The shop was established by my father, Ted Evans, in 1937. This is a brief story of his life and how the business developed.
He was truly multi-talented: aeromodeller, high-diver, metal worker, water colour painter, and expert ballroom dancer. He was one of the foremost designers and builders of model aeroplanes from the mid thirties until he retired from Wakefield Competitions in the early 50s.
This photo was taken in his home town of Leighton Buzzard where he was born in 1906, and we assume he was about 19 or 20 at the time.
My father was fascinated by anything mechanical but particularly cars, aeroplanes, airships. One of his earliest projects was the construction of a working model steam engine.
He was only 16 at the time and had no access to lathes or any power tools. After acquiring the piston and liner he set about producing all remaining parts by hand. This model still works perfectly today and the photograph shows it after he fitted a Stuart Turner fly wheel in 1966 – the original was never satisfactory.
During this time he bought a lathe and learnt how to use it. He built a Stuart Turner Beam Engine from a kit of cast parts and then went back to his old engine and built a governor for it. This addition can clearly be seen.
His engineering skills were put to use in other areas and he rapidly learnt the mysteries of watch making and soon found he was capable of repairing all types of clocks and watches. His career path was initially determined by his father who was a coach trimmer in the motor trade. This was a good trade to enter in the 1920s and he upholstered seats for various car manufacturers including Rolls Royce. However, by the mid 1930s he could foresee the impending threat posed by mass production and the possibility of losing his job and so decided to open a model shop. Meanwhile his interest in aircraft had flourished into the hobby of aeromodelling. Full-size flying was out of the question but modelling gave him the chance to design, construct and fly his models. This led him to design a range of sailplanes and rubber powered models and establish his shop in Northampton in 1937.
I am pleased to include a photo (we think pre-war) of my father standing outside Super Model Aircraft Supplies, 220 Wellingborough Road, Northampton. These premises were small but sufficient to stock building materials and the few kits that were available.
Initially, shop opening was restricted to Saturdays and a few hours in the evening but once my father was confident in the future of a model shop he left the motor trade and ran the shop full-time. Three of his designs are displayed in the window. Partially hidden on the left is the Firefly (possibly the Eureka) and central is the Rocket, with the Gull sailplane on the right. During the war the shop was closed for five long years while my father served in the RAF as an instrument technician. When time allowed he continued his involvement in model aircraft design.
Some aspects of life in the 30s and 40s were more romantic than today. We are all familiar with aircraft names like Spitfire, Wellington, Hurricane and it is interesting that designers of model aeroplanes would also think it necessary to name their models: Victrace, Eureka, Albatross are just three pre-war examples used by my father. This habit continued during post-war years and the most interesting name used by my father was “Vansteed”. It was an anagram of Ted Evans thought up by my mother. Ironically, the most beautiful of all the Ted Evans’ designs – the 1953 streamlined Wakefield – was never given a name. I think the romance and the enthusiasm were beginning to disappear and my father’s career was on hold until he took to designing control-line models for me in 1965.
The next photo is typical of a good day’s flying before the war. On the right is the Tadpole. My father gave this model to a local modeller after the war and it was returned to me in 1980 in a damaged state.
The other model has a monocoque fuselage, and incorporates internal undercarriage rubber bands and wheel spats. Still in my possession it is finished with a high gloss medium blue fuselage with white silk covering on the wings. It was accepted by the Science Museum many years ago but they could not guarantee a date for its display and I decided it would be wrong to have it stored away for an indefinite time.
The car has been never been positively identified but a customer who frequented the shop shortly after the war thought it was a Riley. He said he cycled to the shop from his home in Kettering – about 16 miles away. Sometimes he used the bus.
Before my father owned the car he used a motor cycle and strapped his model box across his back.
The most well known of the sailplanes was called the Gull. The original hung in the shop right up until the late fifties but like most of my father’s models it was passed on to someone else. The Gull was featured on the front cover of The Model Aeroplane Constructor magazine in May 1937.
