Scalextric

Scalextric 1

My Dad really liked Hornby “00” gauge electric train sets. The level crossings, the stations complete with milk churns, uniformed Porters with trolleys and passengers in tweeds with brown suitcases. He bought me a Hornby “00” set as soon as he could assure himself that I was old enough not to be electrocuted myself. I played along as he enjoyed it so much mounting endless lengths of track onto a huge board and creating a village and hillside scenes.

What I really wanted was an iconic Scalextric set. Like all good parents they usually obliged the reasonable requests of their offspring and for my tenth birthday I got my first set.

As kids we lived in the village of Silverstone (Northamptonshire, UK) a home of the British Grand Prix. The circuit is owned the British Racing Drivers Club and is the home of the Jim Russell racing school.

My Dad’s gift was a Scalextric Grand Prix circuit and one of the many combinations of the track set up was a reproduction of the Silverstone circuit with Woodcote, Stowe and Copse Corners and Hangar Straight.

Scalextric 2

It was an era when club racing with Minis and Porsches was as much fun as the more serious and competitive Formula 1, so I decided to build the shorter Silverstone Club Circuit. I had four slot cars that I really liked to race, a green Mini, a Red Mini Mini – the best selling car in Britain and two Porsches in red and white Porsche 911 Targa and One Millionth Porsche 911.

I had two gun trigger controls in red and blue – as opposed to older palm held thumb plunger type of control – that gathered dust like a magnet and heated quickly filling the rooms over which I arranged my track with a electrical smell that I remember to this day.

Over the years my usual birthday and Christmas requests were for more track, cars, an automatic lap counter – that proved hazardous to some cars as the slot connection often derailed it if hit the lap counter too hard  – armco barriers, banking and track buildings – the pits etc. Pieces of track were ostensibly rather boring presents but straight and curved pieces with their interlocking electrical elements and black press studs could create a difficult chicane or a straight for breakneck speed.

Scalextric was first made in 1956 by British inventor, Fred Francis. He first made “Scalex” small model clockwork cars made of tin.

Facing a downturn in demand for his Scalex cars, Francis added a small motor to his cars and a slot with electric brushes that provided contact to the track’s power supply from concealed batteries. Scalextric was launched at the 1957 Harrogate Toy Fair “Scalextric” was a huge hit. “Scalextric” is now owned by Hornby Hobbies of England.

In 2009 Top Gear’s James May announced the re-creation of the original Brooklands track – in situ – using Scalextric. He broke the Guiness Book of Records record for the World’s longest Scalextric track – 2.95 miles/4.75 km. My late Dad was a Trustee of the Brooklands Trust – that owns the Circuit. He would have loved the very idea!

Images Courtesy of Scalextric/Hornby/Daily Telegraph and the Brooklands Trust

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Jaques of London Croquet Set

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In 1977 my parents moved South, back to their natural habitat of the Home Counties. My Father returned to work at Shell Mex House in London’s The Strand –  see our earlier post on the iconic Shell Globes – and after experiencing the fiercely hot summer of 1976 he abandoned the idea of living in London. Heading south along the A3 to house-hunt deep in Stockbroker Belt with manicured lawns my parents bought a beautiful 1920’s house.

A previous owners had been a Partner of the John Lewis Partnership so it was full of retro taps, woodwork and cast iron radiators. The vendor was head of a family book-binder business that had provided velum to William Morris’ Kelmscott Press and many of his Arts and Crafts kin – see our previous post here The Arts & Crafts Movement and had covered the chairs of the United Nations Chamber in New York.

He had a very keen tennis playing wife and a number of kids as a result he turned part of the garden into a hard Tennis court and created a flat, well drained area to the North of the house – a Croquet Lawn. Croquet was new to our family. Whilst it counjours up images of ladies in diaphanous linen, Dunlop Green Flashes, sipping Long Island Iced Teas and eating crustless sandwiches, it’s actually a game of some skill that necessitates practice.

Harrod’s Sports Department proved to be an invaluable resource and we discovered that Jaques of London not only made the very best and rather beautiful Croquet sets but they also invented the game in 1851 – or at least devised a variation of a ball and mallet game called “Paille-Maille”. In 1862, Jaques wrote the first Official Croquet Rules.

The game of Croquet is played by two or four players on a flat lawn arranged with six metal hoops in a strictly followed configuration. The object is to hit your ball(s) through the hoops in the right sequence in each direction. You/your team are/is the winner if you finish by hitting your ball(s) against a coloured peg sited in the centre of the court. There are several ways of taking your opponent’s ball away from play – with equally flowery names like a “Roquet” – making their sight line to the hoops difficult/impossible.

Jaques of London, a family business now in the hands of the eighth generation, make 27 different sets with the most expensive, “The Hurlingham” costing in excess of £3000. Named after the club in Fulham where games are regularly played and where The Croquet Association had its headquarters between 1959 to 2002. Jaques also makes mallets of rare and long-seasoned woods.

John Jaques II, who ran the business in the 1860’s was a friend of Lewis Caroll, a keen Croquet player and author of “Alice in Wonderland”. Croquet appears in Caroll’s text and playing characters were illustrated by Sir John Tenniel.

The full title of the Wimbledon Club where the annual championship are held is the “All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club”.

Image by Jaques of London