Local Face - Francis Hanford

  |  Published: Aug 2nd 2014
Francis Hanford

Francis Hanford came to Wendover in 1996. On retiring from the RAF he had found a job as a civilian instructor at Halton and settled into his 26th home with his wife Margaret. She soon found a job in a local nursing home and voluntary activities with the Friends of the Health Centre and the Hospice Shop. He settled into his new job and lifestyle and tried to bring house and garden to order.


As he assimilated into his new occupation he became aware of a small museum in two rooms in the Old Workshops which had been started and sponsored by the Halton Apprentice Association. He started to help the curator, who worked in his department, and then found himself in charge when his friend was promoted and posted away. It became his baby and the sponsors, without telling him, negotiated its removal to a much larger building. Filling the new space was a challenge, eventually solved by borrowing a 1943 glider and placing it so that it took up as much space as possible. Thus Viscount Trenchard, the grandson of the man who laid the foundations of the present RAF, was able to open the Trenchard Museum on 26 June 1999. At his point there were very few visitors and this was just as well as Margaret had been diagnosed as having cancer and was to die a year later.


Facing life alone, Francis was very fortunate in having an interesting job and the museum to occupy his leisure. There was much to be done. Finding new exhibits lead to the need to reorganise the displays with new labels and a search for supplementary items or spares to bring the scenario to life.   Mannequins were needed to show off uniforms and the art of dressing them had to be learned. Friends were persuaded to make models of significant aircraft and items in dark corners were relocated, usually with their owner’s consent. The museum began to be more credible.


The year 2002 was notable for three things: he was persuaded to join the Halton Singers, he recruited Brian Ellis to join him as his chief engineer and he discovered that a significant historical landmark was approaching. He could not and cannot sing but the singers’ rehearsals added interest and introduced him to Jean who was to become his wife. With Brian he could tackle more challenging projects and learn more about the engineering that had been fundamental to RAF Halton’s history. Also, Brian had friends in the engineering world.


Meanwhile, having learned that 1913 was when the first aircraft landed at Halton, he was able to research and plan for a 90th anniversary commemoration which would bring much needed publicity. The event happened and though it was not quite the success hoped for it brought more visitors including many of the parents of recruits attending graduation parades.


Remarried in 2005 with a busy job and museum to run, there was still time to take part in Gilbert and Sullivan and other shows twice a year. Also, with Jean’s company the pleasures of the London theatres and exhibitions gave added spice to life.   With retirement approaching the museum did receive a lot of attention and, with the help of Brian’s contacts; they managed to get hold of their premier exhibit, the Folland Gnat aircraft. This became the collection’s centre-piece and it enhanced its whole atmosphere enormously, attracting enormous interest from all age groups. There have been many special acquisitions since but none as welcome and significant.


With the museum’s growth has come a steady increase in the team of volunteers who help to develop and run it. They have brought fresh expertise and enthusiasm to the whole project.   The collection and visitor numbers grow steadily and recently we have been able to branch out into the teaching of the principals of flight and the fostering of “air mindedness” by building up and opening of the James McCudden Flight Heritage Centre in a separate building. We were delighted to have Viscount Trenchard return, 15 years to the day after the first opening, to perform the ceremony. Will Francis rest now? Probably not.

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