Finding Miss Daisy

Daisy Hampson, motorist and racer

Daisy Hampson in her 60hp Mercedes (The Car – No. 121, September14, 1904)

Amongst the many women with access to serious funds who were early motorists, racers and rally drivers was a Miss Daisy Hampson. Described by the usually very knowledgeable Speedqueens blog as ‘enigmatic’ and by an also knowledgeable audience member at one of my recent talks as a woman who seemed to vanish into thin air, I have reluctantly come to a similar conclusion. Searching the usual online sources has yielded some answers and a good many questions. As always, if you know more – do get in touch!

Probably Daisy (although original image doesn’t have a caption) in a 10hp Lanchester (Creative commons Lanchester archive)

The first we hear about her is in 1903, when she seems to have started being noticed in the spring, driving either a 10hp Lanchester, with tiller steering, or a Vulcan – maybe both, more of that later. By the autumn she was already being mentioned in the press (Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Monday 05 October 1903) as “Miss Daisy Hampson the well-known motorist”. She was presenting the trophy in the Southport Motor Races, for motor cycles of any cylinder capacity, but not above 170lbs (77kilograms) weight. The trophy was won by an S. Wright on his Excelsior, a lightweight machine made in Coventry.

By August 1904 Daisy had acquired the car with which she was mostly associate, a 60hp Mercedes, which was the car which she took to the 1904 Bexhill races, entering Class H for touring cars. She lost to Sidney Girling in Heat 4.

Bexhill results

However, as it turned out she had had to borrow a similar car to actually do her racing in:

A Skilled Lady Driver : Miss Daisy Hampson And Her 60 H.P. Mercedes.

Miss Hampson was one of the two ladies who entered, in their respective classes, at the Bexhill meeting, where her handling of her car aroused much and favourable comment among expert critics. Unfortunately she was much handicapped in her heat by having to drive a strange Mercedes, her own having, on the day previous, been slightly damaged. Nevertheless, although pitted against Mr. Girling, a driver whose well-known prowess rendered him an extremely disconcerting opponent, Miss Hampson was only three seconds slower than her redoubtable antagonist. ” (The Car – No. 121, September 14, 1904)

On 8th August she joined the Bexhill on Sea Procession of Motor Cars (Bexhill-on-Sea Observer – Saturday 06 August 1904).

Bexhill considers itself to be the birthplace of motor racing in the UK, although when the famous Brooklands circuit opened in 1907, that became the main focus for early racing.

A month later (Dublin Daily Express – Thursday 01 September 1904) she was across the water in Ireland for the Portmarnock 2 day racing event for cars and motorcycles put on by the Irish Automobile Club (IAC). This was beach racing, on hard sand, a very popular option up into the 1930s, because it avoided the illegality of racing on open roads and the expense of closing public roads. Beach racing was popular with many women racers of the period. Daisy was racing her 60hp Mercedes in the 200 guinea (£210) class, a car which was reported in the press as being the most powerful car ever raced by a lady. Her name isnt in the printed winners lists so presumably she didn’t get through the heats.

In 1905 Miss Daisy Hampson is being mentioned as having raced her Mercedes in several races and on 29 July 1905 she took it to the Blackpool sands. She entered the ‘Scratch Races With Flying Start, Over A Kilometre’, in Class 4, but seems to have come last in a field of 6 entrants. If all this sounds as though she was pretty hopeless, it should be borne in mind that she would usually have been the only woman entrant and was competing agains very experienced top male racers, winners of the Gordon Bennett Trophy and the like, such as the Hon. Charles Rolls (of Rolls Royce).

Daisy in Nazarro’s 120hp Fiat (The Car August 1906)

In 1906 the press reported a far more negative side to her motoring, when she had to settle a court case for damages having severely injured a motorcyclist whom she had knocked off his machine (Banbury Advertiser – Thursday 08 February 1906). Later in the same month it seems she had bought another powerful car, one explicitly designed for racing. This was the 120hp Fiat previously driven by Italian ace, Felice Nazarro when he came 2nd in the 1904 Gordon Bennett Cup race. The car was being displayed at the Manchester Motor Show on the stand of Joseph Cockshoot and Co. Limited (Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Saturday 24 February 1906). The company was one of many who at that time were changing from old fashioned coachbuilding for actual horse drawn coaches, to building high class bodies for motor vehicles, for such elite companies as Rolls Royce.

That is the last mention of her car racing activities in the press but she is still considered enough of a local celebrity to be asked to open a church bazaar in Breightmet, Bolton, which was possibly where her family were from. In 1910 she is mentioned in an article about women and cars as having won prizes in her 120hp Fiat, although I cannot immediately find any records of those (The Tatler – Wednesday 26 October 1910).

