Oxfordshire, UK - The Hon Sir William McAlpine Bt., avid collector and conservationist, died on 4th March after a 3-month battle with sepsis. News of his death will have depressed a great many dealers, not just because he was an incredibly nice, fun, generous man; but because he was a voracious collector. His interest in railways is well documented and his saving of Flying Scotsman, the stuff of legend; his museum of railway artefacts rivals the National Railway Museum. His interests were broad but as befits the great-grandson of Sir Robert McAlpine, builder of the Glenfinnan Viaduct and Wembley Stadium, engineering was a basic theme to his collecting.
The Honourable Sir William McAlpine Bt 1936 - 2018
Crystal Palace memorabilia, Brunel: the Brunel Tunnel museum has much of his collection of Brunel memorabilia on loan, Singer sewing machines (Sir Robert built the first huge Singer factory in Glasgow), anything to do with the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley put on, surprisingly, by McAlpines. He collected medals, coins, pottery, vehicles, buttons, maps, enamel signs, books. His library covering all aspects of engineering is in constant use by researchers. A large collection of Traction Engines led to an interest in beautiful old Fairground rides and the establishment of the fairground Heritage Trust whose collection, now housed at Dingles, near Okehampton, is still growing. Days before his death he was picking out items in an on-line auction catalogue for his wife to purchase.
A less widely known passion was for Britain’s architectural heritage. In the 1950s and 60s he was horrified by the demolition mania that allowed no time or resource for saving beautiful components from the buildings that were being torn down to make way for the concrete monstrosities that McAlpines and others were building for developers who saw no beauty in the old. Where he could, he would have pieces sent to his home, unsure what he would do with them but unable to see them crushed as hardcore or thrown on a bonfire.
Now many of these pieces of architectural salvage are incorporated into his house and buildings on the estate or given statuary status. The wall behind his salvaged Victorian Railway Station (itself cut into three and reassembled at Fawley) is composed of a series of gauged brickwork demi-lunes depicting the various stages of construction. These were being smashed by a demolition contractor at Liverpool Street station when a McAlpine employee spotted it, called Sir William, and a deal was struck so that McAlpines were able to carefully remove the remaining brickwork and eventually reassemble it at Fawley.
As Chairman of the Railway Heritage Trust since its inception he was responsible for the saving and refurbishment of countless buildings.
It is not surprising then, that he attended every Salvo Fair, the great gathering place for dealers in architectural salvage, buying yet more “bits of buildings” to add to the collection at Fawley. When attendance dropped at Knebworth, (where he and Lord Cobbold had once moved an entire barn, on rollers, pulled by traction engines) he suggested to Thornton Kay that he should move Salvo Fair to Fawley Hill and while it has taken a few years to grow the attendance figures, it is now a popular fixture certainly among locals in the Bucks, Berks and Oxon catchment but also has a strong countrywide and overseas following. When Thornton decided he wanted to take a year off this year, Sir William was horrified. It may be a serious trade event; but for him, to have all these dealers on his own land was rather like a small child discovering a toy shop in the garden. He couldn’t bear the thought of those years of nurturing the trade and public attendance to be wasted. “We will run it”. he said. This actually meant “My wife will run it”.. as he had far too many other things to run: like railway companies, Trusts and charities.
So - with antique dealers Gary Wallis and Alix Charpentier to help bring in the traders, Lady McAlpine set about organising this year’s event. As has been announced in ATG, Thornton asked her to change the name of the event to avoid confusion with his Salvo website and the rather unwieldly name of Decor-Architectural was chosen to ensure that both trade and public realised that this was still a primary source of architectural salvage. The irony here is that people like Sir William have educated the public to a degree that there is less and less actual architectural salvage coming to the market these days as good architectural features are being retained and buildings are refurbished rather than demolished.
Lady McAlpine is conscious of having lost months of work on the event while her husband was in intensive care but is now more determined than ever to make it a success for his sake. “This just has to be the best yet: and it will be dedicated to his memory.” A 'Sir William McAlpine' award will be given to the best architectural salvage stand at the show: with another probably to be chosen by the public, for the most attractive stand.
Dealers who have not yet booked are asked to call Lady McAlpine or book on-line as soon as possible so that she can ensure everyone has an appropriate pitch and can send out a plan by early May. Also - the Marquee man would like to know what he needs to have available!
Trade day is Friday, 1st June: there is a Private View party that evening raising funds for Macmillan Cancer Care and the event is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday with the added attraction of the Fawley Hill Steam train running and it looks likely that, in honour of Sir William there will be several traction engines and a gathering of vintage vehicles in attendance.
A Memorial Service will be held at his Museum on Sunday 13th May and Lady McAlpine asks that those wishing to attend let her know so she has some idea of numbers. The Museum will not be open for viewing that day but the train will run from 11.00 a.m.
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Minor point: Agreeing dates with Knebworth was sometimes tricky, and was the reason the fair moved to Stubbings (not attendance) and then to Fawley after the McAlpines kindly offered to host it there – TK
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