The Wessex Stationary Engine Club Ltd. was formed at the end of 1976 by a group who were enthusiasts of early gas and oil engines, those fossil-fuelled power-producing workhorses from the first half of the century before the days of the widespread national grid. Most of these people had previously met up annually during the early 1970s at the local Camerton Steam Rally near Bath, Somerset. The nearest preservation club at that time was some twenty miles away, was not very organised and it was felt that stationary engine enthusiasts were not being catered for as the exhibits deserved.
An inaugural meeting to gauge further interest was set up in someone’s house at Midsomer Norton and the venue publicised in the local press. To everyone’s great delight some twenty-five people turned up on the night, even including the editor of the Stationary Engine Magazine which was then in its early years. The aims of the club were discussed, set out, and a committee quickly formed. It was agreed to run on formal lines with a full committee and a clear constitution; this has continued successfully up to the present day. The aims were simple; to promote the study of early engines and encourage the interchange of skills and experience necessary for their restoration and display. The attractive Club logo, a five-spoke flywheel (each spoke representing the five original counties of Wessex) with the Wyvern of Wessex intertwined, was designed for us by an expert in heraldry.
The first general meeting was arranged in a public house in Chew Magna in November 1976; this was a slide show of engines at rallies. It caused some embarassment because so many people arrived that there was hardly room for the projector and screen! Therefore in January 1977, it was decided to seek a larger, permanent meeting place and the Old Down Inn at Emborough was selected as it had a large room, was at a junction of two major routes and, more importantly, right in the middle of our area. The landlord proved enthusiastic from the start and the present landlady has always encouraged the Club with her hospitality. In the first year the Club ran a small informal Easter rally at Kilmersdon, Somerset, just for Club members; at that time around sixty. Later on in that year, the WSEC was welcomed at the East Somerset Railway at Cranmore and held a two day event in its car parking field.
About ten years ago, the club was one of the first to investigate the possibility of safeguarding its members by becoming a Limited Company; in effect each member holding a share in the company with the elected committee as directors. Having been always run along formal lines, this was not a difficult transition for WSEC and many similar clubs have since followed suit.
Another area where the club can claim to be amongst the first to promote itself is the World Wide Web. The website and pages were initiated, maintained and updated by WSEC member Eric Brain until his retirement in February 2006, when they were passed on to others to continue his good work.
Through the years, although people join and disappear for reasons of their own, the Club has maintained a steady membership of around three hundred, and it is significant that many of those at the original meeting are still club members. The Club holds its own annual rally in the middle of the summer. Over past years, venues as far afield as Cheddar, Semington, Longleat, Yatton, Lackham and East Cranmore have been selected. It was held for the first time at Clutton, Somerset in 2003 in conjunction with the popular Clutton Flower Show and thus handy to the catchment area of Bristol, Wells and Bath. This was very successful as it was again in 2004 (see below). The rallying experience of early members resulted in a selection chosen from them to form the committee of the two legendary ‘Great Gatherings of Stationary Engines at Longleat‘ in 1979, and again in 1981, both sponsored by Stationary Engine Magazine. Visitors came from all over the world, from South Africa, USA and Canada whilst one engine even came from Australia.
The Club supports local events and holds crank-ups throughout the year. The Club played a large part in the very popular Full Quart Rallies held at the end of September at Hewish near Weston-super-Mare, and which moved in 2001 to a new venue at nearby Congresbury. This event has long fallen by the wayside but on the closest weekend to Midsummer’s Day, the Club holds the Wessex Midsummer Vintage Show, a major rally at Semington near Trowbridge, 2018 being the tenth at this site. Typically featuring over 100 engines, live steam and a very wide variety of classic cars and bikes, lorries and agricultural machinery, it is a first class day out and a great showcase for the Club.
Additionally, Wessex members can be found on any summer weekend rallying a huge variety of early examples of petrol, gas, or oil engines at rallies all over the South West, or even as far afield as Astle Park in Cheshire, St Agnes in Cornwall, and on separate occasions, at Inverness and Alness in Scotland.
The Wessex Stationary Engine Club Ltd. takes pride in having been one of the first stationary engine clubs to offer a Third Party Liability Insurance as part of its membership package. The Club has strong links with the Stationary Engine Magazine in appreciation of the early association during their joint formative years, with a strong proportion of the more erudite members being regular contributors in that excellent publication. The Club issues a regular monthly newsletter, a service which has been provided continuously since the very beginning by which it assists members with news of forthcoming events, rally reports, sales, wants etc. The Club also promotes an interchange of newsletters with other engine clubs to help swap ideas and foster good relations with similar groups of like-minded enthusiasts both home and abroad.