British Motor Museum Volunteers

British Motor Museum Volunteers

Tuesday 15 October 2019

The Outreach and Presentation Team

This blog has described many of the various activities and duties in which volunteers are involved at the British Motor Museum. One group that has so far avoided the spotlight is the Outreach and Presentation team, volunteers who are becoming more and more active in the local community.

Formed in 2015, the original function of the group was to visit local clubs, societies and institutions etc. where presentations focussed on the promotion of the refurbishment of the main Museum, plus the construction and subsequent opening of the new Collections Centre. Known then as just the Presentation team, it comprised of about eight volunteers.

Some of the team at a recent training meeting

As part of the Museum’s commitment to help and become involved in the local community, in 2017 the group evolved into the Outreach and Presentation team – currently comprising around 14 volunteers. The Outreach programme is where between three and four volunteers visit outside organisations where, in the majority of cases, their members need special care and attention. These will typically be; dementia caf├ęs, Alzheimer’s Society groups, and care homes, as well as isolation and wellbeing and mental health groups – people for whom a visit to the Museum itself may not be practical or desirable.

The Museum, as you would expect, has a huge collection of motoring memorabilia, so it’s a selection of some of the most interesting items that we take with us to show these groups. Their reaction has really proved the worth of these visits. Often, even the more mundane items, will bring back memories or stimulate conversation and interest. Also the chance to hold and look through items such as old driving licences and pre and post war car publicity photos, plus examples of old and modern car parts, nearly always manages to inspire a story from the audience.

A small selection of some of the items

As an alternative to us going out to visit groups, we can also arrange and accommodate special group visits to the Museum itself. All our usual memorabilia items will be available to view, as well as a guided tour of sections of the Museum. Refreshments can be provided if required and the Museum is well equipped and designed for wheelchair use.

The team in action at what is a relatively small group
We’ve attended around 75 visits since the programme started and are likely to end up visiting around 40 this year alone. The visits normally last about an hour and we can attend any suitable venue within about an hour’s drive from the Museum in Gaydon. Another attraction to a couple of our recent visits has been our restored 1960 Standard Ensign. When available, this provides a great chance to remind people what sixties motoring was like and how basic most cars of that age were. 

Our restored Standard Ensign brings back memories of sixties motoring

The group’s next project will be a re-launch of their original Museum presentation to local organisations etc., but with the added bonus of a short talk on one of three motor related subjects. These are likely to be about the Mini, British sports cars and the evolution of the British motor industry.

As a result of these new initiatives and the growth in the number of requests we’re now receiving we need more volunteers. So, if any existing volunteers want to join the team, or anyone else reading this is interested in becoming part of the team, then please get in touch with our volunteer coordinator Sonja Dosanjh on 01926 927820. Further details can be found at the bottom of this website page

Further information and booking details for visits can be obtained from Emma Rawlinson, Family and Lifelong Learning Officer on 01926 927823

Monday 8 July 2019

Into the Woodies

Collections Centre volunteer and guide Cameron Slater, writes another fascinating blog with a family connection.

There are many surprises in being a volunteer at the Collections Centre of the British Motor Museum – visitors with amazing stories, visitors with unexpected cars, visitors from faraway places, and so on,  but let me tell you about one very big surprise that, for me, was much closer to home.

I was browsing the bookshop section of the Museum shop one day and came across a copy of Alvis Cars 1946-1967 The Post War Years by John Fox (Amberley Publishing 2016). I already owned John Price Williams’ book of almost the same title, but on the basis that you can never have too much of a good thing, I bought the Fox book too. I have always had a soft spot for Alvis cars since I bought my first one  -  a 1959 TD 21 -  in 1975 for £250. Since then I have owned a 1964 TE 21 and a 1937 12/70 Saloon.     

The Fox book is an interesting collection of pictures of all the cars Alvis produced between 1946 and the end of their interest in car production in 1967. Now, despite my fascination with Alvis cars, there’s one model I’ve never been interested in – the TA14 - which I’ve always thought was a fairly dull car. However, its Utility derivative, the Shooting Brake - the Woodie - has always been a source of amazement that so many different styles could evolve around one very elderly chassis design.        

