Donald Campbell: King of Speed


Donald Campbell was born in Kingston on Thames, Surrey in 1921. His father was Sir Malcolm Campbell a pioneer in speed records, who himself broke 13 world records during the 1920s and 1930s. Donald continued his fathers record breaking attempts after the war.


In 1939 Donald volunteered at the RAF as World War 2 broke. However, due to health problems he wasn’t able to complete his time here and offered a job as a maintenance engineer.


In 1948 after the death of his father, Donald became interested in seeking new speed records on both water and land.

Donald then progressed and designed the Bluebird K7- a jet propelled hydroplane with the help of Ken and Lew Norris.The Bluebird K7 was a steel framed, aluminium bodied, three-point hydroplane with a Metropolitan-Vickers Beryl axial-flow turbojet engine, producing 3,500 pound-force (16 kN) of thrust.

23rd July 1955

Donald’s first world water speed record was here in Ullswater on 23rd July 1955 where he achieved a speed of 202.32 mph (325.60 km/h) but only after many months of trials and a major redesign of Bluebird’s forward sponson attachments points.

The hotel was the base for Donald whilst he worked to break what was his first world record and that evening celebrated his victory at the hotel with a special celebrartory dinner (a signed menu is displayed in our Campbell Library).

1955 to 1964

In total Donald set 7 world records between 1955 and 1964. He remains the worlds main water speed breaker to date.


on 4 January 1967, Donald was attempting in his K7 on Lake Coniston. His first run was successful. On the second run, the K7  had flipped in the rough water and landed nose first at over 300mph. His boat broke into pieces and Campbell was killed instantly.

Campbell’s last words via his radio intercom were;

Pitching a bit down here…Probably from my own wash…Straightening up now on track…Rather close to Peel Island…Tramping like mad…er… Full power…Tramping like hell here… I can’t see much… and the water’s very bad indeed…I can’t get over the top… I’m getting a lot of bloody row in here… I can’t see anything… I’m going…. oh!

Our Campbell library situated on the first floor in the hotel is dedicated to Donald Campbell CBE. Many items of memorabilia which includes; books, photos, news articles and examples of  souvenirs which dated back to his time here in Ullswater.