Who Was Sir Alan Cobham? The Man Who Brought Aviation To The Masses

Who Was Sir Alan Cobham? The Man Who Brought Aviation To The Masses

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Alan John Cobham was born on the 6 May 1894 in Camberwell. He subsequently attended Wilson’s Grammar School but failed to achieve distinction in any subjects except geography. However, he couldn’t have picked a better subject at which to excel for it was to form the basis of his future career.

After volunteering for military duty in August 1914 he found himself in exceptional circumstances that quickly led to his being dispatched to France. Having claimed to have some farming experience he was attached to the army’s Veterinary Corps and over the next three years rose to become a sergeant in charge of some 1,500 horses in various stages of disrepair.

Nick Lloyd, PhD, FRHistS, is Reader in Military and Imperial History at King's College London based at the Joint Services Command & Staff College in Shrivenham, Wiltshire. His new book, Passchendaele: A New History is out now.

Listen Now

Taking to the sky

As the war progressed, the widening dependence on mechanised forms of transport made Cobham realise that the use of horses would greatly diminish. Seeing the ever increasing number of aircraft constantly overhead also fired his imagination and he resolved to become a pilot.

During a short spell of leave he confided his ambition to his mother who immediately arranged a meeting with a Mr Grose, a high ranking civil servant who happened to live next door.

He summoned Cobham to an interview at the War Office the following day at which he was asked to explain to a room full of officers why he wanted to transfer to the Royal Flying Corps. After he did so Mr Grose fully endorsed the young man’s determined application and, brooking no dissention, requested his colleagues to do the same.

Cobham now faced the unenviable task of explaining his actions to an enraged colonel who, having seen his authority undermined, told him he was a disgrace to the regiment and to get out of his sight forthwith.

Cadet Cobham

2nd Lieutenant Alan Cobham Royal Flying Corps.

Having weathered this verbal storm, he reported to the Royal Flying Cadet Depot at Hastings only to face another battle of a different nature.

Firstly, the instructing staff were at a loss as to how to deal with a sergeant who also wore three service stripes on his sleeve but who required basic training in saluting and drill alongside the new recruits from ‘civvy street’.

Secondly, his classmates were, without exception, either from university or public school and therefore far better educated. He was, however, a quick learner and with a little help from his new found friends survived the course with reasonable credit.

After the war

Cobham, having ended the war as a flying instructor, joined some twenty-two thousand pilots in a desperate search for employment. Civil aviation was in its infancy and jobs were few and far between.

A small number however, found that the more adventurous members of the public keen to fly would willingly pay for a short local ‘hop’. Cobham, along with two other war veterans, Fred and Jack Holmes, pooled their savings and purchased a war surplus Avro 504k to form the Berkshire Aviation Company to provide one of the first aerial joy-riding outfits.

Their early success in 1919 soon faded but Cobham, after a spell as a photographic pilot with Aerofilms Ltd, went on to eventually become chief pilot of the de Havilland Aeroplane Hire Service.

In addition to charter flying with de Havilland, Cobham undertook several long- distance route-proving flights to India, Burma, South Africa and Australia which gained him international fame. Following his landing on the Thames upon returning from the Antipodes in front of an estimated one million sightseers, he received a well-earned knighthood.

Cobham’s landing on the Thames.

Bringing aviation to the masses

After forming his own company Alan Cobham Aviation, Cobham embarked on a crusade to make the government and the general public ‘air minded’.

As part of this he toured the country in a ten-seater airliner visiting 110 towns and cities and undertaking 5000 local flights carrying 50,000 passengers which included 10,000 schoolchildren. All within a twenty-one week period.

He proved to be ahead of his time for although his aim on the tour was to convince local mayors and authorities that the time had come to build local airports, apart from a few notable exceptions eg, Liverpool, Bournemouth and Leeds/Bradford, his willingness to act as ‘aerodrome consultant fell mainly on deaf ears.

After a relatively quiet period in the Twenties, public interest in the touring airshows gained impetus with Cobham’s National Aviation Day displays leading the charge from 1932 to 1935.

A National Aviation Day Display poster.

Though he disliked the term ‘Flying Circus’ considering it to lack the professional touch, this was the title always used by the public and press, and indeed by aspiring aircrew volunteers in World War Two when, asked if they had ever flown before, some 75% replied ‘Yes-with Cobham’s Flying Circus.’

