Few would disagree with the view of a Harpenden Town Councillor that Harpenden Common is ‘the jewel in the town’s crown.’ The vast tract of common grassland sweeping you into the town centre from the south is home to a golf club, two cricket clubs, a football club and the occasional fair and circus. Yet this Green Flag Award-winning area still provides acres of recreational space for residents and visitors.
Since 1994, for one day a year, this idyllic scene is interrupted for a few hours for what has become one of the biggest mid-week classic car shows in Britain. Classics on the Common was the brain-child of classic car enthusiasts John Tibble, then landlord of the Carpenters Arms, and Peter Madden, a Harpenden resident and Metropolitan Police officer. The first year’s show attracted 125 cars. In 2022, our 28th year, nearly 1,100 classics vehicles, motorcycles and scooters arrived on Harpenden Common from all over the UK. According to senior Rotary sources, the event can be seen from space!
And there’s never any shortage of admirers. Thousands of spectators spend hours admiring the mouth-watering collection.
For our show a classic vehicle has to be at least 25 years old but we usually have one or two from around a century ago, such as a 1913 model T Ford and a 1916 Stanley Steamer. Every decade following is well represented, too, from Rolls Royces and Maseratis to Austin A40s and Morris Minors. We’ve even had a Sinclair C5. We like to encourage diversity and invite some ‘supercars’ to the event.
In 2009 Harpenden Village Rotary Club took over responsibility for organising and running the show and in 2016 the charity Rotary in Harpenden took over. Rotarians are no strangers to running events and, although we have over 40 members, we need another 50 volunteers to help make the day a success.
We are very grateful to have our numbers boosted by members of our associated club, Harpenden Village Inner Wheel. Other helpers include Harpenden Round Table, 41 Club and Harpenden Lions Club. Volunteers from the principal charities supported by the show get involved in bucket collections during the day. Also, we could not put on the event without the active support of friends and family. Our gratitude goes also to our sponsor, Harpenden Town Council, and the police and emergency services for their continued support.
At heart, Classics on the Common remains a community event. Its charity fundraising is significant, too: over the show’s 29-year life well over £350,000 has been distributed to local, children’s, national and international charities.
Classic vehicle owners make a donation to enter and, although there is no entry charge to the public, spectators have always responded generously when approached with collecting buckets.
We encourage local businesses linked to the motoring market by having stalls where they can sell their products or by taking banner advertising. In recent years, local motoring companies have been able to take space to display their newest models.
In 2020 we had an enforced holiday through Covid but we came back with a bang in 2021. Despite having to delay the show until September we were treated to amazingly good weather and, thanks to the huge generosity of our spectators and supporters, we raised over £33,000. This enabled Rotary in Harpenden to donate sizeable sums to our chosen charities.
In 2022, with the show back to its traditional date in late July, vehicle numbers caught up with pre-Covid attendances at nearly 1,100. And spectators surpassed themselves: their generosity led to funds raised for charity reaching £40,000. See report and photos below.
We encourage all classic entrants who are UK taxpayers to tick the Gift Aid box on the Ticket Application form. This allows us to claim from the taxman an extra 25% of the value of their entry fee donation, without any extra cost to them, and increase the amount we are able to donate to charity.
Back to our normal slot at the end of July, the 28th Classics on the Common, organised by Rotary in Harpenden, drew crowds in their thousands to see a spectacular array of more than 1000 classic cars, scooters and motorbikes.
The two most spectacular exhibits came from the USA: a Sherman tank – the largest vehicle we’ve ever had – and a 1904 Crestmobile from Massachusetts which, back then, you could have bought for $750. There was a huge range of vehicles of all ages, many of them pictured below.
Seen primarily as a major event for the Harpenden community, where classic car enthusiasts mix with local families and their children to enjoy a wonderful afternoon out, the show also promotes Harpenden and gives a lift to local catering businesses. Above all, it raises money for charity through the exhibitors and stall holders, who give a donation to attend, and the big-heartedness of the spectators.
“What a fabulous day, helped by the good weather and so many visitors. I am very proud of the effort and enthusiasm of the Classics Committee, all our members and the army of volunteers who made it happen.
We would also like to thank Harpenden Town Council, the police and emergency services for their continuing support.
Through the contributions of the classic vehicle owners and our sponsors, combined with the unbounded generosity of the people of Harpenden, the show realised a surplus of £40,000 for our nominated charities. They are: Home Start Hertfordshire, the local branch of the Samaritans, Global Sight Solutions, a Malawi Water and Sanitation project and causes supported by Rotary in Harpenden. We are all so very grateful. “
Liz Jack, event organiser