Thursday, 30 January 2014

Sunbeam 350HP roars back to life at Beaulieu

Don Wales
Sunbeam 350hp with Malcolm Campbell Pendine Sands

Sunbeam 350 hp M Campbell at speed, Pendine small
Earlier today, Wednesday 29th January, Sir Malcolm Campbell’s record breaking 350hp Sunbeam was fired up, the first time it has been heard in public in over 50 years. Following a complete mechanical rebuild by the National Motor Museum’s workshop team, the handle was swung, to bring the engine back to life – a sound which is described as being akin to the roar of a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.

The car was the brainchild of Sunbeam’s chief engineer and racing team manager, Louis Coatalen, and was constructed at the company’s works in Wolverhampton during 1919 and early 1920. For a period following WWl, the world of motor racing was enthralled by a breed of racing cars powered by huge aircraft engines and the 350hp Sunbeam is one of the most famous of this group of aero-engined giants. Power came from an 18.322 litre V12 modified Manitou Arab aero engine, a type used on naval seaplanes.

The Sunbeam, renamed Blue Bird by Campbell, holds three world land speed records, the first achieved by Kenelm Lee Guinness at Brooklands in 1922 with a speed of 133.75mph. Campbell then purchased the car, had it painted in his distinctive colour scheme and in September 1924 achieved a new record speed of 146.16mph at Pendine in South Wales, raising it the following year to 150.76mph.

Campbell sold the car soon after; it then passed through a number of owners and is recorded as being driven by band leader, Billy Cotton, at the Southport Speed Trials in 1936. For a time the car’s location was unknown, then in 1942 it was unearthed in Lancashire by Harold Pratley who bought it in 1944. He loaned it to Rootes Ltd (successors to the Sunbeam Company), who undertook a cosmetic restoration for promotional purposes.

In 1957 the Sunbeam was purchased by Lord Montagu, restored to working order and put on display in the Montagu Motor Museum. When not on display, it was taken to various venues in the UK and Europe and in 1960 accompanied Lord Montagu as a static display on his Motoring Thro’ the Years lecture tour of South Africa. Its last outing was at the British Automobile Racing Club Festival of Motoring at Goodwood on the 14th July 1962 when Lord Montagu took it on a 3-lap demonstration run and Donald Campbell did a lap d’Honneur. In 1972 it moved into the newly created National Motor Museum where it has been on permanent display ever since.

During a test fire-up in 1993 to assess the car’s condition, disaster struck when a blocked oil way in the engine caused it to seize and ‘throw a rod’. For several years after that, the car was on display in the museum with a very visible hole in its engine where the piston and con-rod had exited.

In 1987 the car was repainted and the wheels rebuilt. Around 2007, the workshop team started looking at the car with a view to repairing the engine and an initial strip-out allowed them to assess the damage sustained in the 1993 start-up. Examination showed that the con rod had come through the side of the crank case, scoring the crank shaft and damaging three pistons and valves.

The Sunbeam Talbot Darracq Register was approached to assist in finding parts, specialist services and skills to undertake the rebuild. A restoration of this size is a very time consuming process, approximately 2,000 hours on this project, so the museum workshop relied heavily on the use of volunteers to do the work, directed by the workshop’s Senior Engineer, Ian Stanfield, and also on generous donations by specialist suppliers.

As part of the engine rebuild, the crank case metal was stitched, the crank shaft re-ground and polished and the damaged cylinder bore re-lined.  Damaged con rods, pistons, valves, springs, gudgeon pins and white metal bearings were replaced with new and the main bearing re-metalled and line-bored. The rear axle was taken apart and cleaned and the chassis and running gear renovated.

Doug Hill, the National Motor Museum’s Chief Engineer said: “This project has been a long-running labour of love for the whole team and such has been their passion that many have dedicated hours of their own time to get the job done. There is huge satisfaction in seeing it finally completed.

“However, there is more that we still want to do and our next objective is to research the design of the original gearbox – all original drawings and records were lost when the Sunbeam factory was bombed during WWll - so that we can restore the car to the full 1920s specification, as driven to two world land speed records by Sir Malcolm Campbell at Pendine Sands in 1924 and 1925.”

Andrea Bishop, Director of Collections said: “To know the 350hp Sunbeam is whole again, and to hear its tremendous roar after all those years of silence, is absolutely thrilling. I wish Doug and his team well, in realising their aspirations to undertake the next phase of work to recreate the gearbox.”

The Sunbeam will be fired up again at the Retromobile classic car show in Paris (5th – 9th February) before returning to the National Motor Museum to take its place in a new display, For Britain & For The Hell Of It – the story of British land speed records, opening for Easter 2014.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Learn Something New in 2014 At Woburn Abbey Gardens

If improving your gardening skills was one of your New Year Resolutions for 2014, Woburn Abbey Gardens have a number of courses, study days and events on offer. From drop-in activities at the monthly Come and Grow events, to study days lead by experts, and the 5 week Introduction to Horticulture course in the autumn – there is something for everyone.

