Learning to Fly

Another intriguing and thought-provoking week at South Somerset District Council’s Community Heritage Access Centre.

One of our main projects at the moment is our exhibition to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Westland Aircraft. This will be on show in Yeovil Town House, Union Street, Yeovil and we can let people know when this starts.

Selecting objects and photographs for the exhibition has proven to be an interesting process, especially as many of the objects were only recently donated to the Centre.

An initial search of the collection, found the Petters era (prior to the formation of Westland Aircraft) well covered in terms of objects, photographs and written information but less so on Westland and particularly the early years at the start of the First World War.

Due to this fact, we set out on a programme of ‘active collecting’ with a press release in the local newspaper. This led to some significant finds including A folder containing the original plans and drawings for the Westland Wizard dated 4th January 1928. It was handed to Mr Bruce who played such an important part in the formation of the Westland Aircraft Works in 1915 and was accessioned by our volunteers. Interestingly, this also came with another document, which details the Westland Aircraft produced in the First World War Period and how many of each type were manufactured, annotated in pencil above each image. They are also labelled ‘Confidential’ not to be taken from Mr Bruce’s office!

We also received a folder of Westland information assembled by one person, which included extra details on existing items in the collection, to enhance our knowledge of these areas. Examples included a booklet detailing the Flight over Everest by a Westland PV3 (Wapiti) and PV6 (later became a Wallace) in 1933 and a flyer for a play “First over Mount Everest” written by Kate Blacker and performed by Chris Crooks. The “specially commissioned illustrated lecture commissioned by the Discovery Gallery, London of the celebrated Houston Mount Everest Expedition was created from Colonel Blacker’s original lecture notes and magic lantern slides by his grand-daughter, Kate Blacker. In 1931, Colonel LVS Blacker, an officer in the Indian Army, assembled a committee including Lord Clydesdale, author John Buchan, Lord Peel and the Maharajah of Nawanagar to plan the conquest of Mount Everest by air.

We now have the labels completed and the objects selected and hope to install the exhibition towards the end of July 2015. This also raises another interesting environmental issue. We recently attended an “Introduction to Collections Course” organised by the South West Federation of Museums, which was held at The American Museum in Britain at Claverton Manor near Bath. One of the areas that stayed with me was ‘lux hours’ or the length of time an object is exposed to light and the type of light involved (direct sunlight or artificial light). As the Westland items are likely to be on show we will monitor this with humidity strips and regular visits. This is one of the main reasons why a ‘condition report’ is completed before an object selected for exhibition goes on display – to see the level of  deterioration or marking before, during and after display.

As in most things and particularly like Westland, we are learning all the time.

A ‘Wizard’ Find! and model of a Westland Wessex aircraft

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