AGM 2011

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING AND SEMINAR
15TH to 16th OCTOBER 2011

The 2011 Annual General Meeting and Seminar was hosted by the “Under Fire” Museum (Curator Roy Goodey), located at the museum complex at the former RAF Twinwood site near Bedford. This unique site is home to several collections, mostly of a military or World War II flavour, including “Under Fire” which is described as Britain’s only wartime fire service museum.
In keeping with tradition, delegates listened to a variety of speakers.

SPEAKER: Roy Goodey, Under Fire : “A History of Twinwood”

Roy kindly stood in for Twinwood management to give delegates an insight into the background and operation of the host site. Opened in c1941 and originally known as RAF Twinwood Farm (51 OTU), the site had been a former World War II aerodrome used by USAAF and RAF personnel, one of its main roles being training. Linked to Cranfield Flying School, it was sometimes referred to as the “Night Fighters’ Finishing School.” Probably its biggest claim to fame is as the airfield from which the celebrated band leader, Captain Glen Miller took off in December 1944 on his way to entertain the troops in France, but was never seen again. In 1944 the airfield was transferred to care-and-maintenance status and closed the following year. Much later, the site was acquired by Dave Wooding, and is now a regular venue for music events, including the Glenn Miller Festival, swing festivals, 30s and 40s events and so on, drawing up to 5000 visitors at a time to its outdoor arena. The Glenn Miller museum and various other displays are on site, using original huts and the control tower.

SPEAKER: Roy Goodey : introducing “Under Fire”

Roy’s “Under Fire” museum, the country’s only wartime fire service museum, was the host for the AGM event and occupies one of the buildings on the Twinwood site. Roy’s interest in collecting wartime memorabilia began in 1974. Later he joined the Enfield and District Veteran Vehicle Trust (which operated a 1912 Belsize/John Morris pump escape formerly of Southampton FB) and the Fire Service Preservation Group. In 1979, Roy and two colleagues acquired a Bedford Heavy Unit, still part of the Under Fire Collection. The idea to make a period display representing WW2 fire service accommodation came about with a permanent display at Bletchley Park, before the collection was eventually relocated to Twinwood in 2004. The present building – representing a temporary fire station complete with engine house, watchroom, sleeping areas etc. was put up in ten days and fitted out over 6 months, opening to the public in 2005. An ARP store and a Refuge Room have also been re-created in another part of the site. Now, the museum is open for about 28 days a year plus attendance with the exhibits at outside events. The collection includes the HU, trailer pumps, all types of equipment, communications items and an archive of some 30,000 images.

SPEAKER: Neil Sylvester-King : “The Summer of ‘44”

Neil gave a fascinating insight into one of the several groups sharing the Twinwood site – the Summer of ’44 group. Describing his group as“living history interpreters” (definitely not “re-enactors”), Neil explained how a group of friends and families – including the children – spend their free time re-creating various aspects of World War II military history. This included attendance at various events and shows, outreach work in schools, film and TV appearances and collecting. The group is housed in Hut 44 at Twinwood, which was in a semi-derelict condition when acquired. It now houses officer and OR accommodation. An RAF Stores, Orderly Room, Medical Room and NAAFI are also maintained elsewhere on site. The Group’s philosophy is one of “paying back the veterans” and supporting charities and is entirely self-funded.

SPEAKER: Pat Murfin (Friends of the Fire Services National Museum Trust) :
“Weedon Community Open Day 16th July 2011”

Any news concerning developments with our national fire museum is always eagerly received at a Network AGM and, on this occasion, Pat gave an illustrated account of the recent successful Community Open Day on the Weedon site, from the perspective of the “Friends” volunteers. Described as being held “to convince the developer and the local authority” what could be achieved on site, the event was designed to showcase the heritage of Weedon. It made good use of external grant schemes, notably (and appropriately) the “Igniting Ambitions” funding scheme, part of the Cultural Olympiad 2011, aimed at inspiring communities in advance of the forthcoming Games. To fit in with these ideals, the event combined the various themes of Youth, Diversity, Heritage and Environmental Sustainability, (the last-named being achieved by the avoidance of harm to the resident ducks!). Numerous community groups took part, as well as the Fireworld collection itself, with assistance from Northamptonshire FRS, Scania Trucks (who displayed new appliances) and the Northamptonshire Fire Preservation Group.

SPEAKER: Jane Uttley (VAQAS Manager, Visit England) : “Visit England Accreditation Schemes”

Jane explained how Visit England had been formed from the Visit Britain organisation, as an arms-length Government body. Its roles covered marketing, research and intelligence (visitor statistics) and business development, including the quality accreditation schemes. The VAQAS (Visitor Attraction Quality Assurance Scheme) was launched in 1998 and is still spreading. Its aim is to accredit visitor attractions, such as museums, which provide good service in 14 different assessment areas, such as website and leaflets, welcoming, tours and visitor facilities. A VAQAS accreditation gives added value, attracts funding and helps towards museum accreditation itself. Displaying the “red rose” logo tells visitors you are committed, welcoming and of a good standard. Jane went on to give sound advice, such as the importance of a guidebook, and gave advanced news of some 2012 major events (eg English Tourism Week) to which many Network members could contribute.

SPEAKER: Phil Morris (The Fire Mark Circle) : “It started with this”

Phil successfully compressed 300 years of fire insurance history into a brief talk on this perennial topic. Starting with the first company (The Fire Office) which was set up in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, and followed by the Friendly Society, Phil (under the stern eye of projectionist Janice) steered us through the development of the industry, with particular accent on the marks issued. The different materials used for fire marks were explained, from cast lead, through beaten lead, copper and tinned copper. Company workmen would simply knock nails through the plate when erecting them. Some unusual marks and signs were discussed, such as the linen sign for haystacks in Australia. Phil then gave practical advice on differentiating between genuine and reproduction marks, adding that the most expensive mark ever sold to a collector was a Bristol Crown which went for £7000. Finally, Phil gave a humorous account of a factory fire in Northamptonshire.

SUNDAY STUDY VISITS

Delegates re-convened at Twinwood on Sunday morning in order to explore the rest of the site. The complex was open as normal, so we were able to see the control tower and the various aviation and military displays assembled by the individual collections. The amount and breadth of objects to be seen in the Glenn Miller Museum, Under Fire and the other collections was staggering. The control tower has been authentically furnished and stocked with items to show just how it would have looked when in operation. On the ground floor is an amazing collection of memorabilia, including period American jukeboxes, uniforms, and personal items.

Delegates also had time for a relaxed look around Under Fire where attention to detail is just as keen. This was just like walking into a genuine NFS temporary fire station, with every conceivable item of equipment, stationery, domestic appliances and so on. Roy is to be congratulated on this achievement.

After spending the morning at Twinwood, delegates travelled to Old Warden aerodrome to see the Shuttleworth Collection of vintage aircraft and enjoy the various other attractions this site has to offer.

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