Friday 28 August 2020

Back on the road with Bertie Wooster and Captain Hastings

By far and away the most popular post ever published on Eclectic Ephemera was my study of the cars driven by two of our favourite fictional (alas!) chaps - Bertie Wooster and Captain Hastings.  Originally composed in June 2014 it has to date racked up a frankly astonishing 19,516 views and continues to attract comments more than six years after publication.  Clearly it has proved popular with both Wodehouse and Hastings fans the world over and it has been some recent comments from a few of the former that has inspired me to revisit the topic once again.

In my original post I focussed on the shared automotive tastes of Messrs. Wooster and Hastings in the form of the two interconnected marques of Aston Martin (Bertie) and Lagonda (Hastings).  At the time I mentioned that neither character's motor was specified in the books and while that may be true in the case of Captain Hastings ("The Cases of Captain Hastings" - now there's an idea for some fanfic!) it was subsequently pointed out to me that Wodehouse did name-check two makes of car in a couple of his Jeeves books so it struck me as the perfect opportunity to make another post out of the fact and to set the record straight.  (I was also corrected in the matter of the car Plum was pictured in outside a friend's home in Norfolk in 1928, which I had initially [mis]identified as a Morris Oxford Bullnose but which in fact was an AC 12hp Tourer.)

Wodehouse in his AC 12hp Tourer (NOT a Morris Bullnose), outside Hunstanton
Hall, Norfolk in 1928.

Bertie Wooster's Sunbeam

I did say in my initial post that "to my certain knowledge" P. G. Wodehouse never referenced the car Bertie drives and only has him allude to "the old two-seater" or "sports model"; this was I admit based on a brief and slightly hazy recollection of all the Jeeves stories I had read over the years and even then there was a nagging doubt in the back of my mind that somewhere there was a reference to a specific model but short of going back through the whole collected works - a not unpleasant undertaking to be sure but rather a big job for a simple blog post! - I wasn't sure how I was going to go about identifying it.

Thanks however to a comment on the original post from an anonymous Wodehousian a couple of months ago my information was updated and memory jogged so that I was reminded that in the short story "Bertie Changes His Mind" (from the book Carry On, Jeeves) the character of Peggy Mainwairing, a schoolgirl Bertie and Jeeves give a lift to, asks of our hero "What's your car? A Sunbeam, isn't it?".  While no further detail is given either in this or later stories Wodehouse scholars have alighted on the 1925 Sunbeam 20/60 Sports as being the most likely candidate and I can certainly understand why (1925 being the year of Carry On, Jeeves' publication for one thing).

source - ClassicCarsForSale

One could easily see Bertie and Jeeves pootling along in such a car as this - the 20/60 being marketed against the equivalent 20hp Rolls-Royce of the period; available in a number of different bodystyles built by either Sunbeam or various coachbuilders on a standard chassis (as was the practice of the time), the Sports model was offered as a two-seater (with a separate dickey seat in the back) and looks every inch the spiffy vehicle that would have appealed to a chap like Wooster.

source - V&P Classic Cars
The history of the Sunbeam cars is a rather convoluted one and would easily fill an entire blog post alone.  Suffice to say that, like so many early 20th century car companies, Sunbeams roots can be found in late 19th century bicycle manufacture - in this case the creation of Wolverhampton businessman and engineer John Marston.  A keen cyclist, in the 1870s he branched out from manufacturing tinplate into making his own bicycles with the name "Sunbeam" being suggested by his wife Ellen.  As with many Victorian entrepreneurs Marston wanted his machines to of the highest quality and Sunbeam Cycles were soon widely regarded as among the best available, a reputation it held on to until bicycle production ceased in 1936.  The company began making motorcars around 1901-1902 but then in 1905 the business was split up, with the newly-formed Sunbeam Motor Car Company Ltd taking over car production while Sunbeam Cycles continued in the ownership of Marston (with motorcycle production lasting until 1956).

