Pat Gregory – Rob Walker Oral History

Tom Loftus from Dorking Museum traveled to Liss in Hampshire to interview Pat Gregory. Pat worked for Rob Walker Racing at his Pippbrook garage in London Road, Dorking during the 1950’s.

The interview was recorded on 23rd November 2019.

Pat Gregory © Dorking Museum
Time Interview Additional Information
0.56 Tom asks if she can remember the date she started at Rob Walkers?
Pat says, “We reckoned it was 1952 or 53 or 54.”
She got married in 1959, after which she did not work for him full time.
1.25 Pat confirms that she started to work at the Pippbrook Garage itself.
“I was largely employed by Pippbrook Garage for £4.00 a week.
My job was to answer the telephone and do general secretarial work. Also to work out the car salesmens’ commissions every month.
When Rob came up from his home in Somerset I was to be available to work with him.”
2.02 Tom asks whether she worked with Stan Jolliffe?
“He was the general manager of the Pippbrook Garage itself.
So I did his secretarial work.” Pat worked with the salesmen mostly and just a bit with the public.
2.28 Tom mentions that the Garage sold Ford cars, but Pat says,
“As far as I can remember when I first worked there they didn’t actually have any.
I think they were Hillman Minx. They got Ford much later as far as I can remember.”
The Pippbrook Garage began to offer vehicle servicing and MOT testing to the public.
Later a Ford car dealership and showroom opened.
3.oo Pat is asked when she moved up to the Racing Shop?
“I didn’t. I was always in the main office in the Garage. I had to walk up and down to the Racing Shop if I wanted anything.
When Rob came he used to use Stan Jolliffe’s office at the Pippbrook Garage and there was a sort of covered way between the 2 main parts of the Garage.
I don’t know whether it is still like that now, but Rob used to park his car in-between the 2 parts under cover – his Mercedes ROB 2 registration number.”
3.52 He used to let you drive these cars ?
“Yes, he was a very trusting man. He had at least one Mercedes. At one time he had a French car called a Facel Vega.
I don’t know whether they are still made. He had an old Delahaye or something. I can remember he had a little Austin 7, which was on Brownsea Island near Poole.
This was delivered to Brownsea Island in the days when cars were not totally finished. So you ordered your chassis and this was delivered there. It was never used. Rob found out and bought it. It was quite cute.”
Facel SA was founded in 1939 and the factory closed in 1964.
4.55 Tom asks what Pat’s duties were for Rob? “Secretarial work. Just that basically and looking after the racing mechanics, because if they were going to a race meeting somewhere, the mechanics needed some cash.
I had to book their accommodation. If they were going to be at Silverstone for a few days I would book their accommodation. Get cash for them to take and if they went abroad I had to get foreign currency for them to take.
That would be at the local bank. Along the raised area in Dorking, either Lloyds or Westminster. I forget which. In those days to get £2,000 out in cash was quite a lot of money to have in my pocket walking round the town.
That was probably for the whole team. I don’t know what they did with it.”
Tom asks if that was for all over the world? Pat says that it was for only Europe.
In 1958, Rob Walker abandoned club racing and concentrated only on the large international events. Amongst his wins were ones in Argentina and South Africa.
6.25 Tom goes on to ask Pat if she met some of the drivers? “One or two. I met Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Maurice Trintignant – the French guy.
If Rob wanted to write to him I would have to translate it into French for him. It was quite funny.”
7.00 Pat continues to talk about how Rob would dictate letters to her. “ He had a flat in Chelsea.
He’d come up from Somerset, come to do bits and bobs at the Garage, go up to the Chelsea flat, come back again to the Garage the next day, go back to the flat and then on Thursday he’d go direct from the Garage back to Somerset.
If he did any last minute letters I wouldn’t have time to do them before he went, so I would have a blank piece of paper.
I would look at what I had done in shorthand, then ascertain where it was going to finish and get him to sign there. Sometimes I had to shift the text around a bit!”
7.56 Tom asks what kind of boss Rob was?
Pat says he was lovely. “ He was the nicest person you could wish to work for. If he kept you 2 minutes late he was apologetic and would thank you so much.
He also gave me and my then husband a dog. The dog down in Somerset had puppies, labradors and we had one of those. He was allowed to come to work with me. He would sit under my desk all the time I was there. It was a friendly job.”