The final mention of her and her cars which implies she is still actively driving, was in the Gentlewoman (Saturday 20 February 1915):

Driver Of Long Experience.

Few women motor owners use high-power cars when driving themselves, and although the number of owner-drivers is greatly increasing, it is usually the car not exceeding about 20h.p. or less that a lady drives. Miss Daisy Hampson, however, is an exception. She has had a very long experience in driving her own cars, and after driving and owning a “Mercedes,” “Fiat,” and ” Itala ” of large horsepower, she has become an enthusiastic pilot of the famous “Rolls-Royce.” She is now a staunch believer in English cars, and being enthusiastic in her praises for the big engine, she regards the” Rolls- Royce” as her ideal. Miss Hampson considers motoring a perfect pastime for women, and is convinced that the very best way to enjoy it is independently of a chauffeur, as she can then regulate the pace to suit her own needs or moods and enjoy the same freedom as at any other sport. Her experiences include driving in England and on the Continent, and now that engines have become so reliable she is more than ever convinced that motor cars are the most perfect means of holiday locomotion.”

The scan of this page in the online British Newspaper Archive is unfortunately very poor, which is a great pity as half the page is devoted to a photo of her in her Rolls Royce but which has reproduced uselessly as a rectangle almost entirely of black.

And finally, in 1934 and 1935 articles serialising his memoirs, Sir Harry Preston recalled a hair-raising experience driving with Miss Daisy:

“After a great fight with the town council we got to the track laid between the Palace Pier and Black Rock. A pretty girl came down to race. (Speed princesses are not a post-war phenomenon) She was Daisy Hampson, and her car was a mighty Mercedes. They didn’t streamline cars in those days, but Daisy had done a little streamlining on her own. She had cut out the windscreen. To get her hand in, she had to go out in her monster at dawn, before any traffic got on the road. She invited me to accompany her. I could not appear timid before a good-looking young woman, so I said I would be charmed.

At dawn, therefore. I rose, said my prayers, and climbed into the huge machine beside its diminutive driver. Bang -crash- bang! The enormous engine came alive. We moved off with a jerk, and ran at 40 m.p.h. or so out to a long straight stretch. She stepped on the accelerator. The noise resembled a blast furnace exploding. The wind increased to tornado force.

Suddenly I heard a crash even louder than the engine roar, and something big and black rose in the air and seemed to fly at me. I ducked. Fortunately, Daisy Hampson kept her head and hold of the wheel. It took about two miles to pull up (no mechanically-operated hydraulic four-wheel brakes then).

“What was it?” I gasped. “We lost a front mudguard,” said she coolly. “That’s luck!” “Luck?” I stammered. ” Why, don’t you see? If we’d had a windscreen the mudguard might have hit it—it came by pretty low. The glass would have shattered.”

“I think now, I said, “I should like to go home while our luck holds.” (Weekly Dispatch (London) – Sunday 29 September 1935)

Who was Daisy Hampson?

Well, that is indeed the puzzle. Hampson is or was a very common surname in the northwest of England and attempts to trace her family in Ancestry.com have not been productive. However, there are some clues, albeit ones that also led me nowhere: brothers Thomas and Joseph Hampson founded the famous Vulcan Motor Manufacturing and Trading company, initially in Bolton and later in Southport. Their names too are very common in that area, but we do know that Daisy was from Bolton and later lived in Southport so might we surmise that she was their sister, or perhaps a cousin? Although Thomas and Joseph’s company is well known, they themselves seem to be nearly invisible online. As the firm grew they naturally acquired partners but Joseph Hampson was the works manager until at least 1921 when there was a high profile court case in which both brothers were convicted of appropriating property of the company to the value of £90,000 for their own use. I think their involvement must have ended there but I have not found further information on either of them.

Neither does there seem to be anything looking likely in the 1939 WW2 identity card register for Thomas, Joseph or Daisy. Every mention of her is as ‘Miss’ but did she marry and stop her racing? Did the brothers die in WW1? Did they all fall into poverty and vanish, perhaps abroad? I have not been able to pin down birth or death dates for any of them, partly due to the thick scattering of Hampsons with all 3 of those first names.

However the Hampson family, assuming they were in fact related, contributed quite a bit to the early history of motoring. Cars associated with Daisy are themselves something of a roll call of early British and Italian cars: the Vulcan, 10hp Lanchester, 60hp Mercedes, 120hp Fiat, Itala, 40-50hp Rolls Royce.

For more about the Lanchester cars, this series of books by Chris Clark may be of interest.

I would be delighted to know what she was up to after 1915, and anything about her family background, was she related to the Vulcan Hampsons and what happened to them too?

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