The magazine included an article by my father on how to build the model. This must have been so successful that the plans were available from most model shops and a kit was produced by Premier Aeromodel Supplies of London at 17/6 carriage paid – that’s about 87p in modern language !
I thought it would be interesting to include a copy of the Model Engineer Exhibition Certificate awarded to my father in 1936 for his Gull sailplane. I think it is a wonderful example of traditional art work design and art deco.
The illustration of the twin engine aircraft, the Queen Mary and an A4 pacific loco shows Great Britain as a world leader.
For many during the 40s, access to a model shop was near impossible and shortly after the war my father produced a mail order catalogue which listed his designs, materials, accessories, books and kits. It was only by chance that I acquired a copy. Midway through the 90s an old customer came in the shop and asked if I would like a near mint copy of the shop catalogue. I had to admit I had no knowledge of it, but I am eternally grateful to this gentleman.
The illustration on the front of the catalogue shows the 1944 sailplane called the Avis. We can still offer for sale plans of this, and most of my father’s other designs. Whilst the designs were always held in the highest esteem some felt his most successful competition designs were a little complicated and tricky to build. Priority for all of his designs was performance and attractive lines and he was not prepared to simplify a design in order to sell a few more plans.
The plan’s section in the original catalogue states “All duration types and Sailplanes are designed by E. W. Evans – Silver Medallist Model Engineers Exhibition, and if properly constructed will give outstanding performance. Each model has a carefully disposed centre of lateral area, a point overlooked in many designs.”
Following his war years in the RAF my father returned to running the shop and, a chance to pursue his quest to win the Wakefield Cup. In football terms this is equal to the World Cup with teams from many nations participating.
He was never afraid to take a clean sheet of paper and start a new design and was keen to try out new concepts. Although he was unsuccessful in his attempt to make the British team in 1948 it was his unusual, but most successful design that was to win the Cup in that year flown by Roy Chesterton. Named the Jaguar this model, shown here with Roy, was to become the most talked about model of its time. The competition was held in Akron, Ohio, USA.
Many years ago I stated that my father carved the propeller for Roy Chesterton’s Jaguar. An innocent and interesting fact, which did not infringe the rules, or so I thought. Later, some of the old Northampton Wakefield enthusiasts explained what had happened and why I had arrived at that false conclusion. I now know my father had no hand in any part of the construction of Roy’s Jaguar.
Either a competition day or flying at the local Northampton Club Flying site, this photo captures the activity surrounding rubber power flying shortly after the war. Here, my father is preparing the Jaguar for flight. Today, the Northampton Club is still a thriving club with excellent facilities and is keen to encourage new members. Their web site is: www.nmac.org.uk.
The Jaguar was built by many modellers and achieved success in competitions throughout the 1948, ’49 and even ’50. Plans of the Jaguar were shown in the October 1948 Aeromodeller to illustrate the article ‘The Designer’s Story’.
The Aeromodeller Annual 1948 then dedicated four pages and the front cover to the Jaguar. A photo of the model then appeared on the front of Model Aircraft, August 1949 magazine. Finally, a two page spread was given over to the Jaguar in Model Planes Annual 1949. This indicates the importance of this design. Despite the Jaguar’s success my father felt the Jaguar could be improved upon and he set out to design the Clipper, and then the Vansteed.
It was this model that gave him his best ever placement as a competitor coming second to the Fin, Arne Ellila in the 1950 Wakefield Cup in Finland. Ellila’s model featured twin motors running through a gear train and the competition report stated a motor run of approximately 120 seconds compared to the Vansteed at 75 seconds. The final score was the total of three flights. Ellila amassed 732 with my father’s total score at 660. The October 1950 Aeromodeller featured the top three entrants together with their models. The section on my father stated “…he is probably one of the finest Wakefield builders in the world. His models are built with meticulous care and reach a standard of construction and finish which few can equal.”
