A Brief History of the Historic Aircraft Museum…

Southend’s very own ‘Historical Aircraft Museum’ had an interesting, albeit rather shaky 11 year history which actually began five years earlier in 1967. The ‘British Historic Aircraft Museum’ as it was then known, was moved from Biggin Hill to Southend a year after it was initially founded – the small collection of exhibits being relocated to the airport where they stood on the eastern perimeter for a number of years. However, attempts to visit these aircraft could either be made by stealth or by prior approval only, being as the collection was confined within the boundaries of the airfield and as time went by a more permanent solution obviously needed to be found, especially when the museum ran into financial difficulties which resulted in Southend Municipal Council eventually impounded and then taking possession of some of their aircraft for non payment of parking/storage fees.

So, in 1970, a group of local pilots and businessmen came together with plans to build a new and modern complex on what was and is still known as HAM Brochure 1Aviation Way, a small road leading from Eastwoodbury Lane to the rear of the airport. On the left side of the road heading towards the airport, a large museum hangar with surrounding grass compound would be constructed while a conference centre known as the ‘De-Havilland Suite’ would be built to accommodate wedding receptions and business events. On the opposite side of the road, an airport hotel and what would come to be known as the ‘Zero 6’ nightclub were built, the name of the club being taken from the end of the runway that it was built the closest to.

While many of BHAM’s aircraft had been moved to the new compound late in 1970, the museum was not yet officially open to the public and in 1971 and early 1972, the airport became a hive of historical activity asDove Museum Delegation further exhibits that had been acquired were either flown or transported in after which they would be moved to this more permanent location as and when the opportunity arose. Eventually by the middle of 1972, the renamed ‘Historical Aircraft Museum’ was at last ready to open its doors to the public. The opening hours would be 10:30-19:00 on weekdays during the months of June to Sept (17:30 as the museum began to wane), while it would also open every weekend and on Bank Holidays from 10:30-16:00. The official opening occurred on 26th May with Air Marshall Sir Harry Burton in attendance accompanied by a small RAF delegation, all of whom flew in aboard Devon VP981. An airshow took place the following day and was considered a success despite the rather inclement weather that came close the halting the proceedings.

The museum was moderately successful in its formative years, although it was never going to make its owners a fortune. Indeed, the gift shop almost rivalled the museum as Brochure 2a source of interest for both the young and the more seasoned aviation enthusiast alike with well stocked shelves that displayed one of the largest collections of models and plastic kits that most of us had ever seen. Even to this day, I can imagine that many of us still clearly remember drooling over the vast assortment that was on offer… While over the years, the external exhibits remained mostly the same, such could not be said of the hangar where the displays would continually change, especially during the winter months when some of British aviation’s more delicate aircraft would be stored here until the spring.

Ultimately, it would be the museum’s location and a lack of council support that would contribute towards sealingMuseum its doom as unlike most of Britain’s largest aircraft museums which are located near the centre of the country, the HAM was tucked away in a small corner of it which wasn’t helped by the fact that Southend Council allegedly refused to permit any form of signage on its roads and highways, citing the museum as a profitable rather than a non-commercial or charitable organisation. Also, by the end of the ’70s it was becoming clearly evident that the museum and its many exhibits were no longer being loved and cherished, with many of them already falling apart or looking rather shabby thanks to several years of neglect and as such, a new owner would eventually step in and purchase the museum.

However despite new management and Bill Gent’s best efforts, it quickly became apparent to many that the museum would not last for much longer and by early Museum Ext1983 the situation had become terminal. The larger aircraft that had been left exposed to the elements for more than a decade made the museum’s outside area look more like an aviation bone-yard than a place that was supposed to be committed to the preservation of these machines – the large Beverley having already been closed to public access a year or so earlier because it had become structurally unsound. Finally during March 1983, the museum closed its doors and just two months later on May 10th 1983, auctioneers from Philips arrived to sell off everything owned by the HAM. Most of the aircraft were sold on and with a few exceptions, they still exist to this very day in some shape of form in museums across the country while a small number would be sold abroad.

 

Miles Hawk Speed Six – G-ADGP

g-adgp-osbourne

Owned by the wife of museum curator Tony Osbourne, this aircraft never became part of the S.H.A.M or H.A.M collection and was instead purchased with the sole intention of entering it into races with any winnings being put towards the upkeep of the museum. The aircraft’s tail was subsequently adorned with a museum logo in place of the ’96’ that had previously been there. However, there is little evidence that this plan actually came to fruition. Not being a museum exhibit, this Hawk Speed Six was hangared on the airport site within the B.K.S facility until finally being sold off in March 1970.

 

Museum Time Line

1966 to 1967

British Historical Aircraft Museum – Biggin Hill

1967 to 1972

British Historical Aircraft Museum – Southend

(The museum ran on and off during this period)

1972 to 1983

Historical Aircraft Museum – Southend

 

Museum Curators

1966 to 1980

Tony Osbourne

1980 to 1983

Bill Gent

(For Queen’s Moat Houses)

On the individual aircraft histories you will occasionally see ‘May 1983*‘ The star denotes that the aircraft remained at the former museum site for an extended period of time after it was sold.

 

Do you have any other, interesting snippets of information about the museum or indeed, any pictures that you would like to share? If so, then please contact us on saadinfomail@gmail.com

Many thanks from the SAAD Admin Team.