During the first weekend in January, visitors observed Woburn’s gardeners mulching the annual bedding and demonstrating the taking of hardwood cuttings in their Camellia House. New and experienced gardening enthusiasts alike were able to pick up new skills and put their questions to the Woburn Abbey Gardens team. During the next year, there will be eleven more of these events – each with its own theme and seasonal tasks – taking place on the first weekend of every month. These sessions are included with standard gardens entry and you can join a free guided tour of the gardens at 12 noon on both days of each event.

Woburn Abbey Gardens are also offering a total of nine study days between May and October; each lead by their RHS qualified gardeners or other experts from their field. The season starts with two days in May – Kitchen Gardening (Wednesday 7th) and Propagation (Wednesday 14th), and the Bees Study Day in July (Sunday 27th) will teach you how to give these insects a helping hand at home. From September, there is a series of Study Days that can be booked separately, or together to make up a ‘Introduction to Horticulture’ course. Between the 17th September and the 15th October, the weekly Study Days will cover subjects including: Planning Your Garden; Planting Your Garden; Pruning and Propagation; Composting; and Trees and Shrubs.

Woburn Abbey Gardens won the Georgian Group Architectural Award in 2013 for their restoration work on the gardens designed by Humphry Repton. His life and work, particularly his designs for Woburn, will be examined on the 16th October.
For more information, visit, call 01525 290333 or email

2014 Event Highlights
  • 21st-22nd June 2014 – Woburn Abbey Garden Show
  • 26th and 27th September – Bat Walks
  • 29th November – Luminaries Woburnensis
Come and Grow
1st and 2nd February - Pruning Evergreen Shrubs including Dogwood
1st and 2nd March - Pruning Roses and Wisteria
5th and 6th April - Snow Drop Planting and Seed Sowing
3rd and 4th May - Hazel Plant Supports and Pruning Forsythia/Philedelphus
7th and 8th June - The Cheslea Chop and Planting Seasonal Bedding
5th and 6th July - Pruning Buxus and Prunus
2nd and 3rd August - Pruning Wisteria and Propagating Herbs
6th and 7th September - Lawn Care, Pruning Lavender and Composting
4th and 5th October - Bulb and Tree Planting
1st and 2nd November - Preparing Herbaceous Borders and Turf Lifting
6th and 7th December - Pruning Fruit Trees and Double Digging

Study Days

Kitchen Gardening
Wednesday 7th May
Grow your own fruit, vegetables and herbs at home after taking part in this day long introduction to Kitchen Gardening.

Wednesday 14th May
Examine the conditions needed for propagating plants and practise seed and vegetative plant propagation techniques.

Sunday 27th July
Uncover some incredible facts about these important insects and find out how to give bees a helping hand at home.

Planning Your Garden
Wednesday 17th September
Learn how to identify different types of plant and the situations that suit them. Draw up your own scale plan for a border.

Planting Your Garden
Wednesday 24th September
Discover the horticultural skills needed to prepare a site. Try planting to a site plan with correct spacing and positioning.

Pruning and Propagation
Wednesday 1st October
Explore basic pruning, pruning for shape and technical pruning skills and investigate various propagation techniques.

Wednesday 8th October
Our gardeners will guide you through the process of making a leaf mould and discuss techniques you can use at home.

Trees and Shrubs
Wednesday 15th October
Find out about the different requirements of a variety of trees and shrubs.  Discover which would best suit your garden.

Humphry Repton
Thursday 16th October
Take an in-depth look at the career of Humphry Repton and what made him such a remarkable landscape gardener. Explore his most realised designs in Woburn Abbey Gardens.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

'Hands On' Half Term 15th at Beaulieu - 23rd February 2014

Museum Entrance Hall

Scalextric In The Museum
Get ‘hands-on’ at Beaulieu this February Half Term, 15th– 23rd February, with lots of interactive fun for all the family to take part in!

In the National Motor Museum, there is a rare opportunity to handle and learn about historical motoring objects at special ‘drop-in’ sessions running between 10.30am and 4.30pm daily. Take an up-close look at early motoring clothing, photos and unusual motoring items.

See over 250 vehicles on display, from the earliest examples of motoring and family cars of the 30s and 40s through to classic cars of the 70s and 80s and rare motoring oddities such as a giant orange on wheels! Jack Tucker’s Garage recreates the sights, sounds and smells of a typical country garage from the 1930s while ‘Wheels’ - a space-age pod ride - is a fascinating voyage through 100 years of motoring.

Also in the museum, you can try your hand at racing your friends and family on the giant Scalextric track. See if you can get to the top of the Leader Board for your chance to win a fantastic prize!

In Palace House, home of the Montagu family since 1538, costumed guides will be talking to visitors in the Kitchen about what cooking in a Victorian country house was really like. You can also see fascinating exhibition, Royal Pageant, which explores the links between Beaulieu, its owners and royalty, going right back in time to before the foundation of Beaulieu Abbey in 1204.