Colin Cruddas served for many years as the official archivist of the international aerospace company Cobham Plc and is uniquely qualified to write the definitive biography of one of the greatest pioneers in aviation history. His new book, ‘Sir Alan Cobham: The Flying Legend Who Brought Aviation To The Masses‘ was published on 22 October 2018 by Pen and Sword.

Audio & Video : Classic Lecture – Barnstorming with Cobham by Sir Michael Knight FRAeS

Cobham’s Flying Circus brought the excitement and glamour, challenges and enthusiasm, thrills and spills of aviation to literally millions of people across Britain and parts of the Empire between 1932 and 1935. Sir Michael Knight explores three and a half years of flypasts, aerobatics, wing walking, parachute displays, upside-down flying and joy rides, which Sir Alan Cobham used to sell the potential of flying to the young and old alike and tells us many amazing stories along the way.

The 1997 Handley Page Lecture took place on 20 February 1997, the podcast was edited by Eur Ing Mike Stanberry FRAeS and it was digitised thanks to a grant from the Royal Aeronautical Society Foundation.

The National Aerospace Library
1 February 2021


Audio : From the Archive – Lord Brabazon of Tara

Lord Brabazon of Tara, the first man to hold a Royal Aero Club pilots’ licence and one of the great characters of the first 50 years of powered flight, reminisces.

Audio & Video: Classic Lecture Series - The Brabazon Committees by Sir Peter Masefield

The Vickers Viscount, the de Havilland Comet, the Airspeed Ambassador and many other civil aircraft designs of the 1940s and 1950s were specified by three wartime government committees Sir Peter Masefield gives us an insider view of the work of the .

From the Archive - How to fly an aircraft by Sir Alan Cobham Hon. FRAeS

Join Sir Alan Cobham in the front seat of his de Havilland Moth for our first flying lesson.

AUDIO: From the Archive - How to fly an aircraft by Sir Alan Cobham Hon. FRAeS


Join Sir Alan Cobham in the front seat of his de Havilland Moth for our first flying lesson. After starting the engine and taking off, the man whose panache and vision brought aviation to the people between in the 1920s and 1930s, stylishly talks us through the controls and explains how they affect flight, before taking us back down safely back to earth.

The recording was edited by Mike Stanberry FRAeS and it was digitised thanks to a grant from the Royal Aeronautical Society Foundation.

National Aerospace Library
17 September 2019


Audio: The Jeffrey Quill Interview

AUDIO: Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire test pilot Jeffrey Quill FRAeS discusses his career in aviation, the highlight of which was making the first flights and masterminded the development and production test flying of all 52 variants of the Spitfire.

Audio: Transforming the Skies: Pilots, Planes and Politics in British Aviation 1919-1940

The interwar period revolutionised all aspects of aeronautics in the UK. In his lecture to the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust Association, historian Peter Reese brings out some of the stories and characters that shaped the period.

Aviation Developments

The end of pleasure flying in 1920 meant that Manx skies rarely heard the sound of an aero engine for some years. The moat of the Irish Sea was still a formidable obstacle for private fliers and it required some commercial incentive to attract aeroplanes back to the Isle of Man. That incentive was provided by the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Races which were now established as the most important motorcycling event in the world. Spectators were flocking to the Island to see the latest motorcycles being tested on the T.T. Course, as a multitude of manufacturing firms competed for supremacy. The internal combustion engine was a constant source of experiment and development and it has been claimed, with justification, that lessons learned on the T.T. Course were of benefit to the design of new aero engines.

It was the 1925 T.T. meeting that brought a de Havilland DR 9 to Douglas, piloted by Mr. C. Barnard who found a suitable place to land on Douglas Head. The flight had been chartered by 'The Motor Cycle', the leading journal of its kind, to supply copies of its T.T. Edition to the news-hungry fans. This was repeated the following year by another DR 9, this time flown by Mr. G. L. P. Henderson. This became an annual event and the next two years saw a large field by the T.T. Grandstand being used with copies of 'The Motor Cycle' being on sale with the minimum of delay.

