Wessex Aviation Industry, by Mike Phipp (Amberley Publishing, 2011)

This review originally appeared in Wessex Chronicle volume 14, issue 2 (summer 2013)

Mike Phipp has been watching planes come and go at Bournemouth’s airport since the
1960s, so is well-placed to write the definitive book on the Wessex aviation industry. This is not yet it. He confines ‘Wessex’ to Dorset and Wiltshire and the western parts of Hampshire and Berkshire. Can you write our aviation history and exclude Westland of Yeovil, makers of the Wessex and the
Wyvern? Or Bristol, birthplace of the Brabazon and Concorde?

Or Farnborough, home of military flying? That the book actually makes frequent passing reference to all three places, and others in Wessex, only underlines its chief shortcoming. At 317 pages, however, Mike Phipp’s work does offer plenty to be getting on with.

It arranges alphabetically 26 locations used by aircraft manufacturers. The firms range from Vickers-Supermarine, with 13 locations, to single-site operations like Sheriff Aerospace of Sandown or Jackaroo Aircraft of Thruxton. There is a short bibliography but unfortunately the only thing like an index is the contents listing. The aircraft and their manufacturers have been written about before. What is new is their placing in a geographical context, allowing us to understand how the industry came into being. The south coast’s boat-builders were ready to apply their traditional skills to making seaplanes. In 1912 Saunders and Sopwith collaborated on the Bat Boat, the first flying boat to be built in Europe, with a hull based on Saunders’ racing boat construction methods. In 1959 the same firm, by now Saunders-Roe – ‘Saro’ – of Cowes, built the first full-size hovercraft, the SR-N1. And what exactly IS a hovercraft? The Navy’s were classified as aircraft until 1979, and since then as ships, but really they’re a bit of both, just like the industry that built them. Some firms went back to boat-building when aerial orders were few, with slipways rather than runways the most essential piece of infrastructure they needed to possess. Inland, it was the making of furniture, cars and railway rolling stock that was put on hold for aircraft, especially when Supermarine began to disperse Spitfire production in the summer of 1940. (Just in time, as the Itchen and Woolston factories were bombed in September.) The change has not been all one-way: Honda’s Swindon car plant stands on the old Vickers site at South Marston, with the runway now the test track. Wessex Aviation Industry is not an easy read for the non-specialist, who will struggle to keep up with the stream of carefully recorded design changes and all the details of who ordered what from whom and when. There are enough photos to keep a timetravelling plane-spotter very happy indeed. It’s at its best when the people involved come to the fore: entrepreneurs, designers and sheer enthusiasts for making the most of the air. I’m left wishing there was more about such splendidly-named characters as Major Hereward de Havilland, the family firm’s man at Christchurch Airfield in the 1950s, or Alliott Verdon Roe, who developed not one but two firms in succession (Avro and Saro). This may not be the definitive book but it does whet the appetite.

Book Review: Britanniae Gloria by George Ioannou

George Ioannou is a London-based iconographer of Greek-Cypriot descent, and a follower of the Society's Facebook page. He has just published Britanniae Gloria, the Glory of Britain: An Iconographer's Pattern Book of the British and Irish Saints from the 1st to the 11th Century (Scunthorpe, Bluestone Books, 2019), the full title of which I think is fairly self-explanatory.

The book is the result of some 30 years' work, and features over 1000 saints of the British Isles. The saints are arranged in order of their feast day. Each one has a short biographical entry, and a cartoon (in the original meaning of the word) showing how they ought to be depicted in iconography. There are also outlines of icons showing multiple saints, such as All Saints of Glastonbury (feast day: 26th December). Rather pleasingly, each month begins with an illustration in the style of a medieval woodcut showing the main agricultural activity for that month (January: ploughing; February: cutting wood and so on)

To give you an example of this book's contents, the pattern for an Icon of St Ealdhelm (Aldhelm) is shown. The biographical entry reads as follows:

  • NAME/DESCRIPTION: See line drawing
  • HISTORICAL TITLE: Bishop of Sherborne (+709 AD)
  • BRIEF LIFE: A monk and later Abbot of Malmesbury. Founded monasteries at Frome and Bradford-on-Avon. He later was consecrated a bishop in 705 AD. He is remembered for his songs, poems and devotional works.
  • PROVENANCE/SOURCE: Image of saint from illuminated manuscript (early 10th century) - British Library
  • TEXT/BIBLE SCROLL: None
  • ATTRIBUTES: Holds a bejewelled golden lyre/harp
  • NOTE: Can hold a bejewelled golden bible

The list of saints covered seems very comprehensive. On cross-referencing it with The Hallowing of England by Fr Andrew Phillips, one of Ioannou's sources, I was able to find only a few Wessex saints who were apparently not included. However, this could be due to their being commemorated on different dates to the ones Phillips lists. Unfortunately the book lacks an alphabetical index of saints, making it a bit laborious to check.

This minor criticism aside, the book is obviously a labour of love, and should hopefully be a boost to the artistic depiction of the saints of these lands.

TV Review: His Dark Materials episode 1

His Dark Materials is an adaptation of Philip Pullman's novel Northern Lights, set in Oxford and partly filmed in Gloucestershire. The Oxford in question is, in the words of the opening crawl, part of "a world both like and unlike our own", where souls take the form of animals known as daemons, and where Oxford University is run by a powerful church known as The Magisterium. The TV adaptation is a hugely expensive co-production between the BBC, HBO and a number of independent production companies, as evidenced by the vast army of executive producers listed in the opening credits.

I have never read the books, though I have seen the film The Golden Compass, which bombed at the box office back in 2007. The film version was criticised for supposedly soft-pedalling Pullman's anti-religious message. This message was not very much in evidence during the first episode of this TV series. We are told that the Magisterium is not very nice, but the portrayal so far seems more like garden-variety anti-Catholicism than anti-religion per se. You will find stronger criticisms of the Church in pretty much any comic written by Pat Mills.

Other people who have not read the books have complained that the opening episode was impenetrable to those not familiar with the world of the novels. I personally didn't find it difficult to follow. I did find it a bit of a slog, though, with its running time feeling much longer than an hour. But there was enough mystery to keep me interested, and Dafne Keen (Wolverine's clone daughter in Logan) is a likeable lead, so I intend to keep watching. I hope the pace picks up a bit, though, in future episodes.