The Shuttleworth Trust Museum

The Montagu Motor Museum which was visited by more than 400,000 people last year, is, quite rightly, the best-known institution of its kind in this country and there is nearly always something afoot (or should I write awheel?) there, apart from the large and varied collection of car, motor cycle (and Spitfire) exhibits. But there are smaller motor museums here and in Europe that merit mention, such as The Clères Museum near Rouen which I wrote about in January.

Last month, on one of the more slippery days of the late unlamented winter, I drove in the inexpensive luxury of an N.S.U. Prinz 4 to Biggleswade, in Bedfordshire, to look at the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden. This unique museum is not open to the public in the ordinary way, although visitors may be admitted later this year, when a new building has been completed. At present, if you wish to visit it, you write to the Manager (s.a.e., please) and if it is convenient, he will invite you or your party to come along, but not on Sundays or after 12 noon on Saturdays. Even so, motor clubs could do a lot worse than arrange a weekday or Saturday morning pilgrimage to Old Warden Park and aerodrome and will find S/Ldr. L. A. Jackson, A.R.Ae.S., the Manager, an enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable guide. Some enjoyable V.C.C. rallies have, indeed, been held there since the war. There is also a suggestion that some kind of “Shuttleworth Society” might be formed, whereby member-subscribers would be able to view the Collection on certain open days each summer, the revenue from subscriptions being donated to the preservation of the historic aeroplanes and vehicles and the expense involved in preparing them for such open days—those in support are invited to write to the Trustee, Air Commodore A. H. Wheeler, C.B.E., M.A., F.R.Ae.S., saying what they consider would be a reasonable subscription.

The collection originated from the hobby of hunting out, collecting and restoring early cars and aeroplanes which the late Richard Ormond Shuttleworth, noted Bugatti and Alfa Romeo racing driver indulged in prior to his tragic death in a night-flying accident while serving as a Pilot-Officer in the R.A.F. in 1940.

Shuttleworth was the only son of Mrs. Shuttleworth, who resides at Old Warden Park, near Biggleswade. He first took an interest in old cars in 1928. Five years later he learnt to fly, bought a D.H. Moth and later his well-remembered Comper Swift, and made part of his 9,000-acre estate into a grass aerodrome. In order to foster his aviation and motoring interests he founded the Warden Aviation Co. Ltd., in collaboration with his friend Allen Wheeler, and with S/Ldr. Jackson, who joined the Blackburne Aeroplane Co. in 1922 and flew and owned joy-ride Avro 504s in the ‘thirties, as his Manager.

Shuttleworth’s antique automobile interests were well chronicled in Motor Sport before the war. This energetic young enthusiast, commencing with a 1911 Wolseley that had been the Shuttleworth family car up to the 1914 war, began to scour the country for veteran cars some years before the formation of the V.C.C. One can imagine the excitement he must have felt, at a time when many really historic cars were still undiscovered after having been discarded or taken out of service many years earlier, in getting his collection together, eagerly persuing clues in his 30/98 Vauxhall or Railton. In those days the oldest “finds” could be bought for 50s. or less; some, no doubt, were offered gratuituously to this wealthy young fanatic.

Gradually Shuttleworth got together a fine assembly of old vehicles, storing them in the family coachhouses and outbuildings, test-driving those restored on the extensive estate roads, driving them in suitable events when he could spare time away from his motor racing and flying activities. He competed in his first Brighton Run in 1928 with an 1898 4-cylinder Panhard-Levassor, before this venerable solid-tyred veteran, in which King Edward rode to Ascot in 1901, and which was Lord Rothchild’s first car, was even restored. When races for veteran cars were staged at Brooklands, round the Mountain circuit, Shuttleworth was ready, for he had found a big 1903 24 h.p. 5 1/2-litre Turcat-Méry-engined, chain drive de Dietrich shooting brake locally and had made for it a rakish replica Paris-Madrid body and, by mildly tuning the engine (light alloy pistons?), lapped the track at some 60 m.p.h. I recall clearly the thrill of seeing it devouring Purley Way, very fast, invariably overtaking bunches of modern cars on the extreme wrong-side of the road, urged on by Shuttleworth in his shaggy motoring coat, cap and goggles, in pre-war Brighton Runs.

