People Profile – Karl McMurray – Memorabiliast

My great, great uncle, Bill Langfield, sitting in the 1935 Donington Grand Prix-winning, 1932-34 Alfa Romeo Tipo B Grand Prix Monoposto which he helped convert from a racing car to a road car in 1948 for it’s then owner Charles Brakenbury

My love for car restoration and transport memorabilia started off when I was very young. My grandad who unfortunately passed away about eight years ago, used to work at Vickers-Armstrong’s at Brooklands. He was an aircraft engineer during the war and worked on the Wellington Bomber, and worked with Barnes Wallace, then went onto work on the VC10 aircraft built by Vicars and BAC. British Aircraft Corporation. He continued working there until he took early retirement around 1982, when they began to shut Brooklands down. He worked on Concorde’s wings and Concorde was the last project in his career.

Like my grandad, my great, great uncle Bill (Langfield) also worked at Brooklands. He worked primarily on the Bugatti and Alfa Romeo racing cars. He was a mechanical engineer and was a skilled man converting single seater cars to two seaters. When one of the racing cars finished its career, or wasn’t keeping up with the rest of its competitors, it became redundant. If the owner liked the car, he would get my great uncle to convert it to a two-seater, road-going car.

My great, great uncle Bill working on Alfa Romeos and Bugattis at Brooklands in the early 1940s

When Brooklands began to open up as a museum, I vividly remember being taken there with my family. I would have been about four or five years of age back then. It was somewhere my parents wanted to visit so as a child, I just tagged along. But I suppose engineering and old cars are in my genes and my interest just grew and grew as I got older.

On the first occasion the museum had the Wellington, Bomber which had just been retrieved out of Loch Ness. They were beginning to rebuild it so the whole aircraft was in pieces. I remember my mother and father talking to one of the people restoring the aircraft and they mentioned my Grandad working there. It was more than likely he worked on that aircraft as an engineer because it was originally built at Brooklands, that’s why it was returned there. Because of my Grandad’s career, they actually let me sit in the tail turret and from that moment I was hooked. I’ve always had a fascination for Brooklands since then, it’s always been somewhere I visit regularly. I renew my membership every year and always attend their events.

I was born in 1984 and brought up in Woking, which is only a short distance from Brooklands. I attended the local schools although I didn’t enjoy school very much. I’m actually dyslexic and always struggled with school work. I liked sports, art and design technology, and especially design technology when I was at secondary school, St John the Baptist school, in Woking. The DT teacher there, Mr Airs, always encouraged me and recognised my love for constructing and the engineering side especially so he would push me to develop my skills, whereas other teachers at the school perceived me as almost a lost cause unfortunately. The art and sports teachers always inspired me.

I’ve also had an interest in history from a very early age and historical events that occurred when I was young made an impact on me. When I was young my dad would often let me have bits of spare wood. When I heard about the tragic sinking of the Titanic, I made a little model of the ship and added a couple of cooper pipes as the funnels. If anything historical was happening in the world, that always peaked my interest.

Left to Right, Me aged 16 with my GCSE ‘downhill racing car’, my dad and HRH Prince Philip at Carlton House London 1990

During my school years, when I was about 10 or 11, I started to build my own scooter. I could probably put my enthusiasm for this down to watching television programmes like Heartbeart, where they used to have the old BSAs and Francis Barnett’s motorbikes. I think my dad also whetted my appetite for motorbikes and scooters by his stories of how he would ride a motorbike in some local sandpits when he was young. I couldn’t afford to buy my own bike but my mum let me have one that she’d owned when she was young that was lying about in the garage, a Suzuki K10 I believe it was. Through helping my dad out, I got some funds together to restore the bike and got it running again, though it took a few years.

Throughout my life I’ve had numerous cars that I’ve started to build. I actually built a downhill racer for my GCSE project at school, based on an old Bugatti race car, from the old Brooklands times. It was basically a gravity-racer which you took to the top of a hill, someone else would start you off by giving the initial push and away you went, flying all the way down to the bottom of the hill!