So as I flicked through the TA14 section of the book and came to the two pages devoted to the Shooting Brake, I was suddenly struck by the name ‘Gaze’ in the accompanying text. This is my wife’s family name and it’s quite an unusual one and here it was in reference to pictures of two TA14 Woodies with bodies by Gaze. So that’s what started my hunt through the Woodies, my wife’s family history and the history of the TA14.

William H Gaze, the son of a master carpenter, founded the firm of building contractors, W.H. Gaze & Sons, in 1879 in Kingston on Thames. He was my wife’s great grandfather. The business thrived and, according to Gaze’s obituary in The Surrey Comet in 1934, the firm was responsible for the appearance of much of the centre of Kingston. Their first major contract was for St Luke’s church with the accompanying vicarage and school. In 1902 the company built the Kingston Public Library, which was opened by the Scots-Canadian philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. As the business grew, it moved into bigger and bigger premises in the town and by the time of William’s death in 1934, W.H. Gaze & Sons employed over a thousand men and had a weekly wages bill of around £6,000. 

Over the years the firm developed other interests such as furniture-making and carpentry but their most famous legacy is the Gaze All-Weather, Non-Attention Hard Tennis Court. This was patented by Gaze and examples of these tennis courts were installed in many of the large properties of the wealthy in and around Kingston and by various municipal authorities. Indeed, the Corporation of Torquay invested in 21 Gaze Hard Courts on which the Davis Cup of 1937 was played.  And when my wife, Jeanne, first attended The Weald School in Billingshurst, she was amazed and delighted to see the W.H. Gaze logo on the net supports of the school tennis courts. The logo is a stylised version of an Egyptian hieroglyph in the shape of a gazelle.

So far, so fascinating and I’m grateful to my wife’s sister, Lynne, for giving me access to her researches into the family history. But she didn’t know about the Alvis connection. Now, by 1947 the W.H. Gaze company must have been highly skilled in wooden construction of all kinds. As builders, they would install wooden windows, doors, staircases, panelling and a host of other features of house building. In 1943 all their carpenters were diverted into war work, building wooden landing craft for the D Day invasion the following year and, rather gruesomely, coffins, presumably for the inevitable fatalities of the invasion.

After the war, therefore, it would have been, I guess, another useful business opportunity to use the skills of their carpenters to build wooden bodies on the chassis of established vehicle manufacturers. In the immediate post-war period, the wooden-bodied shooting brake or utility was a popular body style since car manufacturers were bedevilled by the shortage of steel. A wooden body, therefore, made a lot of sense to both manufacturers and buyers because Woodies were classified as commercial, so buyers did not have to pay quite high levels of purchase tax which were imposed on new cars at this time.  In addition to Alvis, manufacturers such as Allard, Lea Francis, Austin and Morris all delivered chassis to coachbuilding and other companies to be turned into Woodies. The main museum at Gaydon has a very well preserved Allard P2 Woodie, which was originally part of the James Hull collection. The difference with this particular model is that the body was built by the Allard company itself.
So while W.H. Gaze & Sons was not an established coachbuilder, it did have a pool of highly skilled and experienced carpenters who would have been able to turn their hands to any kind of wooden construction. Now there was no TA14 Shooting Brake built at the Alvis factory in Holyhead Road in Coventry, so all of them – and they were very popular – would have been built by outside firms. The chassis were delivered already fitted with front bulkhead, dashboard and driver and front passenger seats which were trimmed in leather in contrast to the utilitarian accommodation of the rest of the car.

It is thought that somewhere around 500 TA14 chassis were delivered to outside coachbuilders. It is not known how many bodies Gaze built on the TA14 chassis, but Colin Peck in his book British Woodies from the 1920’s to the 1950’s (Veloce Publishing 2008) believes that the number was ‘significant’ and that the firm also built bodies for Lea Francis.

