Bomber pilot saves church


While the headline may suggest some kind of daring aeronautical manoeuvre, it’s actually referring to the fact that a bike being sold at an H&H Auction will see proceeds go towards the purchase of the old United Reformed Church in Stoke-sub-Hamdon, Somerset, built by a distant relation of the bike’s current owner, former RAF pilot Bill Southcombe.

The church was originally built as a Congregational venue, built for the community in 1866, and currently plays host to a number of communal activities but is set to be sold by the synod, probably ending up as development of some kind.

Consequently, members of the local community have a vested interest and are raising funds to buy, and then renovate, the Grade II listed property.

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A registered charity, Hamdon Community Arts Project (HCAP), has been founded to buy back the building for £100,000, half its market price, as a community sale.

Currently the church houses a playgroup founded in 1974, a local band founded in 1945 and a charity shop.

The restored CS1 appears as race-ready as it ever was.

The church has an exquisite 900-pipe organ donated by Julia Southcombe in 1875 which is still in perfect condition. HCAP organises plays, recitals, music competitions, and the performance of Handel’s Messiah, and it is estimated that refurbishment and repair of the building will cost a further £100,000.

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Bill Southcombe, now aged 77, spent many years in the RAF, initially as a navigator in Vulcan bombers, then flying Phantoms from Coningsby in Lincolnshire, Akrotiri in Cyprus, Germany and then Leuchars on Quick Action Alert, intercepting Russian bombers in UK air space!

He also represented the RAF Motor Sports Association in the Manx Grand Prix and TTs from 1965-’68.

Bill’s 1930 Norton is one of the very first Arthur Carol designed CS1 Nortons to have been made, leaving the Norton works on December 20, 1930, sold to Mr H G Turner (possibly for racing) as it was not registered for road use until 1934.

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Built in 1930, registered for the road in ’34, and restored in 2003.

With its three-brace frame, left-hand exhaust port, factory four-speed Sturmey Archer gearbox (with Daytona ratios) it still retains its original high lift cams, and was purchased by Bill in 1972 from George Beale as a box of bits, and subsequently kept in boxes due to moving around the country for RAF duties. Restoration started in 2003 on his retirement, with the engine being restored by well-known Brooklands tuner Francis Beart’s mechanic Keith Manning.

All of the funds from the sale of the Norton, with a pre-sale estimate of between £25,000 and £27,000, will go towards the church project.

Bill Southcombe’s RAF career saw him posted throughout Europe.

The H&H auction is at the National Motorcycle Museum on April 7.

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