Chocks away… Stoke’s Spitfire takes off as top visitor attraction

Stoke-on-Trent’s iconic Spitfire has been unveiled in its stunning new museum gallery home during a weekend festival of events, including a special RAF flypast.

Following a VIP launch on Battle of Britain day (15 September), attended by Spitfire engineer Reginald Mitchell’s great-nephew Julian Mitchell, the new £5.4 million gallery at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery finally opened to the public on Saturday (18 September).

Celebrating the return of the city’s famous fighter – which has spent the last three years being restored by specialists – Stoke-on-Tent was treated to themed entertainment with street performers, living history groups, special film screenings and musical concerts.

And fittingly, as visitors got their first glimpse of the restored RW388 aircraft inside its new home, an RAF Spitfire soared over Stoke-on-Trent, close to the museum.

The new 3,800 sq ft gallery – which features glass walls at the front and back, so the public can see the plane lit up at night – is set to become a world-class attraction.

While the Spitfire is the star exhibit, the new free-to-visit gallery also reveals more about the story of the plane and its designer, Reginald Mitchell, who has close connections to the city.

Part of the gallery will be used to project video, animations and images about the Spitfire and its creator Mitchell, who lived in Normacot and was educated in Stoke-on-Trent before becoming one of the greatest aeronautical engineers of his generation.

The culmination of a years-long heritage led regeneration project, it is also hoped that the new gallery and displays will help promote engineering as a career to young people.

For three years, the Spitfire – based on Mitchell’s famous design – had been in a workshop 200 miles away in Kent, where aircraft preservation specialists painstakingly restored the plane to its former glory.

It was then transported back to Stoke-on-Trent in June 2021, with a huge crane finally lifting the precious cargo into its new home.  Since then, work has continued on the Spitfire Gallery, which has been designed and built by Morgan Sindall Construction and funded by Stoke City Council.

The exhibition has been funded through a successful bid for £210,000 from a joint funding pot run by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in partnership with the Wolfson Foundation. Further funding totalling £47,000 was also raised with help from Operation Spitfire, The Friends of the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, and through visitors’ donations.

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