15.04.19 Liveryman John Boyes

A visit to Beaulieu

A visit to Beaulieu is not just a visit to the National Motor Museum, it is much, much more than that…

A party of 28, including the Master, liverymen and guests met late afternoon in March in the Brabazon Café at the National Motor Museum for tea and biscuits and an introductory talk from Heather Jackson, Development Manager and Patrick Collins, Research and Enquiries Manager.

The Brabazon Café was named after Lord Brabazon, a pioneer automobilist and aviator. He read engineering at Trinity College, spending his university holidays working for Charles Rolls as an unpaid mechanic, and after leaving Cambridge became an apprentice at Darracq in Paris. He was the first person to be granted a pilot’s licence in the UK, served with distinction with the RFC in WW1 and after WW2 was central to the development of the UK’s aircraft industry particularly with the Bristol Aircraft Company, where the mammoth Brabazon four-engined airliner was named after him.

After the group photograph, the first stop on our visit was to the Collections Centre of the National Motor Museum Trust. The Trust is a charitable organisation dedicated to preserving motoring history with an educational mission. The Collections Centre houses a staggering number of motoring objects, photographs, films, documents and reference books.

The motoring objects collection contains more than 48,000 items ranging through rare mechanical components, automobilia, road signs, fuel and lubricating equipment, specialist clothing, etc. The photographic collection contains more than a million original photographs as part of a 1.2 million collection of images. Subject matter ranges from the earliest forms of automobiles, including the earliest steam cars, the motor industry, motor sport and the social history of motoring.

We were shown exquisite examples of image preservation which, without the world class expertise of the Collection’s staff, would be lost forever. We also had the pleasure of viewing a very small part of the huge collection of motoring art. The film and video collection similarly contains priceless footage rescued and preserved for future generations to research and enjoy. Much of the original footage is recorded on chemically unstable film or tapes and/or using redundant formats. We were privileged to be shown preserved footage of a film shot at Spa, featuring one of the early 1950s’ Grand Prix. The camera man was none other than the father of our own Liveryman, Christopher Tate. Continuing the theme of massive amounts of data, the reference and document library contains more than 300,000 books, the largest motoring reference library in Europe, together with extensive collections of magazines, eg every issue of Autocar from the first in November 1895 to last week’s copy. I counted 47 boxes of “documents relating to Zenith carburettors” all indexed and catalogued.

Coachmakers were given privileged access, and apart from the sheer volume of motoring history that is preserved at the Trust’s Collection Centre in various forms, the other impressive point is that all the information is accessible to researchers through the research service. As I said earlier, there is much more to Beaulieu than just a motor museum.

Next stop was the car collection, where circa 300 exhibits belonging to the Trust, companies, private individuals and of course the Montagu family, are displayed in tip top condition and in a superb setting. We were honoured that the museum had been kept open after normal closing so that we could enjoy the tour in relative serenity. Our joint hosts for this part of the tour was the entertaining Doug Hill, Chief Engineer at the museum, and our very own Automotive Craft Apprentice, Emily Leese. Emily receives a bursary from the Livery to enable her to attend block release at the Heritage Skills Academy, Bicester, as part of her three-year vehicle restoration and preservation apprenticeship.

The first car we spent some time with was the oldest surviving Fiat, if not in the world, then certainly in the UK; this is chassis number 16, a 1899 3.5hp model, best described as a two-seat open tourer. Next up, we spent time with an American 1901 Columbia Electric. As the name suggests, this is an early electric car, capable of a range of 60 miles at 25mph on a single charge. Apparently, this was the preferred transport for the wife of Henry Ford; as they say, nothing today is ever really new, although top end performance is a little short by comparison to today’s E-cars.  The last car we spent time with was the black Model ‘T’ Ford. Doug gave us a chapter and verse methodology of how to start a ‘T’ without potentially killing yourself and then how to proceed “through the gears”. This was not simple, Doug kindly and patiently repeated the procedure several times, but I for one was still mystified. This might explain why Mrs H Ford preferred the Columbia Electric. 15 million of the Model ‘T’ were produced over 18 years, a metric that has only been surpassed by the VW Beetle.

The Master Graham Cole CBE with our apprentice Emily Leese

We then visited the awesome Land Speed Record exhibition and viewed the LSR cars of Campbell and Seagrave before having a little time to view some of the many other exhibits, although not enough time to properly visit the race car section which included the delicious Lotus 49 R3 in proper original Lotus colours and devoid of aerodynamic sproutings. The other slight disappointment was that there were no examples in the collection of other fine British cars, such as Lagonda or Bristol. We then moved behind the scenes into the restoration workshop where Emily spends most of her time. (When not on the start line with several of the NMM’s veteran cars participating in the London to Brighton run.) Emily showed us some of the projects she is involved with, including the restoration of one of the massive 24.6-litre Sunbeam V12 1,000hp Matabele aeroengines from the LSR car; this is a serious undertaking for anyone, let alone a young apprentice. I think everyone was impressed with Emily’s enthusiasm, commitment and charm. 

After a fascinating tour of the Collections Centre, the Car Collection and workshops, plus over two hours of absorbing an enormous amount of automotive and motoring history, it was time to board the museum’s vintage bus to take us to the Beaulieu estate Palace House, home of the Montagu family, for supper.

Prior to supper, we were entertained by Patterson, who was one of the house maids from below stairs; I suspect she is also a talented aspiring actress. Patterson gave us a potted history of the house, the Abbey, its monks and Abbots, descriptions of the works of art on display, plus some of the below stairs gossip, which she seemed desperate to tell us about. It was all very good humoured and great fun.

We all enjoyed a lovely supper and not a little wine. The Master, Graham Cole, graciously thanked all the Palace House staff for a most enjoyable evening and thanked the Livery Committee, particularly Assistant Bettine Evans, Chairman of the Committee and Liveryman Christopher Tate, who was the link man for this visit, for all their efforts in organising an outstanding visit. Many congratulations to all concerned for what was a very enjoyable event.

Individual Coachmakers who wish to support the Trust, which provides the funding for the National Motor Museum’s great work in its preservation of cars, books, photos, films and more, may do so via the Beaulieu 100 scheme, please e-mail the Development Manager, Heather.Jackson@beaulieu.co.uk for details.