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Auster Aircraft gallery and plans for Aviation Heritage across Leicestershire

By Heather Broughton, Assistant Director - Communities and Wellbeing, Leicestershire County Council

The history and development of the aviation industry in Leicestershire is an important aspect of the county's heritage and story of science and industry.
Snibston Discovery Museum was developed at the outset (back in 1992) to celebrate and provide access to the museum collections telling this story. However, it has always been recognised that the aviation and associated interpretation has been underdeveloped and under represented (in proportion to its importance), given the initial small Auster display included in the early displays.

In 2009-2010, working closely with the International Auster Club Heritage Group, and supported in particular by Mike Preston, staff made additions and improvements to the Auster aircraft displays in the Transport gallery at Snibston Museum.

New interpretative panels were created and a selection of smaller parts was displayed in new exhibitions cases. The 1945 Auster J1 Autocrat (G-AGOH) was displayed as if in flight alongside the 1961 Mk 9 (XP-280) on a newly designed support. The uncovered and dismantled fuselage of a 1939 aircraft was also put on gallery as a visible ongoing conservation project.

Plans are in hand to add further objects from the collections to the displays over the coming year.

We have decided to take forward a second phase of the gallery by adding 3 more display cases for smaller objects and ephemera, a pair of digital screens to show photographs and other printed material from the collection and the archive and a mock up of a cockpit which visitors will be able to sit and operate a simple low-tech interactive.

This second phase of the gallery will also signpost visitors to other Auster heritage sites across the County and to the collection held at the Record Office.

We hope that the gallery will also be a suitable place to mark the contribution of Prof Mike Preston to the study, preservation and sharing of knowledge about Auster.

We are planning to make the additions to the gallery in the winter of 2012-13.

The Service will support the project with curatorial, conservation and collections care specialisms and the design of the gallery showcases and graphics will be shared between Objectives and the County Council's creative services team. We will retain the specialist knowledge of Fred Hartley to assist with the interpretation. There is also the potential to work with the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage group and to develop a regional trail and promotion of what the two counties have to offer in aviation more generally, extending the display to include highlighted the Whittle jet engine and the contribution of Frank Whittle, and interpretation in some form of the prototype Reid and Sigrist.

We cannot do this project without the support of volunteers and we would hope to be able to recruit some willing helpers from the group, recognising that many of you have, and continue to support our collections in many ways.

Whilst there are no plans to construct and display another aircraft on gallery we will need help and advice in developing and putting the displays together. By the end of the project we would hope that most of the material relating to the Auster collection will be accessible on gallery in actual, or digital format.

The Service will support some of the costs of the new displays from the exhibitions budget, but we will have to seek partnership funding from elsewhere to make the completed gallery possible.

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