It is also thanks to 'The Motor Cycle' that 1928 can be regarded as a significant milestone in Manx aviation. That year saw copies of the journal, amounting to a ton in weight, being delivered by an airliner of Imperial Airways. The chosen place to land was a large field belonging to Ronaldsway Farm, Derbyhaven, near Castletown in the south of the Island. The Imperial Airways pilot was Captain G. P. Olley who was destined to play a leading part in the development of Manx air services in the next decade. The airliner was a Handley Page H.P.27 Hampstead which had been registered in 1925 as G-EBLE and named 'City of New York' It was a rare bird and only one is found in the civil register. Powered by three 385 h.p. Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar engines it weighed five tons and could travel 400 miles at 95 m.p.h. With a wing span of 75 feet and a length of over 60 feet its commodious cabin could seat 14 passengers in luxurious wicker chairs. The windows could be opened for ventilation while the pilot and mechanic sat in an open cockpit.

There were no passengers on board when Captain Olley arrived with two mechanics on Tuesday, June 5th, at 4 p.m. having left Croydon at 12.30 and stopping at Manchester to refuel. At Ronaldsway, arrangements were made with Manx Petroleums Ltd., the local Shell agent, thus beginning a long association which continues today. Captain Olley then announced that flights in the Hampstead would be available on Thursday and Friday at 1016 a trip, while flights around the Island were £2. 12.6. Many local residents took the opportunity of their first flight before the airliner left after the Senior T.T. on Friday.

There was also pleasure flying from Douglas beach again in 1928 as a result of arrangements made with Surrey Flying Services Ltd. who were provided with a hangar on Douglas Head to act as an aerodrome. The aircraft being used was 'an Avro with a 130 h.p. engine and capable of carrying four passengers'. It arrived from Blackpool at noon on Friday, 15th June, for the season and was piloted by Mr.J.J. Flynn. He was an ex- R.F.C. and R.A.F. pilot who, after the war, became second in command of the Irish Air Force. Weather permitting the Avro was stationed opposite the Palace at low tide ready for 5 shilling flips. The Avro was also used by a famous parachutist 'Miss Jane' to give demonstrations over Douglas Bay.

The following year, 1929, Captain Olley returned with more copies of 'The Motor Cycle' and the Hampstead was joined by a De Havilland 61 Giant Moth which was on duty for the 'Daily Mail.' On the Monday of the junior T.T. it was seen following the progress of the race carrying ace reporter Paul Bewcher. He gave a graphic account of the race in a special T.T. edition of the 'Mail' which were brought to the Island by the DR 61 later in the week. It is interesting to note that Mr. Bewcher had been a pilot in the R.F.C. until he was badly wounded. During the war he later appeared at the Gaiety Theatre, Douglas, to give a lecture with the object of recruiting pilots.

The 1929 T.T. period also produced one of those amazing stories that only could have occurred in the early days of flying. It concerns a German motorcyclist who had lost a leg in a racing accident. Wolfram Hirst had taken to flying and, determined to see a T.T. race, he set off with a mechanic friend in a tiny two-seater which weighed no more than 10 cwt. He left Stuttgart with only the vaguest idea where the Isle of Man was. That Friday he landed at Canterbury where he was told to report to Croydon to have his papers checked. There he was given maps and headed for Blackpool to refuel. He arrived over Douglas early Sunday evening and was astonished at not finding an aerodrome as he remarked later, 'Every village in Germany has an aerodrome.' He managed to land in a sloping field on Douglas Head and a local resident, not understanding the language, escorted Wolfram and his friend to Douglas Police Station. When the object of their visit became clear they were advised to remove their flying machine to Douglas beach where help would be forthcoming. Somehow they managed to take off again and found themselves surrounded by a disbelieving crowd on the beach. They were completely nonplussed when one of the fliers produced a large spanner and proceeded to remove the wings which were then slotted on to brackets on the sides of the fuselage. Escorted by police the contraption was then wheeled across the promenade and taken to a garage behind the Esplanade and housed like a Baby Austin!

Wolfram and his companion were well looked after, being provided with rooms at the Peveril Hotel being used by the A.C.U. as Headquarters. They were entertained by officials and on Monday watched the Junior race from a seat in the Grandstand. The following morning preparations were made for the return journey as Wolfram was anxious to be in Berlin to take part in an air race. Later he wired to say he had reached Essen after a non-stop flight of 1200km. The first flying visitors from the continent had certainly caused a sensation.

