For the record – the beginnings of the Great Western Section
Malcolm Tucker – former Club Chairman and founding Section Chairman
The founding of our Section was met with great enthusiasm from the initial members. Our first Committee set the course for all those who have followed, namely in the concept of Committee Meetings being pleasant occasions with constructive dialogue and without conflict. The Section has always been favoured with a full compliment of cars, equally represented on our committees. This has encouraged the Section to hold varied events throughout each year, catering for all tastes from Stately Home visits to road events, albeit of a gentle nature. It’s rare that we don’t see a Silver Ghost or early 20hp and the latest products , as well as a cross-section of intervening models.
Today, the Section is keen to attend and offer joint meetings with other Sections, and to continue catering for all Rolls-Royce and Bentley motoring tastes.
Founder member Mark Griffiths remembers that the Club held its Annual General Meetings at different venues round the country. “The year that it was held in Bristol, I said to Eric Barrass, then General Secretary, that I considered that there was a need for a Section based on Bristol. Those of us living in and around the area were on the edge of various sections but did not feel part of any of them. I believe that during his army service, Eric was stationed at Horfield Barracks so the idea appealed to him.”
Suzanne Finch , who with husband Nicholas were both founder members, takes up the story.
“Gordon Connelley was Club Chairman at the time and Eric Barrass organised an inaugural meeting for interested members (and non members - there was an advert in the local press) at the old Forte Crest hotel at Hambrook. Eric, Malcolm Tucker (who was on the Club’s Management Committee at the time) and Mark Griffiths sat on the top table. There was a good turn-out of people at the meeting and it was considered that there was indeed a need for a Section. It had been suggested that the Section should be called "Avon", but this did not meet with approval by those present, but when Valerie Smallwood proposed the Great Western name, we all agreed it was a splendid name, reflecting all that was, and for centuries had been, a centre for innovation, inspiration, and achievement. I can't remember whether we had any money from the Club but we were given £50 by the Wessex Section as a starting balance . We were so grateful for that support that later we donated a Bristol Blue glass vase to them, which they present every year to a deserving member at their AGM".
Our first Committee comprised Malcolm Tucker, Chairman, Mark Griffiths, Secretary, Valerie Smallwood (Treasurer, I think), Roland Billson, Alan Carnaby and Nicholas Finch
Roland Bilson, remembers that “one of our first events was a drive from a park in Bath to Badminton, where I think Valerie Smallwood had arranged with the Duke for us to picnic on his lawn. It was at the time of New-Age travellers with a local convoy on the move. At a narrow stretch of country lane, where there was only width for one car, our cavalcade of Rolls Royce and Bentley cars came to a halt by a couple of cottages where 2 old boys were leaning against a garden wall. We overheard their conversation. The one asked the other what the line or procession of cars was, and the other replied " It must be them there New Age Travellers"!!
When we got to Badminton we all parked outside the house. Valerie went up and knocked on the front door to let them know we had arrived for the picnic. The Duchess opened the Door holding a glass of Gin and Tonic. She saw the cars and asked Valerie whether she had invited us all to Sunday Lunch!! She was extremely charming and after she had finished her lunch, invited us for a tour around the house despite the presence of her guests whom she ignored as we trooped through the room in which they were relaxing.
Malcolm Hobbs who was Chairman at the time that the Section celebrated its twentieth birthday, says that from its humble beginnings, the Section went from strength to strength gaining a reputation for organising events that attracted cars from the Silver Ghost to the very latest of the company’s models. Its ‘end of season’ weekends became legendary within the club, often attracting a waiting list of hopeful attendees. Now over 30 years have passed during which the committee has changed with resignations and retirements, but always new members to fill the vacancies. Sadly several section members have passed away, but such is the camaraderie that memories and exploits live on in fondly told reminisces. The Section has produced two Club Chairman and its members have been awarded honours at the Annual Concours while providing active support for the Club in many of its undertakings.
Wonderful though the last 30+years have been, there is no doubt that the best is yet to come! The present committee includes members with much experience who embrace the challenges posed by new ideas and encourage the wider membership to become involved in and with the organisation of events.