SR.N1 Hovercraft at Beaulieu

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The Montagu Motor Museum took on the role of a transport museum when the “Bournemouth Belle” went to live in Lord Montagu’s garden. This role was extended when, on April 6th, the SR.N1, the World’s first hovercraft, was placed on public exhibition there. The occasion was historic, for, as Sir David Follett, Director of the Science Museum, emphasised, the hovercraft, brainchild of Dr. Cockerell, who was present, and later said some words in praise of his team, is as much a revolutionary form of transport as Stevenson’s “Rocket” locomotive, which can be seen in the Science Museum, or the Wright brothers’ first aeroplane.

To celebrate the placing on show, at Beaulieu, of the SR.N1, a lunch was held in the Domus at Beaulieu, at which Admiral of the Fleet, The Earl Mountbatten of Burma, was the Guest of Honour. Lord Mountbatten, in a very amusing speech, also paid tribute to the pioneering of Dr. Cockerell, and reminded us that Britain leads America and the rest of the World in hovercraft technique. He recalled how the Americans had not long ago asked for the return of the original Wright biplane, which the builders had given to our Science Museum, but reminded those American visitors who had attended the first Hovercraft Convention and were present at Lord Montagu’s lunch, that, although this historic aeroplane is now back in America, at the Smithsonian Institute, we can claim that it is on British soil. Later Lord Mountbatten unveiled a plaque about the SR.N1, remarking that he assumed he was asked to do this because they thought that, as he is a sailor, he would understand how to operate the ropes! At this unveiling ceremony Mr. E. C. Wheeldon, Chairman of Westland Aircraft Ltd., handed the log-book of the SR.N1 and that of its Alvis engine, to Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, for safe keeping in his Museum. And thus a very valuable British heirloom, which is neither motor car, nor ship, nor an aeroplane, has found a resting place in this famous Transport Museum.

SR.N1 was presented to the Science Museum in 1964, but our National Science Museum did not have room for it. So this famous prototype, which was launched on the Beaulieu River in 1959, has ended its active days in a very appropriate setting. Lord Montagu recalled that some objection was made by fishermen and wild-life protection organisations to those early launchings from the Beaulieu saltings but said there had really been no grounds for alarm; had the luncheon party been held a few weeks later he would have proved that the local black-headed gulls had survived these hovercraft experiments, by serving his guests with duck’s eggs. . . .

Hovercraft have now safely carried more than 1¼-million passengers and are in use for civil and military operations in many parts of the World. Lord Mountbatten played a big part in fostering them and the new SR.N4, which it is hoped will soon start cross-Channel services, will be named the Mountbatten. And the SR.N1, which started it all, is now properly displayed, with appropriate background material, at Beaulieu.—W. B.