Louis Coatalen in his Sunbeam Nautilus, Brooklands 1910
source - Wikimedia Commons
In the years prior to the Great War the Sunbeam Motor Company grew to become a serious contender in the luxury car market, rivalling the likes of Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Daimler.  Under the auspices of French automotive engineer Louis Coatalen, who joined the company in 1909 as chief designer, Sunbeam branched out into motor racing and Land Speed Record cars; during the First World War it also produced aero engines and commercial vehicles (the latter continuing until the mid-1960s and encompassing buses, trams, trolleybuses and even milk floats!).   Following the war's end Sunbeam merged with two competitors, Darracq and Talbot but each would continue as separate entities.  The 1920s were Sunbeam's heyday with its luxury limousines and sports models like the 20/60 proving popular with the well-heeled set of the time.  The 20/60 was produced from 1924 to 1932 in various bodystyles ranging from large 6-seater limousines, through 4-seater open tourers to rarer examples like this drophead coupe - only three of which still exist, including this one currently for sale (and you know what they say - if you have to ask the price...).

source - ClassicCarsForSale

Sunbeam struggled to survive the Depression of the Thirties; in 1934 after a string of financial losses the company was sold to the Rootes Group, one of the first massive automotive conglomerates which already counted Hillman, Humber and Singer among its brands.  Seeing the way the market was going Rootes repositioned Sunbeam as more of an everyman's car, combining it with the Talbot nameplate to create Sunbeam-Talbot, a situation that lasted until the mid-1950s when the Talbot name was dropped and Sunbeam began making sports cars such as the Alpine and Tiger.

source - V&P Classic Cars
Sadly the decline of Sunbeam began shortly thereafter in the 1960s; over the following 20 years the company was sold to Chrysler Europe (who reintroduced the Talbot sub-brand), before being passed on to Peugeot who eventually pulled the plug on both brands in 1981.  But it is Sunbeam's glory days of the 1920s that we are concerned with here and this 20/60 Super Sports DHC from the middle of that decade is fully deserving of Bertie's attention.

Bertie Wooster's "Widgeon"

The only other car to get a name check in the Jeeves books is in Thank You, Jeeves, where Bertie is noted as driving a "Widgeon Seven".  This is definitely a fictitious vehicle (and nothing to do with his friend and fellow Drones Club member Freddie Widgeon) but is most likely to be based on the Austin 7, that brand's ubiquitous small runabout.  I won't go into the history of the Austin brand here (I've already gone on long enough about Sunbeam) and it is unclear why Plum felt it necessary to change the name (if indeed that's what he did) unless he thought - as has been suggested by Wodehouse scholars - that an Austin was somewhat beneath the likes of the moneyed Bertie.  While this may be true of the standard saloon and convertible models, again - like many cars of its time - the Seven was available in a multitude of bodystyles and its cheap asking price and simple, lightweight mechanicals made it popular as an everyday racer with a number being produced in quite sporty designs.  It's entirely possible that one of these could have appealed to Bertie and this may be what Wodehouse was thinking of when he was writing Thank You, Jeeves.

1933 Austin 7 Nippy 2-Seater Sport
source - Wikimedia Commons 

The most sporting of the Sevens were the two-seater Sports models with such wonderful pre-war names like Nippy (Brum, anyone?), Speedy, Brooklands and Ulster - the latter two taken from those models' many successes at the Ards racing circuit in Northern Ireland and at Brooklands in Surrey - and once again one can readily imagine Bertie and Jeeves whizzing along the country roads of England or around the back roads of Mayfair in just such a car.

1925 Austin Seven Super Sports
source - Car and Classic

Surviving examples of Austin 7 Sports variants are also thin on the ground these days; although perhaps not quite so rare as the Sunbeam, with prices starting at around £25,000 for a decent rebuild replica (a modern-build body on an original chassis) rising to £40k for an original Brooklands.  Definitely the best way into owning a set of Wooster wheels considering the prices of Sunbeams and Aston Martins!

source - Pinterest
Captain Hastings' "Elisio Freccia"

Right, on to Captain Hastings and his "other" car now (don't worry, we're nearly at the end!).  Our hero had always been very faithful to his beloved Lagonda so it came as something of a surprise to learn that in The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman he was seriously considering exchanging it for an "Elisio Freccia"!  "Considering" is the right term, too, seeing as he seemed to spend the first half of the episode vacillating over writing the cheque ("I've got it marked in my diary.  It says 'decide about car.'").