The Lotus sports car I owned which was another early project

It was supposedly quite a popular car in America. I made one for my school project and it was subsequently entered into the Young Engineers at Royal Surrey. I was sent up to Carlton House in London and met Prince Phillip who was present and he spoke to the young engineers individually. Essentially it was a chance for schools to show off their best students and I was selected to go up and represent the school. Prince Phillip, I discovered was a really nice bloke, a very knowledgeable man. Essentially, he has a broad understanding about everything and he knew all about the race car right away when he saw it. We discussed together about other famous people who had built the same vehicle. He asked where I was from, which school and so forth, it was a good 15 minutes or so we were chatting and I was able to get a photo with him too. He once said “Everything that wasn’t invented by God is invented by an engineer,” HRH Prince Philip.

After my success with the downhill race car, I went on to build a Lotus. However, after I’d made a start, one came up for sale that was already fully restored so I cut the corner and bought it! It was just one of those fortunate things. I was 17 at the time and a bit impatient being so young, so rather than construct it, I cut out the ‘middle man’. While I enjoyed driving it for a few years, it was more of a show car really, not a car that could be driven to work or an everyday car and I eventually sold it on.

My old Austin chassis car racing project, still ongoing…

As school years were coming to an end, I knew I would never go to university or college. The very thought of continuing with academic studies for a few more years was terrifying to me. However, a friend of ours at the time, owned a security and electrical company in Woking. I had worked for him during my school summer holidays and he offered me a job right from the day school ended and I worked there for a good few years. If I remember correctly, I finished school on the Wednesday or Thursday and started work there the very next day! From there I worked with my dad in the building sector, and spent some years alongside him. Then an opportunity arose after I helped a friend to set up an alarm system which we did together. He mentioned setting up an alarm system company and working full-time together. So we founded a company in 2012. He subsequently left after a while to pursue other things and I took over the business and here we are now, it’s still going strong!

We do security for both domestic and commercial purposes, as well as ANPR systems also known as Automatic Number Plate Recognition. We work right across the UK – any form of security there is, we do it! We constantly have to keep abreast of technology developments and progress. There’s always new technological systems of technology, it changes all the time. One minute we are recording in analogue and now we are recording in 4K, the industry progresses and moves on rapidly.

My great, great uncle Bill in the white overalls (moving the car), working on a Bugatti racing car at Brookwood race track in the 1940s

We’re madly busy nowadays actually, flat out though it quietened down considerably during the early months of COVID last year. We lost a number of our domestic customers as most people were at home and didn’t really need a security system. This happened during the first lockdown, and it knocked us for a while when everything went so quiet but really from the beginning of 2021 it’s just got busier and busier and we’re almost back to where we used to be before the pandemic began.

The racing cars my great, great uncle Bill was involved in building, the Bugatti and Alfa Romeo I’ve never actually driven, I’ve only ever seen them from afar. I’d love to have a go at driving one though! However, the Alfa Romeo was subsequently sold by the owner at Bonhams car auction a few years back and ended up being sold for 4.5 million pounds! I wouldn’t mind having a car like that in my collection especially as I have a family connection to the rebuilding of it.

Cleaning up my TVR

In September 2006 I married Denise, who I met back in 2003 online. She lived in Heathfield, East Sussex when we first met. We chatted for a while on the phone and then met up in person in Horsham. Subsequently Denise was made redundant from her job in May 2004 and she decided to relocate from living with her parents in East Sussex, and moved in with me in Woking. I proposed on Valentine’s Day in 2004 at Newlands Corner and we got married two years later. Our wedding day was so beautiful, held in Wadhurst Castle, East Sussex. We now have one little boy, Jack who is four years old. We moved here to Cranleigh in December 2007.

I have two sisters, Fiona who is older than me, and is a midwife at St Peter’s hospital, Chertsey and is married to my brother-in-law John and they have a 15-year-old son, Daniel. They live in Woking. My younger sister Abbie, also lives in Cranleigh and is married to Ross. They have a little girl, Ella who was born only five months before our little boy. Both children were delivered by my sister Fiona, at St Peter’s hospital which is a very special tribute to her skills.

