Sneak peak of Stoke-on-Trent’s incredible new Spitfire tourist attraction


War veterans and schoolchildren are among the first people to see the city’s restored Spitfire in a £5.4 million new gallery.

The RW388 plane has now taken pride of place in the breath-taking glass-fronted extension to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Hanley.

The facilities will be open to the public from Saturday and will be officially launched at an invitation-only event today (Wednesday) to mark Battle of Britain Day.

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It has taken more than two years to painstakingly restore the plane, with fresh paint, reassembled parts and careful cleaning by Kent-based Medway Aircraft Preservation Society.

The two-storey gallery has been designed in the shape of aircraft hangar doors to make it look like the Spitfire is ready to fly out on its latest mission.

Visitors can also see interactive displays and use the space for science and technology sessions.

The Operation Spitfire group, which has been working with Stoke-on-Trent City Council on the project, is planning to install a specially-made flight simulator in the gallery as well.

And to round off the attractions, there is also a new museum café, with indoor and outdoor seating that boasts a wing-side view.



Seen in front of the Spitfire inside the new gallery are, left to right: are St Gregory's Catholic Academy pupil Miah Shaw, Julian Mitchell, veteran Norman Lewis, councillor Dan Jellyman and pupil Daniel Tomlinson
Seen in front of the Spitfire inside the new gallery are, left to right: are St Gregory’s Catholic Academy pupil Miah Shaw, Julian Mitchell, veteran Norman Lewis, councillor Dan Jellyman and pupil Daniel Tomlinson

War veteran Bert Turner, who spent five years in the RAF as a flight engineer, got a tour of the gallery earlier this week.

The 97-year-old, from Dresden, said: “What makes the Spitfire so special is the name. It’s got a history with the Battle of Britain.”

Bert flew in Stirling bombers during the war and has never sat in a Spitfire himself.



Bert Turner, a 97-year-old RAF bomber command veteran, pictured alongside the Spitfire
Bert Turner, a 97-year-old RAF bomber command veteran, pictured alongside the Spitfire

But he added: “It deserves its place here. There’s no doubt whatsoever that a new Spitfire coming off the production line now would be just as good to this day.”

Dunkirk veteran Norman Lewis has also been impressed with the restoration work. The 102-year-old, from Meir, said: “They’ve done a wonderful job. It’s beautiful.”

He hopes young people will visit the museum to understand more about the war.



Inside the cockpit of the restored Spitfire at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery
Inside the cockpit of the restored Spitfire at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery

For the exclusive preview earlier this week, several pupils from St Gregory’s Catholic Academy, in Longton, were invited to look round the new facilities.

Ten-year-old Daniel Tomlinson, from Lightwood, said: “The plane is amazing. To think how someone from Stoke-on-Trent could engineer something so brilliant that it won a war.”

He is considering following in the footsteps of Butt Lane-born Reginald Mitchell, who designed the Spitfire.

“I want to work in engineering and help people make the country better. It just shows that Stoke-on-Trent can build things,” added Daniel.

“It would be a bit nerve-wracking if you got to fly a Spitfire. You’d have to be able to control it.”



St Gregory's Catholic Academy pupils Daniel Tomlinson and Miah Shaw inside the Spitfire gallery
St Gregory’s Catholic Academy pupils Daniel Tomlinson and Miah Shaw inside the Spitfire gallery

Fellow St Gregory’s pupil Miah Shaw has also been excited to see the plane in its new home.

The 11-year-old, from Weston Coyney, said: “It’s amazing that they’ve been able to restore the Spitfire to its original state.”

Julian Mitchell, great-nephew of the Spitfire designer, said: “He would be so proud of what his legacy is going to achieve.

“The gallery captures history, is relevant to today and is also a place to inspire future generations.”

Deputy council leader Dan Jellyman added: “It will help attract more people to the museum and the city. The Spitfire is a British and cultural icon.”

Hidden chapter of Spitfire



Violet Milstead, who was a pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary
Violet Milstead, who was a pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary

The new museum café also celebrates the little-known role that female pilots played in the Spitfire’s success.

Violet’s Café is named after Canadian-born Violet Milstead, who was a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary. The ATA was made up of pilots – including 168 women – who weren’t allowed to join the Armed Forces.

Violet saved up to pay for flying lessons and joined the auxiliary in 1943. She went on to help transport newly-built Spitfires from the factory at Castle Bromwich to RAF squadrons.

At little over 5ft tall, she often had to sit on top of her parachute to see out of the window of her aircraft.

Violet delivered a large number of planes to RAF Brize Norton. It was the same route taken by Spitfire RW388 in July 1945.

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