In the beginning

It was in 1974 that I first heard of Donald Campbell. I was just 8 years old and remember the early spring Saturday as clearly as if it was yesterday. Returning home from a day out, we were driving along the shoreline of Ullswater, prompting mum and dad’s conversation to turn to a time when they had witnessed a man called Donald Campbell driving his jet propelled boat, Bluebird, out on the lake.

I had always been interested in things mechanical and therefore, as you can imagine, I was suddenly paying attention to their conversation. They told the story of how in the summer of 1955, they had spent many an evening alongside the shoreline of Ullswater, with hundreds of other people, witnessing Campbell’s high-speed trials in his jet-boat Bluebird as a precursor to breaking his first World Water Speed record in July that year at 202 mph.


I resolved to see if I could find out more. By chance when I got to school on a Monday I was looking through the bookshelves in my classroom and was surprised to find a small pamphlet of about 20 or 30 pages with colour drawings that told the story of Donald Campbell. I asked my teacher, Mr Labrum if I could take it home to show Mum and Dad: “no problem'' he said. Reading this little book, and the story it told, 

only added to my interest.

Within a few days I was pestering mum, to see if we could go to the local library to see if they had any Campbell books that would satisfy my curiosity. I was amazed that something so exciting as driving a jet propelled boat down a lake could take place on my doorstep. Later in the week, on returning from school my mum said: “I went to the library today, I have a surprise for you” It was a copy of Donald Campbell C.B.E.

The biography written by Donald Campbell’s mother, Lady Dorothy Campbell and Arthur Knowles in 1969, two years after Donald Campbell’s death. My parents didn’t hear much of me for the rest of the evening, and the next or the one after that. I was engrossed and have been ever since...

Photo © The Ruskin Museum


Donald and Leo at Ullswater 1955

Copyright by Geoff Hallawell