Edwardians Lead the Charge at Goodwood’s 81st Motor Racing Member’s Meeting

Neil Gough racing his 1911 Krit on the famous motor racing circuit at Goodwood

This week I am in the company of Sussex based engineer and racer, Neil Gough, reflecting on the excitement and drama of Goodwood’s 81st Motor Racing Member’s Meeting.

The SF Trophy is always popular with the crowds at Goodwood. These Edwardian racing cars and aero-engined specials from the early 20th century provide a sense of drama and occasion. They led the charge at Goodwood’s famous motor racing circuit. Neil Gough was once again racing his 1911 aero-engined Krit.

I was cheering Neil on throughout and as we start to talk about the race Neil can’t hide his delight. I ask him how his weekend at Goodwood went. In his quietly spoken understated way he grins and says “Quite a good day on Sunday, third, a good end to a perfect weekend.” The result is testament to his skills as a racing driver and as an engineer. The two cars that finished ahead of him, the Darraq and the Sunbeam, had three times the horsepower of his Krit and Neil was still in sight of them as the race finished.

I ask him about the Krit’s extraordinary aero engine, Neil replies “It’s a 9.4 litre V8 Curtiss aero engine from a First World War bi-plane. It develops 100bhp…just over 90mph on the Lavant straight. I’ve overhauled it but there’s always work in progress.”

Neil Gough and his 1911 Krit in the paddocks at Goodwood

With the Edwardians the drivers seem to sit on top of the cars. I ask Neil what it’s like to drive the Krit. He says “It’s a feeling of total exhilaration, you’re fighting it the whole time whilst going as fast as possible. You sit on the car, there are no seatbelts. The brakes are only on the rear. They’re operated by rods and cams, no hydraulics so you have to judge everything very carefully when you’re driving flat out. We all drive with absolute respect for one another when we’re racing.”

I ask Neil what it means to race at Goodwood’s world famous circuit, he says “Goodwood is like nothing else, the crème -de-la-crème. It’s such an honour to be invited to race at Goodwood. The best drivers, the best cars are all there. It’s a superb track, several of the bends have two apexes which makes it challenging and exciting.”

Based at Washington in West Sussex Neil Gough’s remarkable engineering skills are sought by traction engine and steam enthusiasts as well as vintage car owners and racers from all over the world.

Old Cars Draw the Crowds at The Amberley Museum

Rupert Toovey and Bonnie with their 1932 green Riley Gamecock

The Amberley Museum’s themed weekends are always a cause for celebration with trains, cars, traction engines and buses as well as the superb interactive displays which so eloquently speak of the history of our nation’s heritage crafts and industry.

As I drove down that beautiful road between Storrington and Amberley I was met with that majestic open landscape against the backdrop of the Sussex Downs and the blessing of blue skies and scudding clouds. It seemed spring had finally arrived with a warmth on our faces. Wrapped in her tartan travelling rug my terrier, Bonnie, poked her nose out the side of the car and seemed to smile. I was heading to the museum for their annual Vintage and old car day in procession with a group of friends and fellow Riley enthusiasts.

Turning into the Amberley Museum we were met by a scene filled with excitement as the volunteers welcomed us. The Amberley Museum depends on its remarkable community of volunteers.

Amidst all this activity Peter was being steamed up and the vintage Southdowns open top double decker bus prepared for rides. The day drew large crowds who were delighted to be at Amberley in the spring sunshine.

My 1932 Riley Gamecock is a new arrival. I’ve called her Jenny after my favourite childhood Corgi and we’re getting on rather well. At 92 years old she’s a little oily and incontinent but all to be expected. She’s been loved and beautifully maintained over the years and has the most wonderful patina. She and Bonnie drew much attention.

Peter steaming through the Amberley Museum

I love to ride on the railway at Amberley especially when Peter is steaming along. Peter was built in 1919 by W C Bagnall Ltd in Stafford. An 0-4-0 loco, no. 2067, he was originally supplied to the Ministry of Munitions for War and delivered to the Canadian Forestry Corps at Longtown in Cumbria. He was later acquired by the Cliffe Hill Quarry Co in Leicestershire where he worked until 1949. Eventually the Narrow Guage Railway Society (NGRS) took ownership of him. He’s been busy at Amberley since 1983 where he was restored. Amberley were able to buy Peter from the NGRS in 2002, a fitting home for such a delightful engine.

