Chocks away at Shuttleworth

Report of a visit to the Shuttleworth Collection on 4 September 2016.

By Tony Scott

This item first appeared in Newsletter 130, December 2016

Members will recall a fascinating talk last September by Debbie Lund in which she told us about the life and times of the Shuttleworth family at Old Warden Park (see Newsletter 127). How Richard Shuttleworth, born in 1909, grew up to be a passionate and famous racing driver as well as a pioneer pilot and arising from this built up an extraordinary collection of vintage cars and aircraft. He also collected and maintained for posterity a range of agricultural equipment. Sadly, Richard was killed while on a training flight with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and as he was the last male in the family line his mother established in 1944 a family trust to preserve the house and estate as well as his beloved collection of cars and aircraft. Since then the Collection has been enhanced by continuous addition and improvement well illustrated by the museum and gardens which are open to the public and by regular air displays.

Against this background it was entirely appropriate that Margaret Pratt should so ably organise a group of members to visit the Collection on Sunday 4 September 2016. Nineteen members signed up for this event and made an early start with an organised visit to the on-site workshops which are at the heart of the maintenance operations. One of the features of the substantial aircraft and car collection is that, as far as possible, they are kept in full working condition. One of the projects we saw in the workshop was a Spitfire nearing the end of its restoration programme and with the expectation that it will be flying again later this year or early next. Another project was the restoration of an early farm straw conveyor.

Photo:Spitfire MkVc AR501 undergoing restoration at Shuttleworth, March 2016

Spitfire MkVc AR501 undergoing restoration at Shuttleworth, March 2016

Copyright Shuttleworth Collection


One of the outstanding features of the visit was the enthusiasm and friendliness shown by the many volunteers in the workshops, hangars and elsewhere many of whom have little or no relevant previous experience – merely a love for what they are doing. However, I should add that the engineers working on, particularly, the aircraft have to be fully trained and authorised and many are ex Royal Air Force or from elsewhere in the aviation world.

Having visited the workshops it was time for a well earned coffee break in the adjacent café, followed by a visit to the Swiss Garden which was created in 1832, before the time of the Shuttleworths. The Garden is an outstanding example of Regency fashion for creating landscapes in a picturesque Alpine style. The Swiss Garden is a peaceful, tranquil space, and one which has new vistas revealed at every turn. It is in direct contrast to the museums, displays and noise from cars and aircraft in flight elsewhere in the park. Within the garden are 13 listed structures (summer houses, kiosks etc) many linked ponds, mounds, specimen trees, plants and hideaways.

Beyond the Garden is the Mansion built in 1875 to replace the former Manor House and the former home of the Shuttleworth family. It is now part of the Shuttleworth Agricultural College and hosts weddings and other events. Sadly, it now has a typical institutional feel about it but does house an interesting collection of paintings. There is also a plaque in one of the rooms remembering the death in 1940 of Richard Shuttleworth, aged 31, while flying with the RAF.

After a full morning it was time for lunch in the restaurant where the options ranged from a full Sunday lunch to a variety of other hot meals and snacks. It was then time to tour the hangars where the many aircraft and displays could be viewed. These ranged from a 1909 Bleriot Xl, the world’s oldest airworthy aircraft (sometimes referred to as a flying birdcage) to several Hurricanes. The Bleriot was meant to fly later in the afternoon but the wind was a bit too strong to take the risk. The accent of the aircraft on display was mainly on the older aircraft many of First World War vintage such as the Sopwith Pup and De Havilland biplanes some still fitted with their machine guns and Royal Flying Corps markings.

Some 20 plus veteran, vintage and classic cars had been moved from the hangars into a line up outside prior to a parade around the arena. All had been restored and maintained to a high standard and were gleaming in the sunlight (or would have been if the sun had broken through the cloud – at least it was warm and didn’t rain!). They were a delight to see and even more spectacular when they drove around the arena. The occasion was further elevated by the music of the Sea Scouts Band.

At 2pm prompt the flying display was underway with a succession of different types of aircraft some as singletons while others were in groups ranging from a Cap 232 flown by Emily Todd to a group of four Tiger Moths also flown by women. The largest aircraft was a Catalina flying boat, used extensively during WW2 by the American, British and other allied air forces, which gracefully flew around the airfield several times at low speed.

The many different displays, involving a wide variety of aircraft, were punctuated with aerial acrobatics with daredevil twists and turns and lots of smoke and happily no accidents. There was even an air race! Although the day had started out being rather blustery the wind abated somewhat during the course of the afternoon to the benefit of the aerial displays but unfortunately not sufficient to allow the Bleriot Xl to fly. The display ended after more than 3 hours of continuous performance.

For those who stayed beyond the flying display, and resisted the rush for a speedy exit, much pleasure was derived in watching close up all the aircraft being towed by tractors back to the hangars. It was a long day but one which everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy and left in many cases with a wish to return sometime soon.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Chocks away at Shuttleworth' page

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