My grandad’s protective wing-walking shoes he used when he worked on the maintenance of Concorde wings in the 1970s

Denise is very tolerant of my hobbies. I usually have several bits and bobs lying around for my car-building projects but I’m not allowed to keep them in the house, which is understandable. I store a lot of them in my office since no one else really comes here, apart from me.

For the bigger items, I have a workshop at home where I can keep them. To put you in the picture, some people might make desks and worktops out of wood where I have a V8 engine that I’m going to clean up and turn into a coffee table with a glass top! I get it from my Dad, he tends to buy lots of items with projects in mind and then finds it hard to have the time for them. My dad and I actually have an Austin chassis and engine which I’m hoping to build into a single seat race car so I can do hill climbs, but for the time being it’s in a barn waiting to be done. I’ve also still got my original Land Rover my dad bought me after I passed my driving test when I was 17.

A vintage fire extinguisher

I take time with my hobby because I’m fastidious when it comes to dissembling things as I like to keep everything neat and tidy and in its place. For me at the moment, having a young family, it’s difficult to complete things.

My son hasn’t followed in our footsteps just yet but I’m hoping he will. It would be nice for him to take up some form of interest in collecting otherwise the family collections will eventually be taken apart and sold off to other people. I have a special father-son bond with my dad through our common interest. I’d love to have that with my son too.

From Left to Right, a Second World War Gurkha badge, my grandad’s Second World War ARP badge and my grandad’s Second World War ARP knife

I have every intention of continuing to increase my collection as much as I can. I’ve got a 1956 Ferguson T-20 tractor which my little boy wants me to get going so he can have a go on it. I don’t know why but I’ve always wanted a tractor. There’s just something about them that are fantastic, I just love the history behind these objects.

My grandad used to tell me stories of how the Wellington Bomber would come back to land after being shot and the best part of a wing could be missing. They’d strip it down, place a new wing on it and send it back out to fly once again! It’s geodesic construction, the crossing of two lines over a curved area, it gave the planes a simple but strong structure. It had an aluminium cross section which was easy to replace, and it was wrapped in linen fabric, doped (lacquered) so it went hard. This meant planes would able to withstand very heavy loads for their size and bombardment, being shot at and the bullets would go straight through the fuselage and out the other side.

My collection of old metal tins and artifacts

Therefore, these planes could take some serious damage and still fly back to base. I have a small collapsible stool that was given to me by my grandad. I cannot remember if it was either a stool used by a Wellington Bomber crew member for looking out of the dome on top of the plane or my grandad made it into a stool from a damaged Wellington Bomber.

I don’t know if this is still the case but the Wellington Bomber used to hold the record for the quickest built plane. It was built in Felton and Brooklands and I think it’s still the fastest plane ever built from scratch, being completed and flown in under 24 hours! We’ve got so much to be thankful for in a sense, to the engineers who built and constructed all these things. The historic side of it means a great deal to my family.

More of my collection of old metal tins and artifacts

Fortunately, my grandad was never out on the front lines, getting shot but he was there when Vicar’s was bombed, while he was working. I think he popped out to grab something and when he came back it had been bombed. Since he was doing such an important job, he was part of the home guard. He spent his 21st birthday as a Lookout on one of the gas towers, during the second world war. When Vicar’s factory was bombed, he ran out to the pillboxes to get the guns but the ammo was kept in the clubhouse on the golf course, making the weapons useless at the moment they were required. Unless a German came down and threw their guns at them that was the best it was going to get! It was at that point he began working for Barnes Wallis, the great British inventor of the bouncing bomb. All these were great men that gave us the heritage we have today. It’s so important especially in this particular month of June, when we commemorate D-Day on June 6th and we remember them all.

When I look at a particular item, I don’t just see the item, I see the craftsmanship behind it, how it was made, who made it, who owned it beforehand and the history behind it. I don’t like to over-restore things either, because I believe every facet reflects the passing of time. It’s a bit like Trigger’s Broom or the Ship of Theseus, you can end up taking so much of a thing apart that it is no longer the same object. I try to keep as much of the item’s ‘character’ as possible, because if it’s altered too much it becomes a replica, not the original.

For more information contact Karl McMurray:
Phone: 01483 901914

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