Now- and-Then

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The Thursday group were back in action at the Beacon this week, removing the brash from the scrub clearance on the hillside. The steep slope created a hazardous working environment which meant that some volunteers worked back at the car park clearing the verges. The brash was bagged up and taken back to the Estate Office by the Trust for burning.

This iconic spot in the Chiltern Hills has seen much social activity in the last one hundred years. It became a tourist attraction when first visited by cyclists and car owners in the 1920’s. It became a must-see landmark when it was painted by Paul Nash in 1929, following a national preoccupation with pre-history which had been growing since Victorian times.

Clearing the scrub is not only a good thing for the flora, but it helps the thermal air currents to develop, beloved by today’s glider pilots. The warmth from the chalk slope lifts the air as a thermal, and the steep slope creates ridge lift from the prevailing wind. Today’s gliders are model planes but back in 1930 it was the real thing which graced the skies around the hill.

In 1929, a luncheon party was organised in London and the people attending formed the British Gliding Association. Out of this, a club for the London area was created and the London Gliding Club was inaugurated in February 1930. By this time, two or three very basic gliders had been constructed, and a search for a hilltop site to launch from resulted in the Club setting up at Down Farm on the Ivinghoe to Aldbury road, but after a month it was asked to move, on the grounds that the noise was disturbing the birds on the Ashridge Estate. By the middle of May, the Club had secured the use of Ivinghoe Beacon and enthusiasm was intense. An instructional week was organised with a charge of £2.10.0 covering the training, along with tented accommodation. By now, there were five single seats and one two-seat gliders being used. A competition was set up between the London Club and the Lancashire Aero Club, the aggregate times of alternate launches being logged. The contest came to a halt when the Lancashire glider landed in the tops of the pine trees at the foot of the Beacon. London Gliding Club had totalled 12 minutes 52 seconds and the Lancastrians 8 minutes 5 seconds.

A demonstration by the German ace Robert Kronfeld with his beautiful ‘Wein’ glider in the July attracted a visit from the Prince of Wales. All this activity brought crowds of onlookers, with the LMS Railway running excursions to Tring from Euston. When local roads became blocked by cars, the police forced the Club to move on. Too many visitors at Ashridge is not a new phenomenon!

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