Stondon Museum welcomes Daphne Selfe

Posted on Jan 26, 2013 by


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Daphne Selfe is an out and out trooper. Part of her phenomenal success may be due to the fact that, as well as being beautiful, she says ‘yes’ to anything. She’s an ‘I can do that’ type of gal. For example. Take Stondon Motor Museum in Bedfordshire (one of our favourite places). Its beautiful vintage cars just beg for a photographer to come along with a glamorous model but with eight huge halls, it’s not exactly the ideal venue for a winter shoot in flimsy 1940s threads but that’s what himself asked Daphne to do and that’s what she said yes to. Considering that she has been photographed for every fashion magazine and fashion house by world famous photographers he feels privileged. Having told us the cars she remembers from her youth include a Morgan, Armstrong Siddeley and Rover we asked the Museum if they had any. Not only did they say yes they said they also have a De Soto called Daphne. She was tickled pink to have her photo taken with it. Thank you Daphne for all the times you say yes. We hope you like the photos, especially the one of you in Joan Collins’ old Rolls Royce.

That Stondon Museum is a little gem. Like all the best places its fame is due to word of mouth. Not only did John and Maureen Saunders create the wonderful, the unforgettable, the one and only museum, that not being a nearly big enough challenge, they built a full scale replica of Captain Cook’s famous Endeavour. How? Easy! They popped along to Greenwich Maritime Museum and said they wanted to build a ship in a space measuring one hundred foot. You mean a model? No. We mean a life size replica. What about the Endeavour? Ninety-five foot. Perfect. We’ll have that.

The Endeavour was the Royal Navy research vessel commanded by Cook when he discovered Australia and New Zealand and claimed them for Britain. The round trip took three years.

Greenwich sent copies of the original 1768 drawings on a microfiche to the brave duo which John, an engineer and draughtsman, followed. Constructing the ship from the waterline up, an eighth took shape, then a quarter before the Council came round. ‘Ere! We can’t allow that’. Why not?  ‘You need planning permission for a building’. It’s not a building, said Maureen. It has no foundations. It’s not fixed to the ground. It’s on water. It’s a ship. A posse of engineers came to check. After humming and haahing they eventually conceded it was a ship.

Schoolchildren love it. Especially the gory bits. Why’s this bit of floor painted red then? That’s where the ship surgeon carried out operations. The blood blended in. ‘Ere! Where’s the toilets? There’s no loos! True. Loos there are not. What there are ‘seats of ease’ fixed to the side. Far more hygienic. If the wind’s in the right direction that is.

Bizarre to see a ship so far from the sea. Do go and see it. Be prepared to be humbled by Maureen and John’s tremendous, admirable achievement.

As if Endeavour is not enough, the museum has the largest private collection of motor vehicles in Britain, more than the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. Three hundred (Beaulieu has 250) reflect motor transport from 1900 to the present day. Ford Pilots, police vehicles, AA and RAC Motorcycles, Rolls Royce’s, buses, fire engines, military vehicles and a huge collection of motorbikes including Scott, Vincent, Greeves, ABC, Triumph and BSA. Exhibits include a 1913 Renault, 1923 Wolseley and Chevrolet, 1931 Peugeot, a 1932 BSA three wheeler and a 1934 Morris. Also on display is a rickshaw, a Tuk Tuk, a road sweeper, the Sinclair C5, a Ford Campervan and four hundred model aircraft.

If you’re very lucky and find Maureen on duty in the tea room (best cup of tea for miles) try to get her chatting. She might tell you how it came about that a genuine Romany 1910 caravan joined the collection. Or about the day she paid a £100 for a box of bits and pieces when someone was clearing out the garage. When assembled they turned into a Penn Smith Gyrocopter which no-one had seen for forty years. Another helicopter in the museum was part of The Queen’s Flight. Perhaps best of all is her story of the Russian Missile on its original transporter. It goes something like this. A family friend who had made his way to Berlin to see the infamous wall being demolished was astonished to see a 1950s Russian Missile had been built into the middle. He phoned Maureen. Fancy a Russian Missile for The Collection? She did. It made its uneventful way across Germany, across France, across the Channel until it got to Hull. ‘Ere’ the Port Authorities said in alarm pulling back the cover ‘you can’t bring that in’. After a lot of convincing that the missile would never again do what it was meant to do the Missile was reluctantly sent on its way to Maureen and John.

Don’t forget to look out for The Flying Flea (the pilot is a teddy bear), a homebuilt bi-plane of wood and fabric intended for the ordinary man. Designed by Frenchman Henri Mignet in the 1920s he published plans for building the plane. He wrote the text, did the drawings, created the photographic plates and printed and bound the books himself. Mignet said anyone who could build a packing crate and drive a car could fly a Flying Flea. Enthusiasts in Europe and America began to build their own aircraft from kits. In France there were at least 500. In 1936, UK restrictions were placed on Flying Fleas following a fatal crash at an air display in Kent.

Incidentally, if you have a few bob going spare, the museum can sell you one of its classic cars. Enjoy your visit. We certainly did.

By the way, don’t go to Stondon if you don’t like quirky. If you prefer pristine, soul-less, character-less museums with no atmosphere aimed at a Blue Peter audience, you have to go to The London Transport Museum in Covent Garden and pay £15 (not a misprint) for that.


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