An unusual event that draws crowds to the ancient palace of Beaulieu in southern England is a 'Steam Happening' that features showman's engines, a calliope, a monorail ride, fair organ music, a tour through the palace and the ruins of an ancient abbey, and a visit to Britain's National Motor Museum.
Beaulieu is the property of Lord Montagu, a young man who has transformed the estate into one of Britain's most popular tourist attractions. He holds two steam days a yeara Steam Festival in the spring, and the Happening in the fall.
We had often heard the term, 'showman's engine' but did not get its full meaning until we attended the 'Happening' at Beaulieu last October. A showman's engine is a mighty vehicle, brightly painted with its metal decorations gleaming, and a history all its own.
The showman's engine is equipped with a dynamo up front. Its original use was for hauling equipment for traveling showmen as they transported their entertainment paraphernalia from one country fair ground or show location to another. It could generate electricity for use at the shows and could be used in lifting the equipment as well.
Owners and their crew members proudly polish their engines, and extend minute care to fueling and firing. Many photographers take pictures of the engines and their crews. While we were at Beaulieu, a young man who said he represented a German magazine was taking many pictures.
Representatives of the National Traction Engine Club were on hand at the 'Happening' to enroll members and take renewals, and explain how the organization works. They said they were running out of our magazines and would have to order more.
Great Britain has many steam societies and clubs which hold rallies and shows. The national organization gives approval for these events, when the local groups meet its code of practice for the safety of the public. The rules are especially applicable where engines are moving about.
The National Traction Engine Club will celebrate its 21st anniversary this year. Its first rally was held in Appleford, Bartshire, when one farmer challenged another to a race for a barrel of beer. It was won by the man who became national president, Arthur Napper.
Anniversary events will include a commemorative run from Appleford to Nettleford, the week after the big anniversary celebration is held July 12-13.
Among the owners of showman's engines was Rin Hawthorne, of Woodcote near Reading, who had his Fowler R3, titled Renown, on exhibit. The Renown was always used on the fair grounds, he said, with its sister engine the Repulse. At the start of World War II it was used for timber hauling. It then lay derelict for ten years on the Northumberland coast until renovated by a Mr. Parks. He sold it to Hawthorne.
Peter Barber, of London SW6, showed his Little Jim II, made by W. Tasker & Sons Ltd., only one of its kind left. It is a three speed, compound, 5 horsepower. It was built as a farm tractor but converted to a showman's engine in 1928. It was used for that purpose until World War II, when the dynamo was taken off and it hauled timber. It fell into disuse 1943-44 and was completely out of operation until Barber bought it in 1966. He did a full rebuilding, including a new boiler.
The 'Pride of Worcester' was under the care of Ron Harris and Rill Price, for the owner, Marsh Plant, New Lane, Hampshire. Ron and Bill had put years of spare time work on the engine, along with the late Reg Woolrich, for the company.
Ron gave us an information sheet about 'Pride of Worcester', which had its history printed on it, along with two pictures. It's an idea American owners of outstanding, engines could use, since many visitors to thresherees and reunions would appreciate having this kind of fact sheet to take home with them.
The 'Pride of Worcester' was made by the Burrell works in March 1907. It traveled for the Bioscope show. In 1936 it was sold to Arnold Brothers at Southampton and renamed 'King Edward VIII'. Later, when Miss Sally Beech owned it, she called it 'Lord Fisher'. It was last used as a showman's engine about 1952. A later owner called it 'Centaur'. March Plant bought it in 1967 and restoration started. A new tube plate at the smoke box end was fitted. The boiler shell was electronically tested and some stays repaired. Gear wheels were built up to original size; all bearings and bushes were renewed or replaced where necessary. Items incorrectly nickel plated were returned to polished dull nickel buffed. Final touch was complete relining and repainting.
Showing miniature engines at the Happening were Len Arnold, Gladstone Road, Gosport, and Jack Leabod, Morgan Road, Portsmouth. Both are engineers, which is a 'big help' with their hobby. They build three inches to a foot. Most of their castings come from Lion Engineering.
We enjoyed chatting with Albert Arnold, old time showman, who once drove the 'Pride of Worcester' with loads behind it. All showman's engines are now off the road, he said. They would be allowed, but not profitable. He has a big collection of photos at his exhibit.
It was also a pleasure to talk with Leonard Brooks of Harold Hill, Essex, who operates a steam-driven organ. He uses a traction engine to power the organ, and he is available for 'Charities, Fetes, County Shows, Firework Nights, Steam Engine and Vintage Motor Rallies, Street Collections and Carnivals.' We hope to do an illustrated article on Brooks in a later issue.
Numerous organs play their melodies at the Happening. One huge organ, whose operator sells longplay records of the tunes, was once powered by steam. Now it is run by electricity and could still be run by steam if a boiler were fitted.
The British National Motor Museum is a story in itself. We found a number of small steam models, but the major attraction is the old-time autos. Car buffs would certainly find this a dream world to roam around in.
You can see an 1898 Benz, a 1913 Newton Bennett, a 1938 Morris, an 1898 Cannstatt-Daimler, a 1901 Columbia Electric, and all sorts of other choice cars. Some visitors, undoubtedly, come to Beaulieu only for this museum. It was founded by Lord Montagu in 1952, and draws wide support of the British motor and motorcycle industries, as well as private collectors.
Beaulieu has been the home of the family of Lord Montagu since 1538, when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and sold the abbey and its lands to Thomas Wriothesley, first Earl of Southampton.
Beaulieu has beautiful gardens. It also has what is called the world's greatest model railway with 100 working trains.
If you wish to visit Beaulieu, and are looking for overnight accommodations nearby, we recommend the Master Builder's House at Buckler's Hard, two miles away.
Buckler's Hard was a shipbuilding center in the 18th Century. Many of the wooden ships which sailed in Lord Nelson's fleet were built there. The village of Buckler's Hard is virtually untouched, along the Beaulieu River. The Master Builder's House is the center for lodgings and food.