8.47 Pat is asked if she had any opportunity to go to the races at all ? “I went to one or two. It didn’t appeal to me. Noisy and boring. Rally driving was much more interesting”
Pat Gregory and Stirling Moss at Brands Hatch. Photo courtesy of Pat Gregory
3.oo Pat is asked when she moved up to the Racing Shop?
“I didn’t. I was always in the main office in the Garage. I had to walk up and down to the Racing Shop if I wanted anything.
When Rob came he used to use Stan Jolliffe’s office at the Pippbrook Garage and there was a sort of covered way between the 2 main parts of the Garage.
I don’t know whether it is still like that now, but Rob used to park his car in-between the 2 parts under cover – his Mercedes ROB 2 registration number.”
3.52 He used to let you drive these cars ?
“Yes, he was a very trusting man. He had at least one Mercedes. At one time he had a French car called a Facel Vega.
I don’t know whether they are still made. He had an old Delahaye or something. I can remember he had a little Austin 7, which was on Brownsea Island near Poole.
This was delivered to Brownsea Island in the days when cars were not totally finished. So you ordered your chassis and this was delivered there. It was never used. Rob found out and bought it. It was quite cute.”
Facel SA was founded in 1939 and the factory closed in 1964.
4.55 Tom asks what Pat’s duties were for Rob? “Secretarial work. Just that basically and looking after the racing mechanics, because if they were going to a race meeting somewhere, the mechanics needed some cash.
I had to book their accommodation. If they were going to be at Silverstone for a few days I would book their accommodation. Get cash for them to take and if they went abroad I had to get foreign currency for them to take.
That would be at the local bank. Along the raised area in Dorking, either Lloyds or Westminster. I forget which. In those days to get £2,000 out in cash was quite a lot of money to have in my pocket walking round the town.
That was probably for the whole team. I don’t know what they did with it.”
Tom asks if that was for all over the world? Pat says that it was for only Europe.
In 1958, Rob Walker abandoned club racing and concentrated only on the large international events. Amongst his wins were ones in Argentina and South Africa.
6.25 Tom goes on to ask Pat if she met some of the drivers? “One or two. I met Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Maurice Trintignant – the French guy.
If Rob wanted to write to him I would have to translate it into French for him. It was quite funny.”
9.13 Tom continues to ask her if she remembers the Racing Shop at all? Pat acknowledges that she does vaguely. “ There is a picture of it here. It was just Alf and the boys.
Tony was there. They also did work for various customers who had racing sports cars. One of whom was Jocelyn Stevens who was English Heritage as far as I can remember.”
Tony Cleverley started working at Pippbrook when he was 16. He went on to become chief mechanic.
When Stirling Moss agreed to race for Rob Walker in 1958, Rob also took on Stirling’s preferred mechanic, Alf Francis.
Sir Jocelyn Stevens was Chairman of English Heritage in 1992 – 2000.
10.13 “There is one lovely story about Rob I must tell you. I was sitting at my desk next to the office he used. He came in one Tuesday. He was just going off to lunch with Stan Jolliffe.
He plonked a couple of envelopes down on my desk. He said, ‘Take care of those for me. Don’t let them out of your sight.’
He wanted to buy his wife a new ring and the envelopes were from Cartier in London. I asked can I look at them?
He said yes and that I could try them on. I got these £10,000 and £15,000 rings and was putting them on!”
11.07 Tom adds that he believed Rob would also let Pat drive some of his cars? She confirms this was the case.
“Yes, I can remember one day he was racing at Brands Hatch. He got over in his Mercedes and wanted his Lagonda to go home in. So I had to drive his Lagonda over to Brands Hatch, pick up the Mercedes and drive that back.
The Lagonda was a large 3 litre car and I was only a small 18 year old. Beautiful, almost new. I was terrified trying to judge the width of it.”
12.19 Tom asks Pat if she met the mechanics socially? Pat says no she did not. She also confirms that she worked there until she married in 1959.
She did stay on to work part-time. “ I just did some racing jobs for Rob.” That, adds Tom, was when the team was quite successful. He asks Pat if things changed over the years she was there?
Did she feel the team was getting more successful? “Once he got Stirling Moss driving for him and Maurice Trintignant driving for him.” Pat confirms that she met Stirling Moss on a couple of occasions.
