Time Flies at Old Warden - the history of the Shuttleworth Collection

Photo:A 1916 Sopwith Pup in the air over Old Warden

A 1916 Sopwith Pup in the air over Old Warden

Shuttleworth Collection website - www.shuttleworth.org/

Report of a talk by Debbie Land to the Society on 22 September 2015

By Jean Gardner

Debbie Land, who replaced Alan Reed at short notice, gave us an entertaining evening among the vehicles and aircraft of the Shuttleworth Collection which was started in 1928 by Richard Ormonde Shuttleworth. After a troublesome time at Eton where he did not want to study but simply devote his time to engines. This was followed by ten years in the Royal Air Force where he honed his skills on aero engines before going to Sandhurst to train as an officer continuing to spend his time with cars. In 1932 he learned to fly and a plane soon joined the growing vehicle collection. He continued to add to it until his death in a flying accident at RAF Benson in 1940.

The Shuttleworth family can be traced back to 14th century wool millers in Lancashire. The Old Warden Mansion standing today reflects Gawthorpe Hall the family home near Burnley. Built in Victorian times in the Jacobean style it was passed down to Frank Shuttleworth. When he died his wealth was inherited by his only child, four year old Richard. After Richard’s death his mother Dorothy arranged for the Collection to be preserved for educational purposes and saw the mansion open as an agricultural college in 1946.

Keeping the collection airborne

The Collection is run by a charitable trust with school visits high on the agenda. The emphasis is on working planes, vehicles and motorcycles. It employs eight full time engineers and trains apprentices in the skills needed to maintain the old engines and airframes. Numerous volunteers assist with cleaning, painting and generally helping out at events and by recycling equipment including some stairs from the liner Mauritania. Debbie showed pictures of aircraft undergoing maintenance in the workshop including a Sopwith Pup stripped down to the airframe. Then she went on to demonstrate how to cover an airframe describing the various woods and fabrics used.

In the vehicle workshop at the farm on the other side of the grass runway pride of place goes to the traction engine called Dorothy after Richard’s mother. The oldest car is a 1898 Panhard Levassor which once belonged to C.S.Rolls, complemented by a 1900 Singer motorcycle with the engine in the wheel. Richard Shuttleworth was chairman of the Railton Company whose 1937 Blue Railton sports car is Debbie’s favourite.

Back in the hangars is the oldest plane a 1909 Bleriot X1. It’s the only original one flying in the world and similar to the one in which Bleriot made his epic flight across the English Channel in 1909. It had been stored in a barn by owner Albert Grimmer, a farmer of Ampthill. Shuttleworth was obliged to buy the barn plus contents to get it in 1935. A video of it in action shows the pilot was sitting in front of the engine and with no brakes and lateral control by wing warping it looked very precarious only reaching a height of about fifty feet. Next we saw a wooden framed Bristol Boxkite from 1910. It‘s a replica built for the film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. It carries an elevator on two booms in front of the engine making it look very clumsy.

Then came the Deperdussin, a small monoplane with a covered fuselage and the pilot seated behind the engine in a vulnerable position. It contrasted strongly for size with the 1910 Avro Triplane replica with its three layers of wings which was also built for the film.

The oldest British plane in the collection is a 1912 Blackburn with a 50hp engine and a short fabric covered fuselage. A great advance was the 1916 Sopwith Pup which saw 1770 built. It took part in the First World War ostensibly for observation but rockets could be fitted under the wings to fire at balloons. The war saw 3500 two seater Bristol Fighter’s go into service.

The last plane we saw was the twin engined De Havilland 88Comet which was designed for, and won, the Mildenhall to Melbourne air race in 1934.

All the planes in the Shuttleworth Collection are airworthy. When the wind has dropped in the early evening the oldest ones are flown by volunteer pilots who have usually spent years in the Royal Air Force or with a civilian airline. Crowds flock to the evening events complete with picnics in Glyndebourne style. And as dusk falls many can be seen raising a glass to the very old fragile craft flying in the still air.

This page was added by Rosemary Ross on 06/10/2015.

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