Isle of Wight Hidden Heroes

Jacquetta Hawkes (1910-1996)

Jacquetta Hawkes

Jacquetta Hawkes (1910-1996) combined the rigours of scholarly research with the imagination of a poet and a writer. She investigated the Island’s past and campaigned to preserve its special landscape for the future.

Jacquetta was a celebrated archaeologist, writer and campaigner who in the 1950s lived at Brook Hill House on the Isle of Wight with her husband the writer JB Priestley.

Important archaeological discovery
Jacquetta was archaeological adviser to the 1951 Festival of Britain and her most famous book ‘A Land’ was published the same year. While living on the Island she and Jack Jones (County Archaeologist and Curator of Carisbrooke Castle Museum) excavated the site of the Longstone at Mottistone discovering the monument was in fact the remains of an entrance to a Neolithic long barrow.

CND founder
Jacquetta and Priestley were among a small group who were instrumental in founding the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

In 1958 she organised a major public meeting in Sandown Pavilion to promote the campaign on the Isle of Wight, which coincided with the local, successful campaign against a proposed nuclear power station at Newtown.

She was also involved in other controversial campaigns including the reform of the law on homosexuality and family planning.

Lawrence Holofcener 1926-2017

Lawrence Holofcener

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, Lawrence Holofcener served in the United States Air Force towards the end of the Second World War.

He met Jerry Bock at the University of Wisconsin, with whom he wrote songs and Broadway scores. As an actor he performed on Broadway with Carol Channing and Ginger Rogers and appeared in films.

Hugely talented
Became better known in his later years as the self-taught sculptor. His first exhibition was in 1979.

Lawrence was responsible for ‘Allies’, a life-size bronze of Winston Churchill chatting with Franklin D. Roosevelt on a park bench (Bond Street, London).

He also undertook a major series of sculptures celebrating the contributions made by 20th Century Icons, including Einstein, Kennedy, Mandela, Mother Teresa and Anne Frank.

Inspirational character
Lawrence Holofcener inspired many people whilst he lived on the Isle of Wight and had an infectious passion for life.

The poet, lyricist, playwright, novelist, actor and director sadly passed away on 4th March 2017, just a week after celebrating his 91st birthday.

Image: © With kind permission of Growing Bolder – taken when Lawrence was 85.

Rev. Charles Paterson

Rev Charles Paterson

The Rev. Charles Paterson was Vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Cowes and Hon. Chaplain to the Royal Yacht Squadron. In addition to these duties, he was Hon. Chaplain to the Missions to Seamen, in charge of their very active branch in Cowes.

On 30th July 1936 he conducted the dedication service for a new launch for the Mission, the Nai Louis, a boat donated by a lady who lived in a house overlooking Wootton Creek.

Mrs Leonowens’ late husband, Louis, after whom the boat was named, was the son of Anna Leonowens, one-time governess to the children of the King of Siam, and immortalised in the musical The King and I. (Nai being Siamese for ‘Master’).

A variety of talents
Charles Paterson lived in the Vicarage on Cowes Esplanade, opposite his Church, and was a keen photographer and a gifted amateur painter. Remarkably he also kept a log of the work that might otherwise have gone largely unnoticed.

When the Second World War began, there came to anchor in Cowes Roads a vastly increased number of ships of all sizes, awaiting orders, waiting to be assigned to convoys before setting out on the dangerous sea routes patrolled by enemy submarines.

The County Press of February 1946 reported that, for security reasons, a veil of secrecy was drawn over the activities of the Mission throughout the war, but several times a week, promptly at 9.30, Charles Paterson would go aboard the Nai Louis which had been brought round from its moorings in Wootton by her skipper, Capt. William Brooker of Ryde, and, with a third crew member, they would set out in all weathers to visit three, four, five ships a day.

Visiting all
If it was sometimes too rough or too foggy for the Vicar to board the ships safely, Capt. Booker would steer up the River Medina to visit the many ships and boats sheltering there.

They also paid regular visits to the Trinity House lightships at Calshot, and the Warner, which was off station, having had been brought inside the submarine barriers in Spithead.

Meticulous record-keeping
They took with them all manner of comforts for the ships’ captains and crews, books, magazines, warm clothing, cigarettes. Charles Paterson kept a list of the donors of all these welcome supplies and although a number of names were of local people, many addresses were on the mainland.

