Despite the tumult of the war, in the year 1942 the fishing port of St Ives was firmly in its heyday as an artistic centre. Bathed in its famously silky light, hotels and painting studios were studded amongst the fishermen’s cottages. Similarly, 1942 would mark the year St Ives finished amassing the funds for its Presentation Spitfire, an event which marks an overlooked episode in the long history of exchange between tradesmen and artists in the region.
St Ives Spitfire BL709
As one of 1400 Spitfire Fund appeals across the country, a drive was established in the St Ives community for charitable donations in the lead-up to the construction and consecration of the St Ives plane. The town eventually brought the ‘St Ives’ into being in the February of 1942, one of only three Cornish towns to achieve the goal. To commemorate the plane’s construction, a plaque was issued to the town reading: ‘In the hour of peril, the people of St Ives earned the gratitude of the British nations, sustaining the valour of the Royal Air Force and fortifying the cause of freedom by the gift of a Spitfire Aircraft.’
Picture credit: The St. Ives Museum
The most significant contributions came from the social activities put on within St Ives itself. The St Ives Dramatic Society put on a performance of Patrick Hamilton’s play ‘Gaslight’. There was a boxing match held at the Guildhall; various music concerts, including a recital by the celebrated pianist Eddie Miller; and even, on 19th September 1941, a Grand Spitfire Ball. St Ives had of course attracted artists from all over the country since the arrival of the railways, being blessed with its famously romantic quality of light produced in the alchemy of blue sea and sun. The town leveraged its artistic reputation in the service of the Spitfire Fund, with a picture auction staged at Porthmeor Galleries in which local artists raised £118.
taking to the skies
The St Ives Short Career
The plane would go on to serve a short but productive career in the war. Before it was damaged and decommissioned in 1943, it shot down three enemy aircraft in its 123 flying hours, including a Messerschmitt on its first flight. Its pilots included a French sergeant known as Popeye, named for his legendary collection of tobacco pipes, as well as another nicknamed Blitz, having survived a potentially fatal crash.
Picture: BL709 allegedly shot down the Messerschmitt pictured on the right.
A Thriving Arts Hub
St Ives was historically a thriving maritime port, best known for the practise of pilchard seining. But after the construction of the St Ives Branch Line railway in 1877, it became a destination for domestic tourists from far and wide. The Porthminster Hotel was constructed in 1894 and well-dressed visitors would parade along the wharf, with local motorboats providing tours around the coastal area. St Ives artist colony also blossomed from this development, as painters and sculptors were attracted westwards by the unique quality of light, as it meant that paintings done en plein air in the town could be easily transported back to the capital.
St Ives' Hidden History
From the Edwardian painters to the studio potters of the 1920s, to the modernists of the 40s and 50s, countless individuals were inspired by the town’s way of life and the landscape that nursed it.
However, aeronautical engineering is a missing link from St Ives’ history. The efforts to raise money for a municipal Presentation Spitfire generated an almost constant stir in the local press, from details of fundraising measures such as an auction of paintings in 1941 to tales of its exploits in the air once completed. The Cornish coast was sheltered from the action on the Front across the Channel, but through the Spitfire Fund, St Ives transcended its geographical seclusion to join in the national war efforts.
own a static display spitfire
Read More About The Opportunity
People will be able to sit in your Spitfire and immerse themselves in the aircraft when on display. Removable cowlings and access panels will allow people to view the internals of the aircraft including the wings, fuselage and engine compartment. The aircraft can be transported to various locations using the minimum of external equipment. This is therefore a unique opportunity to own a Presentation Spitfire, built by the same manufacturing family.