A Brief History of the Historic Aircraft Museum…

Run from the outset by the rather ‘colourful’ character of Tony Osborne, Southend’s very own ‘Historical Aircraft Museum’ had an interesting, albeit rather shaky 11 year history which began five years earlier in 1967. Due in no small part to Tony’s shenanigans, the ‘British Historic Aircraft Museum’ as it was initially known, was asked to leave Biggin Hill in 1968 and subsequently relocated to Southend – its small collection of exhibits ending up on the eastern perimeter of the airport where they stood for a couple of years. However, attempts to visit these aircraft could only be made by stealth being as the collection was confined within the boundaries of the airfield and as such, there was no public access to them during this time. Sufficed to say, as time went by a more permanent solution needed to be found, especially when Tony found himself running into financial difficulties which eventually resulted in Midland Bank impounding and then taking possession of the aircraft in lieu of his outstanding debts.

So, in 1969 and with Tony Osbourne now out of the picture, a group of local pilots and businessmen came together hoping to save the aircraft. They approached Southend Council and Midland offering to pay rent for a display area while making restitution for any outstanding debts. However, just before this was about to happen, the aircraft were purchased by Budge Brothers Ltd. whose associate companies had also procured a large area of land on Aviation Way. On the left hand side of the road heading towards the airport, a large museum hangar with a rather extensive, surrounding grass compound would be constructed while a large function room known as the ‘De-Havilland Suite’ would be built alongside it 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 the closest to. Indeed, it was hoped that the hotel, club and function suite would provide enough income to subsidise the museum while also returning a healthy profit for the directors.

While the former B.H.A.M.’s aircraft had been moved to this new compound in October 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 as further exhibits that had been acquired were either flown or transported in after which they would also be moved to this more permanent location as and when the opportunity arose. Eventually by the spring 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 27th May with Air Marshall Sir Harry Burton in attendance accompanied by a small RAF delegation, all of whom flew in aboard Devon VP981. An air show also took place on the day with displays by the Rothmans Aerobatic Team, Ladi Marmol in his Blanik glider plus a small handful of other aircraft and was considered a success, despite gale-force winds that came close the halting the proceedings.

Under the stewardship of John Widdall and then William Pepperell, the museum was moderately successful in its formative years, although it was never going to make its owners a fortune and as the years went on, the lack of funds began to be reflected in the condition of the museum’s aircraft, especially those kept outside. However, inside things remained slightly more positive, helped no end by a large gift shop that almost rivalled the museum as a source of interest for both the young and the more seasoned aviation enthusiast alike, having 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 airframes would be stored here until the spring.

Ultimately, it would be a lack of visitors due to the museum’s location and a degree of council intransigence that would contribute towards sealing its fate as unlike most of Britain’s largest aircraft museums which are located near the centre of the country, the H.A.M. was tucked away in one corner of it. This somewhat out-of-the-way locality also 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 evident that the museum and its many exhibits were no longer loved or cherished, with many of them already falling apart or looking rather shabby thanks to several years of neglect. Then around 1980-81 the H.A.M. faced another period of uncertainty as Budge Bros. ceased trading and Queens Moat House stepped into the picture eventually appointing Bill Gent who had been with the H.A.M. more or less from the beginning as curator.

While Bill did his best to keep things going, it quickly became apparent to many that the museum would not last for much longer and by early 1983 the situation had become terminal. The larger aircraft that had been left exposed to the elements for more than a decade now made the museum’s compound 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. The decision was then taken to sell off the exhibits before they reached the point of no return and finally, on March 27th 1983, the museum closed its doors for the last time. On May 10th 1983, auctioneers from Philips arrived to sell off everything owned by the H.A.M. 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.

With thanks to Tony Avis for providing additional info and corrections for this page.

 

Miles Hawk Speed Six – G-ADGP

g-adgp-osbourne

This aircraft was registered to Lesley Ann Osborne the wife of museum curator Tony Osborne, although it 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 the museum logo in place of the ’96’ that had previously been there. However, there is little evidence that this plan actually came to fruition. Being as this Hawk Speed Six was not a museum exhibit, it was instead hangared on the airport site within the B.K.S. facility.

That being said, the aircraft still flew from time-to-time with one flight resulting in a heavy landing that cracked a wheel hub. Replacements were for such a rare type non-existent, although Tony somehow managed to work out that a wheel from a Heinkel scooter would work just as well and managed to source one, eventually talking the owner into letting him take it and then pay at a later stage. However, payment was not forthcoming and eventually the owner turned up at SEN demanding money or his bike back, but with Tony nowhere in sight he left empty handed and never came back. The contentious scooter was eventually moved to the new site, but later disappeared.  As for G-ADGP, she was eventually sold off in March 1970 and is now based at White Waltham Airfield.

 

Museum Time Line

1966 to 1967

British Historical Aircraft Museum – Biggin Hill

1967 to 1972

British Historical Aircraft Museum – Southend

(The museum name effectively became redundant after 1969)

1972 to 1983

Historical Aircraft Museum – Southend

 

Museum Curators

1966 to 1969

Tony Osborne

Apr 1972 to Aug 1972

John Widdall B.S.C.

Aug 1972 to 1981

William Pepperell

1981 to 1983

Bill Gent

(For Queens 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.

 

The End…

With the demise of Southend’s Historical Aircraft Museum came the inevitable disposal, recovery and selling off of the museum’s exhibits, the latter of which took place by way of auction on May 10th 1983. Where the entire catalogue is concerned, you can find a comprehensive list of each lot on Nick Skinner’s Southend Timeline website. Click here for more details – Full Auction Details

Auction Brochure

To enter the auction, the purchase of a £5 brochure was required and the sale summarily kicked off at 2pm, concluding approximately three and a half hours later. Two lists can be found below: the first covers the main exhibits along with all the relevant auction information while the second covers the return or dispersal of the major, loan aircraft.

 

Aircraft in the Auction

Auction Final

Click to expand

Aircraft on Loan to the H.A.M

Loan Final

Click to expand

 

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.