The Griffin Trust
The start of it all – the history of The Griffin Trust
The story commenced in 1980 with David Beckett, a Vauxhall transport logistics Employee who under the wing of Vauxhall Motors Sports and Social Club organised a small collection of transport exhibits for two family days at the Social Club in Ellesmere Port.
Following the success of these displays, he organised a further larger display of vehicles at Speke Air Show in 1983. The experience gained at these shows prompted the idea of a much more unique show on a grander scale. After three years of negotiations, David had permission from high ranking Vauxhall officials to stage an event on the plant’s 28-acre showground, adjacent to the Ellesmere Port car factory. It was at this point that David, Peter Matthews a graphic designer, Christine Thomas, delivery driver, and Peter Watson a printer became the “Wheels” Committee. Later numerous other enthusiasts joined the team which included many family members. In 1987 the Military Group was given an 8 roomed annexe which included toilets and showers that is attached to the rear of the middle hangar, This area had previously used by the Vauxhalls Rugby Club section. On first inspection, it was deemed not good enough to keep pigs in but Christine an ex farming lass took it on board. After many weeks of cleaning it and evicting the rats it was suitable to be used as the Wheels HQ. This was aptly named the Bunker.
In 1988 a further show was arranged. The main attraction was two Harrier Jump Jets that were the first aircraft to land on the airfield for 30 years they performed an aerial flying display and landed on the spectator field which wowed the crowd.
A surprise visit from the Vice President of G.M. America, Mr Edd Cazpore, cemented Vauxhall support for the event. It also set the scene and every year from then on dignitaries and sponsors, which included high ranking Vauxhall officials, Local Council and Army personnel were invited and attended. Proceeds from all these events were donated to The Soldiers, Sailors, Airforce Appeal. In recognition of this show organiser, David and his wife Muriel were invited to the Queen’s garden party.
With the success of these shows, it soon became apparent that a larger base for operations was needed, preferably with storage and perhaps a small transport museum. Once again David went ‘cap in hand’ to Vauxhall Motors and asked for part of the hangar complex vacated by Vauxhall some years previously. Fortunately, Vauxhall had faith in the show committee and agreed to open negotiations to lease the site. Charitable status was applied for by the show organising committee and in 1990, Vauxhall agreed to a 15-year lease on two of the historic Belfast Aircraft Hangars on the site to the newly named The Griffin Trust charity, the name being chosen after the Vauxhall Motors logo to acknowledge their support. After negotiations with Wirral Borough Council, the buildings on the site were given Grade II listed status. (The Council boundaries were later changed). Because of the intenseness of these negotiations, no Wheels Show was held that year.
The first event was called “Wheels” and held in 1986. The main attraction was the Marlborough Flying Team, who performed a daring aerobatic display above a full showground. Every type of wheeled vehicle imaginable was present. With family attractions, we made sure everyone had something to see or do. It took years of planning, both with our in-house team and with the assistance of Vauxhall Motors. The event was a roaring success and the organisers were left feeling an attraction of this type was needed in the area and they were eager to put on another show.
The year 1991 saw the appointment of a Project Manager, Christine Thomas, who remained in the post until 2000. With the help of CWTEC and Vauxhall Motors, she attended various talks and courses so Health & Safety procedures could be put in place. Then a steady trickle of volunteers with a variety of trades were recruited to clear the site of all types of car manufacturing debris and then put Hooton’s history on display to be enjoyed by the public.
Following on, a café was established and the toilet block was re-instated in
Hangar 2. The past of this historic site was put on display. Backed up by various events, organised by The Griffin Trust and outside bodies. The public travelled far and wide to attend various events such as auto-jumbles, Aero Enthusiasts collector’s fairs, Lorry Runs, Classic Motor Cycle events, Lombard
RAC rally scrutinising and industrial training seminars as well as monthly Sunday guided tours where being held on this vibrant site. A successful application to the local council granted the project its own postal address. Hangar Two was kept in good repair and Huts 27 and 28 were totally restored by the volunteers.
1992, these shows were set to become bi-annual. This event featured the Crunchie Wing Walkers Aerial Display Team which enthralled the crowd. The backdrop for this event ranged from, in the air, an RAF rescue helicopter, the Aerospace Mosquito and Dakota supplied by Air Atlantique. On the ground and working were custom and vintage/classic lorries, also buses, cars, motorcycles, and tractors.
Encouraged by its success again in 1994 the main content of the show stayed the same. The Queen’s Household Calvary musical ride was successfully booked as the main arena attraction. They performed a display on both days of the show. The horses, men, and equipment were billeted at the hangar complex for five days as well as a Special Branch Police contingent ensuring the safety of the display team.
The 1996 show once again had main attractions never seen in the area before,
Wolds Wagoner Army Motorcycle display team, Prince of Wales’ own regiment of Yorkshire’s parachute display team and Powder Pastimes historic firearms display.