He also took photographs, almost certainly against wartime regulations, and painted small portraits of many of the ships he visited.

Link to the outside world
Charles Paterson, very much no longer a young man, had to climb up steep ships’ ladders, often icy and always wet, in order to deliver these gifts and to take back ashore everything the crew needed help with, mostly letters to post and telegrams to send to relatives, cards, messages and often farewells for family and friends.

None of the crew were able to get ashore themselves, so this small 35 ft. launch and its complement of elderly men was often their only contact with home and the wider world.

Many letters were received expressing the gratitude of the crews for the work of Rev. Paterson and his friends, who heroically kept this service to seamen afloat throughout six long years of War.

James Dore 1854-1925

Dore glass plate of the beach at Seaview.

James Dore was born in Sandown in 1854 and was educated at the local church-schools. He was apprenticed to his brother-in-law, a watchmaker and jeweller, taking over the business in 1874.

Dore was a County Councillor for Sandown for over 20 years. He became a Justice of the Peace in 1910.

He was an original member of the town’s Fire Brigade, joining in 1879 and rising to the position of Chief Officer.

Practising photography to a high standard
Dore ran his jewellery business at 27, High Street, Sandown. He built up the shop’s photographic department, practising the art to a high standard.

He exhibited at the Royal Photographic Society and took a medal and diploma for his lantern slides at the World’s Fair, Chicago in 1893.

His photographs are a vivid record of Island life at the turn of the twentieth century.

Blanche Coules Thornycroft 1873-1951

blanche thornycroft featured image

This Hidden Hero were nominated and submitted by the Classic Boat Museum

Born in Hammersmith on 23rd December 1873, Blanche was the daughter of Sir John I Thornycroft, founder of the Thornycroft ship building and engineering business

Surrounded by a family of exceptionally talented sculptors and engineers, her active involvement with the family Ship Building business from an early age is perhaps not surprising.

Blanche had a reputation as an outstanding mathematician, but Engineering as a subject was not available to women in this era and she was largely self-taught.

It was not until 1908 that Alice Perry was the first woman in Europe to achieve an engineering degree.

“The Lilypond”
Thornycroft’s first model ship test tank, from 1884, still exists at the former family home in Bembridge. It was disguised, presumably for aesthetic reasons, by incorporation into an extensive decorative water system known as “The Lilypond”.

The building in the background of the photo houses the winding gear and instrumentation. Test details were recorded in an accurate, scientific manner, but significant work was involved to relate this to the design of full-size craft.

Involved before 20th century
It is not known exactly when Blanche became part of the family business, but her earliest notebooks in the Thornycroft archive date from before the start of the 20th century.

Models were towed along the tank by means of wires and fine cord. A descending weight applied constant force to the winding drum. The winding gear incorporates a smoked disk on to which a stylus recorded force and speed data.

The success of this limited facility is self evident.

Indoor test tank
The “Lily Pond” facility remained in use until 1909, when the larger indoor test tank was built in Bembridge on the site of the former Steyne Woods Battery.

This 1909 facility was built under the control of Blanche and Sir John. It is one of the first buildings ever built by pouring concrete over steel.

The largest ever model-tested was of a 6000 ton tanker.

Miss England III
The fastest boat ever model-tested in the Tank, was the 4000hp Miss England III, which achieved a World Record speed of nearly 120 mph on Loch Lomond in 1932.

A picture of this craft, which hung in the Thornycroft Board Room, is now in the Classic Boat Museum.

The facility was not only used for testing Thornycroft scale model boats.

During WW1 in particular, other things which utilised Blanche’s mathematical and engineering skills, involved moorings for explosive mines and a unique high-speed propeller, which could jump over cables.

Royal Institute of Naval Architects
Blanche became the first lady-member to be admitted to The Royal Institute of Naval Architects in 1917.

Blanche ran the Thornycroft model Test Tank facilities right up to the start of WW2, with a wide of models being tested.

She never married and lived in Bembridge until her death in 1951.

Rev. Edgar Greenshield 1877-1938

Rev Greenshield in Inuit costume - featured image 960x450

This Hidden Hero were nominated and submitted by Carisbrooke Castle Museum

Edgar William Tyler Greenshield was born in 1877, the son of a Newport draper. As a young man he was inspired to devote his life to missionary work and between 1901 and 1913 made five extensive journeys to the Arctic.