Once again the "Elisio Freccia" is a made-up vehicle and not a real make or model, but the car it is based on is certainly one of the most beautiful and rarefied Italian sports cars of the interwar period - the 1935 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900.

1936 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900A Spider
source - 

source - IMCDb / Auto Motor Klassiek
The 8C traces its lineage back to the 2300 model of 1931, which was a pure-bred racing car designed for the famous Italian road race the Mille Miglia.  A few two-seaters were produced for sale to the public, as well as single seater Grand Prix types (known as P3 Monopostos) which were entered in the 1932 Italian GP.  In the following years the model was refined as the 2600 in 1933 and subsequently the 2900 in 1935, which is precisely when Captain Hastings comes in as the 8C 2900A was first shown and advertised for sale at the 1935 London Motor Show.  I can just see the good Captain being in attendance and having his eye drawn by this racy Italian beauty, albeit as the fictional "Elisio Freccia".  I can understand his reluctance to part with the cheque, though, seeing as the asking price for an Alfa Romeo 2300 in 1931 was over £1,000 (£70k in today's money).  Having said that he'd be even less likely to spend out on one today - a 1937 8C 2900B selling for a breathtaking $4 million back in 1999, the result of only 33 such models ever having been produced.

In the event, though, our favourite chap ends up keeping his trusty Lagonda after stuffing "his" Elisio Freccia into the villain's Vauxhall (have no fear, though - no priceless classic cars were injured in the making of this film, a jerry-built mock-up being used for the final crash scene) following what has to be the greatest chase scene in the history of film.  Never mind Bullitt, Ronin and all the rest, Hastings' heroics has everything - a flock of geese, broken crockery, a charabanc full of old ladies, not to mention his fantastic finishing move!

"You SWINE!  That's for Miss Lemon!"
source - Pinterest

So there we have it, then - our two top chaps and three more of their favourite voitures.  I hope you've enjoyed reading this post as much as I have writing it (if you've made it this far); it's even given me an idea for a series of blog posts based around the cars of fictional detectives and literary characters (bearing in mind how well - or not! - I get on with series posts), continuing with Margery Allingham's Albert Campion and Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey.  Until then we can carry on delighting in the supreme Thirties motoring that these two splendid coves continue to afford us.

Monday 24 August 2020

Footage shows 'forgotten' aerodrome from before WW2

Vintage aircraft footage of 'forgotten' pre-war aerodrome

Here we have another interesting article both in and of itself and also as a further example of modern technology being put to good use in boosting knowledge of the past.

As with the recent story about "Facts Discs" for classic cars the technology is again the ever-present QR code, which allows smartphone users to access information digitally from a website or online database.  In this case, however, the information takes the form of historic and previously lost footage of one of Wales' first aerodromes.

source - B.B.C. News

When Llandrindod Wells had more flights than Cardiff

Only rediscovered three years ago this remarkable piece of film - shot by a local chemist and amateur photographer and donated by his daughter - is the surprising proof that the small mid-Wales town of Llandrindod Wells was at the forefront of British aviation in the years between the wars, with its own airfield based in the town's Rock Park.  As the article explains, the expansion of civil aviation in Britain just before and immediately after the First World War meant that towns and cities up and down the country were queuing up to get municipal airports built in their vicinities, off the back of aerial tours such as Sir Alan Cobham's Flying Circus (coincidentally I recently just finished reading the autobiography of journalist and filmmaker William Courtney (entitled Airman Friday) who served as organiser and press officer for Cobham (as well as for Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison) and who wrote at length about his and Cobham's efforts to encourage local authorities to invest in airports in the '20s and '30s).  Clearly Llandrindod Wells was no exception, thanks to its forward-thinking and air-minded councillors who foresaw the benefits of having an aerial link from an otherwise remote part of the country.  That link quickly blossomed to include daily flights to such national hubs as London, Birmingham and Cardiff, not to mention the provision of local joy-rides and regular air displays.  It must have been a truly exciting and inspiring sight for the people of this little Welsh town to see aeroplanes taking off regularly from their local park to destinations around the country.  The optimism of the idea is almost palpable and who knows where it would have led had not the Second World War intervened?  But intervene it did and, along with advances in aircraft design, it signalled the death knell for many grass strip airports like Rock Park. 

