The Vokes Collection

The Vokes Collection is a collection of over 350 sporting and antique firearms. It was the work of Cecil Gordon Vokes, a keen firearms collector and engineer from Hampshire county in South-East England. The collection has been kept in Hampshire since Vokes' death and is currently curated by the Hampshire Museums Services.

About the collector

Hampshire County Council Museums Services Catalogue of the Vokes Collection and General Collection, Firearms"Cecil Gordon Vokes, named after Cecil Rhodes and General Gordon, was born in 1891, the youngest of a family of ten and died in Alton in 1961. At the age of sixteen, he started an arduous training to be an engineer, going into business on his own after World War I with a 100 overdraft guaranteed by his father. He subsequently became a very successful businessman but there was much uphill work on the way. Big companies tried to steal his patents and there were disappointments in dealing with officialdom. After many useful inventions applicable to the motor industry, Vokes became interested in filtration, almost by chance. Very few people had any scientific grasp of filtration but Vokes, working from first principles, invented an extremely efficient system of filtration, initially for air. Despite the undoubted efficiency of his filters, the military continued to use inferior products, sometimes with disastrous results, while Rolls Royce said 'Our cars last quite enough years on the road without fitting your filters to make them last even longer'. Nevertheless, Citroen fitted Vokes air filters to many of their 'Traction' and 'Avant' models. As to the armed forces, the Admiralty and the RAF soon appreciated the importance of using the best possible filtration for modern war machinery. The Army, however, needed the frightening experience of trying to fight a mechanised war in the desert, with the appalling sand and dust, before they were completely convinced of the importance of efficient filtration. This was one of Vokes's greatest triumphs. Before leaving Vokes's inventions, mention should be made of his flame trap for the exhaust of night fighters. This important invention protected fighters from being spotted by their exhaust flames.

As an engineer and a good shot, Vokes was naturally attracted to the study and development of firearm mechanisms. He was particularly interested in sporting weapons, and many of the weapons in his collection were used by him and visitors of his farm near Alton. Although the Vokes Collection demonstrates an extraordinary variety of firearm ignition systems, it should not be thought that the collection lacked entirely in aesthetic or personal interest.

There are two wheellock rifles, for example, that are beautifully decorated while a 17th century flintlock repeater, fascinating mechanically, has landscape scenes painted on its stock. Vokes was also keen to acquire weapons with some story attached. Unfortunately, some dealers realised this and occasionally, like most keen collectors, Vokes's enthusiasm exceeded his caution in making acquisitions. One splendid weapon in his collection may have had a famous owner, a Model 1866 presentation Winchester rifle. Richly engraved and gilt by C F Ulrich, this rifle remained at the Winchester factory for many years, it is believed to have belonged to W F Cody, Buffalo Bill, and while one cannot prove this story, it is very likely to be true.

There are, perhaps, two strengths in Vokes's collecting. Firstly: with his engineer's interest in firearms, he was buying weapons of technical interest which were then considered as little more than obsolete weapons - for example, the american capping breechloaders, or the european steps in the development of the breechloading shotgun. Secondly: as a collector he was not ashamed to seek expert advice. He was fortunate enough to count Howard L Blackmore among his friends, now retired but formerly Deputy Master of the Royal Armouries. Hampshire CC Museums Service owes a double debt to Howard Blackmore; he helped to ensure the high quality of the collection and, after Vokes death, he helped sort the collection on its transfer to the museum service's care, performing this delicate task with discernment.

A final question must be: 'Why Hampshire's collections?'. The Vokes Collection would grace a national museum and 25 years ago Hampshire CC Museums Service did not exist in its present well developed form. The answer lies in Cecil Gordon Vokes's connections with Hampshire. He was a Friend of the Curtis Museum, Alton, which already had a few interesting firearms. During the war, he had opened a factory in Alton and he spent the last years of his life nearby. His family were Hampshire people and it is believed that his father served in the Volunteer Artillery.

Much of the collection is on display at the Havant Museum*, where displays are linked to the sporting shooting in that area. Special displays of weapons from the Vokes Collection have been taken to many parts of Hampshire and one hopes that Vokes would have approved of the interest shown in such displays of parts of his collection. People who knew him are gland to know that the collection is preserved for the enjoyment and education of the people of Hampshire and visitors to this attractive county.

Part of the collection had been sold off earlier, by auction by Wallis and Wallis, Lewes, Sussex, before being presented to the Hampshire CC Museums Service."

- Extract from Catalogue of the Vokes Collection and General Collection, Firearms by Martin Norgate and Peter Russell-Jones, 1993. Published by Hampshire Museums Service.

*It should be noted that the Vokes Collection is no longer on display at the Havant Museum; as of 2008, it has been relocated to Chilcomb House, Winchester.

Catalogue of the Vokes Collection and General Collection, Firearms (1993)

By Martin Norgate and Peter Russell-Jones

Published by Hampshire Museum Services

The Vokes Collection catalogue is 219 pages long and is a comprehensive list of every item in the collection. It is split into several sections, each cataloguing segments of the collection in different areas, the main one being the Havant Museum. It also covers firearms collections in Hampshire that are unrelated to Mr. Vokes. Each item is given a brief description. It should be noted that there are no photographs or illustrations of the items in the collection.

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