western Front. She maintained her love of motors and on the 17th April 1937 bought an Aston Martin 15/98 from Lance at his Tottenham Court Road showroom.
They opened a further outlet at 185 High Holborn in early 1937 which would become their main showroom but they retained the premises at Macklin Street (100 yards away) and the showroom on Tottenham Court Road. Lance continued to sell the marque until 1938 when the company started selling directly from the factory. Instead Lance picked up a concession for Morgan which would lead to one of the great race stories of the time.
Prudence Fawcett was the daughter of a Sheffield solicitor with – much to her mother’s chagrin – a great love of sports cars. She had set up a little unofficial business importing Alfa Romeos to sell and Customs and Excise were hounding her for unpaid duty. Lance was a friend and he sold one of her Alfa-Romeos for her to pay off the debt.
In 1937 Prudence visited Le Mans as the guest of the Duke of Westminster and announced that she wanted to enter the race the following year. To cut a long story short, Lance agreed to obtain a car from Morgan, get it ready to race, and provide the support team.
They all drove to Le Mans together and Lance managed the pits with Dick Anthony as mechanic; Constance kept the lap charts; and Geoffrey White was co-driver. A mutual friend of Lance and Prudence – Lord Wakefield – provided fuel and lubricants.
Prudence finished a respectable 13th out of 45 entrants of whom only 15 finished. It was Morgan’s first entry in Le Mans and also Prudence first and last major race as she met and married an aviator who persuaded her to give up motor racing!
Hunt and Anthony took part in time trials at Brooklands in September 1938 in a Morgan 4/4 and Lance put in another Morgan in the 1939 Le Mans; this time White and Anthony shared the driving and finished 15th.
But what of life outside business. Although Lance didn’t really engage in Toc H branch life once he left the Mark, he retained a close interest and close contact. In particular he took an interest in the management of the Marks and other residential properties and was Chairman of the Central Housing Committee for 30 years. He was on the CEC briefly in 1932 (representing Mark VII) and following his two year tenure became a Vice President in 1934. He would become a President in the late sixties, a position he would retain until his death. Additionally he was an Officer of the Corporation, Chairman of the Talbot House (Tower Hill) Management Committee and – as we have already seen – a trustee on various trusts connected to Toc H. When Toc H decided to create the first purpose-built Mark to replace Punch House in Hackney, Lance chaired the committee charged with raising the necessary funds and, when completed, the Mark was named Prideaux House in recognition of his long service to the Marks and his enthusiasm for them. All in all a rather busy man.
Lance – and Constance – were also very close friends of Tubby. It was he who married them in 1926 and baptised their children. Most tellingly, it was to the Prideaux-Brunes that Tubby took himself in 1935 when he was unwell following an unforgiving series of world tours. Although he stayed in a farm house five minutes’ walk from the new family home in Limpsfield, he spent much time in their company whilst he recovered. Their company now included baby Kenneth who had been born in London on 17th November 1934. A sister – Claire – would join them in 1937.
There was still one more important impact on the motoring scene to come from Lance. A close friend was Raymond Mays the well-known racing driver who co-founded the English Racing Automobiles stable (ERA) with Peter Berthon and Humphrey Cook. Mays originally raced Bugattis, Mercedes, Hillmans and other marques but in the late thirties developed and drove his own ERA cars. In 1938 his newest project was a road-legal version of their 4.5 litre Invicta but it was doomed from the start and indirectly caused the breakup of ERA. Cook walked away with the company name and Raymond Mays was left to pick up the pieces. He wasn’t alone though. Lance had already had some involvement as his good friend Mays wanted him to distribute the new cars. However there was some contention about this as another of May’s trading partners, Charles Follett, was vying for it too. Lance wrote a very forthright letter to businessman Philip Merton who was backing Follett’s case. The following extracts are from that letter:
I submit that we are the right people to distribute, as we know the trade well. We have the right premises, comprising ample floor space, a repair shop, petrol pumps etc., all in one spot. By next September we can be free of all agency commitments and with the exception of the Morgan, my intention would be not to take on any commitments for next season, so as to concentrate the full weight of my organization on launching the E.R.A.
Follett’s organization is not, in my opinion ideal for distributing your car. His premises are very good west-end showrooms, but you cannot make a wholesale depot of a west-end showroom. His commitments are far too heavy……..
………on the other hand, Follett would be a great help on the retail sales, and I therefore suggest the following. The Winter Garden Garages to be appointed the Sole London Distributors with the special care of the wholesale sales, and they would appoint Follett as a special main agent, giving him preferential deliveries and every possible help.
In the end, this was moot because as we saw, the original project was shelved. Instead, in August 1938 a new company Shelsley Motors was formed to sell the “Raymond Mays Special” sports tourer, based on the V8 Standard Flying 14.
Shelsley, was named for the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb that Mays was famed for, was based at with the address 185 High Holborn although the workshops were at Raymond Mays and Partners garage in Bourne. Lance, Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon and Phillip Merton were the directors.