He was a contemporary of Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton and became a popular public speaker as interest in exploration in the polar regions grew.

Educated at Portland House Academy, Edgar regularly went to St Johns church, Newport with his family. The Rev. Henry Lewis, who was vicar from 1892 to 1896, had spent many years as a missionary in India and spoke of it often.

It was after hearing a sermon from Lewis that Edgar determined to devote his life to mission work.

First mission in 1901
At 20 Edgar joined the Church Missionary Society College where he learnt medical and technical skills as well as theology. In 1901 he set sail on his first mission to the Canadian Arctic where he endured violent snowstorms, freezing temperatures and long hours of darkness.

He wrote “There is not much in one’s general surroundings to cheer or help or lift one up. The depth of winter, the short dull days, the long dark nights, all tend to depress…”

Learning the Inuit language
Edgar spent two years on Blacklead Island, learning to speak the Inuit language and putting his medical and practical skills to good use, caring for the sick and building the first hospital in the Arctic Circle – a one-roomed wooden hut at the mission.

He was held in great affection by the locals and they named him “ilataaqauq.”

Iceberg disaster
He undertook several missions to the region over the coming years, but in 1909 disaster struck when his ship, the Dutch schooner Jantina Agatha, hit an iceberg and began to sink 30 miles from land.

The captain gave the order to abandon ship and Edgar, the captain, a German explorer and the seven members of the Dutch crew escaped in rowboats. They also recovered the stores of the German explorer, who was on his way to study arctic bird life.

Survival down to Edgar
They rowed for many days in extreme conditions until they eventually arrived at the mission. For months they battled against the threat of starvation trying to make the rations they had salvaged, intended to last one man for a year, stretch for ten of them.

It was Edgar’s quick thinking, resourcefulness and determination that ensured the crew survived for eleven months before their rescue. When they were eventually rescued almost a year later the Dutch crew were adamant that their survival was entirely down to Edgar.

Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau
The Queen of the Netherlands was so moved by the tale she made Edgar a Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau and granted him an allowance of 200 guilders to be spent on goods for the Inuit people in honour of the “kindness displayed by them towards our shipwrecked mariners”.

He returned to England a hero and celebrity, and due to the growing interest in the polar regions and exploration he found himself much in demand as a public speaker.

Lecture tours
Edgar embarked on many lecture tours on behalf of the Church Missionary Society and was widely popular and successful as a speaker, always championing the Inuit people.

He also lectured on the Isle of Wight and once spoke to a crowd of 200 people in the Leigh Richmond Hall. However it was in December 1906 that he made his most memorable appearance on the Island.

Dressed in Inuit clothes Edgar showed stuffed animals and birds of the region to an audience at Newport and played a “bloodcurdling” phonograph of a bear-hunt with Inuit calls and war cries that thrilled his audience.

Inuit doll for Mollie
One local Isle of Wight girl received a surprise keepsake from the Inuit people of Blacklead Island through Edgar Greenshield.

On one of his trips Edgar took with him a doll from a 14 year old Mollie Alderslade of Newport to give to an Inuit girl. Almost two years later Edgar returned with a handmade doll in local garb for Miss Alderslade from her unknown friend.

The head was made from driftwood, the suit from caribou skin and the doll’s hair was taken from a musk ox. It was used for many years in a local Newport school to teach geography and can now be seen at Carisbrooke Castle Museum.

Final trip to the Arctic
Edgar visited the Arctic for a fifth and final time from 1911–1913, and made use of his medical skills as sickness swept through the community.

After this Edgar wanted to return to the Arctic but chose instead to look after his parents, the ship that he would have travelled on was lost with all hands.

For the rest of his life he undertook missionary work with sailors and fishermen in Ireland, the Shetlands, India and finally Teesside where he died in 1938. The epitaph on his grave stone read “A friend of the Eskimo”.

Mary Gleed Tuttiett (Maxwell Grey) (1846-1923)

maxwell gray

Mary Gleed Tuttiett (1846-1923) was born and brought up in Newport. Despite debilitating ill health she received critical acclaim and supported the suffragist cause.

Largely self-educated, in early adulthood Mary travelled in England and Switzerland and for a time worked as a governess. However, the majority of her working life was spent as a writer suffered constant debilitating illness from asthma and rheumatism — reports described her as “a confirmed invalid” — that left her unable to leave her bed for more than two to three hours a day. She wrote lying on a sofa.

