Collection, Charlwood, Surrey
Dave Eade checks out the 'other' aeroplanes near Gatwick.
"I went mad in 1986!" This was the warm reply to the question "Why?" as the charismatic Peter Vallance walked us round his private collection at Charlwood, a mere stones-throw from the lifting Gatwick airliners. At an idyllic site, set in the Surrey countryside, which in 1981 Vallance acquired as a rat-infested ex-chicken farm, one can view an interesting collection of airframes and associated memorabilia. Now mainly turned over to small business units it also represents a wealth of British aviation history.
Starting in 1986 with a Sea Hawk FGA6 (ex-XE489) Vallance soon came across the stone wall of bureaucracy that is our nations planning authorities. In this case it was personified by the Mole Valley District Council who were not happy with an aviation centre near an international airport. Undaunted, he continued to collect and now exhibits a score of airframes.
Pride of place must go to the largest exhibits. Not one, but two Shackleton MR3/3s impose their grace and magnificence over the other items. The pair (WR974 and WR982) are in fair condition and one is regularly run up its four sets of Griffon-powered contra-rotating propellers introducing a not too familiar sound to the Gatwick area. When shown inside, we were staggered to find that despite the age of this veteran, which last flew in 1972, the cabin still smelt of the leather with which all the crew seats were upholstered. Costing very little to acquire, but £75,000 to move to his home, these beasts are showing signs of weathering, which although totally understandable in a private collection, made a sad reminder as to how immaculate the airframes were kept when in service over 25 years ago.
The maritime theme of the Shackletons continues when one surveys the other items. Gannet AEW3 (XL472), Sea Vixen D3 (XS587/G-VIXN), WF118 and WP308 two Sea Princes and a superb Buccaneer S1 trials airframe (XN923) in its original all-white scheme with blue and red fin are items that caught the eye. Even the Ex-Danish Hunter F51 (E-430) is painted in Royal Navy colours. With a Swiss Venom FB54, Canberra PR7 stands a black Meteor T7 (stealth Meteor jeeps, nothings new!) and Provost T1.
On the "seen better days" counter was the Victor K2 nose (XL164) complete with nose art SAUCY SAL, Harrier GR3 (XV751) and a sad Jaguar fuselage believed to be XX121, accompanied by an ex-civil Gazelle pod.
Peter is keen to show you his engine collection, much of which is gleaned from the airframes outside but interestingly includes spares for the Shackletons and many of the household names of jets and pistons. All these illustrate what the free pamphlet describes as "Peters aim to build a centre where schools, colleges, aviation enthusiasts and members of the public can learn about our nations aviation history by preserving its heritage".
One of the business units is turned over to a small shop/club-house where a new jewel is to be found. Peter described how a local model-builder had died in the recent past, and his widow was left to "dispose" of his collection. Starting with a small mock-up, Vallance has built a glass pyramid with ten-foot sides, with each inside shelf full to the brim with the randomly positioned models. Nobody could fail to be impressed with this wonderful collection of what appeared to be the complete Airfix catalogue plus many vac-formed kits up to the giant B-36 all immaculately painted. Although of mixed scale, one would be, indeed, churlish to criticise what must be a lifetime of work, stretching many thousands of man-hours. It just so right that the lady concerned refused to allow the collection to be literally broken up and that Peter was in a position to show this prize in such a worthy way.
Now a charitable Trust with the twin aims of preservation and education, Peter has forged strong link with schools and local colleges, and a private visit is a mere phone call away. Watch out also for the one public open day held in the summer, remembering that while entry to the collection is normally free, a collection like this needs lots of TLC, and that costs money the tin is in the shop! Visit their website!
Our sincere thanks go to Peter Vallance for his hospitality.