A hell-raiser in life and a uniquely tragic figure in death – there simply never was a racing driver like Mike Hawthorn. Although born in the Yorkshire mining town of Mexborough, the flaxen-haired racer moved to Surrey as a toddler and was typically known as the ‘Farnham Flyer’ in the popular British press.
Much of Hawthorn’s world remains untouched out in the leafy lanes of the Surrey and Hampshire borders, allowing the chance to visit places that would be instantly recognisable to the 1958 Formula One world champion – if not always enhanced by the passing years.
To start with here is Stephendale Road, the quiet little cul-de-sac off the main route from Farnham to Aldershot, which is where the Hawthorn family moved to in 1931. It has previously been described as Stevendale Road in Chris Nixon’s classic book Mon Ami Mate – whether he got it wrong or it’s subsequently been changed is anyone’s guess.
Leaving Stephendale Road and heading back towards Farnham, the first obvious landmark is The Albion pub – a favourite haunt of Leslie Hawthorn, Mike’s father. The Albion was also about half way between Stephendale Road and the Tourist Trophy Garage, with which father and son are synonymous.
The garage staff became used to beer-fuelled antics going on in the Hawthorn household – Leslie and his drinking pals regularly filled the workshop with road signs and other ‘objets trouves’ from their nocturnal adventures on the way to or from The Albion.
Despite the ribaldry, Leslie Hawthorn was clearly intent that his son would be a young Surrey gentleman, and as a result sent him to Barfield Preparatory School in the nearby village of Runfold – where predictably he was more concerned with sport and socialising than on schoolwork. Barfield remains a highly exclusive prep school to this day, where pupils enjoy the amenities of the Mike Hawthorn Sports Hall.
From 1942, Mike went off to Ardingley College, a prestigious public school at Hayward’s Heath in Sussex. His father, meanwhile, was a pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary during World War 2 – although neither boarding school nor military duty seemed to keep father or son away from home for too long. Meanwhile as Mike grew up, he and his hand-picked gang of friends were formed as the ‘Members’ – and we’ll catch up with them in Part 2.