Critical success
Mary began her literary career by contributing essays, poems, articles, and short stories to various periodicals. Her first critical and popular success was with the 1886 novel ‘The Silence of Dean Maitland’. Tennyson praised the book, driving to Newport to meet her as her illness prevented her visiting him at his home.

Mary was also strongly interested in women’s rights, being one of a number of writers who petitioned in support of the Women’s Suffrage Bill in 1910, and such themes appear in a number of her novels.

Ferguson’s Gang

pre- fergusons gang Newtown town hall 960x450

These Hidden Heroes were nominated and submitted by Carisbrooke Castle Museum

Passionate about the historic and natural environment, a group of young women formed Ferguson’s Gang in 1927.

Inspired by the book ‘England and the Octopus’, by Clough Williams-Ellis, they wanted to help protect rural England from rapidly spreading urbanisation. They made many generous donations to the National Trust, and supported the growth of the organisation in their pursuit of conservation. This included saving Newtown Old Town Hall on the Isle of Wight.

Pseudonyms for the gang members
The Gang adopted pseudonyms, remaining anonymous during their lifetimes. The 6 core members were known as ‘Bill Stickers’, ‘Sister Agatha’, ‘Red Biddy/ White Biddy’, ‘The Lord Beershop of the Gladstone Islands and Mercator’s Projection’, ‘Kate O’Brien the Nark’ and ‘Shot Biddy’.

They enjoyed dressing up, adopting disguises, including masks.

Peggy led the Gang
The Gang’s leader, ‘Bill Stickers’, was the only one who formally revealed herself, as Peggy Pollard (nee Gladstone), in a letter sent on her instructions to The Times, after her death, aged 92.

It is only recently that others identities have been revealed. Their stories researched and compiled by Polly Bagnall and Sally Beck, in the book ‘Ferguson’s Gang’, published in 2015.

Peggy won a scholarship to Cambridge in 1921, aged 17, becoming the first female student to gain a Double First in Oriental languages there. She completed further research at university in London, writing a book that she was later awarded a PhD for – impressive achievements for a woman in the 1920s.

Unconventional record-breaking
Aged 70, Peggy unintentionally broke a world record, when she embroidered 1330 feet of cloth with scenes from the Narnia story – typical of Gang member’s undaunted approach to projects.

All the members had a great sense of fun, and were quite unconventional in their time. Some were lesbian or bisexual, some dressing in masculine outfits. They loved fine food, having Fortnum & Mason deliver hampers for meetings and excursions.

They were open to subscribing members, to help their funds and causes, with a diverse mix of people involved. The architect advising on properties they acquired was known as ‘The Artichoke’.

Countrywide conservation
The Gang secured the future for places such as Shalford Mill in Surrey (a room there was used for Gang meetings), as well as Newtown Old Town Hall on the Island.

They also funded the purchase of stretches of the coastline of Cornwall, Priory Cottages at Steventon in Oxfordshire, and supported appeals for money to purchase land in Derbyshire, the Lake District, Devon, and Wiltshire for the National Trust.

Media savvy
Whilst the Gang did not initially set out to seek press attention, they attracted a lot of publicity through their unusual acts of donation. They found they could use this to their advantage to further their causes.

One headline-grabbing occasion they triggered a bomb scare, after they deposited a metal pineapple at a National Trust AGM, which in fact enclosed £100.

The Island connection and saving Newtown
Anne Gladstone, the mother of ‘Bill Stickers’/ Peggy Pollard, moved to the Isle of Wight in 1922, following the death of her husband, John Gladstone (nephew of the former Prime Minister).

She lived at The Briary in Freshwater, which was the home built in 1873 for the artist G.F. Watts, at Tennyson’s suggestion, and was where the Watts, and Prinseps (Julia Margaret Cameron’s family) stayed.

Impressed by National Trust’s work
In February 1927, one of Anne’s close neighbours, the second Lord Tennyson, presented 155 acres of land – now known as Tennyson Down – to the National Trust, in memory of his father.

Seeing at close hand how the countryside could be protected by the Trust, may have provided some inspiration to Anne and Peggy for their future contributions.

