The start of it all – the history of The Griffin Trust
The story commenced in 1980 with David Beckett, a Vauxhall transport logistics employee. David organised a small collection of transport exhibits for two family days at Vauxhall Motors Sports and 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 was joined by Christine Thomas, Peter Matthews and Peter Watson to form the organising body of The Griffin Trust. Later they were joined by numerous other enthusiasts who joined the team.
1986 to 1996
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 and 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 eager to put on another show.
In 1988 a further show was arranged, the main attraction was two Harrier Jump Jets which performed an aerial flying display and landed on the spectator field. 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 where donated to The Soldiers, Sailors, Airforce Appeal. In recognition of this the Show organiser David and his wife were invited to the Queen’s garden party.
Success at these shows showed that a base for operations was needed, preferably with storage space 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 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 year 1991 saw the appointment of a Project Manager, Christine Thomas, who as of 2016 remains in the post. With the help of CWTEC and Vauxhall Motors, Health & Safety procedures where put in place and then a steady trickle of volunteers, with a variety of trades were recruited to clear the site of all types of car debris and then put Hooton’s history on display to be enjoyed by the public.
Following on, a cafe was established and the toilet block was re-instated in Hangar Two. The past was put on display alone-side with various auto-jumbles, Aero Enthusiasts collectors fairs, Lorry Runs, Classic Motor Cycle events, Lombard RAC rally scrutinising as well as industrial training seminars and monthly Sunday guided tours where being held on this vibrant site. Whilst 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 a bi-annual. This event featured the Crunchie Wing Walkers Aerial display team which enthralled the crowd. The backdrop of this events ranged from, in the air, an RAF rescue helicopter the British Aerospace Mosquito and Dakota supplied by Air Atlantique whilst on the ground working, custom and vintage/classic lorries. Buses, car, motorcycles and tractors.
Encouraged by its success again in 1994 the main content of the show stayed the same. The Queens House Hold Calvary Musical ride was successfully obtained to attend as the main arena attraction. They performed a display on both days of the show. The many horses, men and equipment were billeted at the hangar complex for 5 days as well as “Special branch” police contingent ensuring the safety of the display team special.
The 1996 show once again had main attractions never seen in the area before, Wolds Wagoners 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 “Stephens Rocket” replica. Which was collected on a low loader by the show organiser. This attraction was tremendous, steaming up and running on a length of track. Being joined by a fascinating huge steam car and “Blodwyn” the stream-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.
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.
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 hangars and then a Vauxhall Heritage Centre, an event hangar and a museum hangar would have been established within the project. The ancillary building being used as a cafe and training workshops.
In 1999 as the application for funding was about to be submitted for feasibility studies a change in climate a Vauxhall and as part of their expansion plans made them decide to withdraw their interest in the development of the hangar site. Within a month they applied to the Secretary of State to have the hangars demolished (because they were listed buildings).
The Griffin Trust spearheaded and funded the action named Save Hooton Hangars which produced a just wave of public protest which was far-reaching and included Lord David Hunt and support from GM America. The negotiating committee was mainly volunteers from The Griffin Trust who worked as Business & Media managers thousands of written objections together with reports in newspapers, transport enthusiasts and the aviation press resulted in the reprieve of the hangar site…
In October 2000 the hangar complex and buildings were handed over to the newly formed Hooton Park Trust, who is now the new owners of the site.
The Hooton Park Trust none profit making company was set up, with £300 donated by The Griffin Trust, a member of the S.H.H. Campaign Committee. Most of whose members derived from the Griffin Trust and who were Broadcaster, Works manager and Griffin Trust Board members.
Immediately the nearly formed Hooton Park Trust decided that to generate more substantial funds that the events would stop and Griffin Trust would be asked to leave Hangar Two. The derelict MT Sheds were offered and the rear of Hangar One to be used as a workshop as the only alternative to staying on the site or disband.
Not daunted by the enormous project ahead they set
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 and Aviation Fairs were held in the local Civic Hall but were found to be non-profit making.
Work though still carried on. New mains water and electric were connected to the MT sheds all the back-breaking work done by the ever-enthusiastic volunteer force and funded by The Griffin Trust. Port cabins restored and recycled for storage and yard and surrounding gardens clearer.
The Griffin Trust supports the Hooton Park Trust and has willingly placed it years of experience at their disposal. As well as continuing to this day supporting Hooton Park Trust with manpower, materials and equipment.