Naturally, when it became known that Shuttleworth was seeking old cars he found such vehicles being offered to him, as did other pioneer collectors such as Ken Kirton, C. S. Burney and R. G. J. Nash. At a country-house party near Oxford, Richard Shuttleworth wandered into the coach-house and discovered a 1903 14 h.p. 4-cylinder Richard-Brasier, with automatic inlet-valve, Lt.-ignition engine and a most unusual Lonsdale tonneau body, having hoods folding along the body-sides. An astonishing aspect of this fine car is an exhaust arrangement which wouldn’t disgrace a present-day racing engine.

The collection of early aeroplanes is an even more fantastic story, because, even in the mid-thirties, far fewer remained than veteran cars—if you wish to learn how Shuttleworth acquired his Bleriot and Deperdussin monoplanes and saved a 1912 Gnome-engined Blackburn from disintegration under a haystack I would refer you to a truly fascinating account which Air Commodore Wheeler wrote for Motor Sport in December, 1950 (try the backnumbers or photostat department).

By the time war broke out again The Shuttleworth Collection was well established, although many of the cars still awaited restoration. After her son’s death, Mrs. Shuttleworth founded The Shuttleworth Remembrance Trust, one part of which is devoted to the Agricultural College on the estate, which now has 150 resident students and has enabled the farms, herds, buildings and village of Old Warden to be maintained unchanged, Mrs. Shuttleworth living in one wing of her fine mansion that houses the masters and students, the other part of the Trust looking after the collection of aeroplane, cars and bicycles.

The exhibits are housed in the aerodrome hangars and sheds, the cost of housing and restoration being partly met from aircraft repair work undertaken by the Warden Aviation Co. Ltd., which has a small but fully qualified staff of ground engineers and its own compact but efficient workshop. S/Ldr. Jackson has a splendid first floor office and library in the main hangar and transportation and re-erection of Shuttleworth’s Brooklands shed has augmented the under-cover accommodation. These sheds are adjacent to the 700-yard grass landing ground.

On the day of our visit a German-based Tiger Moth which had been flown in via Coventry Airport when most of Britain’s smaller airfields were snowbound, was being overhauled.

The major interest at Old Warden is aeronautical. Pilcher’s original glider is being painstakingly rebuilt on behalf of the Royal Scottish Museum. Along one wall of the main building stands the 1969 type XI Bleriot, with fan-type 25 h.p. Anzani engine using 2-volt coil ignition, 1911 3-cylinder Anzani-engined Deperdussin, 1912 Blackburn, 1915 Le Rhone Avro and 1916 Le Rhone Sopwith Pup, their wings neatly stored alongside them. All these historic aeroplanes are in full flying trim and, indeed, are frequently taken up by suitably skilled, sensitive and sentimental pilots.

Other aeroplanes on view are a 1923 D.H. 53 light single-seater with A.B.C. Scorpion engine, an even smaller E.E.C. Wren of the same age, powered by a 3 1/2 h.p. A.B.C. flat-twin motor-cycle engine, a Mk. 1 Hawker Hurricane awaiting rebuild, and Jean Batten’s famous record-breaking Percival Gull “Jean”, which is used as hack-transport when the earlier machines are engaged on flying commitments—a nice touch, this, typical of Jackson’s enthusiasm and the spirit behind the Shuttleworth Trust. Out on the aerodrome, guarding the valuable machines within, stands a Spitfire.

More ambitious aeroplanes, such as the 1917 S.E.5a and Bristol Fighter F2b, 1931 Bristol Bulldog, 1934 Gloster Gladiator, again all in full flying trim, a couple of Spitfires and several others are stored for the Trust in various parts of the country.

In a large shed flanked by cases of harness and riding appertenances brought from the family stables stand some of the antique cars, while a smaller shed contains the bicycle exhibits. In the workshop the aforesaid Richard-Brasier was being meticulously rebuilt, while such priceless vehicles as an 1897 Daimler, a Stanley steamer, and a Benz and Peugeot dated as 1894, the latter with a tubular chassis through which cooling water for the rear-placed engine air intakes in lieu of a radiator, await restoration, in the state in which Richard Shuttleworth brought them in.

