Visit by HRH The Princess Royal to the Hovercraft Museum
The Princess Anne Meets The Princess Anne at the Hovercraft Museum, Lee-on-the-Solent
26th June 2019
Watch the video in the Portsmouth News
On 26th June 2019, Her Royal Highness (HRH) the Princess Royal attended the Hovercraft Museum at Lee-on-Solent to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the naming of the SR.N4 hovercraft The Princess Anne, to celebrate 50 years from the start of continuous N4 operations, and to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the SR.N1 Channel crossing with Christopher Cockerell on board.

In all, 170 people, including museum volunteers, were present in glorious sunshine to witness the arrival of HRH on the old seaplane slipway opposite the museum at the former HMS Daedalus. Daedalus was also the home of the Inter-Service Hovercraft Trials Unit, which was formed in 1961, two years after the SR.N1 made its appearance, before morphing into the Naval Hovercraft Trials Unit until 1985 when defence cuts heralded its end.

During those years the slipway and the museum had been home at one stage to the SR.N1, SR.N3, BH7 and VT2, but for this Royal visit the slipway was the base for Hovertravel’s state of the art 80-seat Griffon 12000TD and the Griffon Hoverwork’s state of the art 995ED.
The occasion was enhanced by the unannounced arrival of two Spitfires flying in formation - it couldn’t have been better organised!
HRH was clearly fascinated by the performance of the hovercraft as she took out her iPhone and started videoing. The visit had got off to a good start and continued in the same vein, as subsequently confirmed in an email from one of the policemen from the Hampshire Constabulary:

"I must say having arranged the security for numerous Royal visits including HRH The Princess Royal many times before I don’t ever recall seeing her looking so relaxed and interested compared to all of those previous times. I have never seen her take out her phone and take a picture or video so again some clear evidence of her interest in your event….. or a secret passion for hovercraft!"

After HRH had crossed the road to the museum itself, guests were allowed to see over the Hovertravel 12000. On arrival at the Restoration Hangar, where there was a comprehensive display of hovercraft in various states of repair, including 3 versions of the Hoverhawk and the original Hovercraft Development HD2, HRH met the museum Youth Volunteers, followed by a second group of volunteers.

After a brief explanation by Robin of the evolution of the SR.N4 from a Mk 1 to a Mk 3, HRH boarded her namesake to meet the museum group in charge of the restoration of The Princess Anne, followed by two Seaspeed and Hoverspeed groups on the car deck, including captains who ‘flew’ the machine. She then went through the starboard cabin to see the passenger layout and showed interest in the seat she sat in in 1969 at the naming ceremony.

Then it was down the bow ramp and across to the control cabin of Swift up against the side of the Main Display Hangar to meet the first of 3 Hoverlloyd groups. Bill Williamson had two pictures to hand HRH of The Duke of Edinburgh climbing the ladder to the control cabin of Swift and sitting in the right hand seat while Bill ‘flew’ him across to the Goodwin Sands and back when the Duke opened Pegwell Bay Hoverport on 2nd May 1969. HRH went inside the control cabin for Bill to explain how it all worked, but whether she came out any the wiser no one will know!

Next to Swift’s control cabin was a Proteus engine, which has been lent by Rolls Royce for the occasion, and where David Ward and his group of Hoverlloyd personnel were standing, before moving inside the Display Hangar to meet the third Seaspeed/Hoverspeed group next to the control cabin of The Princess Margaret. Close to the control cabin were two hovercraft used in the 007 film ‘Die Another Day’, which were the cause of some amusement by HRH.

Six former British Hovercraft Corporation employees were next to meet HRH beside a stretched single prop SR.N6. All had worked on the SR.N4s in addition to the SR.N5s and 6s and the BH7.

In the Exhibition Galley, where there were several hovercraft models plus Cockerell’s famous experiment involving two tins, a vacuum cleaner blower and a pair of scales, HRH met Andrea Wheeler, in charge of the shop/café and some of her team before returning to the Main Display Hangar to meet the last Hoverlloyd group. HRH was introduced to Laurette Wacogne, who spent 20 years in Calais with Hoverlloyd and Hoverspeed, and was the only French staff member to come over from France for the occasion.

The last group were 3 former Inter-Service Hovercraft Trials Unit (IHTU) personnel and 4 Royal Marines from 1 Troop 539 Assault Squadron, who operate 4 Griffon 2400TD hovercraft. They were standing in front of the original IHTU SR.N5.

In the space of an hour and 15 minutes, HRH had shaken the hands of 16 groups totalling 96 people and spoken to each and every one of them.

There was more to come. HRH returned to the car deck of The Princess Anne where tables and chairs had been laid out to enable everyone to be seated for a short speech by Robin, followed by the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the 50th anniversary of the naming of The Princess Anne. He
gave a short speech about the history of the hovercraft and paid tribute to inventor Christopher Cockerell, together with those who were involved in the early days of the development and operation of Cockerell’s discovery and those who now carry it forward into the future. He finally thanked the museum Trustees and volunteers for their selfless dedication to preserving the heritage of the hovercraft and their help with organising the event.

After the unveiling of the plaque, HRH gave an impromptu speech in which she said,

Thank you for your invitation. It marks the passage of time but at least I know where to come when I’m in need of restoration.”

She also wished the museum well in acquiring security of tenure to enable the museum to be able to apply for the funds required to properly preserve the heritage of the hovercraft.

Robin then presented HRH with a copy of his book ‘On a Cushion of Air’ and Warwick Jacobs, also an accomplished marine artist, presented two paintings of The Princess Anne as a Mk 3 in Seaspeed colours, one of which had a painting of HRH’s yacht, which she recently sold, in the foreground.

HRH then proceeded to the café for a light lunch in private with her Lady in Waiting and PPO before departing 15 minutes later for her next engagement, one of four that day culminating in a dinner in London as Patron for one of her charities.

The guests at the museum then sat down to a cream tea to reflect and reminisce on a magical visit by probably the hardest working member of the Royal Family.
Footnote: During the visit there was a film crew, gathering material for a documentary for ITV about HRH to be shown next year with Robert Hardman, who produced the documentary on The Queen’s 90th birthday, as the narrator.

HRH, together with her Lady in Waiting, Mrs Rowena Feilden, and Personal Protection Officer, were met by the Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire, Nigel Atkinson Esq, who introduced HRH to the line-up of The Chairman of the Hampshire County Council, The High Sheriff of Hampshire, Madam Mayor of Gosport Borough Council and their respective consorts. The Lord-Lieutenant then introduced Doug Coulson, a museum Trustee and volunteer, and Robin Paine, who took charge of HRH. HRH went on to meet the Chair of the Trustees, Louise Jenkins, the founder, former curator and trustee of the museum, Warwick Jacobs, Beth Shaw the daughter of the brilliant government scientist, Ron Shaw, who was known as the ’Godfather’ as a result of bringing Cockerell’s discovery to fruition, and Alan Barkley, Chief museum guide.

HRH then met three groups from Griffon Hoverwork and Hovertravel, during which she went on board the Hovertravel craft, before moving to the east side of the slipway to watch a short demonstration by the two machines.