Tuesday, 20 August 2019

More From The Collection

The Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden, that is. Just a few random items that caught my eye as I wandered round, some from Shuttleworth's time and some later additions.

Sopwith Triplane (1916)

This was a state-of-the-art fighter plane when it was introduced in 1916, but such was speed of innovation in flying during the Great War that by 1917 it had been superseded by the Sopwith Camel. Test pilot Harry Hawker was so confident in the Triplane's design that within three minutes of take-off on its maiden flight he did three successive loops! Most of these aircraft were manufactured in Clayton & Shuttleworth's factory, the one above though is a reproduction of the original plane, but one which won the approval of Sir Thomas Sopwith himself.

1903 Marot-Gardon Quadricycle

In the early days of the internal combustion engine all sorts of wacky vehicles were designed as manufacturers sought the way forward - including this four-wheeled motorbike with the pillion seat at the front! The firm of Marot-Gardon made several designs of motorised tricycles and quadricycles which used to take part in road races alongside the cars of the day.

Allis-Chalmers (Model B) 1950

These little tractors were made in the United States from 1937 onwards and over the following two decades 127,100 were produced. From 1947 they were also manufactured in England, initially from parts made in the US but later made wholly in this country. This charming machine was found in a barn a few miles away and was restored by one of the engineers employed here.

Arvo Triplane IV (a replica of the 1910 plane)

This remarkable machine is a copy of a plane made in the early years of the twentieth century. Early models were merely development prototypes as the pioneers of aviation refined their art, but by the time this Model IV was built it was good enough to use at the flying school at Brooklands but, as it says on the information board, "several times coming into intimate contact with the sewage farm". 

This copy was built for use in the film "Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines". As it is largely true to the original plane and flies really well it was purchased for the Collection and can sometimes be seen flying sedately over the fields of Old Warden on calm days. 

Ivel Cycle Woks (Est 1880)

Some of you may remember that I wrote a bit about Dan Albone in an earlier post. He lived just down the road at Biggleswade and was a cycle-enthusiast who came up with many inventions which led to him building the first modern bicycles. This is a reproduction of his premises and displays a range of cycles showing the improvements which took place during his short but productive lifetime.

Mignet HM.14 Pou-de-Ciel

Suspended on wires from the roof of one of the hangars is this sweet little "Pou-de-Ciel" (literally "Louse of the Sky", but usually rather freely translated as "Flying Flea"). From 1920 onwards Frenchman Henri Mignet strove to develop a small plane which enthusiasts could build at home, leading to the HM.14 in 1933. Mignet flew the plane successfully and published the plans, resulting in many planes being built worldwide. 

However many of these home-built aircraft began to crash, getting into dives which the pilots were unable to pull out of. This led to the planes being grounded or banned in many countries. It was later proved that the accidents were caused by the builders incorporating design features of their own, such as putting in larger engines or modifying the wings. The Pou-de-Ciel never lived down the bad publicity, though thousands of micro-light aircraft of basically similar design have been built and flown since.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vc (1941)

"Spitfire" - just the name of it was enough to get small boys of my generation excited as we ran around the playground with arms outstretched enacting air battles! This particular plane was flown out of Duxford by No. 310 (Czech) Squadron escorting USAAF bombers of the 91st Bombardment Group which included the famous "Memphis Belle". It has recently been completely stripped down and returned to its original wartime specifications. 

Take care.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Down London Way

The main road from London to Cambridge used to pass right through Melbourn, though within my lifetime a by-pass has been built around the village and a whole new motorway, the M11, provides another link to the capital city. Nowadays I stroll along Melbourn High Street as part of one of my regular walks.

As you can see it's fairly peaceful early on a Sunday morning, but there are reminders of its busy past...

An old milestone is set, none too squarely, into a wall that I pass and several of the larger houses have names like The Old Rose, which betray their former importance as roadside inns.

And the rather quaint residence above bears the name of Turnpike Cottage, harking back to the days when travellers would have paid a small toll to use this section of road, the money thus collected being used for the upkeep of the highway. This system, which was introduced in the seventeenth century, was a huge improvement over the previous piecemeal road repairs carried out sporadically by local authorities.

