Sleek and black with gleaming nickel plating it's the unlikeliest hit exhibit at the National Civil War Centre in Newark.
The rare Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle – built in Nottingham in 1925 – is the pride and joy of Newark-born classic bike enthusiast Howard Wilcox.
A retired civil engineer, Howard now lives in Bedfordshire, but he's returned to his home town to loan the mean machine for the acclaimed Lawrence of Arabia exhibition currently running at the museum.
Howard has a large collection of Brough Superior motorcycles and the brand's mystique owes much to the fact that TE Lawrence, who helped lead the Arab uprising against the Turks in the Middle East 100 years ago, was an ardent devotee.
Lawrence owned eight Brough Superiors – each personally guaranteed by maker George Brough to exceed 100mph - and rode an identical model to the one on show along the rural roads of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire whilst he was stationed at RAF Cranwell. He even raced a bi-plane for the thrill of the chase and to forget the trauma of his war-time experiences.
The bike has been positioned at the entrance to the museum where it's proving a massive draw. Howard explained:
“It's a thrill to return to Newark to be able to lend this bike for such a prestigious exhibition. There are only a dozen examples of this particular model of the SS100 Brough Superior in the world and I was lucky to find this one in South America and bring it home. It needed a full restoration, but it now rides like a dream. The exclusive marque was known as ‘The Rolls Royce of Motorcycles’ and it's not surprising Lawrence fell in love with it.”
The Lawrence exhibition, based on 10 years of excavations in Jordan, traces the great man's extraordinary life, which began as an archaeologist and ended as a war-time hero who helped the Arabs drive the Turks from their land.
He became a much-feted figure around the world before turning his back on fame and living under an assumed name in the RAF. But he remained a friend of the powerful and upon his death in 1935 – the result of a fatal if somewhat mysterious crash on his Brough Superior – Winston Churchill described him as the greatest English man of his age.
Brough Superior motorcycles were made until 1940 at which point the Nottingham factory was switched to making Roll Royce Merlin engines for the war effort.
The exhibition is open daily 10am to 4pm. Entry is free with normal admission to the National Civil War Centre: £8 adults, £7 concessions and £3.50 children. A season ticket is just £16 and English Heritage members go half price.
Notes to Editor
The National Civil War Centre is a £5.4m flagship project by Newark and Sherwood District Council, supported by £3.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is the only UK museum telling the complete story of the British Civil Wars – the most deadly in our entire history. Other galleries portray Newark's wider history and stage temporary exhibitions including Shifting Sands, devoted to Lawrence and the Great Arab Revolt.