source - B.B.C. News

Now thanks to the fine work of local history site History Points the people of Llandrindod Wells and visitors to Rock Park can learn about this fascinating aspect of the town's history when they take a trip there by scanning QR codes placed at the site of the airstrip, which will allow them to view this incredible footage of a pioneering airport that - if only for a short time during the Golden Age of aerial travel - put this little corner of Wales on the map.  Once again this is a welcome use of "smart" tech to help teach future generations about local history in a relevant, engaging way and is something I hope we continue to see more of.

Tuesday 18 August 2020

Bus painted in pre-war 1930s livery in nostalgic tribute to Westcliff-on-sea Motor Services

source - FirstGroup / John Lidstone

Bus painted in pre-war 1930s livery in nostalgic tribute to Westcliff-on-sea Motor Services

Some local vintage news now in the form of the welcome return of some æsthetically-pleasing 1930s livery applied to one of our bus operator's vehicles as part of its celebration of the 100th anniversary of one of its predecessors.

FirstGroup's standard colours of white, blue and pink (known in some quarters as "Barbie" buses for obvious reasons!) have long been anathema to this blogger so any effort to bring back some of the more tasteful hues of bus companies past is definitely a good thing in my book.  In fact most modern bus firms' colourways from the last twenty years or so leave a lot to be desired compared to what has gone before, so it is to be hoped that First's foray into more tasteful heritage livery sets a trend that others will follow.

FirstGroup's "Barbie" livery (ugh!) in contrast to the much classier cream and red
of competitor Hedingham Omnibuses.
source - Wikimedia Commons

First Essex's original Westcliff-liveried Dennis Trident
source - Wikimedia Commons
This is in fact the second of First Essex's buses to have been repainted in the colours of Westcliff-on-sea Motor Services, which was the main private bus company in the Southend area from the 1910s up until 1954 (when it was bought out by Eastern National, which until then had operated only in the north of Essex), with an ex-London Transport 2002 Dennis Trident (above, and in the background of the first photo) also having been given the same treatment a few years ago and which can still be seen plying various routes around Southend as well.  Now it has been joined by this newer 2011 Volvo B9TL which as well as providing a nice bit of vintage-painted luxury (by First Essex's poor standards, at any rate - they're known around here as "WorstGroup" for a reason, unfortunately) along the region's routes will also be put into use as a "flagship bus" (it could use a few more of them, too) at events up and down the county, so I expect I shall see it and its older sibling at future bus rallies once they restart post-covid.

First Essex's latest Westcliff-liveried Volvo B9TL at Southend.  The bus in the
background is a competitor Arriva, proving that they could also do with looking
through their back catalogue for livery inspiration.
source - Busmopolitan

In any event, I am delighted to see a local bus company taking inspiration from the past and decorating its vehicles in the much more stylish colours of the 1930s.  While it has been acknowledged that the appearance of modern buses is far removed from the chrome and swooping lines that were prevalent in that period (more's the pity; someone needs to design a whole bus that harks back to those times, much like the New Routemaster only perhaps more successful - we can only wish!), I'd say First have been successful in applying the '30s livery of Westcliff Motor Services to the shape of these buses and it certainly makes them look a damned sight better to my eyes.  Now they just need to roll it out to the rest of the fleet - they could do worse than use Eastern National's colours of green and cream, for example.  What about it, First?