In 1952 my father’s model was a geared version of the Vansteed called the Skylon. It incorporated the Vansteed tail section and wing but a wider fuselage cross section was necessary to allow for the gears. This model was used at the 1952 Wakefield competition in Sweden and gained a disappointing 9th place. Often referred to as the Geared Vansteed I thought it important to include photos as few modellers have seen it. Plans were never published.
This is a truly wonderful piece of modelling incorporating a variable pitch propeller, with a trap door at the rear of the fuselage giving access to the gears.
Uncharacteristically, the twin rubber motors are still in the fuselage and I can only assume this model presented some frustrating moments. There are some minor repairs to the tissue covering. It is shown here against the original carrying box in which are handwritten instruction for motor preparation for this model and the Vansteed.
The 1953 Wakefield competition was held at Cranfield aerodrome, England. My father produced a completely new design, and one that he thought was his best. Much has been written about the time keeper who thought he saw my father’s model land well before it actually did, therefore scoring a low flight time. Who knows.
The new Wakefield rules which limited the amount of rubber used was not welcomed by my father but like everyone else he had to accept it and produce a new model. The next photo clearly shows the magnificence of his last design. The fuselage was skinned in sheets of 1/32nd sheet balsa, each being moulded to shape and laying the length of the fuselage like a banana skin.
This model is still in excellent condition and the fuselage joints are still impossible to see. This was his most ambitious design in appearance and complexity. Unfortunately, the performance did not match the quality of workmanship and my father’s Wakefield career was now at an end. The signature of Group Captain John Cunningham is still clearly visible on the fuselage. Within a couple of years Wakefield designs were very functional in appearance, and I imagine my father would have felt less interested. He still attended meetings and was glad to help out when called upon. The November 1955 edition of Aeromodeller has a photograph of my father helping Mr H. Revell of Northampton preparing his model in the South Midland Area Rally.
With two young children to bring up and a shop to run my father gave up flying competitively and was content to be an observer. Model aircraft meetings became a family outing. As time passed he drifted away from the model scene and gained his Private Pilot’s Licence at Sywell Aerodrome outside Northampton, flying Austers and entered another word of aviation. Dad is seen here standing next to his favourite club Auster which was fitted with shoulder straps for aerobatics.
My brother and I had always built plastic kits and then a few balsa kits from the Keil Kraft and Mercury ranges. Dad quietly observed, teaching us how to cut balsa accurately, and cover models in tissue using acetone and dope (a technique long since lost). At fourteen years old I was flying control-line models and soon Dad could not resist the temptation to start dabbling again – even though he had previously thought of control-line models as “bricks on string”
The next photograph was taken at the Southern Gala meeting held annually at Cranfield aerodrome. The year was probably 1966 and we took our favourite models for a day’s fun flying. I am sure he really enjoyed the chance to mix amongst modellers again and I was amused at the comments from the control-line followers at seeing the maestro assist me. In this picture our C/L models are the Wolverine (Oliver Tiger powered profile design), the Spacehound (Merco 35 powered), a scale model of a Cessna Skymaster (Webra 2.5 cc diesel powered and designed and built by my father). Dad was somewhat surprised when I had shown interest in building one of his designs and he is seen here holding my Firefly. I was determined to build this myself but when it came to making up the motor dad took over.
After control-line I was fascinated with radio and we built a Keil Kraft Mini Super and used MacGregor radio operating two “Japanese” actuators – throttle and rudder. This worked fine but proportional radio was the latest thing in the mid 60s and so we acquired a British built Skyleader set (I can remember the worried look on my father’s face when he found out the price. In those days it was around £175.00). More Ted Evans’ designs followed and we enjoyed some success in competitions. It was at one of these meetings that my father was taken ill in 1971 and died a few weeks later.
Today our shop is now busier than ever and we carry a wide range of goods; OO & N gauge railways, plastics kits from all leading suppliers, radio controlled cars, boats, aircraft, helicopters. We stock modelling tools, balsa and ply wood, die-cast models, and we are Service Agents for Hornby/Scalextric.
The Ted Evans’ archive is not exhausted and in time I hope to expand this history. Any additional photographs or comments would be very welcome.