Southampton's Solent Sky Museum On Flight Path To New Home

By Veronica Cowan | 26 February 2008
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a photo of a museum display hall crowded with planes

© Solent Sky Museum

The Solent Sky Museum in Southampton is flying high, after its plans for a revamp got the green light from Southampton City Council, which has granted outline planning consent for new development.

More and better space is needed to display some of the icons, like the legendary Spitfire designed in the city by R J Mitchell, one of the area's most famous residents. The intention is also to extend the collection in a bid to increase visitor numbers, which have fallen to 15,000 per year.

The independently-run museum is not limited to the Spitfire, explains chief executive and curator, Squadron Leader Alan Jones, although 8000 were built in the city, he notes.

a photo of a plane in a museum display

Supermarine S.6A - N248. This aircraft was one of two S.6 seaplanes designed by R J Mitchell and built by the Supermarine Aviation Works at Woolston, Southampton. © Solent Sky Museum

It also depicts the history of aviation in the Solent, and other parts of Hampshire. The displays include the history of 26 aircraft companies, including the Supermarine Aircraft Works where Mitchell designed the iconic aircraft.

The museum opened at the site near Ocean Village a quarter of a century ago and is one of Southampton’s most popular tourist attractions, but since Ocean Village was transformed into a marina with luxury apartments the museum’s fortunes have waned.

Mr. Jones explained: “This has not been so prominent a tourist area because of some bad development decisions, such as when we lost Ocean Village.”

a photo of a pilot in an ejector seat

Martin Baker Ejection Seat. This seat, fitted to the SR.A/1 flying-boat, was the first seat to be supplied by Martin Baker to an aircraft manufacturer. © Solent Sky Museum

The former squadron leader is a cautious man, so will not be looping the loop until the proposed development is safely in the hangar, although the decision has removed the uncertain future the museum was facing.

Its trustees are flying in tandem with the developer, Kings Oak Partnership, to rebuild the attraction as part of a larger scheme on the existing site, in a complex of apartments and commercial units.

The sale of these will fund the development, although Mr. Jones hopes some Heritage Lottery Funding could be obtained for specific parts of the project.

a photograph of a jet plane in a museum display hall

Folland Gnat Mk.1 - XK740. The Gnat was designed as a light weight fighter and although rejected in this role by the RAF was built in large numbers for the Finnish and Indian air forces. © Solent Sky Museum

Exhibits are expected to take up several floors of a six-storey tower, and Mr. Jones says the developers are prepared to acquire the site from Southampton City Council. With careful piloting, it is hoped the new museum could be open in two to three years time.

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