The other unique attraction was the loan from the York railway Museum of the
“Stephen’s Rocket” replica. The organisers had collected it and brought it to the show by low-loader. This attraction was tremendous, steaming up and running on a length of track. Being joined by a fascinating huge steam car and “Blodwyn” the steam-roller supplied by Castle cement that sedately chugged around the Showground all day. Although the organisers had planned to obtain the Royal Horse Artillery for the next event in 1998 and the Dancing Diggers in 2000. Sadly after 1996 the shows were curtailed due to the disposal of the Showground. The Griffin Trust carried on concentrating on the further development of the Hangar complex. Volunteers were still being attracted to this unique project and with them brought management, media and corporate knowledge.
Six years of efforts by the Trust to obtain additional funding for the renovation of the hangars and ancillary buildings were unsuccessful because the term of the
lease was too short so in 1996 and as the last show ended the ownership of the
hangar complex was offered to the Griffin Trust, but the sponsorship package was deemed to be insufficient to attract match funding as the hangars had an urgent work notice placed on them from the Local Council which amounted to £250,000.
Soon after a partnership was formed between The Griffin Trust, Vauxhall Motors, English Partnership and the Ellesmere Port & Neston Borough Councils to formulate a plan to restore the three hangars which would eventually contain a Vauxhall Heritage Centre, a public event hangar and a museum and training school. The ancillary building was used as a café and other training workshops.
In late 1998, as the application for funding was about to be submitted for feasibility studies, a change in climate at Vauxhall and as part of their expansion plans made them decide to withdraw their interest in the development of the hangar site. High level talks then began between Vauxhall Motors and
The Griffin Trust with a view to The Griffin Trust becoming owners of the site. Unfortunately due to the small amount of sponsorship coupled with the council’s urgent works notice on the hangars it was deemed too risky for the charity to take this debt on board.
Within a month on the 30th July 1999, because they were listed buildings Vauxhall Motors had to apply to the Secretary of State to have the hangars demolished. The Griffin Trust immediately sprang into action by calling on all their volunteers, colleagues and interested parties to attend a meeting at the hangar complex. Within a short period an action group spearheaded and funded by The Griffin Trust was formed and the Save Hooton Hangars campaign was born. (SHH)
This produced a vast wave of public protest which was far-reaching and included Lord David Hunt and support from GM America. The negotiating committee who were Stephen Perry, John Langley, Ian Farquharson, Christine Thomas, Mike Lewis and Peter Richardson who then worked in the public service industries, as well as Business and Media Managers, Architects and Accountants, heavily backed up by supporters and volunteers from The Griffin Trust. Thousands of written objections, together with reports in newspapers, transport enthusiasts and the aviation press resulted in the reprieve of the hangar site….The plan being was to create a charity named The Hooton Park Building Preservation Trust. Who sole aim would to obtain the funding to restore the hangars, whilst the The Griffin Trust carried on keeping the site in good order and still giving access to the public.
The Freehold agreement once agreed came with an injection of funds to pay for a manager for 12 months and also a substantial amount of match funding to start off the securing of funds for the restoration of the hangars. The cost of reconnecting of all the services to the public systems was also be funded by Vauxhall. It was though also at this time that the main negotiating committee became fragmented as some gained promotion moved out of the area. Others individuals took their place but some goals of the original plan were changed dramatically.
In the spring of the new Millennium the freehold of the hangar site was signed by two members of the original committee. The hangar complex and buildings were handed over to the newly formed Hooton Park Trust a none profit making company which was set was set up, with £300 donated by the Griffin Trust.
As the newly formed Hooton Park Trust was not a charity they had to generate
funds to pay for the everyday running of the complex. Their quickest way was to become a storage facility for caravans.
The Griffin Trust operations had to be scaled down as we were asked to vacate Hangar 2. At this point it was either accept the derelict Motor Transport Sheds offered as our new base, which also included the rear of Hangar 1 as a workshop or disband the charity. As the enthusiasm for the Hangar site and what it stood was still very evident within the members of The Griffin Trust the decision was made to carry on. The huge downsizing operation began.
The cafe closed. The collection had to be reduced. The Big Ugly DUKW went to a museum in Rotherham, the big Russian Antonov, Bi-plane was returned to its owners (which we believe it is now flying under the Utterly Buttery colours). The Hurricane replica and associated aviation artefacts were disposed of.
The Hooton Park history display which we had built up in Hut 27 we donated to The Hooton Park Trust and the rest of the paper work is held in the Cheshire Archive for public access.
Sadly because we could not house aircraft in the MT sheds the Aviation section eventually disbanded. Not daunted by the enormous project ahead we set to clearing the areas which had been used by Vauxhall Motors as a bi-products dump” and obtaining a small grant for roofing materials.
In 2001 The Griffin Trust embarked on preserving and restoring the Motor Transport Sheds. The first stage MT1 (Motor Transport) was completed in three years. MT2 was finished in 2006 and some Auto jumbles returned for a short period. Aviation Fairs were held in the local Civic Hall but were found to be non-profit making.
We were then asked to vacate the huge workshop that housed all of our remaining equipment and exhibits. Another downsizing operation which can be easily described as try to fit a gallon into a pint pot!