The tragic death of Thomas (Tom) Barrett, did not occur during the First World War, but afterwards, and was to change the rules of motor racing forever.
Thomas Barrett was born on 21 November 1891 to parents George Barrett and Annie Walton, of Prestwood Road. In 1901, they were still living at 233 Prestwood Road, and the household consisted of Tom, his parents, his brothers William, Albert and Alfred, and sisters Emily, Jessica and Lilian. He attended Holy Trinity School, and the admission registers that we hold indicate that he was admitted to the Infant School on 22 April 1896, and the Junior School on 1 November 1899. He left on 17 November 1905 to start work.
Having served an apprenticeship at Culwell Works, Barrett worked for Guy Motors on the Dragonfly and Wasp aero engines. As these were seen as vital war work, Barrett was excused from military service during the First World War. On 27 June 1915, Barrett married Lillian Ivy Worthington-Roberts, and the couple moved to Burleigh Road. They later had a son, Dennis.
After the end of the War, outstanding wartime orders for Guy Motors’ aero engines were cancelled, so Barrett moved to Sunbeam to continue working on these engines. Later on he worked as a mechanic on the company’s racing cars.
In the 1924 Spanish Grand Prix, Sunbeams’ drivers were Henry Seagrave and Kenelm Lee Guiness, along with two mechanics (who at that time took part in the race with their drivers), Barrett and an Italian man, Marocchi. Originally Barrett was meant to drive with Seagrave (who went on to win the race), but as Guinness did not speak any Italian, they agreed to switch. The track was slippery due to recent rain, and on the eleventh lap Guiness lost control of his car. As it span and rolled over the track, both occupants were thrown out, and Barrett was killed instantly.
On 16 October 1924, Barrett was buried at Holy Trinity Church in Heath Town, with many of his former colleagues attending. This action resulted in a rule change in motor racing, and mechanics no longer rode in the cars during the race.