“In early August 1909, Lord Carnarvon drove noisily down the drive away from the Castle, settling in as he changed down a gear to make the turn at the crossroads past the redwood tree his father had planted. He was at the wheel of his latest and fastest car, wrapped up in a favourite thick coat, his lucky hat pulled firmly down, luggage strapped on the back. His devoted chauffeur Edward Trotman was sitting beside him as he turned right out of the park towards Southampton. His destination was Constantinople (now Istanbul), some several thousand miles of often inadequate road away.”
Rather like this year, July 1909 had been very rainy and thoroughly grey which never agreed with his bronchitis and asthma so a break in a sunnier clime seemed desirable. Despite the fact that the Orient Express train service now offered a non-stop train service to Istanbul, the tourists were reduced in number as it was not an entirely safe place due to political and social unrest. There were nevertheless still a number of excellent hotels, from the Bristol to the Pera Palace to look after anyone intrepid enough to visit and so Carnarvon packed his camera and a minimal wardrobe – Trotman the chauffeur would also act as his valet.
However, Carnarvon did not consider it was safe enough for his wife to travel there and instead arranged for them to meet some three weeks later at a fashionable spa town in Germany.
Like his younger brother Aubrey, Carnarvon was fascinated by this ancient city built on a promontory jutting out into the seas of the Mamora and Golden Horn, surrounded on three sides by glittering blue water and on the fourth by a broken down antique Roman wall studded by decaying watch towers. Like so many before him, he wandered mesmerised through a city of a hundred sounds interrupted by the haunting cries of the muezzins and embraced by a skyline studded by the domes and minarets of various religious buildings. The greatest of these, the Hagia Sophia, combined both Christian and Islamic styles having been transformed from an early Christian church into a mosque following the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453.
The city held memories in each visitor’s eyes and mind long after each had left. From tiny Armenian restaurants with French proprietors in the old Porte or Aubrey’s suggestion of the Tokatlian restaurant in the Grande Rue de Pera, all proved a great success. French was more useful than English and both were wholly insufficient in the bazaars.
All too soon it was time for Carnarvon and Trotman to set off towards home and three days later they had reached Germany. Usually, Lord Carnarvon favoured Panhard Levassors as his car of choice and found them most reliable but for this trip he was driving a Belgian marque, a Metallurgique, a very sporting car.
Nevertheless, the car had been a great success and it was with confidence and easy familiarity that Carnarvon drove at some speed along the long empty sunny roads framed by thick dark endless forests and scattered low lying pockets of agricultural fields. Motor cars were not especially popular in rural regions – they had no mufflers so they announced their arrival well in advance and the occupants never looked back as they hastened on to somewhere else.
They were not far from Bad Schwalbach now, tired and, given there was no windscreen, both were grateful for their thick tweed coats and hats which offered some protection against the wind as they bowled along.
Carnarvon guessed the extraordinarily straight road was a Roman one, laid some two thousand years earlier road but as they crested a rise, they were confronted by an unexpected dip at the bottom of which, spread across the entire width, were two bullock carts.
Reacting swiftly, Carnarvon put the car onto the grass verge but hit a pile of stones. Two tyres burst and the entire car somersaulted and fell upside down. Trotman was mercifully flung clear and he later said he felt his thick coat shielded his fall.
Carnarvon, however, was trapped upside down by the steering wheel across a ditch. With the strength of despair, Trotman crawled underneath to find his employer unconscious.
He had suffered a massive trauma. Like you, I wondered what happened next..