By David Rhys-Jones
The late Joan Cloke, MBE was the driving force and organisation behind the club in the early years. It was largely due to her quiet and efficient work that the club moved to the field at Parham. He left a considerable sum to the club in her will which has allowed us to refurbish the club house and make other investments.
It was also achieved in the Seventies, at a time of political and social chaos, not dissimilar to the Brexit lunacy of our current times. It was the time of the Three Day Week and 24% annual inflation.
Hear then is Joan’s account of the move.
The Club moved from Friston to Firle Beacon in March 1955, but it soon became apparent that, while the historic site was very beautiful and gave enjoyable soaring on the Downs in north and north-east winds, it was unsuitable for the development of modern gliding. The lack of security of tenure was a further reason to seek another site; the original aim was to buy a site and over the years a considerable "war chest" had been built up but, in the event, this proved to be impractical because of the high price of land and rapidly increasing inflation.
After eight years of searching, the Club with the help of an agent negotiated a twenty-eight year lease (1973 - 2001), on Parham Airfield. Parham Estate was at that time managed by Paddy Tritton, husband of the owner of the estate, Veronica Tritton. Paddy was an enthusiastic sportsman (mainly sailing) and proved a good friend of the Club. When he decided to retire in 1982 and he handed over the management to a relative, the Club experienced a difficult period with a reluctant landlord. Fortunately, the situation was resolved by Mr Tritton and peace was restored for his lifetime.
Work in preparation for the move started in 1973. There was a great deal to be done and here is a list of many of these.
Get the agreement of all authorities such as the CAA and the military forces.
Draw up plans for the Hangar and Clubhouse and ancillary buildings.
Obtain Planning Permission for the use of the site as gliding airfield and Planning Permission for all the buildings.
Move entrance from opposite Parham Gates to the present safe position.
Arrange for the diversion of the footpath, which then ran from Freelands to our eastern boundary.
Obtain grant from the Sports Council (no Lottery Funding in those days) for £10,000 for buildings and access road.
Raise balance of money from members by donations,loans and life memberships.
Make access road.
Arrange for local builder to erect clubhouse and hangar.
Complete interior work eg. wiring, plumbing ,decoration and ancillary work, all done by members)
Inflation was then running at 24% but the Sports Council grant was fixed so it was necessary to reduce the outlay by making the clubhouse smaller, omitting the proposed workshop and bedroom block and by doing more of the work ourselves.
The land had been used for farming, except for the point-to-point course and a rather narrow airstrip, so it was necessary to drain and level the land and sow it with good quality grass. A number of fences also had to be moved.
The work on the buildings and the field went well and was completed in June 1974 but before the actual move we had a couple of trial days one with Bill Scull the then National Coach flying the BGA Motor Falke and another using the club’s 460 and our small reserve winch.
The official moving day for the club’s gliders and equipment was Friday 21st June 1974 Club but, for some days before, club members in cars and vans shuttled to and fro with the less bulky items. On Friday 21st there was an armada of vans, trailers and low loaders to move all the larger items, while Jim Tucker I towed the old winch from Firle to Parham behind his tractor. On Saturday 22nd June Club flying started at Parham with all instructors having winch cable break checks. (We were a “winch only” club in those days and for 12 months after.)