Winifred Pink – from racing cars to tea vans

Winifred in her Alvis car [from The Woman Engineer vol2]

In preparing a talk* about women in automobile racing, for the 2021 annual Scottish Tour of the Vintage Sports Car Club, I was quickly submerged in the vast number of wonderful stories about amazing women. Even restricting it to just women who raced in the UK still leads to hundreds, some very well known, others perhaps more or less unknown today. The subject of this blog falls, perhaps, somewhere between those two categories. She intrigued me partly because her story is rather patchy but also because she shared with all too few of these women, a real skill for mechanical work.

*The first in-person talk I will have been able to do since February 2020, due to the Covid-19 constraints.

Early life and family

Winifred Martha Pink was born in 1896 in Bromley, into a prosperous family of jam-makers. She was by far the youngest child in the family, born to her father Edward Pink (1853-1916) and his second wife, Ellen Ord Moor (1859-1932). Her living step-siblings were 3 brothers and a sister but most of them were not in the family home whilst she was growing up, initially in Putney and later in Weston-super-mare. In the 1901 census, her father was recorded as ‘living on his own means’, which seems to suggest that he was already at least partly retired from the family business, as in the 1911 census the household included a resident nurse, presumably caring for him prior to his death in 1916.

Her step-brother Edward Sydney Pink did not apparently enter the business, as he was a ‘dramatic author’, having given up the family’s attempts to turn him into a mechanical engineer (Institute of Mechanical Engineers records him as a pupil to engineer E.P. Seaton in 1902). Her other step-brother, Leslie Ord Pink, became a tax inspector.

E&T Pink’s Preserves

E&T Pink jam jar on sale on Ebay

The family business of jam-making was established by her grandfather (also Edward (1827-1910)) in 1860 in London and from 1867 by her uncle Thomas Pink, with Edward junior (her father) entering the business later. The factory in Bermondsey was very substantial, employing over 400 people in the 1870s and over 600 men and women in the 1880s. Claiming to be the largest jam-maker of their day by the 1910s the rather heavy-handed managerial methods resulted in strikes, including one by their female staff for a pay increase of 2 shillings a week (which they got). The company eventually merged with another jam-makers, Plaistowe in 1920 although they too went into liquidation in 1926.

The prosperity which the family business must have provided to Winifred’s family might well have included the ability for them to buy one of the early motor cars and for her to learn to derive and perhaps maintain it. When her father died in the middle of the First World War, he left over £68,000 (the equivalent of over £6 million today, so Winifred and her mother were comfortably off.

War Service – World War 1

NEW information: Winifred joined the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) in January 1915 and until November 1916 she was a General Service Nurse at Ashcombe Hse., Auxiliary Red Cross Hospital, Weston-super-Mare. Then she continued nursing until January 1917, at Taunton VAD Hospital, but started to work with the Red Cross Society & St.John Ambulance. She was living at Beechfield, Bathampton, Bath, at this point. Many women of her social class joined the VAD but found the General Service nursing to be physically very demanding – a good deal of manual labour, scrubbing etc was involved – and didn’t last as long as Winifred. She must have proved her worth and, perhaps already having experience with a family car, she moved over to the ambulance driving side. However, having to look after her mother meant that she did not go overseas as some VADs did.
From June 1917 until the end of her VAD service on 28 January 1918 she was using her driving expertise as a “Very capable driver mechanic, most reliable.” She became an Instructress at the VAD Motor School, Weston-super-Mare, and was also a the Red Cross Hospital, Priory Schools, Taunton.

On 11th February 1918, Winifred took her motoring expertise to the Navy and enrolled in Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) as a motor driver at the Admiralty Motor Testing School. She quickly rose to the rank of Section Leader, the equivalent of a Petty Officer, but she remained as an ‘immobile’ Wren in order to be able to assist her mother. This type of service was quite commonplace in World War 1, especially for daughters of widows. She signed on for an extra period of service at the end of the war, finally leaving the WRNS in April 1919.

Winifred Pink’s service record in the WRNS, from The National Archives [ADM 336-23-19]

We can only guess that at least some of the mechanical ability with motor cars which Winifred showed later in life may have been nurtured by the training she had as a motor driver with the VAD and WRNS during the war.

Motor Sports in the 1920s

Horstman 1915 car [Wikicommons]

From about 1922 to 1929 Winifred Pink was to be found at many of the hill climb competitions popular at that time. Racing on the open road was prohibited from 1926 but various private landowners made their roads available. The most famous of these, Shelsley Walsh, was established by the Midland Automobile Club (MAC) and the owner Montagu Taylor in 1905 and is still in operation today. Other popular locations included hard-sand beaches such as Skegness, and a very demanding hill still popular for cycling hill climbs – Caerphilly in wales.