The car was unveiled at the 1939 RAC Rally and reports speak highly of the car’s handling and the power of its modified engine based on a Standard 2.7 litre V8. Four were entered in the Rally. Three were Tourers with bodies by R.E.A.L. whilst the fourth was Lance’s own specially commissioned drop-head coupe with a Burgundy body by Carlton – registration FLN388. The Tourers were driven by Raymond Mays, Dick Anthony and Sammy Davis. Anthony didn’t finish due to a minor accident. Lance retained the drop-head until 1951 and it is still thought to exist today, believed to be in the USA.
Sadly this venture never got off the ground and only the four cars mentioned were built (There are rumours of a fifth but no conclusive evidence). Shelsley Motors was wound up on the 25th July 1939.
After the breakup of ERA Lance tried to organise peace talks with Cook but ultimately they failed. However, he and Constance did later purchase the 1938 1.5 litre ERA Works car on behalf of Mays, for which he was delighted and most grateful to his old friends.
Anyhow, as the autumn of 1939 approached the whole world of motor sport was to in as much turmoil as everything else as war loomed. In the 1939 civil register a note is written against Lance’s entry saying that he will “be available for work from November”. I think this suggests that Lance was already thinking about temporarily or perhaps permanent closing his garages. Although Winter Garden Garages is still listed at Staffordshire Buildings in Macklin Street in the 1940 and 1941 trade directories, we know that Lance retired from this work early in the war. He maintained an interest though and in March 1943 attended a Motor-Racing Brains Trust meeting organised by Rivers Fletcher.
Dick Anthony went on to service airport plant for John Mowlam whilst Raymond Mays formed British Racing Motors (BRM) after the war. Lance would continue to work with Mays as a director of the motor business he ran, which involved monthly visits to Bourne.
Lance was recalled to the (now Royal) ASC being commissioned 1st August 1940 and served as Lieutenant and later Major in administrative posts at Northern Command headquarters in York.
After the war he made no attempts to revive his business though he sold the occasional car privately still including, in May 1951, his Raymond Mays Special drop-head coupe. However, retirement, if that’s what it was, was not spent pruning roses. Locally he was for many years churchwarden of Limpsfield church and chair of the governors of the local primary school.
Just a few miles from the family home was Beech House in Nutfield. A sprawling country mansion, it was purchased in 1949 by the London Police Court Mission, a kind of forerunner to the probation service originally started by the Church of Temperance England Society. Lance was introduced to their work by George James Morley Jacob (Normally known just as Morley Jacob) who was a Toc H member and former Marksman and long-time secretary of the mission. Morley even spoke about his work to Mill Hill Toc H in 1932. The Nutfield home opened in May 1952 and was “A new type of home for delinquent boys where the problem is being tackled through work in the market garden, a craft department and in further education classes”. This was clearly aligned with Toc H’s work and it’s easy to see what attracted Lance. He became the chairman of the home’s committee.
All this public work was on top of his continued Toc H connections. And Toc H would soon become a family thing. Constance belonged to the General Members’ branch of the Women’s Association and in the early fifties was on the Executive with Alison Macfie, Annie Barron, Nora Ellison and Norah Edwards helping steer the Women’s Movement toward integration. She was also involved with the purchase of Alison House, sharing Lance’s enthusiasm for Toc H properties.
Around 1951 Tubby called Lance and Constance ‘dismayed’ that his ADC had had the temerity to ask for a week off. Lance’s son Ken was called to the fold, and never left! Ken’s first work was to be Tubby’s companion on a trip to see Johnny MacMillan in Stirling. Later, whilst at Oxford, he would spend a few weeks as one of Tubby’s official ADCs and he would be the British organiser of the Winant Volunteers, the Claytons, an early member of the Projects team, editor of Point 3, International Secretary, and of course – for ten years plus emergency stand-ins – Director of the Movement. In fact at the time Ken became Director in 1974, Lance was a President and Constance was a Trustee!
Daughter Claire attended many Women’s meetings with her mother and was a volunteer waitress at the Lunch Club in Crutched Friars for several years.
Lance’s biggest input to Toc H remained with the Marks and other houses. As mentioned earlier he was heavily involved in fundraising for the Mark at Hackney which would be named in his honour. Lance was of course at the opening on 1st June 1962, along with the then Administrator George Davis, Tubby and the Queen Mother who opened it. John Burgess, a Warden at Mark III in the seventies, recalls Lance and Constance visiting Prideaux House in 1973 for inspection. Lance was also involved with Clayton House in Croydon.
Time though is relentless and Lance died on the 2nd May 1987 at the age of 92 and his wife of over sixty years, Constance followed less than two months later on the 26th June. A chapter closed.
Major Rallies entered by Lance as Driver
This list is not necessarily complete
My grateful thanks to Ken Prideaux-Brune, John Burgess, and Charles Trevelyan for their help in putting this blog together. As ever, a plethora of online sources were used and I should particularly mention Motorsport magazine, Find My Past, and Ancestry.
Finally I am especially grateful to the following two sites for much of the motor racing history. I’m no petrol-head and these sites helped me understand much about what I have written. If you are interested I suggest you click the links and take a look
For the Prudence Fawcett story the Aero Racing Morgan Challenge site supplemented what I learned from her son, Charles Trevelyan. http://www.mogsport.net/LeMans/Prudence.html
For Raymond Mays info take a look at the Hodgkinsons’ site http://www.thehodgkinsons.org.uk/ERAcars.htm