LOCAL people who have been following A Very English Scandal (BBC 1, 9pm on Sundays) may have noticed a minor historical inaccuracy in respect of the death of the wife of Jeremy Thorpe.

In the instalment on Sunday, 27 May, of the political drama, a radio news bulletin announced that Mrs Thorpe had been killed in a fatal road accident on the A303 but according to a report in the Basingstoke Gazette (Friday, 17 July, 1970) Caroline Thorpe, nee Allpass, was driving a Ford Anglia which collided with a lorry and/or a Humber car ‘on the A30 Basingstoke by-pass, near the Venture roundabout’.

The Gazette’s report follows the inquest into Mrs Thorpe’s death though it does not give the date on which the accident occurred or the location of the inquest. There is no reason to suppose that the Gazette was privy to information that was not available to the national newspapers at the time but it gives numerous eye-witness accounts from other drivers which seem to imply that Mrs Thorpe veered across the road and that the collision caused her vehicle to ‘somersault 12 feet in the air’ and to skid on its roof. A pathologist told the inquest that an alcohol test had proved negative. A Mr. Frederick Waters of Yateley had been traveling with his wife in the opposite direction when they witnessed the incident. They immediately ran to the upturned vehicle:

“I asked her if she was all right and she said ‘I think so.’ She then passed out unconscious.”

The Coroner Mr. John Clarke recorded a verdict of accidental death, speculating that Mrs Thorpe may have been attending to baggage that might have become dislodged when she went round the Venture roundabout. Jeremy Thorpe’s solicitor (not named) said the verdict was the one Mr. Thorpe was hoping for and ‘the Liberal leader was grateful for all the sympathy extended to him’.

The A30 and the A303 were both conceived in the 1920s as major routes from London to the South West. Each borrowed from existing routes including Roman roads and ancient tracks such as the Harrow Way. A Century of road-building has seen the 303 dominate a westward journey until it re-joins the A30 near Chard. However, the A303 never extended further East than Popham. Today it joins the M3 but back in 1970 it split from the A30 just to the west of North Waltham.

Mrs Thorpe’s accident is said to have occurred in the vicinity of the Venture roundabout which took its name from a restaurant and filling station that stood on the site now occupied by the Holiday Inn. The Venture was one of a number of businesses that sprang up to serve motorists on the A30 by-pass. The precise location of the crash is not clear but the Guardian newspaper has suggested that Mrs Thorpe was traveling from her husband’s North Devon constituency (presumably to London) and since the coroner observed that she had already negotiated the roundabout, this would place the accident on the eastern stretch of Grove Road which in 1970 took motorists directly to Redbridge Lane where Black Dam roundabout now dominates the landscape. Perhaps in this enlightened age a plaque or memorial would be appropriate.