***Which historic liveries would you like to see reintroduced on buses?  Let me know in the comments below!*** 

Saturday 15 August 2020

Typewriter garden is a hit for Philadelphia business owner

source - W. P. M. Typewriter Shop

Typewriter garden is a hit for Philadelphia business owner

The current covid crisis has forced business to adapt in ways I'm sure they could never have imagined, with many novel solutions being employed to ensure their survival and the safety of their customers.  Typewriter sales and repair shops are a rara avis in this world at the best of times and - unless you're a typospherean - perhaps not the type of emporia one might first think of as being affected by the pandemic.  But affected they certainly are, which is why this brilliant idea from a Philadelphia typewriter repairer is a stroke of genius and has rightly been embraced by interested parties both local and national.

The word "whimsical" might have been made for the concept of a typewriter garden and a delightful set-up it is too; yet the more one thinks of it, the more logical an idea it seems.  If one has the space and facilities to display a number of typewriters outside in socially-distanced surroundings, as Ms. Rogow has the good fortune to have, then it makes all kinds of sense.  Clearly the people of Mt. Airy - as well as many from further afield - agree and I am immensely pleased to see the W. P. M. Typewriter Shop enjoying such great success off the back of it.  Ms. Rogow's customer service and eminently sensible ideas on setting up the garden, the important part typewriters have to play in the creative processes and the detrimental effect of "smart" devices has no doubt gone a long way to making this marvellous brainchild of hers fly as well. 

source - W. P. M. Typewriter Shop

I applaud Ms. Rogow's initiative and wish her continued success with her typewriter garden.  It's such a pity that it's 3,500 miles away otherwise I'd be over there like a shot.  It strikes me though that this should be inspiration to typosphereans everywhere.  Why not a socially-distanced, outdoor type-in?  Now that I think of it, type-ins in general seem to have died a death lately, even before Covid-19 came along.  Yet many of us have parks on our doorstep and the passion for typewriters certainly hasn't gone away from what I've seen (and indeed Ms. Rogow's experience is proof alone of this), so where are all the al fresco type-ins?  There's certainly a lot to type about and in these difficult times there has been much talk of going back to simpler living so the opportunity to immerse oneself in the joys of typewriting and disconnect from the world in a safe environment should surely be grasped with both hands.  Even if you haven't got a park nearby but are lucky enough to have your own outdoor space, why not grab your portable, go outside and take advantage of the summer weather (just imagine if covid had struck in the depths of winter!) to tap out a few thoughts in your own typewriter garden.

Wednesday 12 August 2020

Videos showcase life of bush pilot in 1930s northwestern Ontario

Videos showcase life of bush pilot in 1930s northwestern Ontario

Staying in 1930s Canada for this next post we head 1,700 miles east to Ontario and the frozen wilds north of that province where bush pilots plied their trade delivering mail & supplies, mapping & photographing new areas of land and spotting forest fires (the latter still carried out today by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry's Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services division).  Now a link to those early days of wilderness flying in the 1920s and '30s has been created by the son of one of those pioneering bush pilots, who has been busy converting his father's old 8mm cine footage into a series of short, digitised documentaries.

Fairchild 82, similar to one used by Charles R. Robinson/ Starrat Airways
source - Wikipædia

Taking advantage of lock-down Phil Robinson and his son have set about editing family footage of the former's father Charles R. Robinson, who was a bush pilot in Ontario during the 1930s, into a series of fascinating glimpses of life flying around the lakes and settlements in the northwest of that province.  Not only is the result a wonderfully preserved personal family archive that the Robinsons can look back on in the years to come but also a valuable document of a unique aspect of Canadian aviation history, featuring one of this author's favourite types of aircraft - the floatplane!

1935 Waco ZK-S6
source - Wikipædia

Ideally suited for use on the myriad lakes dotted around northwest Ontario and to the mining communities that were based on their banks the floatplane has long been the backbone of the bush plane service, as can be seen in the Robinsons' footage where we see multiple variants in use - from the heavy Fairchild 82 freighter that features prominently in the 8-minute footage to the lighter Waco ZK-S6 and Noorduyn Norseman types that were also employed regularly on the smaller/ passenger routes (with many of the latter two types still airworthy and in use today), as well as the first Beechcraft 18 to be fitted with floats.

