Brooklands Stories: Fay Taylour
08 January 2022
In this Brooklands Stories, volunteer Peter Kearns explores the story of successful motorcycle racer and racing driver Fay Taylour.
Fay Taylour Fay Taylour was an enigmatic individual, living in turbulent times. She became highly successful and popular in her sporting activities, but lost support and respect due to her political views. She was eventually able to return to a more stable, less eventful, life in Dorset.
Francis Helen Taylour was born in 1904, in Birr which is pretty much in the geographical centre of Ireland. It is a Georgian town with a Medieval Castle and a mainly affluent community. Her father was District Inspector with the Royal Irish Constabulary. She went to boarding school in Dublin and then to Alexandra College, also in Dublin. In her school years she excelled at tennis, hockey and bicycle racing. She received two scholarships at Alexandra: one for tennis; one for housecraft; together with £50 prize money. She later spent the money on a 220cc Levis motorcycle.
By the age of 12, Fay Taylour had learned to drive a car, her father’s Buick, and she had taken up motorcycling whilst at Alexandra College. This was a college that had a record of championing women’s rights and education. It sowed a seed that grew through her sporting career. Although she won many “ladies” cups and trophies, her focus was on being the best and fastest person overall.
When she left Alexandra College in 1922, she moved to England to join the rest of her family. Following creation of the Irish Republic and the associated disbandment of the Royal Irish Constabulary, her father had already moved to England.
Once in England, she started racing motorcycles. During the 1920’s she became very successful in trials and grass-track racing, often being the only female competitor.
By 1926 she had learned to maintain, repair, and modify her own machines. In 1927 she entered the Camberley Motorcycle Club’s Southern Scott Scramble. She practised the course daily before the event, to master its several steep hills: Wild, Wooley, Kilimanjaro, and Camberley. She won the Novice Cup and the Venus Cup. She also came to the notice of AJS in Coventry, who offered her a place on the works team. Later in that year she took an administrative job at Rudge-Whitworth and was quickly moved to racing in their trials team.
With Rudge, Fay Taylour won events against men as well as women in different classes: grass track, cross country, hill climbs and trials. She took gold and silver at events such as the Leeds £200, the National Alan, the Travers Trophy, and the Colmore Cotswold and Victory Trophy trials and the Auto-Cycle Union (ACU) 750 mile six-day trial. From all this, Fay Taylour was winning enough prize money to make a living.
Between races, she was looking after her father, who was now a widower until he remarried in 1928. On the evening of his wedding, Fay Taylour attended a speedway race at Stamford Bridge. She was excited by what she saw and quickly learned that there was much more to be earned by a successful competitor in these events. She approached several speedway promoters but was rejected purely on account of her gender. The ACU would not permit women to compete in speedway leagues, although they were allowed to compete as individuals in non-league races. She soon took the attention of fellow speedway racers. One of these was Lionel Wills, an English speedway racer and heir to the wealthy W. D. and H. O. Wills tobacco company, he introduced her to Freddie Mockford, manager of the track at Crystal Palace who agreed to allow her seven days' practice with a race at the end. She did not win that first race, but her performance was good enough to enable further race entries. Soon she was attracting huge crowds and earning considerable prize money.
When the British speedway season ended, she moved on to Australia and New Zealand. She was the first rider from Europe to compete there. Her first race ended with her beating the local Champion Sig Schlam and equalling the track record. She moved on to Melbourne and again beat the local champion Reg West. She became a real attraction for promoters, often attracting crowds of over 30,000. She featured on cigarette cards, in her scarlet leathers emblazoned with an Irish flag.
She was a regular celebrity guest on radio shows. All this came to an end when, once again, women were banned from competing in speedway, first in England and then in Australia and New Zealand. However, she found that she was still welcomed in Germany, where she spent much of the rest of that season.
Fay Taylour at Crystal Palace
In 1931, Fay Taylour changed her focus from two wheels to four. She drove a Chevrolet in the Calcutta to Ranchi race. This was a 1,790km race for cars and motorcycles, she broke the event record by forty minutes.
That autumn she won a Brooklands Automobile Racing Club (BARC) Ladies Handicap prize, lapping at 107.80mph in a Talbot 105.
Over the next few years, she raced with considerable success in Europe and the USA. This included winning the Leinster Trophy in Ireland, in a German Adler Trumph; winning a Shelsley Walsh hill climb; a women’s race at Donnington and competing in the Aston Martin works team at the Mille Miglia.
Her next race at Brooklands was in 1934, she came second, lapping at 113.97mph. Unfortunately, her rebellious side took over. At the end of the race, she refused to be flagged off, and continued for a further three laps: “just for fun”. Eventually, a brave flagman stepped out in front of her 2.6-litre Monza Alfa Romeo and she stopped. For this, she was fined and disqualified.
During the 1930’s, she developed close relations with the German motor racing community. She had driven factory-loaned Adler racing cars with considerable success. Through this, she had met officials in the NSKK. This was the sports bureau of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (aka the Nazi party).
She left Hamburg for England on 26th August 1939, just a week before the outbreak of war. She came to the attention of Special Branch; due to the time she had spent in Germany just before the war and due to her outspoken opposition to war with Germany. She was questioned about her opposition to war and asked if she was anti-British. She denied that she was anti-British. The questioning frequently referred to the British Union (previously known as the British Union of Fascists). She denied any knowledge of the British Union, and certainly, she was not a member at that time. She later said that it was the Special Branch officers’ frequent mentioning of this organisation that sparked her interest in it. Records show that she joined the British Union just two months after that interrogation.
Soon Fay Taylour was active in promoting the British Union, wearing the badge and distributing its propaganda. In 1940 she visited Ireland and met with Father Fahey, a Catholic priest who was a known anti-Semitist. On return, she attended anti-war protests and meeting. On June 1st, 1940, she was arrested and detained at Holloway Prison. In 1942 she was transferred to Port Erin internment camp on the Isle of Man. On 5th October 1943 she was released on condition that she went to Dublin and stayed there for the duration of hostilities. (Ireland having been declared a neutral country). She continued her connections with Father Fahey and took up links with the IRA. She was under surveillance of the British Intelligence service until 1976.
After the war, Fay Taylour attempted to revive her motor racing career, with little success. She was the only pre-war female racer to compete after the war. She managed to enter races in England, Ireland, Sweden and Australia Her political reputation made things difficult, so she decided to move to the United States. In 1949 she moved to Hollywood, selling Jaguars and MGs and took up the newly popular sport of midget car racing. At this time, she also completed a midget racing tour of Australia, sporting a British flag with the Irish shamrock.
In 1952 she travelled from Hollywood back to London for her father’s funeral. On attempting to return, she found herself banned from entering the United States as her political history had become known. For the next three years she continued to race in Europe and Australia and appealed the banning order. In 1955 she was allowed back into America. By now she was suffering badly from arthritis and her motor racing career finally ended in 1956.
In 1971 she returned to live in Dorset until her death in August 1983. Over the last few years of her life, she attempted to write her biography but found it impossible to find anyone to publish it. Hers was a story of brilliant highs and dark lows. In the end, her legacy was overshadowed by her politics.
Fay Taylour at Brooklands in the 2.6 Monza Alfa Romeo
Fay Taylour at Brooklands in the 2.6 Monza Alfa Romeo
Fay Taylour at Castle Coombe in 1953 with Stirling Moss