In the Abbey, join the costumed Monk to discover what life was like for the monks that lived there in the 13th century and learn the secrets of medieval builders. Explore an exhibition on monastic life in the Abbey’s Domus and view historical objects from the time.

We are also offering a special Half Price Child Offer through February Half Term in exchange for your support of our world record-breaking attempt! On the 5th May 2014, we hope to smash the Guinness World Record for the longest continuous line of toy cars
... but we need your help to collect the 10,000 toy cars required.

Each child who donates two or more toy cars to our record attempt when purchasing admission tickets, in person, on the day of their visit, will qualify for half price child admission. We will not be able to return toys to their owners – but will be auctioning them off on completion of our attempt, in support of a local charity. T&Cs apply, see the website for details.

Beaulieu is open from 10am – 5pm daily. For more information, please visit

Friday, 10 January 2014

Goodbye Mr Bond.... Beaulieu's Bond In Motion exhibition comes to an end

The National Motor Museum’s acclaimed BOND IN MOTION exhibition was seen by over 800,000 visitors during its successful two year run which ended earlier this month. Bond fans came from all corners of the globe and the exhibition contributed to the Beaulieu attraction being recognised as the Large Attraction of the Year at the 2013 VisitEngland Awards for Excellence

The exhibition, which celebrated fifty years of the enduring James Bond franchise, featured fifty of the most iconic vehicles from the Bond films and was the largest official collection of original James Bond film vehicles staged anywhere in the world.

Following the exhibition’s departure, the museum is moving on with its ambitious plans for a complete re-display of its collection. In the 50th  anniversary year of Donald Campbell’s Bluebird CN7 record, a new display, For Britain & For The Hell Of It, featuring Beaulieu’s iconic land speed record cars, tells the story of British pluck, technological mastery and national pride – alongside new vehicles with a more alternative land speed heritage.

A moving audio-visual presentation transports you back to a golden age of invention, courage and patriotism and introduces you to those who are keeping the record breaking dream alive today.

Another new display, The Motorcycle Story, immerses you in a journey through motorcycling history, the human quest for freedom and the desire to win. Machines are displayed in their historical and cultural context; tying technological developments to changing trends in fashion, style and sport.
Memorabilia including clothing and trophies won by sporting greats can be seen in displays which cover a wide range of racing disciplines, road safety and British youth culture of the 1950s and 60s.

Both new displays will be open for Easter 2014 and can be seen as part of a visit to the whole Beaulieu attraction.  For more information visit

Monday, 6 January 2014

The Year Ahead At Woburn Abbey and Gardens

Woburn Abbey Garden Show
Woburn Abbey Outdoor Theatre
Woburn Abbey Tri For Life
Woburn Abbey and Gardens is looking ahead to a busy year following the announcement of their 2014 programme of events and exhibitions. From a World War I exhibition to a triathlon in the Deer Park, a Garden Show to a trail of Chinese Wallpapers in the Abbey, there’s something for everyone on offer.

Woburn Abbey is opening two new exhibitions on the 11th April. The first, 'Valiant Hearts: World War I - Woburn and its Stories' commemorates the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. The exhibition will tell the stories of the 11th Duke and Duchess of Bedford, Woburn Abbey itself, and people from the local area during the war. Visitors will be able to see original records and letters, and find out what it was like to train at the local garrison or be treated in the Woburn Military Hospital.

The second exhibition, 'Peeling Back The Years: Chinese Wallpaper at Woburn Abbey' will examine the decorative history of the building and give you a chance to discover the story of the 4th Duke's bedroom through its layers of wallpaper. As visitors explore the Abbey they see documents showing how these wallpapers were made, sold and hung.

Having won the Georgian Group Award for Restoration of a Georgian Garden or Landscape this year, the gardeners are continuing their plans to restore more historic features in the Gardens. The Woburn Abbey Garden Show is back for its 5th year, with a wide variety of stalls, demonstrations and talks from horticultural experts on offer. There’s also a chance to take part in a free Gardens tour every month as part of their series of ‘Come and Grow’ events.

For the more adventurous, the Cycletta or Tri For Life events offer a reason to get in shape whilst raising money for charities like Macmillan, Great Ormond Street and Rays of Sunshine. The Woburn Country Fair takes place in June with a weekend of fun filled country pursuits taking place in the appropriate surroundings of the Woburn Abbey Deer Park.

Woburn Abbey is also putting on two open air productions from the Pantaloons Theatre Company in July, with performances of ‘History of Britain' and the Shakespearian classic, 'The Tempest'.

The events calendar also includes historical re-enactments, car rallies, and gardening study days. Visit or call 01525 290333 for more information.

Woburn Abbey & Gardens is a member of the Treasure Houses of England, ten of the most magnificent palaces, stately homes and castles in England.


Woburn Abbey, Woburn, Bedfordshire MK 17 9WA

Just south east of Milton Keynes, Woburn Abbey is signposted from junctions 12 and 13 of the M1. It is also easily accessible from the A5.