Noordyun Norsemans in Alberta, Canada, ca. 1930s
source - Wikimedia Commons

The concept of bush flying is a thrilling and enthralling one, although the images from the Robinsons' 1930s video (as well as the son's own comments) show just how challenging and physically demanding a job it was (and no doubt still is) - not to mention the dangers that could be encountered such as those that feature in Charles Robinsons' later exploits (still to be shown).  It's no wonder that adventure films such as 1947's Bush Pilot proved popular at showing just the sort of experiences that took place in the business of bush flying.  Now with the added value of the Robinsons' material the story of those early Canadian bush flying pioneers has been further expanded to the benefit of anyone - be they local/ aviation historians or just those of us with a passing interest - to whom the history of bush flying in Canada appeals.  I am glad Mr Robinson and his son were able to find the time to conserve this important film andlook forward to the next instalment of Charles R. Robinson's experiences as a 1930s bush pilot.

Monday 10 August 2020

1930s love letters uncovered in Vancouver home returned to family

1930s love letters uncovered in Vancouver home returned to family

From across the Pond in Canada comes this poignant story, once again featuring the surprisingly common instance of old documents - in this case letters from over 80 years ago - being found during a building renovation and nearly thrown away before being rescued by an understanding individual.

Unlike most other long-lost photographic rediscoveries I've blogged about in the past this one has a much more personal angle, being as these were love letters written by courting couple between 1938 and 1940 and as such they go far beyond any socio-historical aspect.  As the chap who found them rightly asserts, they were an important part of two people's lives - so much so, in fact, that the man Len was moved to keep them in what was undoubtedly felt to be (and as events proved to be) a safe place.  I find this to be a particularly moving part of the story, in that to my mind he obviously believed that they might one day be found by a subsequent family member living in the house.

source - Twitter @AshleyBurr_

For whatever reason, however, this was not to be quite the case and it was only thanks to the good sense of the builder who unearthed them that these touching letters were saved from oblivion.  What is perhaps even more remarkable is Mr Trampus's perseverance in attempting to track down the relatives of Mim and Len, seeing as the original discovery took place nearly fifteen years ago!  His patience ultimately paid off last month, though, and here again we see the positive benefits of social media and how it can work to the advantage of times past as well as the present; for it was through a Facebook group that he was finally able to locate the couple's daughter and reunite her with her parents' letters.  So in a roundabout way Len's intention came to pass in that his letters eventually made it in to his family's possession, although no doubt not in the way he would have expected!

One can clearly see from the accompanying video just how much this means to Mrs Pennell and I am so glad that she has been given this opportunity to reconnect with her parents even in this small way, 30 years after they passed.  I am equally pleased that there are people out there like Dario Trampus who recognise the importance of documents like these and appreciate them enough to hold on to them for over 10 years as they try to reunite them with their rightful owners and I feel sure this will not be the last time I feature a post like this on Eclectic Ephemera.

Thursday 6 August 2020

Supermarine S5 replica project gets under way

Supermarine S5 replica project gets under way 

Staying with the 1930s aviation theme in this post we move from one end of the aeronautical speed spectrum to the other as we return to one of my most favourite aircraft of the period - the Supermarine Schneider Trophy racing aeroplanes.