Winifred and her mother were living at Sherford Lodge, Taunton and the first car she raced in was her locally-built Horstman Super Sports – priced at £500 new and from the Bath marque of Sydney Horstmann. It has been difficult to find a definitive list of her results, but the earliest record, from the Western Mail, Thursday 29 June 1922, of the open and closed classes of competitions the previous day, has her coming in 3rd in the Ladies Unlimited Open Class, behind a Miss Gillett and a Miss Hoyle.

By September that year she was already doing a lot better and at the Devizes Hill Climb she was winning several prizes, setting the pattern for the next few years.

Description of the Caerphilly Hill climb in 1922

Shelsley Walsh results

1923 winner in formula Members closed event (Aston-Martin); winner in formula Ladies event (AM); 3rd Formula open class (AM);

1924 19th July – 1000 yards;

1924 4th inFormula class (open) (AM), winner Ladies amateur & closed classes (AM);

1925 2nd 1500cc touring class (AM);

1926 September standard class (AM);

1927 1st Formula class (Alvis), 1500cc class winner (Alvis), 2nd on formula MAC open cup & 1st CP type cup (Alvis).

Other Known Results

1922 Devizes hill climb 9th Sept, she won 4 premier prizes.

1922 Brooklands, won the Ladies Handicap2

1923 Brooklands

1923 August Portsmouth carnival week gymkhana type events

1926 May Skegness sands ladies races

1 In September 1922 Bath and West of England motor club organised a hill climbing and motor reliability trial in the Devizes area. Entry was open to all types of wheeled vehicles. The event had a large entry of cars from the Devizes locality. The following was such that in January 1924, Devizes formed its own motor club ‘Devizes & District Motor Club’. In 1933 it was decided to amalgamate with other local clubs and become West Wilts Motor Club. This affiliation changed the competitive base back to motorcycles and away from motor cars. https://www.ddmc.co.uk/about-ddmc/

2 https://austinharris.co.uk/photo/horstman-at-1922-jcc-brooklands-meeting/719

The Ladies Automobile Club

The Ladies Automobile Club badge, which was added to the centre of the Royal Automobile Club’s radiator badge after the LAC became an affiliate organisation.

Almost as soon as automobiles became commercially available, wealthy women were buying and driving them. After some false starts, the first of a sequence of organisations to support women who were driving for leisure or sport was set up – The Ladies Automobile Club, in 1904. With the significant costs of buying and running one of the early cars, it is perhaps not too surprising that this (and later organisations) had a huge percentage of aristocratic women in its ranks.

Its first president was the Duchess of Sutherland and other office bearers included Lady Cecil Scott Montagu, the wife of the Lord Montagu who founded the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.

The club had its own rooms in Claridges Hotel and soon started to put on Ladies Only sporting events, such as rallies. At this time, much of motor sport was emulating equine sports, so fun events along the lines of a horse gymkhana were commonplace.

Winifred Pink was one of the LAC’s later presidents, in 1927, but the club was first affiliated to and then absorbed by the Royal Automobile club. In the same year a new organisation, intended more specifically for the woman racers was started, the Women’s Automobile and Sports Association, but I have not been able to find out if Winifred joined that organisation too.

In 1928 she was made an Honorary Member of the Women’s Engineering Society, wrote a piece for The Woman Engineer about motor racing for women and gave a talk on the subject for their London members at the Lyceum Club. Unlike many of her contemporary women drivers and racers, she was genuinely skilled in mechanical engineering, although she had, it seems, no academic training whatsoever.

From The Woman Engineer Volume 2

Records of Winifred competing seem not to have continued into the 1930s so perhaps she was by then nursing her mother who died in 1932. In any case, all competitions ended with the coming of the Second World War.

War Service – World War 2

The next time we hear about Winifred she is running the London maintenance and repair garage for the Women’s Voluntary Service‘s many mobile canteen vehicles. Her First World War service in the WRNS and the many road/trackside repairs she must have had to do in her racing years must have fitted her exceptionally well for this post, which required improvisation and the ability to get things done in difficult circumstances, with her crew of 4 other women, as can be seen in this newspaper article of 1941.

This seems to be the last record of Winifred’s activities, although of course I would be delighted if anyone has anything further to add! She died in 1957 and was never married.

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