Obit: John Baldock; founded Hollycombe Steam Collection

Repost from alt.obituaries
On Sat, 1 Nov 2003 09:48:29 -0500, in alt.obituaries "Hyfler/Rosner"
The Times (London)
November 1, 2003, Saturday
HEADLINE: John Baldock
Creator of England's largest working collection of steam engines -as well as being a businessman and MP.
John Baldock, MBE, VRD, businessman, MP and founder of the Hollycombe Steam Collection, was born on November 19, 1915. He died on October 3, 2003, aged 87.
The Hollycombe Steam Collection is the largest collection of working steam machinery in England. Edwardian fairground attractions such as the Razzle Dazzle, the Golden Gallopers and the Chair-o-planes, all of them painstakingly restored, jostle for position with traction engines, working steam trains and the world's oldest surviving steam-driven fairground ride, Mr Field's Steam Circus, dating from about 1870.
The collection was founded at the beginning of the 1950s by John Baldock, who after distinguished service in the Navy during the Second World War became a successful businessman and the Conservative MP for Market Harborough, Leicestershire.
John Markham Baldock was born in 1915, the year his father was killed at Gallipoli. He was brought up by his mother, and attended Rugby School and Balliol College, Oxford, where he took a degree in agriculture in 1937.
Before the outbreak of war he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and between 1939 and 1945 he served in the battleships Rodney and Ramillies as well as in other, smaller vessels. He was involved on Russian convoy escort duties in 1942-43. He ended the war with the rank of lieutenant-commander, and was awarded the Volunteer Reserve Decoration in 1949.
On his return to London, he bought the 30ft ketch Racundra, built by the writer Arthur Ransome to cruise the Baltic and the subject of two of his books. Baldock moored the boat in Chelsea Reach and initially used it as his London base, sleeping the nights there and stepping ashore across the neighbouring boats in his suit and bowler to go to work at Lloyd's in the mornings. Deciding against a career in insurance, though, he opened a restaurant in Kensington with his wife before becoming involved with the company Lenscrete, which supplied glass and concrete for the building industry. He was managing director for the next 20 years, also becoming a director of Ciba-Geigy UK.
Baldock's political career had begun shortly after he left the Navy, in 1946, when he was selected as a Tory candidate to nurse the Labour-held constituency of Market Harborough in Leicestershire. In February 1950 he won the seat with a majority of more than 6,000, and in October 1952 he took the Conservative majority in his constituency to more than 7,500. He was parliamentary private secretary to John Foster at the Commonwealth Relations Office, then to David Ormsby Gore at the Foreign Office.
Having won the seat again in May 1955, Baldock began to find it difficult simultaneously to sustain his business interests in London, his family obligations in Sussex, and the demands of his political career. He stepped down, noting sorrowfully that leaving politics must be "the nearest trauma to coming off drugs", and moved to Hollycombe, the neglected estate in Sussex where he had played as a child and which he had finally bought at the beginning of the 1950s.
Baldock's interest in steam-powered machinery had begun early in life: his grandfather, with whom he spent a good deal of his childhood, had had a passenger-carrying model railway in the woods by his home that the boy used to play with. In the decade following his move to Hollycombe, Baldock and his wife began to assemble what was then a private collection of steam trains and traction engines, travelling all over England to collect the machines. On one occasion the couple drove a traction engine from Kent to Hollycombe, leaving it in the villages along the way during the week and returning by car to continue the journey each weekend.
The collection grew and grew. Baldock laid three types of permanent railway track in the lands surrounding the Hollycombe estate: 7in miniature gauge for the toy railway, 2ft narrow gauge for the "quarry railway", which winds up to a view over the Sussex Downs, and a stretch of standard gauge track for a larger engine. He bought the brightly-coloured Edwardian fairground rides that are the centrepiece of the collection. Most importantly, he insisted that the rides be kept in working order, hoping, as he said, that "enjoyment of past engineering triumphs will inspire in a new generation the will to excel again". The collection was opened to the public in 1971.
At the beginning of the 1980s, the strictures imposed upon the collection by the local planning department, plus a spate of bad weather, meant that Baldock was able to open the collection for only a few days a year. With regret, he decided to sell the fairground rides to Madame Tussaud's, which was keen to acquire them - but he made the proviso that the rides must not be sold outside England. Shortly afterwards, however, Tussaud's was taken over, and the new owners sold a number of them to Switzerland.
Baldock was able to get several of the rides back, but in 1985 he announced his decision to close the collection because of the prohibitive cost. However, the collection's drivers and engineers, who had become committed to Hollycombe then proposed to form a society staffed by volunteers and trustees -an arrangement that has persisted ever since. In the mid-1990s the trust bought the collection from Baldock with the aid of a lottery grant. Baldock and Chris Hooker, the society's president, remained the presiding spirits of Hollycombe, with Baldock continuing to be involved in the management.
A gardening enthusiast, John Baldock had restored the house at Hollycombe and the overgrown woodland garden when he and his wife arrived in the 1950s. He restocked the 19th-century garden and the three hothouses, and was particularly gratified when the "wild" garden was given two-star historic garden status. With characteristic vigour, he replanted the gardens after the destructive storms of 1987 and 1990. In 2001 he was appointed MBE for services to the preservation of the English heritage.
He is survived by his wife, Pauline, whom he married in 1949, and their two sons.
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