However, Gaze did not sell or market the cars under their own name and it is more than likely that most of the bodies were ordered by Alvis distributors such as Brooklands of Bond Street, Vincents of Reading and Reliance Garage of Norwich. These companies would then brand the cars with their own logo suggesting that they were the constructors and thus contributing to the situation where W.H. Gaze is almost unknown as a manufacturer of motor car bodies.         

There were, of course, a number of well-known coachbuilders who used the TA14 chassis as the basis for their work. The standard saloon was bodied by Mulliners of Birmingham who also produced a drophead version. Another drophead version was built by Tickford of Newport Pagnell. Richard Meade of Dorridge also produced a drophead as did Carbodies of Coventry. There was a very attractive two-door coupe version by Duncan of North Walsham, Norfolk and A.P. Metalcraft of Coventry produced the body for the TB14 which was the two seater, open-top, sporting body on the TA14 chassis.

I began by saying that I thought the TA14 was a dull motor car. Now, I’m not so sure, especially since I’ve discovered that I’ve married into the family who helped make the Alvis TA14 the most popular Woodie of its day.

And here’s another thing: the man who persuaded the Earl of March to turn the disused airfield at Goodwood into a motor racing circuit was called Tony Gaze – but that’s another story.

Thursday 21 March 2019

1960 STANDARD ENSIGN (Part 19)

The final and time consuming work towards completion

It’s been some time since our last blog on the Ensign, as progress with some of the final tasks has been slow. This relates to three main areas; preparing and fitting the interior trim, investigating and fixing oil and water leaks and attending to a long snagging list, prior to the car’s MOT test.
The trim fitting cannot be rushed and of course this has to be done in the right order. Items such as the dashboard, glove box, courtesy lights and switches, door window winder mechanisms, locks and springs take time to fix and adjust. Then there are the door cards and cappings to fit, together with all the handles, levers and locks. New red carpet and underlay were acquired for the boot and cabin floor. The cutting and fitting took a lot of time and patience, but it really started to transform the look of the interior. 

Monday 25 February 2019

Come and join us – the Museum requires more volunteer guides

Since the refurbishment of the British Motor Museum and the opening of the Collections Centre just over 2 years ago there’s been a large increase in visitor numbers. The Museum has also been the recipient of a number of awards, the latest being the prestigious VisitEngland Visitor Attraction Welcome Accolade. As a result the Museum is in need of more volunteers, particularly at weekends, to help in providing and maintaining a great customer experience in the Collections Centre.

So, if you’d like to join our volunteer team and have the time to help us between 11am and 4pm on a Saturday or Sunday, then our Volunteer Coordinator, Sonja Dosanjh would love to hear from you.
The role is about offering a warm and friendly welcome, giving visitors an experience they will want to repeat. You can bring the history of the collection to life for people of all ages.
Some of the volunteer team at a recent gathering

Throughout the year, particularly during the summer months, the Museum site becomes the home to many types of external events, shows, car club meets etc., which really gives a buzz to the whole place, not normally experienced in the week.

Below are three quotes from weekend volunteers which sum up the experience very well:-

Volunteering at the weekends is incredibly rewarding; it is great to see how people react to the vehicles in the collection.  For older visitors it's a trip down memory lane and a conversation that usually starts – “Have you got a..." and ends with a happy anecdote or two from the visitor.  There's a real sense of job satisfaction from knowing that you've enhanced someone's trip to the museum.

Volunteering at the British Motor Museum is a really rewarding and fun experience. Engaging with visitors about cars they have owned, helped build or wanted since their childhood is a fantastic way to hear new stories and share your own knowledge of the amazing vehicles and their history.

Volunteering at the Museum has introduced me to new people, enabled me to learn new knowledge and skills and above all, share my passion for the unique collection we have at the British Motor Museum. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending volunteering in the Collections Centre - here, we look after and share with our visitors some real gems in the collection, enhancing their experience by sharing knowledge and inspiring younger visitors through some of the awesome vehicles housed within its walls. 

So, if you’d like to know more, then do contact Sonja by email at or give her a call on 01926 927820 or check our website.