MOTORING pioneer John Siddeley is the focus of a new exhibition at Kenilworth Castle – which he once owned.
‘Speed and Power: John Siddeley, Pioneer of the Motor Age’ celebrates the life and career of 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, which cares for the castle, 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 exhibition brings 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.
Exhibits include a Grand Prix d’Honneur trophy won by one of Siddeley’s cars in the 1931 Monte Carlo Rally; an anvil made from a yew tree which stood beside the Parkside Works until it was felled during an air raid in November 1940; and Sphinx mascots and items relating to Siddeley’s glamorous cars.
There is also a 1937 painting of Siddeley – loaned by the Siddeley family – by celebrated artists Frank Salisbury, known for his portraits of the likes of The Queen and Winston Churchill.
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: “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, added: “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.”
* A special event exploring the spirit of the 1930s at Kenilworth Castle, The Thrilling Thirties, will take place over the weekend of July 22 and 23.
It will offer the chance to experience the sights and sounds of Kenilworth in the interwar years with a celebration of 1930s style and technology inspired by Sir John Siddeley, including Siddeley vehicles and all the fun of a vintage fair.