Kim Henson. The early history of the group.
Dorset Group Austin A30/A35 Owners’ Club; the very early days…
A few words from Kim (Henson).
I joined the A30/A35 Owners’ Club in January 1973, having attended a ‘Sunday People’ old car rally at Woburn House on a freezing cold day in January. It was a ‘New Year’ event and many interesting cars were there, including several A30s and A35s, and my A30 ‘Pru’. I had left pre-dawn to get there, driving over ice-bound, salty roads. The car was so salt-encrusted that I had to stop and wash the bodywork in a lay-by (I had brought a couple of gallons of warm water for the purpose). For that Rally you had to send in a photo of the car to the organisers; thankfully they accepted ‘Pru’ (which at that time was only 17 years old!).
Anyway the rally – the first that my A30 had attended – was great and I drove home that evening via central London, as you do. Happy days.
At the Rally, I met Phil Parfitt and Bob McPhail, who spotted Pru and introduced me to the Club, which had been started in 1970 by Steve Gilks, and the organisation was then Yorkshire-based. I paid my 50 pence annual subs and have enjoyed belonging to the Club for 45 years now!
At that time there were the beginnings of a few local area groups around the UK, but there was no such group in Bournemouth/Poole/Dorset.
I was studying for exams at the time and couldn’t get involved in terms of setting-up/running the Group, but Alan and Barbara Hilling from Bournemouth decided they would have a go, and I said that I would try to attend events when I could.
In the 1970s Alan and Barbara owned a two-door A30 and Alan had owned an A35 van; later they bought a 1953 AS3 that I had owned; it came from the Scilly Isles. They sold their A30s about 25 years ago but rejoined the Group at my suggestion. They visited us at the Great Dorset Steam Fair about four years ago, and we were talking about Pru and the caravan, etc. This sparked happy memories for them of their Austins, and they said that had enjoyed their times with the cars and the club.
I said that there was no reason why they couldn’t buy and enjoy another Austin – so Alan duly bought a four-door A35 which they have been using and enjoying ever since…
I remember that the first meeting of the Dorset Group was in 1975 in the sitting room of Alan and Barbara’s house in Moordown. There were just a few enthusiasts in attendance, but I was pleased to be one of them, as were Margaret Fuller and her daughter Maggie (who still comes along on our New Forest Run and other events, in the lovely two door A35 owned at that time by her late dad).
Alan and Barbara very efficiently set up a programme of events (not too many, to avoid putting pressure on people already busy with other aspects of their lives), and these were much enjoyed. The membership grew and before very long there were about 10 members, with usually half a dozen or so vehicles attending events.
Of course, over the last 45 years many of these members have sold their cars, moved away, etc, but the Group kept going.
Often in the mid-to-late 1970s, we would meet up with members of the Hampshire and Sussex Groups, driving eastwards to some lovely locations. Notable excursions were to H.M.S. Victory at Portsmouth (where we were allowed to line up our cars right in front of Nelson’s flagship), the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton near Goodwood, and the Amberley Museum, among many others. This was in addition to longer drives to ‘National Club Rallies’, all over the country.
In due course, Fred Symns, from Poole, was the next to take the helm of the Dorset Group. From 1980 he enthusiastically carried on the good work started by Alan and Barbara. Fred owned a two-door black A30 (I think he had paid £15 for it!), and, later, a sign written 848cc van dating from 1968.
Fred arranged many events, but due to several local members moving away from the area and others selling their cars, etc, sadly the Group numbers dwindled so that there were only about three or four active members (Fred was one and I was another). He contacted me in October 1984 to see if I thought it was worth carrying on the Group, and I said ‘yes’. I arranged a meeting at the King’s Arms at Wallisdown, having written to everyone in the area whom we knew owned an A30 or A35, urging them to attend if they wanted the Group to carry on.
There was a good attendance and a positive response from everyone, and from the meeting, we set up a small new committee, and I was elected Chairman (and for a while Fred carried on with the name ‘Secretary’; he and his wife Pat eventually emigrated to Ireland).
Dave Lovering, David Pedder and Dave Mallett were among those attending; Ian and Shelagh Aggas joined very soon afterwards (they used to walk their dog along the footpath next to our house, and had seen our Austins!).
The rest is history, pretty much. The membership numbers grew steadily, from about 10 to 20, then above 30, with 50 plus being sustained from the late 1980s through the 1990s.
Our regular evening meetings were first held at the New Star in Parkstone, then we moved out to the Red Lion, Sturminster Marshall, before many years at the Langton Arms, Tarrant Monkton.
I did my best to maintain enthusiasm in the Group and very much enjoyed all those years of Austineering. Lovely events, great company and I also had fun producing the newsletter for some years (and that is harder work than might be imagined!).
I was aware that many members had other interests and were, in any case, busy with their lives, so initially we held meetings one a quarter, then, due to popular demand, this became once every two months.
I deliberately didn’t arrange too many events as I felt the inherent ‘pressure’ to attend could put off members. Indeed we had seen this happen with other groups in the Club. The approach seemed to work, with everyone looking forward to an event when it was arranged. Happy memories, including many long trip days out, including (for example) several runs to see the finish of the London to Brighton Run, plus of course many miles covered attending ‘National’ Rallies etc.
After 30 years as Chairman, in 2014 I decided to step down as I had so many other pressures, including very long hours of work. Keith Bennett kindly took over for a year, and now Rob continues of course.
Long may the Dorset Group continue and have fun “Enjoying Our Austins”!
Kim along with his trusted Austin PRU.
Pru has been in Kim's family many years and has become somewhat of a celebrity. In fact so famous is Pru that several songs have been written about the old car. Dear Prudence, I only want to be with Pru, I'm going to run to Pru, Me and you and a car named Pru. Pru 2 I still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For............. Here I am stuck in the middle with Pru........ These are Kim's ideas. Honestly.