I wrote about the Schneider Trophy in previous posts on the anniversaries of the final 1931 race and the Spitfire's 1936 maiden flight, as well as a detailed article for In Retrospect magazine.  I had intended to save this post specially for when I was to be at the mercy of the quacks again but that is still up in the air and as the original articles below date back to the beginning of the year I felt that, with the advent of this latest welcome news, it was about time I got down to blogging about this excellent project.

source - Pilot magazine

Supermarine: Call For Investors & Enthusiasts to Help Rebuild an Aviation Legend

As these articles explain, something else that hopefully will soon be up in the air (and which I am looking far more forward to!) is a full-size replica of the 1927 Schneider Trophy-winning British entry, the Supermarine S.5, thanks to the efforts of a team of aeronautical engineers and Schneider Trophy enthusiasts.  Leading the project is professional pilot Will Hosie, whose interest in the famous speed contest and the S.5 in particular is obviously a personal one seeing as his late father Bill once owned an earlier replica of that aircraft in the 1980s (and in which Bill Hosie sadly lost his life following a catastrophic crash off the coast of Falmouth, Cornwall, in May 1987).  This first replica - also full-size - first flew in 1975 and was badly damaged in a take-off crash seven years later in 1982, at which point it passed into the ownership of the Hosie family.

Participants and investors wanted for Supermarine S5 seaplane rebuild project 

Now the son Will Hosie and his team look well on the way to creating a new S.5 replica, with enough funding having come in for work to have begun on building the floats and drawings in place for the rest.  While there is still a long way to go, both in terms of construction and financing, the proposed timescale - first flight in 2023 - seems eminently achievable whilst the call for investors and sponsors is a sensible one and with any luck will inspire a good many well-placed individuals and organisations to get on board.  One hopes that certain museums, historical trusts et cetera will take an interest which could in turn filter down into schools and local workshops as has been seen with other similar projects.  The aim of displaying the finished aircraft at a total of 20 events (10 airshows and 10 static displays) around the world in time for the 100th anniversary of the 1927 Schneider Trophy is again an entirely laudable and realistic goal.  It is moreover extremely important that the story of the Schneider Trophy and the S.5's place within it is kept alive and propagated for future generations, both for the thrilling contest it was and its place in the history of the development of the Spitfire.  To be able to see once again an example of these incredible pieces of engineering in the air will be an amazing treat, especially since so few of the original Supermarine S-series seaplanes survived (and none in flying condition).

Supermarine S.4 G-EBLP
source - Air Racing History
The S.4 of 1925 was the first of Mitchell's revolutionary, streamlined monoplane designs to see the light of day.  Being such a radical departure from previous efforts only one example was produced, taking its place alongside a pair of less advanced Gloster III biplanes for the 1925 race in Baltimore, U.S.A. (having first raised the British and world seaplane speed records to 226 miles per hour during a test run at Southampton in September 1925).  Unfortunately during a subsequent test run at Baltimore's Bay Shore Park the pilot, Henri Biard, lost control at 200 feet after encountering heavy wing vibration and sideslipped into the water, wrecking the all-wood S.4 but managing to walk away with only two broken ribs.

Two years later and Mitchell and his team had taken what they'd learnt from the S.4 and created the S.5, three examples of which - serial numbers N219, N220 and N221 - were produced for the 1927 contest, which was to take place in Venice, Italy.  Only two - N219 and N220 - would take part in the race, with N220 flown by Flt. Lt. Sidney Webster winning at an average speed of 281.65mph and N219 piloted by Flt. Lt. O. E. Worsley coming second at an average of 273.07mph.  The two S.5's had wrested the Schneider Trophy from Italy and the next contest would take place at Calshot, Southampton, in 1929.

A year later in 1928, as part of the preparations for the 1929 race, Flt. Lt. Samuel 'Kink' Kinkead was selected to make an attempt on the world air speed record that had been set by the Italians during the '27 race.  On the 12th March 1928, flying the reserve N221, Kinkead was suddenly seen to nosedive at high speed straight into the Solent.  The aircraft was totally destroyed and 'Kink' was killed instantly.  Although the wreckage and the body were both recovered the cause of the crash has never been satisfactorily explained.

Distraught but undaunted the remaining members of the RAF High Speed Flight pushed ahead in readiness for the 1929 contest.  Mitchell and Supermarine produced the S.6, an advancement over the S.5 with its all-metal construction and new Rolls-Royce R engine, and two of these - N247 and N248 - were built for the race.