A little farther along I come across a sign for London Way. But it doesn't refer to the old turnpike road as you might think, but to a minor track now used by purely local traffic.

It starts off as a roughly-surfaced track beneath overhanging trees and is wide enough to suggest that it's been a major road in fairly recent times, but that's deceiving. This lower section is used by farms and some building companies who have premises a little way off the track.

The further you go the rougher and narrower it gets and you also realise that you're in a sunken road with banks rising above head-height on either side. This usually denotes a very old road indeed. These "holloways" as they're sometimes called may date back a thousand years or more. Occasionally you'll hear it said that the Saxons constructed their roads like this and used them to mark boundaries. 

However most of the sunken roads, in this part of the country at least, occur in hillier parts of the county and the steeper the hill, the deeper the roadway. They are almost certainly caused by erosion. Rainwater soon found the ruts made by waggon wheels and washed any loose soil downslope, gradually lowering the road-surface below the surrounding fields.
The fact that boundaries, which are known to survive from Saxon times, follow these sunken ways just shows how very ancient some of these routes must be.

But was this rural byway ever the main route to London. Well, yes - and no! Before the turnpike system regularised the roads people tended to go where they could. Roads became flooded, muddy or impassable and travellers, of necessity, took to the higher ground along any route that was open to them. And I think that's what would have happened here and this was just one of the possible ways to London.

I met this peaceable old soul along the track who seemed to be taking himself for a walk. I'm pretty certain he's a Lurcher, a type of dog originally bred by gypsies to hunt rabbits and hares.

Eventually my track "comes up for air" and, no longer restricted by high banks, gives views out over the recently harvested fields. And soon it rejoins the modern London road.

But my footsteps may have been traversing a path which dates from a time before people ever troubled themselves with which way it was to "dear old London town", before London was a place of any importance at all. And the evidence for that lies just to one side of the track, just before its highest point.

This is Grinnel Hill, a Bronze Age burial mound, that's probably around 3,000 years old. So maybe this same path I walk today, wearing my lightweight boots and carrying my camera and binoculars, was once walked by a prehistoric tribe on their way to bury their former chieftain. Makes you think.

Take care.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

August's Garden

Schools' Garden

There is an area in the Cambridge Botanic Garden which is set aside for rather younger scholars than those at the University. It is gardened with the help of local primary schools and is also the base for children's activities, of which there are many during the Summer holidays.

On the day I had a look around there were no young gardeners present but I was soon so absorbed in the mood of the garden that someone I had not seen for many years came to show me around. Yes, it was the "imaginary friend" I used to play with so long ago! And looking no older after all these years.

So here is a tour of the Schools' Garden as conducted by that make-believe pal.....

A group of people came into the garden to have a look around and take some photographs. When I turned back my imaginary friend was gone.

Take care.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

A Man And His Flying Machines

The Shuttleworth Collection of historic aeroplanes, vintage vehicles and a lot more besides is in the care of the Shuttleworth Trust which was founded by Dorothy Shuttleworth in memory of her only son, Richard.

So who was this Richard Ormonde Shuttleworth? Lets take a wander through the collection, look at the exhibits and learn a little about him.

A Clayton & Shuttleworth steam engine

He was born in 1909, the son of Colonel Frank Shuttleworth and his wife Dorothy. Richard's grandfather was the founding partner of Clayton & Shuttleworth, the Lincoln firm of agricultural engineers who pioneered the development of steam engines and threshing machines.

A re-creation of an engineering workshop 

When Richard was only four years old his father died and the family began to prepare the young boy to take over the family firm once he was old enough to do so. Richard was no great scholar however and just scraped into Eton. He failed to impress academically but proved himself to be brilliant in the school's mechanical workshop. Throughout his life he was fascinated by all kinds of machines.

Dreams of the RAF,
a 1918 Arvo 504K

On leaving Eton he just managed to get into the army where he distinguished himself mainly as a keen horseman winning several horse races. On gaining his inheritance he left the army and wanted to join the RAF but was rejected as being "too old"; he was 23 at the time.

The1898 Panhard et Lavassor bought by Richard Shuttleworth in 1928
and restored by him and entered into the
 London-Brighton Road Run the following year

He had already become interested in old cars and at the age of 19 he began entering the London to Brighton Road Run for veteran cars in several different vehicles which he had restored in his workshop. 

