The Thursford Collection is a Charitable trust endowed museum, located in Thursford, Norfolk. Founded by local man George Cushing, its is now known for the scale of collection of steam engines, organs and fairground attractions; and its annual Christmas spectacular show, which draws over 100,000 people to the Norfolk each year.
George Thomas Henry Cushing was born at Thursford on March 25, 1904, the son of a farm labourer. After leaving school aged 12, he became a farmhand, but had developed a childhood fascination with steam engines. In 1920 he travelled to the King's Lynn Mart, and got a job driving a steam roller. Having bought a 1913 Aveling and Porter roller from the local council with savings of £225, Cushing set up his own sub-contracting business, which had expanded to 15 steam rollers and a steam wagon by World War II.
By the late 1930s, steam was on the wain from commercial usage as diesel lorries became more popular. To Cushing, it was "As though the crown jewels were being sold for scrap", and he began to buy up redundant steam engines, storing and then restoring them at Laurel Farm, where he had worked as a child and now owned. This was also where he raised his own family of three boys with his wife Minnie.
As Cushing's collection grew, more enthusiasts travelled to Thursford to help restore and then view his collection. Thus, in the 1970s Cushing opened his museum in what was a series of old farm shed's, and would personally tour the audience between exhibits, most often dressed in a countryman's flat cap, tweed jacket and muffler over baggy jumper, trousers and gumboots. He would then shake each visitors hand, and ask departing guests with a blunt "Did yer loik it, then?"
The original museum had limited opening times, but Cushing expanded the attraction to include a gift shop and tea rooms, and opened seven days a week during the summer season. In 1982 he co-wrote, with Ian Starsmore "Steam at Thursford;" and for the scale of his efforts in saving much of Britain's steam heritage, Cushing was appointed an MBE in 1989.
On the death of his wife Minnie, Cushing realised his collection could be subject to death duties should he pass away, and so set up the Thursford Collection as a trust endowed charity, now run by his son, which alone attracts 170,000 visitors a year. George Cushing died on February 26, 2003.
The collection today includes a Mighty Wurlitzer which is the fourth-largest in Europe and has a total of 1,339 pipes. There is also a 2 ft narrow gauge railway and a 19th-century gondola merry-go-round which was built in the Norfolk factory of Frederick Savage. The merry-go-round is decorated with carved heads depicting Queen Victoria and her family, including the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. The collection and museum is also famous for its popular summer and winter shows. The annual Christmas "Spectaculars" attract coachloads of devotees from around the country and must be booked months in advance.
In July 2010 it emerged that the collection was proposing to sell some of the collection via auctioneers Cheffins. The Ten (10) engines believed to be being offered for dale are in effect the reserve collection from the Yard at the Farm. The proposed sale has had mixed reception from the steam world with some believing the sale will devalue the collections integrity. Others feel that it will provide an opportunity for new owners to get an engine and that bring more engines back to life is beneficial to the preservation movement. The trust has been criticised for allowing the engines to slowly deteriorate as they were stored outside, so some see it as a reaction to that, will others believe that due to the number of engines in the overall collection they would never be restored anyway. Any engines sold will create great interest due to their provenance, but any purchaser will need deep pockets as they need complete rebuilds.
The sale also includes over 200 lots of Aveling & Porter spare parts many being acquired by Mr Cushing during his contracting days and as the steam era ended and being brand new parts direct from the factory or the A&P agents. This will be a rare opportunity to obtain genuine parts for A&P engines.
List of engines in the collectionEdit
The museum also has a collection of other exhibits in addition to the Engines.
- Fairground rides collection
- Living vans
- Trailers for Traction engines
- Threshing machines
- Stationary engines - single cylinder oil & Diesel engines
- Water bowsers
- Scale Steam Engines Models
- Steam Whistle from the local factory
- Tools display.
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