The Campbells, Sir Malcolm and his son Donald Campbell who lived in Chislehurst are among the most famous speed record setters of history. Lucya Szachnowski looks at their achievements

SIR Malcolm Campbell was born on March 11, 1885, the son of a diamond merchant. While in Europe studying the diamond business, he developed an interest in motorbikes, winning a London-to-Edinburgh motorcycle test three years running.

He had his first car by 1910, which he called Bluebird a name he was to continue to use. By 1924, a Bluebird powered by a 12-cylinder Sunbeam engine took Campbell to his first official international land speed record of 146.16 miles per hour at Pendine Sands, in Wales. A year later, he upped that to more than 150mph.

But he had his challengers, including Henry Segrave, who went faster than 156 mph in 1926 and then hit 203.79 mph at Daytona Beach, USA, in 1927. Campbell recaptured the record, at 206.96 mph, at Daytona the following year.

He was in South America preparing for another record run in 1929 when Segrave set the record of 231.44 mph at Daytona.

Unable to beat that in South America, Campbell returned to Daytona in 1931 with a Bluebird and an aircraft engine.

He hit 246.09 mph to take the record and was knighted the same year.

In 1932, he became the first man to exceed 250 mph, clocking 253.97 mph. By 1935, he had set the mark of 276.82 at Daytona.

Wanting to reach the 300mph mark, he searched for a better site and found it at the Bonneville Salt Flats. On September 3, 1935, in his most famous Bluebird, he became the first man to clock 301.13 mph.

With that, he gave up his quest for speed on land to search for it on water, taking the world water speed record in 1937 with a speed of 129.5 mph. He beat this in 1938 with a speed of 130.93 mph and again, at Coniston Water on 19 August 1939, achieving a speed of 141.74 mph, a record which was still his when he died on 31 December, 1948, in Reigate, Surrey.

This was a hard act for his son, Donald, to follow when he took over Sir Malcolm's Bluebird K4 in 1949.

In 1951, after Stan Sayres and Ted Jones had wrested back the record for America with the Slo-Mo-Shun IV, K4 was disembowelled on Coniston and Donald was lucky to survive a 170 mph collision with a submerged railway sleeper.

Undeterred, he created the jet-propelled Bluebird K7 which was powered by a Metropolitan-Vickers Beryl jet engine of 4,000lb thrust.

It was taken to Ullswater in 1955. On July 23, he achieved 202.32 mph. Later that season, Bluebird sank while on test at Lake Mead, in Nevada.

The craft was raised and repaired and, on November 16, he boosted his record to 216.20 mph.

In the 50s, holiday magnate Sir Billy Butlin offered £5,000 annually to anyone who broke the record. Each year, Campbell nudged it a little higher: 225.63 mph in 1956; 239.07 in 1957; 248.62 in 1958; and 260.35 in 1959.

Then came disaster when he crashed a Bluebird car at 300 mph in Utah in 1960, fracturing his skull.

On July 17, 1964, on a track on Australia's Lake Eyre, wet from rain and shorter than he wished, he averaged an heroic 403.1mph.

But it was a qualified success. Craig Breedlove had achieved 407 mph the previous year in his rule-busting pure-jet Spirit of America.

Three months after Lake Eyre, newly ratified jet cars annihilated Campbell's record.

On the last day of December, Campbell hit back, setting his seventh and final water record at 276 mph on Australia's Lake Dumbleyung. It was the only time anyone set new land and water records in the same year.

To raise the finance for a supersonic rocket Bluebird to regain his land speed crown, he crammed a more powerful Bristol-Siddeley Orpheus engine into Bluebird K7 and took her to Coniston Water for a crack at the 300 mph barrier.

A catalogue of problems, delays and dramas culminated in his fatal run on January 4, 1967. He recorded 297 mph running north to south, then headed back down the course without refuelling.

As he met his wake from the first run, Bluebird began "ramping" until, at a speed estimated as 328 mph, Bluebird climbed into the sky before flipping back into the water.

Donald was superstitious. No attempt after 1958 could start without Mr Whoppit, the Merriweather teddy bear given to him by his manager, Peter Barker.

Shortly before his death, he played cards and turned up the Ace and then the Queen of Spades.

The same combination had signalled the end for Mary, Queen of Scots. Donald said: "Someone in my family is going to get the chop. I pray God it's not me but, if it is, I hope I'm going ruddy fast at the time."

He was.

l An apartment in the house which was the Campbell's family home, in Chislehurst, is currently for sale through estate agent Bairstow Eves Exclusive Homes. Call 020 8464 7733.