The Ruskin Museum, Coniston, Cumbria

The Ruskin Museum

Telling the Story of Coniston Since 1901

Tel: 01539 441164

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Campbell and Bluebird FAQs

Why Blue Bird?

Ruskin Museum Coniston - Campbell & Bluebird

Malcolm Campbell gave his first racing cars boring names before being captivated by the theme of Maeterlinck’s Symbolist operatic fantasy, The Blue Bird, in 1912.

The pursuit of happiness, so close, yet tantalisingly beyond reach, seemed to symbolise his own determined pursuit of ever faster speeds.

He appropriated the name, colour, and logo, to build his own ‘brand’ and legend. All his subsequent cars, hydroplanes, and personal yachts were named Blue Bird.

Why Bluebird?

Following Malcolm’s death, Donald changed the name to Bluebird, to differentiate his cars and hydroplanes from those of his father.

Why ‘K’? and why the figure 8 on its side?

‘K’ = the symbol used by Lloyds for the insurance class of boats with unlimited engine power.

‘Unlimited’ = ‘infinite’.

The rotation of the figure 8 is the infinity symbol.

Malcolm’s first World Water Speed Record-breaking hydroplane was Blue Bird K3.

Its faster successor was Bluebird K4.

Two other hydroplanes had been registered in the ‘K’ class before Donald Campbell’s iconic Bluebird K7 began her legendary career.

Why Coniston Water?

Summer 1939: Malcolm was convinced that war with Germany was imminent, and that continental Europe would soon be out of bounds for further record attempts. This ruled out the Italian and Swiss lakes.

Leo Villa was sent to locate possible British alternatives.

Loch Ness was too distant; Loch Lomond  too busy; Windermere was unlucky because of Segrave’s fatal crash in 1930; Ullswater was crooked, and had obstructive islands.

Coniston Water was fjord-like, deep and straight, with no inconvenient islands, and it was five miles long.

Pier Cottage had a slipway, built for S.Y. Gondola, and provided an ideal, secure base.

The Campbell’s used that base regularly between 1939 and 1967, [apart from 1947, when larger premises were needed for ‘The Coniston Slipper’, the jet-engined K4.

Who is Mr Whoppit?

‘The Story of Woppit’ was a popular 1950s cartoon strip in the Hulton children’s comic, Robin. It featured the adventures of a bear. In 1956, Merrythought made a 9 inch tall toy ‘Woppit’ teddy-bear; the bear wore a red felt jacket.

Donald Campbell’s business manager thought he should have a mascot, and gave him a ‘Woppit’, soon re-named, more formally, and with an ‘h’ added, Mr Whoppit, who proudly wore the Bluebird logo, hand-embroidered on his coat.

This lucky mascot was carried in all of Donald Campbell’s Record attempts, on Water and Land, and miraculously floated to the surface after Bluebird K7’s fatal crash on 4 January 1967.

Mr Whoppit was later carried aboard Gina Campbell’s power-boats during her various Record attempts.

In the 1990s Merrythought produced a second edition of  5,000 teddy-bears, this time re-branded as ‘Mr Whoppit’ after Donald Campbell’s famous mascot, and now sporting the Bluebird badge.

What practical results have come from pursuing Trophy Races and the World Water Speed Record?

Lessons learned from the design of fast-engined boats intended to win circuit-based Trophy Races
or to break the World Water Speed Record informed advances in the design of fast motor boats in naval warfare  -  the Royal Navy’s Coastal Motor Boats [CMBs], Motor Torpedo Boats [MTBs] & Motor Gun Boats [MGBs]; the United States Navy’s Patrol Torpedo [PT] boats; the German Navy’s Schnellboot [known to the Allies as E-boats]  -  used for torpedo attacks, fast assaults, and air-sea rescue, in both The Great War, and the Second World War.

Malcolm Campbell’s August 1939 World Water Speed Record breaking Bluebird K4 was designed and built by Vospers, utilising marine ply  -  for light weight and fast speed, but also to escape magnetic mines  -  and a Rolls Royce aircraft engine to deliver that speed. K4 was a test-bed for ideas used in the MTBs and MGBs. Malcolm Campbell had stood [unsuccessfully] for parliament, on a Re-Armament ticket, and went on to serve in Special Operations during WW2.

Why did the wreckage of Bluebird K7 and Donald Campbell’s remains stay on the lake bed for so long?

After the fatal crash, Donald Campbell’s widow, mother, and sister  requested that the crash site be treated as a grave, unmolested.

The exact site was a closely guarded local secret, protected by Coniston people for more than 30 years.

As diving equipment & technology improved, the site became increasingly vulnerable.

When informed of Bill Smith’s professional search for K7, Donald Campbell’s daughter, Gina,
granted him permission to continue on condition that ‘ you find my Dad so I can put him somewhere warm’.

He did. Donald Campbell’s Funeral was held at St Andrew’s Church, Coniston, on 12 September 2001, followed by burial in Coniston Cemetery, Hawkshead Old Road.

What is the Absolute World Water Speed Record [WWSR]?

The WWSR applies to:

  • a vessel travelling over open water [not ice]
  • for two timed runs
  • in opposite directions
  • completed within one hour
  • over a measured mile or kilometre
  • to calculate an average speed

The World Unlimited Water Speed Record is the officially recognised fastest speed of a water-borne vehicle. The Record was officially established in 1928, and is currently ratified by the Unions International Motonautique UIM].