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New exhibition celebrates motoring pioneer who saved Kenilworth Castle

Armstrong Siddeley

Speed and Power exhibition at Kenilworth Castle Now Open

A landmark new exhibition – ‘Speed and Power: John Siddeley, Pioneer of the Motor Age’ – opened at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire this week, celebrating motoring pioneer John Davenport Siddeley, 1st Baron Kenilworth, the founder of Armstrong Siddeley Motors who bought the castle in 1937, and placed it in the care of the Ministry of Works in 1938.

Working with the Armstrong Siddeley Heritage Trust, English Heritage has gathered a selection of artefacts and ephemera to tell the story of Siddeley’s lifelong association with the glamorous worlds of motoring and aviation. The new exhibition, Speed and Power: John Siddeley, Pioneer of the Motor Age, bring Siddeley’s work back to the castle gatehouse, which famously found itself called into service as his company’s drawing office during the Second World War when Armstrong Siddeley’s Parkside Works in Coventry were bombed out during the Blitz.

Siddeley started out developing racing bicycles in the 1890s and he went on to create the hugely successful British engineering group, Amstrong Siddeley, best known for producing luxury motor cars and aircraft engines. In the interwar years, Armstrong Siddeley was celebrated for its luxurious cars, and wealthy clients included the future King George VI who took the Queen Mother on their honeymoon in his own Siddeley in 1923. In 1935, Siddeley arranged a merger with Hawker Aircraft, resulting in the creation of Hawker Siddeley, a partnership which became vital to the war effort during the Second World War. In 1937, Siddeley was created Baron Kenilworth and he bought the castle in the same year, placing it in the care of the Ministry of Works in 1938.

The exhibition once again brings the glamour of Armstrong Siddeley’s cars and aeroplanes to Kenilworth Castle , and the centrepiece is a 1937 painting of Siddeley himself - loaned by the Siddeley family - by Frank Salisbury, the celebrated artist known for his portraits of Winston Churchill, the Queen and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Other highlights include:

  • A Grand Prix d’Honneur trophy won by one of Siddeley’s cars in the 1931 Monte Carlo Rally
  • A 1917 letter from Windsor Castle following Queen Mary’s visit to Coventry’s Parkside Works
  • Equipment from the drawing office which was once housed within the castle gatehouse
  • Furniture from the boardroom at the company’s Parkside Works
  • An anvil made from a yew tree which stood beside the Parkside Works until it was felled during an air raid on 14 November 1940.
  • Sphinx mascots and items relating to Siddeley’s glamorous cars

The exhibition also features family activities, including a chance to design your own Armstrong Siddeley car and a game based on an epic 1933 journey by William Bradley and daughter Margaret from London to Istanbul in a Siddeley Special car.

Martin Allfrey, Senior Collections Curator at English Heritage said:

“We are delighted to be bringing this fascinating new exhibition to Kenilworth Castle. It is great not only to be able to celebrate the motoring history of the area, but also explore a forgotten chapter in the castle’s history, when the gatehouse joined the war effort as the drawing room for Siddeley’s Parkside Works. We are very lucky to have been able to work with the Armstrong Siddeley Heritage Trust and the Siddeley family to bring these stories alive with items from their extensive collections.”

Chris Allen, Director of the Armstrong Siddeley Heritage Trust said:

“The motto of the Armstrong Siddeley Heritage Trust is ‘To educate and preserve’ and it has been an honour to join forces with English Heritage to show the general public the great contribution that J. D. Siddeley made to both the automotive and aircraft industries in this country, and the part played by Kenilworth Castle.”

In addition to the exhibition, a special event exploring the spirit of the 1930s at Kenilworth Castle, The Thrilling Thirties will take place over the weekend of Sat 22 & Sun 23 July 2017, offering visitors the chance to experience the sights and sounds of Kenilworth in the interwar years with a celebration of 1930s style and technology inspired by motoring pioneer Sir John Siddeley, the former owner of Kenilworth Castle, including Siddeley vehicles and all the fun of a vintage fair.

There is more about the exhibitiion here:

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