Friday, 17 September 2021

Couple want all aboard for their big steam rally

TUCKED away in Fawley Hill, it was once labelled the “most bonkers estate in Britain”.

TUCKED away in Fawley Hill, it was once labelled the “most bonkers estate in Britain”.

Now its wide range of attractions, including a preserved railway and animal sanctuary, will be open to the public for a weekend.

The Fawley Hill Estate, owned by Sir William and Lady McAlpine, is to hold its own steam and vintage vehicle rally on May 18 and 19 to raise funds for charities.

The event will also mark the centenary of a steam engine that has been in the family since it was built.

Sir William, a former director of construction company Robert McAlpine, is a steam and railway enthusiast.

His wife has organised a number of major public events at the 250-acre estate but says this will be the biggest yet.

She said: “We’re calling it a steam and vintage transport weekend because we’ve got everything from camels to jet planes, heavy horses to cars. You name it, we’ve got it.

“There are some amazing cars. We’ve got some steam cars coming, which people don’t often see, and a lot of Rolls-Royces, Jaguars, Aston Martins and Ferraris.

“We’ve also got a lot of ordinary little cars from past times, such as Model T Fords, half-timbered Minis and little Morris Minors — the sort of cars people treat as the family pet. We made 1970 the cut-off point for vintage vehicles.”

Lady McAlpine organised her first event seven years ago with a large function to celebrate Sir William’s 70th birthday.

She said: “It was fun but the thing was I said I wanted everyone to see how many lives had been touched by Bill in any way because his interests had been so diverse.

“Everyone pulled in with things they wanted to do and it was brilliant. After that, people said ‘you must do it annually’.

“I said ‘no way’ because I paid for absolutely everything. A couple of years later we had an armed forces day, which had 5,500 people up here.

“The following year we said we needed to raise money for St Mary’s Church in Fawley so we did the church fete on steroids. It has gone on from there.”

Since then, family fun days have been held to raise money for the Chiltern Centre for disabled children in Henley and there have been ladies’ lunches in a marquee.

Last year, more than 3,000 people visited the estate for attractions such as old military vehicles, a tea tent and performing bands.

“I don’t want to take the tent down the day after an event so if there’s a wedding here I insist on doing a charity day the next day where they get a free tent,” said Lady McAlpine.

The steam rally will be run by the organisations taking part and will be a bigger spectacle as a result.

Lady McAlpine said: “Because we’re bringing in vehicles and traction engines it operates much more like a normal steam rally.

“We will bring in food concession stands and each charity will do its own fund-raising, which I’ve never done before.”

Charities and other organisations will be able to sell tickets themselves and will be encouraged to have an attraction, such as a game or a stall, to raise money.

Lady McAlpine said: “I don’t want them all doing the same thing. It’s a case of being creative and working out how to raise money. A lot of them have got local celebrities involved.

“In the past we’ve been asked by charities to do some fund-raising but I thought there are so many small charities that use every penny wisely — I will not support big charities that waste money on overheads — that we could hold an event for them. It will be mainly charities that look after sick children but there are also preservation groups, such as one for paddle steamers.

“People take them for granted but there are only two paddle steamers still working and they need a lot of money to keep them going.”

The rally will celebrate all forms of transport, including Hurricanes and Spitfires, traction engines, horse-drawn ploughs, ploughing engines, JCBs, steam cars, steamrollers, lawn mowers, motorbikes, buses, vans, lorries, bicycles, military vehicles, fire engines, steam buses and boats.

There will also be steam-driven amusements such as gallopers, helter -skelters and big wheels — Sir William set up the Fairground Heritage Trust to preserve a collection of Victorian rides.

The owners of the rides will donate a percentage of their earnings from the event to Lady McAlpine, who will distribute the money among the charities involved.

Other attractions will include a display by the Parachute Regiment’s Red Devils, an auction, a car boot sale, a dog show judged by TV presenter Ben Fogle and children’s craft stalls.

There will also be evening performances from artists such as Sam Brown and her ukulele band, fire dancers, a steel band and Morris dancers.

Visitors will be able to tour the estate’s restored railway and museum, which includes a collection of different parts of old railway stations that have been saved by Sir William.

“My husband is Mr Railway,” said Lady McAlpine. “I don’t think there’s a preserved railway in the country of which he’s not a trustee or director.

“He owned the Flying Scotsman for 23 years and ran it here. He also owned Steamtown Railway Museum in Lancashire and ran excursion trains.

“If it weren’t for my husband there would be no steam trains allowed to run on the main lines. He fought like mad when British Rail wanted to get rid of steam and got a group of people together who own steam engines.

“He’s an incredibly nice man and has been into railways since he was born. It’s not quite an obsession, it’s a passion. He knows more about railways than anyone in the country.

“Without the railway there wouldn’t be an Empire and we wouldn’t have had an industrial revolution. They did much for the world and not only did we invent it but we’ve kept a lot of our history.”

One of Sir William’s prized possessions is the Hudswell Clarke 060 saddle tank engine No 31, which will be the centrepiece of the event.

It is 100 years old and has been in the McAlpine family all its working life, apart from two years when it was leased to another company.

It was involved in the construction of the original Wembley Stadium in 1923 but has spent the last 48 years pulling wagons loaded with visitors up Fawley Hill.

As the last working engine in the company, it was due to be sold for scrap but Sir William paid its scrap value and brought it to the estate.

Lady McAlpine said: “It’s very unusual for a steam engine or any piece of equipment to be around for 100 years and to be part of the same company so it’s worth celebrating. We seem to specialise in birthday parties.”

The estate is also home to about 500 creatures, including deer, wallabies, meerkats and emus as well as animal-related art including Boris the polar pear, a 12ft sculpture which is currently in Sloane Square in London, paintings by wildlife artist David Shepherd and a wildlife sculpture workshop by Alan Wilson.

Lady McAlpine said: “My husband has been involved with London and Whipsnade zoos and they were talking about having too many of some species and having to cull them so he said, ‘don’t do that, I’m deer-fenced so send them here’.”

Mementos from famous landmarks are also around the estate, including the taxi arches from Waterloo station that were removed when the Eurostar terminal was added, one of the decorative iron symbols from the old Blackfriars Bridge in London and the flagpoles from the twin towers of the original Wembley.

Lady McAlpine said: “Country Life called it ‘the most bonkers estate in Britain’, which is quite appropriate.

“We have so much here that would have been trashed if my husband hadn’t taken it. If someone was about to destroy something my husband would say, ‘You can’t do that, that’s history — send it here’.”

Entry to the rally costs £10 per day or £16 for the weekend (concessions £8) and children under 12 go free. For more information, visit

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