“Moss had a sort of racing manager who would sometimes get me muddled up with Moss’s sister. Ken Gregory”
14.25 Pat is asked if she knows why Rob chose Dorking? She does not know and acknowledes that it is quite a distance from Somerset.
“He enjoyed driving there. No he wasn’t there all week. He would only ever be there Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. He would drive up usually on the Tuesday”
She mentions that Rob would go to The Old Haunt, a little restaurant that used to be in Dorking. It was up South Street on the right. “He used to go up there for lunch but he never stayed in Dorking.”
15.31 Tom asks if she was involved with the Beare Green Garage? They discuss its location, but no it was after Pat’s time working for Rob. Tom explains that there was a fire at the Racing Shop in 1968.
It was destroyed and he “virtually had to start from scratch. He actually moved his Racing Shop to the Beare Green Garage until it closed.”
It is confirmed that after Pat left she lost connection with the Garage. She did, however go to the funeral service. “Yes that was in a church in Chelsea somewhere. I sat behind Jack Brabham. There were quite a lot of faces I recognised.”
Rob Walker died at the age of 84 in 2002.
Tom asks if she remembers any of the more serious incidents in a time when motor racing was very dangerous? “not really. Stirling Moss nearly [had] an accident, but he got away with it.” Stirling Moss’s racing career was finally ended with a crash at Goodwood in April 1962.
18.27 Tom asks Pat if she has any other stories that stick in her memory of her time there? “When I was starting to run down a bit, he got another young lady to work as well – I can’t remember her name.”
Tom suggests it was Liz Piper. Pat continues, “We both were asked to go to Egham and pick up a car”.
They were to take the Facel Vega car, “I am not joking, you sat in that car and between you and the passenger seat was this tunnel. This big. Apparently you could change the suspension of this car as you drove if you wanted to.
It frightened the life out of me.” As she got into the car it started to rain “and I didn’t have a clue, so I had to find a bit of road and pull off and sit there and try to find where the windscreen wipers were. It was fun.”
21.21 Tom asks that as she looks back now it is with happy memories of that time? “Oh yes, it was a different sort of job. I started with £4.00 a week and ended with my own car to drive and free petrol, so that wasn’t so bad. He was a really lovely person to work with.”
22.16 She recalls the day Michael Hawthorn was killed. “I was at work and Rob phoned up and spoke to me: ‘I thought I’d better warn you,’ he said. ‘ You’re going to get reporters around.
Sorry there is nothing we can do about it.’ But he was obviously very shaken. ‘I’ve just seen Michael Hawthorn killed before my eyes.’ Obviously there’d be reporters swarming around, and they were.
I just shut the door and said I know nothing at all. I can’t help you. That was quite a day! Rob eventually arrived at the garage and they were trying to suggest they had been racing.
That is not a thing he would do. I knew that most people who knew him knew that. They both came back from the Hog’s Back road down to the A3. It happened just down near where the garage still is on the right.
He just went off the road.” Pat never met Michael Hawthorn.
Michael Hawthorn, reigning Formula 1 World Champion, died in a car accident on the A3 at the Guildford by-pass in January 1959. Rob Walker was driving to Dorking and witnessed the accident.
23.20 Pat goes on to confirm it was a great job. “You weren’t just going to sit there and do the same thing every day.” Tom notes that speaking to Tony Cleverley, he too had said exactly the same and that it was great time.
24.00 Pat says that when she had the car sales commission to do that was quite interesting. The car sales manager even lodged with Pat and her mother until could find somewhere to live.
“He was quite a laugh.”Pat goes on to say how she came to be working there.”I was at Kingston Technical College before I went there. My father thought I ought to learn how to be a proper secretary.
So I was doing the Chartered Institute of Secretary’s course. I got the intermediate and then a daughter of a friend of my parents met up with me saying why don’t you get yourself a job.
You could earn yourself some money. Go to the Labour Exchange and see what they’ve got. They had this job at Pippbrook Garage at £4.00 a week. I gave my mother £2.00.”
26.01 Pat has one final memory of sitting in the back of Rob’s Lagonda when he was driving back to Somerset. She was taking down his letters. “He was dictating to me at 70 mph, while I sat in the back trying to do shorthand.” She confirms Rob had been a racer himself, but he had promised his wife he would stop “He was a good driver.”
The interview ends with Tom thanking Pat.
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