The exciting and spotless 1903 de Dietrich mingles with the old aeroplanes, hibernating until the next Brighton Run, which will, I think, be its fourteenth.

The little 1914 White and Poppe-engined Morris-Oxford, the 1902 4 1/2 h.p. single-cylinder Peugeot that Henry Taylor drove in the last Brighton Run, experiencing water pump trouble on this its fifteenth or so appearance in this traditional event, the 1897 tube-ignition twin-cylinder Daimler wagonette used for the 1930 “Brighton,” a vast 1901 Arrol-Johnston dog-cart with folding steering wheel which Shuttleworth drove the 250 miles from Dumfries, where he found it, to his home in 1931, and the 1899 Mors “Petit Duc” with air-cooled heads and water-cooled barrels to its flat-twin engine (it was the former love of an Essex parson, whose friend Frank Wellington imported it for him), are reminiscent of the cars brought to Biggleswade before the war by the young man whose memory the Collection preserves. That is the beauty of this private museum—the cars remain in surroundings where they have belonged for something like the past thirty years.

Here is a neat 1901 Locomobile steamer on remarkable tube-less tyres sans covers, its guage-glass reflected in a low set mirror, that I can see the effervescent “R.O.” driving as if it were yesterday. There you encounter a 1900 de Dion Bouton-engined Marot-Gardon quadricycle, a 1923 Triumph motorcycle, and a stately 1912 flat-radiator R.F.C. Crossley, ex-Edward Pyddoke, the last named a thoroughly practical tourer with fine Bleriot headlamps, so appropriate to the aeroplanes that keep it company…

There must be at least 60 wooden propellers, many irreplaceable aeroplane tyres, and a number of aero-engines, in store as replacements for the aeroplanes. The aero-engines include a 1917 Rolls-Royce Falcon, a 1920 Napier Lion, a sectioned Napier Lion, a 6-cylinder Beardmore with one cylinder cut-away to show its inclined o.h. valves actuated by push-pull valve gear, a 25 h.p. fan-type Anzani, and several rotary engines, including a couple of Clergets, two 80 h.p. Le Rhones and a 110 h.p. Le Rhone, and a 5 h.p. steam engine built in 1868 to power the first flapping-wing Ornithopter, which was rescued from a scrap-heap in the nick of time and runs under compressed air. It makes a remarkable contrast to an ME 163 rocket engine.

The only replica amongst these authentic rebuilds is one of the 1909 A.V. Roe triplanes. It has the original s.v. J.A.P. vee-twin engine, however, driving the paddle-type airscrew by belt over a bicycle wheel, the landing gear consisting of bicycle wheels and forks! The engine, incidentally, was given a 50-hour bench-test by Avro before being handed over—such is the thoroughness of the aeronautical mind!

The collection does not stop at mechanical transport. Apart from a small but instructional display of early bicycles, from 1868 boneshakers down to a modern-looking 1901 Ivel, and some old tractors up at the College, there are ten horse-drawn vehicles covering the period circa 1880 to 1907.

In what better way could Mrs. Shuttleworth preserve her son’s memory than through this well-preserved collection of the vehicles he loved?—vehicles which, between them have been seen something like forty times on the road every November since 1928, taking part in the Brighton Run, as well as at pre-war Brooklands veteran car races and similar events—proof that they are by no means static, non-running, cob-webby museum exhibits. Moreover, the aeroplanes are flown at displays whenever they are called for.

The Shuttleworth colour was blue and, appropriately, John Goddard’s Type 51 Bugatti, in the correct shade, has returned to Old Warden for temporary storage—appropriate because this is one of the Bugattis which R. O. Shuttleworth used before he acquired his monoposto Alfa Romeo. S/Ldr. Jackson recalls working through pre-race nights on it, and fetching spares for it by aeroplane from Molsheim…

The vast estate at Old Warden looks much as it has done for centuries; the aeroplanes and automobiles encountered there are in much the same trim and nearly as active as they were when Richard Shuttleworth cared for them and drove them. Those who are permitted to visit the Shuttleworth Collection will surely regard it as a rare privilege and pleasure.—W. B.