Visits 2016

The Mossman Collection at Stockwood Park


This mail coach is too good for Poldark!

We took the slow lane today with a visit to the amazing Mossman Collection of coaches and other transport items at Stockwood Park, Luton.  The museum, gardens and parking are free,  well worth a visit if you haven’t been.

Grant’s extensive knowledge of aviation matters brought us back to the present with a tour around the roads at the back of Luton Airport and a stop at what appears to be a favourite and well used plane spotting area (arrowed below) on the south side of the airport.  A very enjoyable and sunny day for mid November.


Talk – the impact of the railways on St Albans


Instead of the planned visit to the Greenwich Maritime Museum, we had an illustrated talk from Rod which may be summarised:
– heavy goods transport to the town by canal at Boxmoor, following the opening of the Grand Junction Canal in 1805
– the opening of the Abbey Line to Watford in 1858 and the subsequent demise of the coaching trade
– how the Abbey Line affected the area around the station and the importance of coal transport to the gas works – current operations on the line
– the Hatfield and St Albans Railway opening in 1865 – stations and sidings and their role – final closure in 1968 and conversion to the Alban Way
– planning of the route for the Midland Railway’s direct line to St Pancras and what is now St Albans City Station – changes in the area around the station
– a huge rise in the number of commuters to London and the effects on building developments and house prices compared with Watford and Hatfield

BBQ 2016

bbq0We had a brilliant day on Sunday – warmest thanks to Terry and Helen for organising it all.  Great company, food and garden – cheers!  Jean T kindly took a several more photos.






The de Havilland Aircraft Museum


Google aerial view of the museum site. Some aircraft have since been moved.

Salisbury Hall, a country house adjacent to the museum site shown above, had an impressive  line of occupants dating back over 1000 years, including more recently Sir Winston Churchill,  Sir Nigel Gresley, and from 1939, Geoffrey de Havilland and family.  Who would have thought that secret work on the design of the famous Mosquito fighter-bomber took place here in the early 1940s. It would probably have been a serious blow to the war effort had this site been bombed in WW2.  It was well sited, being well away from the de Havilland production site at Hatfield.

We had a glorious day for our visit to the de Havilland Aircraft Museum, which made the viewing of many outdoor exhibits so easy, but underlined how difficult it was to see more than a fraction of the exhibits in the time available.  An important aim of the museum is to build a new hangar to house aircraft that would otherwise be damaged by constant exposure to the weather.


This hangar contains three restored Mosquito aircraft, with the prototype W4050 at the entrance.

None of these Mosquitos will fly again, but there is at least one in New Zealand that takes to the air. An almost unique feature of these aircraft is that they are mostly made from wood which was laminated to give spars enormous strength (see photo below).  These lamination techniques are now widely used as structural elements in buildings under the name of engineered wood.


Laminated wood section of a wing spar of a Mosquito.

To focus on the Mosquito would be to detract from the wide range of aircraft and engines designed by de Havilland, later incorporated into the Hawker Siddeley Group in 1964. You probably recognise some of them in the aerial photo above.


Our visit was rounded off by a very pleasant leisurely lunch at the Colney Fox, in nearby London Colney. Those yellow badges came from the museum. Photo: HS

It’s worth noting that it’s easy to visit the Museum by taking the 84 or 84A bus from St Peter’s Street, which goes past the entrance.

Battle of Britain Bunker


The Plotting Room mockup at the Battle of Britain Bunker

Our trip to Uxbridge Battle of Britain Bunker started with an enjoyable light lunch at Smiths Garden Centre in New Denham. On arrival at the bunker we were greeted by our guide who throughout our tour was so knowledgeable and passionate about the subject.

The highlight was the plotting room where Winston Churchill witnessed the Battle of Britain being played out. Afterwards we wandered at leisure through the museum, which was full of interesting archives and exhibits. We all agreed that this trip was a very worthwhile and informative. Our thanks to Peter D for his good planning.


Our group members with a Spitfire








Thanks Jean T for photos.

Portsmouth Visit


Part of Portsmouth Dockyard – the Victory with truncated masts can just be seen (red arrow).

The visit to Portsmouth was a resounding success, all the more so because of sunny warm weather.  We stayed for two nights at the Premier Inn, Southsea, and had three very full days of interesting activities.


The well known Emirates Spinnaker Tower. The photo below was taken at the level shown by the arrow.


Day 1
Emirates Spinnaker Tower for refreshments – at around 100 meters this level gave fantastic views over the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour and all the shipping activity.  The evening meal was at the excellent Still and West pub in Old Portsmouth.


The seafront at Old Portsmouth. The Still and West pub conservatory (arrowed) is ideal for viewing harbour comings and goings

Day 2
A day at the Dockyarda chance to see ships and displays of historic interest, especially the Victory which is awaiting new masts.  The conditions for the crew were truly sobering, not only lack of height on the lower decks, but the primitive conditions under which the crew lived.  A harbour tour was included with the all-in ticket to see the naval and ferry facilities.

