People have the strangest ideas. In the 1950s some bright spark decided that the English county of Cornwall should host its own Formula 1 races. Now, admittedly, the Cornish have a tradition of independent thinking. Some even think that the Duchy of Cornwall should be separated from the rest of the country. The Duke of Cornwall, HRH Charles, the Prince of Wales, does not agree but he does enjoy all manner of rights that other Dukes do not have, not to mention ownership of 134,500 acres of land.
For those who don’t know, Cornwall is the western part of the south-western peninsular of England. It is true that the original Cornish were racially rather different to the English, with Celtic roots, and a few of their descendants believe Cornwall should have its own assembly. Today it has one of the highest percentages of retired people in Britain, due to its generally pleasant climate and its attractive countryside. But not all of it is lovely. Bodmin Moor is a remote, bleak, granite moor, covered by heather and battered by the wind. It rises to 1,377 feet and the weather can be very different to the sheltered coves along the coast where warm waters and warm air currents of the Gulf Stream, make the region much warmer than the rest of the country. It was on the northern edge of Bodmin Moor that the Air Ministry decided in 1941 to built an aerodrome, with the aim being to use it for anti-submarine operations and air sea rescue. It was called RAF Davidstow Moor and housed a variety of Coastal Command aircraft such as Lockheed Hudsons, Bristol Beaufighters, Vickers Wellingtons and Vickers Warwicks. When the war ended, it was abandoned and in 1952 racing enthusiasts from the Cornish Vintage Car Club and the Plymouth Motor Club managed to get permission to hold races on the runways and perimeter roads.
The biggest problem was the weather, as there was often rain and fog. Despite this the first race meeting attracted 3,000 people and the clubs always planned their events for Bank Holidays in the hope of drawing bigger crowds. This seemed to work well as in June 1954 there were 20,000 people to see a series of races, including the first F1 race, contested over 20 laps. There were only seven starters and only one real F1 car, the majority of the field being F2 machinery. The race was won by John Riseley-Pritchard in a Connaught. The meeting was interrupted when Horace Gould, who was racing a Kieft, somehow managed to drive his transporter, a converted London bus, into a footbridge, causing it to collapse onto the circuit.
There was a second F1 race a couple of months later, in August 1954, but the weather was dreadful again with drizzle and fog. The field was six cars and the race was won by John Coombs in a Lotus, although this was really a sports car. To be fair, however, that summer Mercedes ran the W196 in F1 with streamliner bodywork, so the crowd accepted the Lotus as being an F1 car of sorts.
The final Cornish F1 race was held the following year in May 1955. There were six cars: three Connaughts and three Coopers, with victory going to Leslie Marr in a streamlined Connaught.
Having failed to make money and become a mainstream F1 venue, Cornwall then gave up with the idea. Davidstow is still there today, being used by gliders and microlights. There is also a small Cornwall at War Museum on site.