S.6 N247, piloted by Flt. Lt. Richard Waghorn, went on to win the 1929 event at an average speed of 328.63mph, with S.5 N219 finishing a creditable third in the hands of Flt. Lt. d'Arcy Greig (whose autobiography My Flying Years I can heartily recommend) and Britain was only one contest away from claiming the Schneider Trophy in perpetuity.

For the 1931 event, due to time constraints as a result of financial difficulties and a lack of political will, the two S.6s from the 1929 contest were redesigned with new floats, extra radiators and revised control surfaces and designated S.6A, while Mitchell worked on shoehorning in a more powerful version of the Rolls-Royce R engine into the existing airframe design which resulted in the building of two further examples, to be called the S.6B.

Supermarine S.6B S1596
source - Wikimedia Commons

Despite there being no competition for the 1931 race (all other nations having withdrawn for various reasons) the High Speed Flight were determined to put on a show for the capacity crowd lining the banks of the Solent and ensure that the world speed record - and thus the Schneider Trophy - would be held by Britain.  As such they threw everything they had into the contest - the two new S.6Bs S1595 and S1596, the S.6As N247 and N248, plus the surviving S.5s N219 and N220.  The S.5s by this time were used only for practice runs, with the plan being that S.6B S1595 would be the aircraft to fly the race and make the record attempt while the two older S.6As would be kept in reserve.  While training for the race was still underway S.6A N247 crashed on takeoff, killing the pilot Lt. G. L. Brinton, RN, leaving only N248 as the sole surviving S.6A.  Despite this setback the race went off as planned, Flt. Lt. John Boothman taking S.6B S1595 to a record-breaking 340.08mph on the 13th September as part of the final 1931 contest.  The other S.6B S1596 capsized and sank with Flt. Lt. George Stainforth at the controls during practice for the world speed record but both pilot and aircraft survived and two weeks later Stainforth, in S.6B S1595, raised the WSR yet again to 407.5mph.

Thus of the eight S-series seaplanes designed and built by R. J. Mitchell and Supermarine over the course of 6 years, by the end of 1931 three had been lost to accidents leaving only two S.5s, a single S.6A and both the S.6Bs extant.  Designed from the outset as high-performance racing aeroplanes intended for a specific, continually evolving contest their long-term survival was always going to be in question.  The highly-stressed Napier Lion and Rolls-Royce R engines required a complete strip-down and overhaul after every single run (literally a matter of hours) and the strains put on the airframe by the incredible speeds and high-g turns of the courses meant that keeping any of them in an airworthy condition beyond the absolute limit of their use would have been an extreme engineering and economic challenge.

S.6B S1595 on display at the Science Museum, London
source - Wikimedia Commons
As such only two Supermarine aircraft from that fantastic era of seaplane racing survive to this day, the fate of the others (including both the S.5s) being lost to the mists of time.  The winning S.6B S1595 was retired immediately after the 1931 race and donated to the London Science Museum, where it remains today in unrestored condition.  S.6A N248 was displayed at Southampton Royal Pier well into the 1960s (where it was actually misidentified as S.6B S1596) before being moved to the Solent Sky museum (previously the Southampton Hall of Aviation) in Southampton, where it has since been restored and now sits proudly among the exhibits - often being wheeled out for special events such as the Goodwood Revival.

S.6A N248 on display at Solent Sky, Southampton
source - Wikimedia Commons  

While normally one would be sad to see these two survivors hanging in museums rather than soaring through the sky as their maker intended, for the reasons mentioned above - not to mention their incredible rarity value - this is one instance where I am happy to just see them on static display.  It is for this reason as much as any that Mr Hosie's project is so important and, while it may not be able to create quite the same thrill of speed and excitement of the original 12-cylinder-engined thoroughbreds, it will be wonderful to see a representation of these marvellous aircraft take to the skies after almost 100 years and hopefully introduce a whole new generation to this exciting chapter in British aviation history.  I will be following the progress of this project extremely closely and very much look forward to seeing it come to fruition, when we will once again see an S.5 in the air and on the water.


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