The Mary Rose exhibition is due to open later this year.  There was so much to see that a return visit was on the cards for some, particularly as the ticket promised free admission.

The Gunwharf Quays nearby is a huge shopping and eating area.

Day 3
This was time to make a leisurely ride back to Alton, Hampshire, for a ride on the 10 mile Watercress Line to the attractive town of Alresford. The scale of this railway operation is astonishing, with about 400 people involved, largely volunteers.


This engine did the pulling and pushing.


We all enjoyed this pub at Alresford for lunch and left Alton just in time to catch the late afternoon thrills of the M25 around J13, J14 and J15.

Very well done Terry, we cannot imagine the amount of work you put in organising it so efficiently.

Buckinghamshire Railway Centre


In very unseasonal June weather (continual drizzle and cold), just four of us visited the this interesting centre near Aylesbury which has a very extensive range of trains and railway artefacts. The photo above shows the a venerable, but pristine looking, Beattie Well Tank engine 30585 which took us, first class, over a distance of less than a mile.

The engine was built in the 1860s and up to the 1970s it served to pull wagons of china clay (kaolin) along what is now the Camel Trail near Bodmin in Cornwall.
30585_1960sThe photo above shows the very same engine on the latter line about to cross the road near Helland Bridge, where its short wheelbase was well suited to negotiating the sharp curves on the line.

Imperial War Museums, Duxford

The IWM museum at Duxford near Cambridge, must hold the finest collection of aircraft in the UK and is highly recommended. The weather was perfect for our visit on 6th May – and for the display of Spitfire aerobatics that took place.


Tails: Can you name these British-built airliners – see below for answers.

Tails: from left to right Vickers VC10, HS Trident, BAC 1-11 (the most successful)

The AirSpace Museum

There are two very large exhibition halls at Duxford and the following photos provide a taster of the Airspace collection.


Radlett’s finest, the Handley-Page Victor getting some attention


Also from Handley Page – the HP67 Hastings was a British troop-carrier and freight transport aircraft dating from 1946


The elegant Comet Mark 4, built by de Havilland at Hatfield


One of few examples of the TSR2 – some say the finest bomber of its type built by BAC in the 1960s. Cancelled because of rising costs.

The American Air Museum


Finally the magnificent American Air Museum featuring military aircraft from WW2 through to the Lockhead SR71 Blackbird spy aircraft, once and maybe still the world’s fastest aircraft.

Markfield Beam Engine Museum, Tottenham

Well sustained by a lunchtime visit to the Ferry Boat inn and its incredably low Monday special prices, it was a short drive to see the Markfield Beam Engine.  We had to visit on Easter Monday for the steaming only takes place on few days of the year.

The engine was used to pump sewage from the Middlesex district of Tottenham into the London system for treatment at the Beckton works (near City Airport). Being of insufficient capacity it was left derelict in 1964, it has since been restored by a dedicated group of volunteers. Support was provided by Haringey Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The smell inside the museum was redolent of the days of steam, but generated by an oil-fired boiler rather than the original coal boilers.  The beam is supported on a solid decorative structure and the action of the engine can be seen in the video below.

The spinning balls seen at the beginning are free to move horizontally, so providing a mechanism for regulation of steam pressure – and of course speed of the engine.  The large rotating flywheel weighs 17 tones and has to be hand moved with a crowbar into the correct position for starting.

The beam (painted red) is driven by two pistons whose action is converted from vertical parallel motion to the arc described by the rocking motion of the beam (see photo at top).

Fund out more from the official website.

Thanks to Arthur for planning the visit.

British Airways Heritage Collection

The Collection, called the Speedbird Centre, is based at BA’s Waterside Centre, some mile or so northwest of Heathrow’s northern runway – and it took a bit of finding.

We were surprised by the scale of the Waterside Centre and the fact that it houses some 2000 of BA’s administrative staff.

The impressive Heritage Centre is packed with artefacts to illustrate the history of BA through its evolution from 1919 when Handley Page Transport Ltd started flights from London Cricklewood to Paris Le Bourget with Handley Page converted twin-engined World War I bombers. Of course Handley Page, last at Radlett, proved to be a source of particular interest to St Albans residents.


Part of the display area.

The display area featured everything from modern passenger seating/sleeping arrangements (club and first class included) to a range of stewardess uniforms, including the well publicised paper dress of 1967.

A very engaging talk, illustrated by a series of slides, was given by Jim Davies, who clearly feels very attached to the airline. He was assisted by the veteran flight engineer Keith Hayward (87 years old), who showed that age is no barrier to his enthusiasm. He enjoys responding to queries from past staff about about people who were once employed by BA or its predecessors.


The impressive atrium area

Take a look at the menu from BOAC’s inaugural Comet 4 transatlantic flight in 1958. Note the cigarettes!


Photo: Howard

Finally, a visit to the restaurant for a well subsidised and varied lunch confirmed how fortunate BA’s staff are.  Many thanks to Terry, above right, for such a well organised trip.