Wokingham Today

A local tale of flying machines

- By Jeremy Edwards, AntiqArt

THE painting I have selected this week offers us a piece of local history. It is by Colin J Ashford, the well-known aviation artist, and is entitled Farnboroug­h’s First Airship. It is a stunningly accurate painting that depicts an airship flying over St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It is an historical record of the first long distance flight of an airship in Britain and it took off from Farnboroug­h Airfield.

Farnboroug­h Airport, as it is now known, was created as His Majesty’s Balloon Factory. It was quickly establishe­d as an early ballooning airfield; indeed, it is thought that the beginnings of The RAF can be traced back to Farnboroug­h.

In the early days it was used to train engineers in flying a balloon and developed into the centre of the British search for powered flight, which involved one Samuel Cody.

On September 10, 1907 The British Army Dirigible No.1, an airship called “The Nulli Secundus” (Latin for secondto-none), took off and flew for three miles before engine failure curtailed its flight. A further attempt was made a month later. It took off from Farnboroug­h and crewed by builders Colonel John Capper and Samuel Cody, along with Lieutenant Waterlow of

The Royal Engineers.

It flew over Whitehall, Buckingham Palace and circled St Paul’s Cathedral before heading back towards home. It is precisely this flight that is the subject of this painting. Interestin­gly, an early photograph­ic postcard that I found during my research into the historical accuracy of the painting confirms this.

Around the same time Samuel Cody, the famous American showman and aviator, who had come over to assist the British in the developmen­t of our own Flying Machines”, was also developing a prototype aeroplane.

Only a year later (October 5, 1908) the first powered flight of a flying machine in Britain occurred when Cody took off from Farnboroug­h in his British Army Aeroplane No 1.

The artist of this painting is Colin James Ashford. He was born in March 1919 in Ackworth, Yorkshire.

He had a real talent for painting and drawing and won a scholarshi­p to go to The Wakefield School of Art for four years.

He followed this up with a further three years at The Glasgow school of Art from 1937 - 1939, where he won many prizes for drawing and painting.

He then joined the First Battalion Scottish Light Infantry and was sent over to France as part of the Expedition­ary Force sent to shore up the Allied Front following Belgium’s surrender.

Ashford’s battalion came under attack from a superior force including two Panzer divisions but they dug in and held out for 24 hours before having to retreat. He returned home after spending two days on the beach at Dunkirk.

Following three months of treatment he went back into battle with The Royal Engineers in North Africa and Italy.

After the war he worked in publishing for many years while maintainin­g his painting.

In 1971, the Guild of Aviation Artists was set up with Ashford being one of the founder members and in 2010 he was elected as the Vice President of that organisati­on which now represents over 500 specialist artists worldwide.

His paintings hang in The Royal Air Force Museum, the Yorkshire Air Museum, Hendon RAF Museum and many other museums and galleries around the world.

This is a lovely painting and it has a surprising­ly low price tag, for a work by this artist and especially bearing in mind the significan­ce of the subject matter, of only £250.

This great original painting, along with many others, is available to view and purchase at AntiqArt, the “pre-loved art” gallery at Holme Grange Craft Village or online at www. antiqart.co.uk.

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