The Amberley Museum offers so much throughout the year a Family Membership really will really will repay you. And it is such a pleasure to belong to this remarkable community of historians, crafts people, volunteers and enthusiasts. To find out more visit amberleymuseum.co.uk.

The History of Our Nation Told Through Objects

Stereoscopic photographs of the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel by Robert Howlett & George Downes, c.1856-1857

My recent visit to SS. Great Britain in Bristol has reminded me of the remarkable love of history seeded in me by Joyce Sleight as a school boy. Joyce taught British Social, Economic and Political History which explored our procession towards the reforming, inclusive, liberal and predominately tolerant society we live in today. It celebrated our industrialists and social reformers whilst tackling head on slavery, child labour and poverty. We were taught to be objective and not to judge history from the perspective of our own times so that the shadow of history could shape our thinking and inspire us to continue in the nation’s centuries long purpose to strive for fairness, to make things better and work for the common good. Education in those days was less about box ticking, process and grades and more about shaping and forming generous, creative, questioning minds. A love of learning for its own sake.

Amongst our greatest engineers was Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Isambard designed and built the Great Western Railway and had the vision and drive to attempt to continue the line to America building three revolutionary steam ships.

The largest of these was the Great Eastern. She left Deptford on the 7th September 1858. Large crowds gathered to witness her steaming down the Thames for her first sea trials. As she passed Hastings on the 9th September tragedy struck. A heater attached to the paddle engine boilers exploded killing six firemen. Isambard’s revolutionary design with water tight compartments and bulkheads saved the ship. Isambard had suffered a stroke on the ship shortly before she set out and many argue that this tragedy hastened his demise. He died on the 15th September 1858.

The Great Eastern ABC, or, Big Ship Alphabet children’s book

Perhaps this explains why the copy of the children’s book The Great Eastern ABC, or, Big Ship Alphabet with its 26 hand-coloured wood-engraved alphabetical vignettes is so rare. It was entered as part of a single owner archive collection by a direct descendent of Isambard’s father Sir Marc Isambard Brunel at Toovey’s and realised £9,000.

You get a real sense of Brunel the man in the photographic stereoscopic slides which sold at Toovey’s for £14,000. The photographs were taken in about 1856-1857 by Robert Howlett and George Downes. They depict Brunel before The Great Eastern.

Objects have such a power to bring history to life and connect us with the story of our processional nation inspiring us to continue to work for the common good.

A Postcard from Bristol’s SS Great Britain

Rupert Toovey and the SS Great Britain at Bristol’s Historic Docks

The 19th century visionary and engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), has been described as the nation’s most important engineer and was a key figure in Britain’s Industrial Revolution. Sussex has some claim to this remarkable figure as Brunel’s early schooling was at Dr Morrell’s boarding school in Hove before being educated in France.

He is famous for building the Great Western Railway (GWR) pioneering the 7ft 1/4 inch Broad Guage and constructing the line with carefully surveyed gradients, new viaducts, bridges and the revolutionary 2 mile box tunnel. He had a gift for thinking on a grand scale and revolutionised modern engineering and transport. There was astonishment when he proposed to continue the GWR to America.

Brunel designed and built the Clifton Suspension Bridge and three transatlantic ships. SS Great Britain was the second of these vessels. An iron-hulled ship with a steam driven propeller it revolutionised naval engineering and is considered to be the world’s first modern ship. She was launched amidst much fanfare by Prince Albert in July 1843 who travelled down from London on a Great Western train which made the journey from London to Bristol in just 2 hours 40 minutes. It took two more years to complete Great Britain and in 1845 she set out from Liverpool for New York and became the first steam driven propeller ship to cross the Atlantic. Measuring 322 feet in length she was the largest ship afloat at the time of her launch.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

A navigational error caused her to run aground in 1846. She was salvaged and from 1852 carried emigrants to Australia. In 1881 she was converted to all-sail and the engines removed to make way for more cargo. The masts and sails were on an enormous scale. Just three years later she was retired to the Falkland Islands where she was used as a warehouse and coal hulk. This grand old ship was finally scuttled in 1936.

In 1970 the British industrialist and philanthropist Sir Jack Arnold Haywood, OBE paid for Great Britain to be refloated and brought back to the dry dock in Bristol where she had been built some 127 years earlier.

Today the scale of this grand old ship still impresses and the historic dockyard and museum eloquently give voice to her story. Going aboard the ship the experience is immersive and you feel you have travelled back in time as you walk past the engines, the grand first class dining hall and below decks promenade, to the more cramped conditions of the steerage class.