The vintage mystique of a Rolls-Royce Phantom, the elegance of a Jaguar E-Type and the boxy utilitarianism of a Ford Fiesta – the car collection at Caister Castle is as varied and interesting as it is extensive.
Housed in a vast purpose-built museum a short walk from the castle, the more than 120 vehicles on display showcase global motoring history up to – almost – the present day.
This extraordinary attraction, a surprising find in a quiet corner of Norfolk a few miles north-west of Great Yarmouth, certainly lives up to its billing as “probably the largest and certainly the best” private car collection in Britain open to the public
Representing the very earliest days of motoring are a series of unrestored carriage-style vehicles, which remind just how rapidly the motoring scene developed.
By 1936 Rolls-Royce was making the Phantom, a 6.3-litre behemoth that, for its day, was the last word in supersized motoring luxury. It is represented in the museum in the form of a fine black example.
There are many other cars from the same era, some from manufacturers who are still well known today, others from marques that, sadly, disappeared long ago.
Among the interesting reminders of post-war British motoring history are Ford Anglias from 1946 and 1958, vehicles that helped to bring motoring within reach of the masses in Britain
While the Anglias are modest in both appearance and size, the same could hardly be said of another car in the collection – a spectacular white 1959 Cadillac that was owned by Peter Rachman, who was friends with Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler.
These three were linked to the notorious Profumo affair of the early 1960s and, to give a flavour of events at the time, the car is presented in front of photos of the two women and a female mannequin, who rests a hand on one of the Cadillac’s enormous tail fins.
The collection extends to motorsports thanks to cars such as a Lotus Formula One machine that was driven by Jim Clark. The car is sited in front of a couple of paintings of it in action on the racetrack.
Notable road vehicles from later times include a beautiful red BMW 635CSi, a classic grand tourer, and a distinctive Ford Scorpio. On its release in 1994, this latter car’s uncompromising looks sparked controversy, and the description at the museum notes that it was a design ahead of its time.
Just as interesting as such slightly offbeat cars are the more run-of-the-mill vehicles from the last few decades. The likes of the Austin Allegro, Nissan Bluebird, Fiat 126 and the Ford Escort were once ubiquitous on British roads, and were not cars that tended to attract attention. Now, however, they are rarely spotted on the roads, so seeing fine examples in the metal is a delight.
A particular treat is an immaculate 1977 Ford Fiesta. This was the first Fiesta to roll off the production line at Ford’s plant in Dagenham, and it is in as-new condition with a mere 169 miles on the clock.
Motoring is, of course, now on the cusp of a major upheaval in propulsion methods, with electric cars set to replace those with internal combustion engines.
It is perhaps appropriate, then, that the collection shows that other methods to power cars have come and gone. There are several steam-powered vehicles, including a 1924 Doble E10, described as the most expensive car of its time.
The collection is the work of the late Dr Peter Hill, a businessman originally from Leicestershire who for a long time had a packaging business in Wymondham. He later ran a foods business, also in Wymondham, and was a county councillor and magistrate.
Dr Hill bought Caister Castle in the mid-1960s and had the large showroom built to display his collection, ownership of which he eventually transferred to a charitable trust.
Some of the vehicles were bought by Dr Hill himself, while others were donated and are displayed largely in the condition in which they arrived, which is often immaculate.
The museum includes a beautiful maroon Rolls-Royce that was one of of Dr Hill’s own cars, although the description notes that it wasn’t one of his favourites.
Aside from its dozens of fascinating cars, the museum also includes everything from a horse-drawn tram to a fire engine, plus numerous motorbikes, bicycles and model cars.
And of course visitors also get to enjoy the castle, which is notable for being one of the country’s earliest major brick buildings.
The castle was commissioned by Sir John Falstof in 1432 and was later lived in by the well-known Pastons, who unsuccessfully tried to defend it when it was besieged by the Duke of Norfolk.
Although the castle itself is a ruin, the tower remains and those with the energy to climb its 90 feet are rewarded with fine views over the surrounding area.
The castle and car collection are open seasonally. In 2019 it is open from 10am to 4.30pm every day (except Saturdays) until 27 September.