Shropshire Star

The amazing story of Walter Davies who broke world speed records on the River Severn

For almost 50 years businessman, designer and inventor Walter Davies kept a remarkable scrapbook.

Walter Davies pointed out that Donald Campbell's famous Bluebird, seen here on Ullswater gearing up for its 1955 world record breaking feat, shared design features he had pioneered 34 years previously.

Running to 74 pages and packed with over 120 original photographs, cuttings, and memorabilia, it is a goldmine charting a lifetime of creativity, adventure, and innovation.

It includes his exploits on the River Severn at Bewdley where he broke world water speed records, and recording his eventful trips up river to the Ironbridge Gorge and beyond where his appearance would create a minor sensation.

The scrapbook spans 1921 to 1970.

Walter, of Dudley, was a pioneer and great champion of the hydroglider, which today we would call an airboat.

With his designs he was in the vanguard in overcoming a barrier to boat speed as profound as the sound barrier which had scientists and aviators pondering the challenges of achieving supersonic flight.

And when speed king and national hero Donald Campbell set a new world water speed record in 1955, Wallie – this seems to have been his preferred spelling – was able to point out the similarities in the design of Campbell's famous Bluebird to the first hydroglider he had built, fully 34 years beforehand.

One of Wallie’s hydrogliders at Ironbridge in July 1937, with the town’s famous coracle man Harry Rogers in attendance. Three Black Country friends took it on a holiday trip from Gloucester to Shrewsbury, but didn’t quite reach the county town because of the weir.

The scrapbook begins in 1921, the year he built that first craft, and the last entries are in 1970, just two years before his death.

It is a unique and invaluable record, now in the possession of Telford antiquarian and rare books dealer Andrew Cox.

"I bought it at an auction in Shrewsbury about three or four years ago," he said.

"It's fascinating, a really interesting piece of local history. I try to go for interesting, unusual, one-off things, and this is certainly unique. As a book dealer I bought it to resell, obviously, and it is for sale."

Andrew had never heard of Walter Davies before, and does not know who had the scrapbook previously.

"The auction house does not let you know that sort of information."

At the drawing board in later life.

He added: "I'm not an expert on him and I haven't read through it as I haven't got time when I have so many things for sale."

Nevertheless he has researched information about Walter online for the purposes of describing it for sale, and added one or two snippets extracted from within the scrapbook itself.

Andrew doesn't want to say how much he paid, and thinks the item would be of interest to an institutional library collection, such as the archives in Dudley or Shropshire because of the great local history relevance to those places. The asking price reflects the unique nature of the item – £1,500.

"I paid a reasonable amount of money for it, so I can't give it away."

Anybody interested can take a look through his Andrew Cox Rare Books website.

So who was Walter Davies and what was the significance of his work?

Designers of boats and ships which travel through the water face a hydrodynamic barrier which limits their maximum speed.