The 1939 MG TA Midget owned by Richard at the time of his death

He soon became interested in faster cars and won the Brighton Speed Trials, breaking the course record. In 1935 he won the Donnington Grand Prix and another big race at Brooklands. The following year he entered the South African Grand Prix and had a bad crash, leaving him  unconscious in hospital for 19 days. That ended Richard's racing career and he decided to take up something safer - flying aeroplanes (!)

Blackburn Monoplane 1912
The oldest airworthy plane of British origin,
 it still flies at the airshows held at Old Warden airfield.

Shuttleworth's obsession with all things mechanical meant that his new hobby did not end at merely flying planes. he acquired many old planes and restored them to airworthy condition. The Blackburn Monoplane seen above was discovered in a barn in 1937 and he set about a long-term restoration project. But we can do better than that......

1909 Bleriot Type XI
the oldest flying aeroplane and aero-engine in the world

This plane was built by Blériot in 1909, the year that he flew across the Channel. It was used at Bleriot's Flying School at Hendon. It crashed in 1910 and was bought by a scrap-metal merchant who restored it and taught himself to fly in it. It was put into storage during the Great War where it remained until Shuttleworth bought it in 1935 and re-built it.

With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 Richard joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve. Once he'd completed the training he was to join the crash investigation team. In order to complete this formality he took off from an airfield in Oxfordshire, soon afterwards the plane crashed into a hillside and he was killed.

Richard's mother kept all her son's planes and vehicles as a memorial to him. And what more appropriate memorial could there be? And perhaps the most fitting part of the whole collection is just a little off the main route taken by many visitors.

You can still visit the original workshop where Richard Shuttleworth worked on his planes. A young man was at work restoring one of the many working exhibits in the collection.

Take care.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

A Little Bit Of Switzerland

Having looked at the Tiger Moth aeroplanes at Old Warden it would be logical and sensible to show you the Shuttleworth Collection of historic planes and other vehicles which are housed in the hangars. But I'm going to do no such thing. Instead we'll have a quick look at something that lurks behind the hangars.

In the 1820s the 3rd Baron Ongley, who owned the Old Warden estate, decided to have a garden in the fashionable "Swiss" style. This was the age of the Grand Tours of Europe which were undertaken by the wealthy, who came back with all sorts of new ideas for transforming their homes and gardens.

It's not known whether the young Lord Ongley ever went on such a tour. In fact, it's tempting to suggest that he didn't, as some parts of this Swiss Garden look more Chinese.... or Greek.... or Indian! But that didn't really matter at the time, it was more a work of fantasy than strict factual accuracy.

Above, for example, is Ongley's idea of a Swiss Cottage, sitting on top of its Alpine height - a small man-made hillock. It was used as a summer-house where the family could have tea, there being a cleverly constructed room beneath the main room where servants could prepare the picnic. When you get up close you find it has this door....

What do you call that? Swiss canton or Cantonese? Well, Ongley didn't care and neither, I suppose, do the many couples who get married in these picturesque surroundings each year.

One of my favourite features is the subterranean passage that leads to the fernery. It's not a real underground cavern but a cunningly constructed grotto making use of the artificial rock known as Pulhamite, invented by one James Pulham and said to have been realistic enough to have fooled some geologists!

In time it is hoped that the fernery will contain a nationally important collection; it already looks impressive to my eye.

Out in the garden I made the acquaintance of this regal figure who, even if he is not the sole owner of this wonderland, clearly considers himself to be a cut above the Canada Geese and Coots who inhabit some of the ponds.

There's a slightly Chinese flavour to the little bridge over the stream...

….and, above, all pretence is abandoned with what is known as the Indian Kiosk. Although the garden has had a few tweaks and adjustments since its conception it's still considered to be the most complete example of a Regency-style garden and six of the buildings within it are listed for preservation.

There's also a Woodland Walk which leads down to the shores of the boating lake. Along the way some wooden sculptures have been added recently which fit in well with the scheme of the older garden.

(I haven't forgotten the Shuttleworth Collection; we'll get back to the old aeroplanes in the next post).

Take care.