Percy Vere (H.V.Smith) (b.1913): Habits, Belief and Culture

‘Reading a gardening article one day about 1977, I saw an article on the art of growing miniature trees. Ah, I thought, another challenge. I will try that.’ (Vere, 25)

From 1914, a number of cities in England e.g. Coventry became known for their industrialization with the creation of a number of car firms. The interwar period saw an increase of both industrial workers and cinemas, dance hall and social clubs in response to vitality of the local community. (Thompson, 6) Whilst Percy never mentions enjoying the cinema or attending social clubs, his passion lay within the industry itself. His love was for cars and motorbikes.

After leaving school at 14 and beginning his job, he saved up money to buy his very first motorbike. ‘…I bought my very first motor bike from the plumber for 30/- it was a 1912 P and M belt-drive.’(Vere, 14) He was proud of the fact that he had a driving licence, which was rare in those days. His passion also helps him to get employment as he begins driving dustcarts and tipper lorries for different companies, moving on to become a heavy goods driver. Both his gender and his class shape his interests in cars. Driving vehicles, such as lorries, would not have been a career suitable for those of the upper class and definitely not for women of any class. Mary Hollinrake discusses in her autobiography (see Habits, Culture and Beliefs), fond memories of how she travelled around on her boyfriend’s motorbike with their friends when she was a teenager. The boys moved onto motor cars as they grew older and she preferred this, stating “it was possible to arrive at your destination respectable and unruffled instead of wild and windswept” (Hollinrake, 68). Women were to remain demure and proper and driving vehicles themselves would have been out of the question.

For Percy’s memoir, his excitement and knowledge of different vehicles is mentioned throughout. He describes, in intricate details, his father’s first car. This was a French Leon-Bollee of 1913 vintage, open touring model. ‘It had a pea green body, white canvas hood with celluloid side screens, large brass acetylene headlamps, brass, oil side and rear lamps.’ (Vere,7) This description carries on for another half page with him also detailing how much road tax and petrol cost during this period. It is believed that a person is inclined to certain habits and activities depending on their surroundings, and these habits can be used as a distraction from a dissatisfying reality; especially for the working-class. During the interwar period, there was much disillusionment for the British population after the mass death of soldiers and severe bombings that took place. Perhaps his love of cars was something that his father and him shared as a distraction as well as something that allowed them to look toward the future.

Red Ford Capri, similar to the one that Percy was proud to own

For most of his working life, there is little mention of his love of cars. This changes after the war and, despite suffering through much illness, he resumes work at Ford Motor company. He had saved up enough money to buy a car and took advantage of Ford’s reduced employee’s prices to buy an Anglia by cash. He was then able to sell in on for the price he purchased it at, and he did this numerous times with numerous cars. He ended up with a ‘lovely bright red Mark 1 Capri. Never did I dream I would own such a lovely car. Hard work and perseverance paid off in the end and it was worth it.’ (Vere, 20)

As a labourer for most of his life, Percy has a lot of skills and talents when it comes to mechanics. However, I found it most surprising when Percy writes of his decision to make his very own Rolls Royce from scrap!

 ‘I bought myself a lathe and arc-welder and taught myself how to use them I decided to make a Rolls Royce 1908 Silver Ghost all made from scrap brass.’ (Vere,21)

However, unfortunately, Percy’s health let him down and he had to give his vehicle away to a friend. But it highlights Percy’s strong passion and his obvious natural talents with mechanics, making time for hobbies despite his working life. It also signifies a generation and class who made the most of what they had. Percy’s passion for motor vehicles was something that started from a young age and something that he carried with him for all of his life. At the age of 71, when he was writing his memoir and no longer able to take any action in regards to his love of cars, he begins new hobbies, his main hobby being the art of growing bonsai trees. ‘Reading a gardening article one day about 1977, I saw an article on the art of growing miniature trees. Ah, I thought, another challenge, I will try that. (Vere, 25) Percy went on the help found the first Croydon and District Bonsai Group. As

Japanese Bonsai Tree


Works cited:

Vere, Percy, The Autobiography of a Working Man , Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:783

Holly Shea. Mary Hollinrake: An Introduction. Mary Hollinrake (b.1912) Last accessed 27th March 2017

Dr James Thompson, review of Leisure, Citizenship and Working-Class Men in Britain, 1850–1945, (review no. 516) Last accessed: 27 March, 2017


Ford Capri: Adrian Flux Last accessed: 27th March 2017

Japanese Bonsai Tree: Last accessed: 27th March 2017

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