|Claremont, Phyllis Camm and Sydney Camm’s E Type Jaguar
In an attempt to protect Hawker Chief Designer Sydney Camm and his design team from wartime bombing in Kingston, they were moved in 1940 to Claremont House near Esher. So in contrast to the dingy accommodation they endured in Kingston, they now had the run of a Palladian mansion, once the home of Clive of India and later Princess Charlotte – only child of King George IV. Stella here remembers being driven down to Claremont by Sydney Camm in his beloved E Type Jaguar and meeting his daughter Phyllis, who was then working as a draugtswoman.
Now Sydney Camm obviously was the head of this whole section, obviously design section …
Chief Designer. Was he working – when you joined was he working there,
He actually had an office in the …
He had an office in Kingston – he also had an office in Claremont.
The Design Office at some point had moved hadn’t it. Because they were based down at Claremont at that time.
Well all the secret work was done at Claremont. I think there were fewer people in Kingston than there were at Claremont. He , sort of, all of them, sort of fluctuated between the two set-ups. It wasn’t far really, it was only at at Esher. But we saw quite a lot of them, so they were around.
So all the people who were at Claremont also put in an appearance at Kingston.
Well not all of them but I think the important designers were in and out of Kingston at the same time and that’s where I met Sydney Camm.
Can you tell me a little bit about when you met Sydney Camm – what you thought of him.
Well he came in to the office one day and asked what I was doing. So I told him and he said, ‘Boring’? ‘No’ I said ‘not at all, it’s very interesting’. And he said, ‘Are you interested?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I want to be a draughtsman some day.’ And he said, ‘ My daughter’s a draughtsman.’ And I said, ‘That’s interesting.’ So he said, ‘Well one day I’ll take you to meet her.’ And everybody said to me what was he talking to you about. He was telling me about his daughter. Well – I don’t know why he’s talking to you.
But anyway he did come down one day and said he was going to Claremont and would I like to go. So we had a lady called Maisy Palmer who was in charge of the typists office – she was engaged to marry one of the senior draughtsmen. She said, ‘Yes you go, don’t you worry get your coat on and go and you can tell us all about it when you come back‘. So he took me and introduced me to his daughter.
So this was Sydney Camm, exactly …
Chatted all the way down, gave me sweets.
And you went down in his car, I understand.
In his car – nice car – yes.
So this was his E type Jag, wasn’t it?
Yes. It was just a trip out for me because it wasn’t working or anything. It was going in Sydney Camm’s car that was the thing .
He was very proud of that car apparently. Very, very proud of the car.
And I sat in the front with him. But, yes she was nice, his daughter was very nice. And I said,’ I would like to work down here.’ He said, ‘Oh, perhaps one day’. And he actually took me down twice. And then when I went to court he took me to court in his car.
So when you went down what was he talking to you about?
Oh, he was talking about, you know, what did I know about Hawkers and I said, ‘All my family work here you know.’ And we just sort of talked about the family and aircraft and, about my Brother and about what I was going to do. Told him I was hoping to get into the WRENS but Hawkers wouldn’t release me and he said well that shows you are doing a good job. You know sort of trying to persuade me to stay and just general chatting, you know. He told me about his daughter and what a nice girl she was.
What did he say about his daughter?
He said she’s lovely, she’s lovely and you’re like her, very friendly girl. She was, she was very nice indeed. And he said, ‘Phyllis’ I think her name was.
And he said she loved it here too. She is really into aircraft. I said, ‘She’s got to be with a dad like you.’ You know, we were just chatting really.
So you mentioned that she was a draughtswomen, OK I didn’t know that.
Well, that’s what he said.
That’s what he said.
She was busy in an office, not sure what she was doing, you know.
So she was actually working at Claremont.
At Claremont and she worked at Claremont permanently. And she took me off to have a coffee and a natter you know, then he brought me back. And they all said oh come on tell us about it, you know. I said, ‘It was interesting’. Said to me ‘I’ll take you again’. I said ‘He’s promised to take me again if I can go Maisy’. She said, ‘Well I can’t say no can I? If I say no to him I will be in trouble’. So, yes I went down twice.
What did you talk to Phyllis Camm about?
Oh, about my home, wanting to be a draughtsmen and so on. And she said ‘Well, you know you can’. So I said I was going – I was doing aerodynamics, goodness knows why, at …
At the Technical College
Technical College, with some of the chaps who were the trainee draughtsmen.
Can you, you went to Claremont on two occasions then and of course they’d been evacuated out of there because there had been this air raid on Kingston and they were very concerned I guess to keep the …
The secret stuff out.
The secret stuff, but also to keep the real brains of the organization out of harm’s way. And of course it was a palatial mansion, had been the home of Princess Charlotte
Oh yes, it was lovely. Beautiful place.
And it was quite different accommodation from what Hawkers was used to I would imagine. So can you remember anything about Claremont?
Well it’s a school now, but it’s still a lovely building. Claremont the park, the garden land is a National Trust.
It’s National Trust, yes.
Well of course they had all of that to themselves during the war. Safe and not really the sort of thing that anyone would be wanting to bomb. It was just a big house and a lot of land. And I think they probably did the right thing by going there. I think in a way we got away with it. Kingston being so important in the role. Kingston wasn’t bombed all that much. We had lots of bombs fall on us but not a sort of Blitz like further up into London. If they had sort of blitzed it they would have crippled Hawkers in no time. It wasn’t a very big building at that time.