Who will save the Old Town Hall?
It was during a stay at The Briary that Peggy/ ‘Bill’ first became aware of Newtown, after her mother had asked at a dinner party, ‘When is someone going to save the Old Town Hall at Newtown?’. The next day she cycled the eight miles to Newtown to inspect it.

Newtown had been a significant port in medieval times, with an official building on the site of the Town Hall since around the 13th century. In 1699 the Town Hall had been substantially rebuilt, with further 18th century alterations. After steady decline in the area, the building was in a very poor condition by the 1930s.

Bought for £5
The dilapidated Hall had captured Peggy’s imagination, and at a meeting in March 1933, it was suggested as the Gang’s second building project (after Shalford Mill).

It was purchased from Sir John Simeon for £5, and the neighbouring field for £100, but would take over £1,000 to repair (a considerable cost at the time).

The Gang visited on 17th March 1934 to inspect works, with a typically lavish picnic, and eccentric rituals to bless the place.

New life as a youth hostel
They concluded that it should have a use following its repair. They agreed, (with the National Trust), on the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) making use of it, provided the Gang may still occasionally visit, without becoming members themselves.

In December 1934, a payment for the Hall was delivered to the National Trust, along with a ‘bottle of poison’- sloe gin. The Town Hall was used as a Youth Hostel between 1935-1939. George Macauly Trevelyan was a member of the Gang, known as ‘Poolcat’, and had been responsible for establishing the YHA in Great Britain in 1931.

Helping people enjoy the countryside
Newtown was therefore a fairly early hostel, and shows the Gang’s fondness of supporting and promoting organisations which helped people to enjoy and preserve the countryside.

At Newtown, women slept upstairs, with the Council Chamber used as a Common Room, and the men slept downstairs, where remnants of the old kitchen and washrooms still survive.

Why Heroes?
Without the young women of the Ferguson’s Gang, it is unlikely that Newtown Old Town Hall would still be standing today.

Beyond the saving of this building, significant in the Island’s history, they also made important contributions to the growth of the National Trust, and other organisations, helping people to experience, enjoy, and conserve, the historic and natural environment of the UK.

Find out more about Ferguson’s Gang on the National Trust Website

Find out more about Newtown Old Town Hall on the National Trust Website

Andy Stanford-Clark

Andy Stanford Clark

Andy Stanford-Clark, or Andy SC to his friends and colleagues, works at the dizzy heights of Chief Technology Officer at an already very technical company, IBM UK.

Amazingly he manages to carry out this high-powered role while living in a 16th Century cottage on the south side of the Isle of Wight – thanks in no small part to the power that ubiquitous broadband brings to every corner of the Island.

Mind blowing
Before we get into the details of Andy’s many achievements, let us just drop this mind-blowing fact on you – he co-created something called MQTT.

While you probably don’t know what the jumble of letters is (not many do), it’s highly likely that you, or your relatives or friends, are using it on a daily basis without even knowing, of its Isle of Wight connection.

MQTT has many uses – but just one of those is at Facebook. It’s the messaging protocol that underlies every message sent on Facebook Messenger – currently that’s 1.3 BILLION people across the globe using it! Yup – that’s Billion.

Why a Hero?
We picked Andy SC as a Hidden Hero because we felt he’s a modern example of one of the consistent threads that weaves through the Isle of Wight Hidden Heroes – achieving remarkable things by taking a unique, pioneering approach to solve a problem. In short, Thinking Differently.

MQTT is just one thing that Andy has done, help him earn his IBM title of Master Inventor. Unsurprisingly with that on his business card, he’s quite an inventor, with more than 40 Patents to his name.

Internet of Things (IoT)
These days he specialises in the Internet of Things (IoT) – putting sensors and tiny computers in pretty much everything, and having them chat away to the wider world about what they’re up to. This might be a mousetrap to announce that it’s caught a mouse so needs to be reset, as he has in his house on the Isle of Wight, or sensors in a car that send information about wear-and-tear back to the manufacturer, so they can help make sure it doesn’t break down. The potential is huge.

An early start
Andy’s passion for ingenious solutions to everyday, real-world problems started at an early age. Way back when he was only eight years old he built some electronic circuitry for his Mum, to detect when it was raining and then sound an alarm, so she could get the washing in off the line.

