‘Bleak House’

On Sunday 29 July, eleven cars from our club went to the Ingatestone Hall Classic Car Show , eleven years after we last attended as a club in July 2007.

Ingatestone Hall is a Grade 1 listed 16th century manor house, originally built by Sir William Petrie and still occupied by his descendants; the current Lord Petrie’s son lives in a private wing with his family. Queen Elizabeth I spent several nights there, as did the composer William Byrd. In a coincidence personal to me, the house was let to Wanstead High School during the second world war, and it starred as Bleak House in the BBC’s adaptation a few years ago.

After two months of hot sun without a drop of rain, the countryside around had been as dry as a bone. Indeed, on my return from Hatfield House a fortnight earlier, I’d found the whole of Wanstead Flats park around my house ablaze just like an Australian bush fire; 220 firemen from across London struggled to get it under control. So many of us had been praying for a break in the weather; boy, did it break!

The car show was arranged in two fields surrounding the house. It’s a medium-sized local show, unfortunately made smaller this year by the weather. Arriving at about 8.15, we had just enough time to get the event shelter up before the heavens opened, and we all spent the next 3 to 4 hours huddled together in the shelter. As an opportunity for a good old gossip, it was actually quite enjoyable.

The weather meant that, apart from car owners, I don’t think there were any visitors. The Mustang club were the first to leave in mid-morning, soon followed by the solitary ice cream van, who’d not had a single customer, and then a steady trickle of cars. 

In a short break in the rain, a few of us managed to have a look around the cars in the other field. They included a lovely old black and cream Alvis 12/70 saloon, which the owner had rebuilt from scratch about 30 years ago; he showed us some old polaroid photos of the wreck that he’d originally purchased. They also included a very rare, mid-engined AC 3000ME from the late 1970s. The final car designed by AC, with a 3-litre V6 Ford Essex engine, just 71 were sold before AC Cars in Thames Ditton closed down in 1984.

Neil, Sue and I also managed to have a look at the garden and round and round the mulberry bush – actually a mulberry tree – before the rain resumed for another half hour.  Mulberries are delicious! But beware, it’s well nigh impossible to avoid staining your hands (or worse) bright purple…

By about 1.30pm, as we were pretty much the last ones standing, we took advantage of another break in the weather to pull down the shelter, shove it ringing wet into the boot of Graham’s XK8, and leave. 

What a shame about the show and here’s hoping for better weather if we go again next year. However, it was quite an experience and, despite the rain, we had an enjoyable time.

Richard Gibby