Mike Hawthorn, Britain’s first Formula One world champion, was certainly fond of a pint. Or two. This year marks the 60th anniversary of his death and 90th anniversary of his birth. Known as the Farnham Flyer, Hawthorn was a colourful and divisive character, but one who remains a poignant hero to many, including me.
To celebrate and remember this anniversary year, we propose a pub crawl (with a designated driver, of course), through some of the boozers most enjoyed by Hawthorn and his crew as they cut a swathe through Farnham and the surrounds.
“We were known as The Members,” recalled John Waghorn, one of Hawthorn’s cohorts, in Chris Nixon’s book about Hawthorn and Peter Collins, Mon Ami Mate, “but members of what was never established.”
You might even consider stopping at one of the pubs frequented by The Members on your return from the Revival Meeting at the Goodwood Motor Circuit on Sept 14-15. The circuit is where, in 1951, Hawthorn was victorious at the wheel of a Riley Imp prepared by his father – at only his second motor racing meeting.
The Members were all mad about the “three Bs”: bikes, boozing and birds. The first two at least were often combined in a single evening. Hawthorn’s father Leslie had set up his first TT Garage in Farnham with former TT rider Paddy Johnstone and motorcycles were an early part of Hawthorn’s life, first a James 125cc two-stroke, followed by a 250cc Triumph and then a 350cc BSA trials machine.
Our chosen mount for the pub crawl, however, is a Jaguar Mark 1 saloon on loan from Jaguar Classic. And while Hawthorn’s F1 world title in 1958 was gained at the wheel of a Ferrari Dino 246, it is with Jaguar that he is most closely associated, as much for his 1955 Le Mans victory in a D-Type as his stirring race in a loaned Jaguar 3.4 registered VDU 881 against Tommy Sopwith in a similar machine at the Silverstone Daily Express meeting in 1958.
That was also the car in which he was killed, on the Guildford Bypass, in January 1959.
Our first stop is north of Guildford, The Talbot Inn Hotel in Ripley (postcode GU23 6BB), ideal if you’re heading south on the A3 from London, or turning off the M25 at Junction 10. The Talbot is one of the country’s finest coaching inns and can trace its history back to 1453. It was reputedly a regular haunt of Admiral Lord Nelson, where he’d have trysts with his lover Emma Hamilton. It also sports a lovely L-shaped bar (mind your head on the low beams) and a decent range of ales – Hawthorn’s tipple was “old and mild”, a blend of two beers.
It was here in the early Fifties that Hawthorn’s singular self-confidence got the better of him and he shot his mouth off disparaging well-known drivers Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton, who happened to be present - Hawthorn later apologised to Hamilton and they became firm friends.
“Yes I know the legend,” said Francesco Bartolomei, general manager of The Talbot. “He died not so far down the road from here.”
It’s some legend and part of it is sitting in front of me at The Talbot. Have a look at Hawthorn’s exhilarating demonstration lap of Le Mans before the 24 Hours race in 1956 and you might notice that it's exactly the same steering wheel on the table; now owned by a keen Jaguar collector.
We climb into the Jaguar, resplendent in Old English White paint, and head south-west down the A3 and A31 to Hawthorn’s home town.
The Albion in Farnham (GU9 9QH) was strictly speaking Leslie Hawthorn’s watering hole. As Doug Nye, eminent automotive journalist and historian, as well as being a Farnham resident, puts it: “Mike’s pub was just down the road, The Duke of Cambridge, which these days is a Thai restaurant. Typically on the Saturdays he wasn’t racing, he and friend Nick Syrett would go to the morning picture show at the Savoy cinema, followed by a session at the Duke of Cambridge, then pie and chips at the cafe before settling down in front of the television for Grandstand."
It’s a lovely old-fashioned boozer; clean, with stripped wood floors and a decent Greene King beers. Andy Speed, the pub’s financial administrator, points out the sites of the original TT Garage and the Hawthorn family’s first house, all within a stone’s throw.
But you don’t need to go far to find Farnham pubs also frequented by The Members: the Bush Hotel (GU9 7NN) and the Ball and Wicket (GU9 0PB), which Hawthorn called the Ball and Socket. There’s also Mike and Leslie Hawthorn’s graves at the West Street cemetery, where you can pay non-liquid respects.
Farther south, The Bluebell at Dockenfield (GU10 4EX) and the Frensham Ponds Hotel (GU10 2QD) were also much frequented. The Barley Mow at Tilford (GU10 2BU) was also a firm favourite and these days hosts commemorative runs for Hawthorn fans and their cars.
Heading east towards Haslemere and Midhurst the roads open out and the old Coventry Cat feels more at home than queuing in modern traffic. Its old Moss four-speed gearbox needs careful handling and a new mechanism doesn’t help engage ratios, but the growly straight-six engine is quite lovely.
We’re headed for The Spread Eagle Hotel in Midhurst (GU29 9NH), another 15th century coaching inn, with a gorgeous welcoming lounge bar full of squashy old sofas and smelling of wood smoke and the echoes of epic tall tales. The Members would often prop up the bar here, or at The Bricklayers Arms (GU29 9BX), a Greene King hostel which does yummy traditional pub grub - though I'd also include the Swan Inn (GU29 9PB) if only because it does Harveys of Sussex ales.
And you should also try the Half Moon at Northchapel (GU28 9HP), which was a watering hole for Hawthorns father and son travelling back home to Farnham from Goodwood.
After a few hours on the beer, Hawthorn’s gang would grab fish and chips in Midhurst before motorcycling home, although it’s a wonder that they ever made it back from anywhere in one piece. Hawthorn was a pretty good rider (he won a couple of novice cups in trials events), but during one of their Saturday evening forays, Neil McNab is quoted in Nixon’s book recalling that Hawthorn consumed 24 pints of light ale.
They say it was Hawthorn who started the ritual of spraying the crowd from the race winners’ podium, although he did it with Guinness.
There’s no escaping the poignancy and sadness about the Hawthorn legend. He was only 29 years old when he died and had witnessed the deaths of so many friends and racing colleagues including his pal (and team-mate) Peter Collins, who crashed and perished in front of him in the 1958 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring.
Hawthorn was also indirectly involved in the 1955 Le Mans tragedy when 83 spectators died and 180 were injured when a Mercedes left the circuit after a collision. He was also seriously ill with kidney disease, which Nixon feels would almost certainly have ended his life early.
“He was a dark character,” says Nye, “but there’s a lot of pride here about him here [in Farnham]; there are very few small towns that can boast a world champion.”
So while we should be conscious of that darker side to Hawthorn, perhaps we should also cheer to the rafters a champion far removed from today’s bland corporate racing drivers with their sponsors’ caps and science diets.
“When he was on form, no one could touch him,” said Jaguar's famed test driver Norman Dewis. Hawthorn enjoyed a pint and a smoke, and he raced cars with gusto and élan. And if his distinctive polka-dot bow tie was seen as often at the bar as it was on the circuit, that’s just the way he liked it.
So whichever pub you happen to be in, raise a glass to the Farnham Flyer.