Guinness World record
From that early start Andy has gone on to achieve remarkable things in technology – too many to mention, so here are a couple more highlights:

  • He was part of the small team that created the first Website for the Wimbledon tennis championship in 1995. To give you a little perspective on quite how early this was, the first major commercial Web browser was released only about six months before. The Wimbledon site went on to gain a Guinness World record for being the Website with the highest rate of ‘hits’ up to that point.
  • Not pausing for a breath, he was one of the main technical architects in the team that created the first ever Olympics Website for the 1996 Atlanta Games. Two years in development, it attracted traffic from all over the world, setting the bar for other Olympics to follow.
  • After this huge global success, Andy and his team were asked, “What would you like to do next?” – Something a huge corporation like IBM rarely asks. This led to Andy setting up IBM’s Internet Advanced Technology Lab, which has gone on to create technologies that have transformed the way IBM employees work.

More on MQTT
A few years later came MQTT, originally designed to be used in the oil and gas industries for monitoring their pipelines.

A simple summary of how it works – you tell MQTT something, it then tells everyone who is interested about that thing. Using Facebook Messenger as an example, you might write “Look at this cat video. LOL!”, MQTT would then, near instantly, pass this out to everyone in your group chat – be that two or two million people.

We asked Andy what he thought were the secrets of MQTT’s remarkable success?

  1. It was Open, much the same as Tim Berners-Lee’s World-Wide Web (meaning anyone could freely use it, without having to seek permission),
  2. It is very economical with the size of its messages and
  3. It was designed to be simple to use and understand (the original specification was only seven pages, while some competing standards were 300 pages).

It’s now an international ISO standard. Understandably Andy is “Hugely proud of it”.

MQTT underlies the work that he and many others now do with the Internet of Things.

Vision for the Island
Andy’s vision for the Isle of Wight is a concerted effort to encourage lots of start-up companies to be formed on the Island – requiring a diverse range of skills. He hopes this will really help the young people of the Island to grow their ideas here, rather than feel they have to move to the Mainland.

John Ackroyd

John Ackroyd

Did you know that one Isle of Wight resident was involved with each of these remarkable, world-leading achievements?

If you had been involved with any one of these pioneering projects, you’d be pleased as punch, but Ryde resident John Ackroyd – Ackers to many – is brilliantly talented and importantly, open to any opportunity that he came across.

Humble beginnings
John started his working life at Saunders Roe, an apprentice who lived on that small picking that life brought with it, supplementing his meagre wages where he could, but all the time eagerly gobbling up all the skills the renowned engineering company had to offer.

The Isle of Wight has been a place of amazing innovation over the years and the Island’s proud engineering history reaches back a long way, across many companies. Saunders-Roe was a powerhouse of engineering in England, starting off as S.E Saunders in water-borne craft, particularly high speed racing craft, they later took the opportunity to move into wider engineering.

A man of strong talents
John was quickly noticed as a man of strong talents, becoming involved in the 1950’s ground-breaking projects such as the earliest of mixed jet and rocket propulsion fighter jets – the experimental SR.53 and SR.177.

He later also worked on an early Hovercraft competitor, the Cushioncraft (subsidiary of Britten Norman) but on the St Helens Duver.

This pioneering/early work with jets led John on the path of his bold idea – using a jet engine to propel a vehicle faster than had ever been achieved – to break the land speed record. We’ll come to that soon.

1973: Electric cars built on the Isle of Wight
John’s next major achievement was his involvement with the Enfield 8000 – the first production electric car.

Of course, these days electric cars seem to be the obvious future for vehicles, but back in 1973, when John joined a little company on the Isle of Wight called Enfield Automotive, it seemed like science fiction.

Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk was a mere two years old when John’s design was being used to build this first electric car in a factory in Somerton, near Cowes, here on the Isle of Wight.

The company, Enfield Automotive, backed by a wealthy Greek shipping tycoon John Goulandris, had beaten major companies including Ford to win a competition run by the United Kingdom Electricity Council in 1966, to build an electric car.

Initially built in Cowes
The Enfield 8000, as it was named, was designed as an electric-powered city car with a 55 miles range and a top speed to 40mph. John designed its tubular space frame chassis. They were initially built at Somerton Works, Cowes, with many people employed on the Island.

With the global oil crisis of 1973, its timing was spot on, but a combination of the Enfield being too far ahead of its time, and its cost ~£2,600 – the equivalent price of two Minis – by 1976 productions had stopped.

That does take away from what an amazing, creative, forward-looking, engineering achievement it was – all created on the Isle of Wight.

The Enfield 8000 today
Examples of the Enfield are still running on the Isle of Wight, with Barry Price of Price’s Accident Repair Centre owning a number of the 8000 models, as well as some of the specialist versions.

Bringing the Enfield up to date, in 2016 a motoring journalist, Jonny Smith, converted an Enfield, installing new batteries and a roll cage to transform it into Flux Capacitor, the World’s fastest street-legal Electric Vehicle. He succeeded, on a quarter mile it was faster than a Lamborghini Aventador, a McLaren 650S, a Porsche 911 Turbo S and even Tesla’s Ludicrous-Mode-equipped P90D.

Thrust 2: World Land-speed record
We mentioned John’s experience with early jet fighters at Saunders Roe and the designs he created in his own time, to use a jet engine to power a vehicle.

In the next chapter in John’s life, those plans were to be combined with Richard Noble, a man who had the ambition to become the fastest human on earth. Not only did they succeed, but the Land Speed record that Thrust 2 gained would stand for nearly 14 years.

It all started while John was working as a deckchair attendant on the beach in Ryde in 1977, he responded to a newspaper advert: “Wanted – 650 mph Car Designer.” This brought him together with an ex-RAF pilot, later the project’s public face, Richard Noble. Happily Richard was able to get his hands on a disused 35,000 HP Rolls Royce Avon jet engine from an English Electric Lightning Fighter – the first British plane to fly faster than twice the speed of sound, MACH 2.

Driven by the challenge
To say the budget on this was small would be somewhat stretching it. Happily, for John, none of his world-leading projects were ever about the money. They were about the challenge: To use creativity, engineering and flashes of genius (not that he’d describe it that way) to achieve something no-one else had been able to do. This was amply demonstrated by the initial budget for Thrust 2 – £175!

Needs must, so John’s first designs and drawing plans for the future world-beater were in a derelict kitchen, in a condemned house at Ranelagh Works, for the manageable sum of £5 rent a week. If he wanted to speak to anyone he had to hop on his ever-present bike and ride a quarter of a mile to the nearest local phone box with a pocket full of change. Photocopying was six miles away. It just shows so much determination.

More Island talent
After this Ackers was joined by other skilled engineers from the Island (Eddie Elsom, Ron Benton, Brian Ball and Norman Willis). Renting a shed from some boat building friends nearby in Fishbourne, John set about turning his designs into reality by building the framework of Thrust 2.

In John’s words, “Richard Noble was based in London – where the money was. I was based on the Isle of Wight where the skills were.” This was proven as John and his team used the engineering prowess of many small companies around the Island – remember, every item that made up the world-beating car was specifically created, with every nut specified and engineered to aircraft standards.

Richard later raised more money, but the whole project was always done on a shoestring. As John put it in his book, Jet Blast and the Hand of Fate, “Our World Land speed contender was being built by a collective cottage industry and contagious enthusiasm£.

World record
As a further testament to John’s skills, there was no room for error. As he said, “A record car must be right first time – it is both prototype and final product.” The frame of the car was built in a small workshop on the Isle of Wight that needed the front wall to be demolished, so they could get it out.

Thrust 2 went on to capture the Land Speed World record reaching 633.468 mph (1,019.468 km/h) in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, US, on 4 October 1983. It stood for 14 years.

Record breaking balloons
Never one to rest on his laurels, John went on to do further extraordinary things, like designing a toilet that could be used in the zero-gravity of space. His next great shift was to get involved in the world of hot air ballooning. Being John, it was further record breaking stuff.

John worked with the team on a balloon, Stratoquest, that in 1987 reached the then-highest altitude, nearly 12 miles high. Further projects included Virgin Atlantic flyer – the first hot air balloon to cross the Atlantic and Pacific Flyer, a balloon that would contain 80 Tonnes of air when inflated, that ended up being the longest, fastest (nearly 200mph) manned balloon flight.

John Ackroyd: Hidden Hero
After reading that much-shortened version of John’s achievements there can be little doubt why John is an Isle of Wight Hidden Hero.

John and the many other Islanders that worked with him are the embodiment of the truth that anything can be achieved on the Isle of Wight – and that the Island is bursting with capability and creativity.

Credits: Many thanks to David J. Williams for his knowledgeable guidance on John’s achievements.