A more serious visit to the Isle of Man was made later in that summer of 1929 when Sir Alan Cobham arrived on August 2nd for the August Bank Holiday weekend. Great preparations had been made for the visit in June but, because of machine damage at Grangemouth, near Newcastle, it had to be postponed. Sir Alan was the most famous aviator of the time having completed flights to India, to Australia and a circuit of Africa. He then decided to give up further exploits and devote his energies to making the country more air-minded and selected 100 municipalities in the British Isles to encourage the development of aerodromes. Thus began his famous Circuit of Britain, sponsored by Sir Charles Wakefield of the Castrol oil firm. Douglas was one of the chosen towns out of the 500 that had shown interest.

Flying from Blackpool the big DH 61 Giant Moth, named 'Youth of Britain' arrived at Ronaldsway. The machine, G-AAEV, was powered by a single Bristol Jupiter engine of 500 h.p. and it could carry 14 passengers over short distances. Sir Alan was met by civic dignitaries and he wasted no time in taking the Mayor and his parry into the air. At a reception Sir Alan urged that immediate steps be taken to provide Douglas with an aerodrome and also a base for seaplanes, offering to advise on the best sites. The following morning he was back at Ronaldsway to fulfil the second object of his visit which was to give flights to young people of the Island. The children, 131 altogether, were chosen through Uncle Jack's Club in the Isle of Man Examiner After their flight each was presented with a certificate as a souvenir of Sir Charles Wakefield's gift flight in the 'Youth of Britain'. Unfortunately, about half the excited children were to be disappointed because the DH 61 hit a rut while taxying causing damage to the undercarriage. Tackle from Qualtrough's timber yard, Castletown, was brought to hoist up the machine. New parts were needed so Sir Alan, after appearing at the Palace Ballroom on Saturday night, departed later by Packet steamer on his way to the de Havilland's works. By noon on Monday the repairs were effected and, after farewells, Sir Alan left for the return to Blackpool.

As 'Youth of Britain' took to the air it was carrying two gentlemen who are the first known Manx passengers to across the Irish Sea. They were Mr. R. C. Stephens, a journalist and future member of the House of Keys, and Tom Sheard, the first Manxman to win a T.T. They were issued with cotton wool to deaden the sound of the engine. A third passenger was also aboard - a Manx kitten kept in a basket piled with luggage. The fifty minute journey was via Maughold Head and Walney Island to shorten the sea crossing and they arrived at Stanley Park in time to join in the celebrations to mark the opening of the new aerodrome.

April, 1933, saw two more great names in the world of aviation visit the Isle of Man when Amy Johnson and her husband Jim Mollison, derided to escape London for a few days. Each flew separately from Stag Lane on Thursday, 14th April. Amy took off at 2 p.m. in a DR 60G Moth named “Jason 4” after the Moth she had used to become the first woman to fly to Australia, in 1930. She missed Ronaldsway and flew northwards landing in a field of the Vollan Farm, near Ramsey. The news of the arrival of this famous lady quickly spread and a large crowd gathered round “Jason 4” guarded by Constable Quayle of Ramsey Constabulary. Amy was entertained by local M.H.K. Mr. D. J. Teare and his wife. Having a telephone, Mr. Teare was in contact with Ronaldsway and at 7.25 p.m. received a message to say her husband had arrived. Jim Mollison had set off later in a faster machine and had stopped to refuel at Blackpool. The faster machine was the DR 80a Puss Moth, the “Desert Cloud” in which Amy had beaten her husband's London-Cape Town record, covering the distance in 10½ hours less than her husband.

The couple stayed at the Derbyhaven Hotel and were fêted wherever they went including lunch at Government House with His Excellency Sir Claude Hill and Lady Hill. The following evening they were guests at the Peveril Motorcycle Club's Dinner at Glen Helen and their President, Mr. Charles Gill J.P., M.H.K. gave a toast to the Mollisons and complimented Jim on his recent crossing of the North and South Atlantic. To commemorate the occasion a Douglas Fir Tree was planted in the grounds and the inscription to mark Amy's visit can still be seen:

There were to be many more famous names in pre-war aviation to visit the Island, especially as competitors in the important Isle of Man Air Races. But it is time to look at developments of a more permanent nature leading to the establishment of air services to and from the Island.

Who Was Sir Alan Cobham? The Man Who Brought Aviation To The Masses - History

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&lsquoThis Man Saved Britain&rsquo ran a headline in the News Chronicle on 18 February 1941, in a reference to the role of Sydney Camm, designer of the Hawker Hurricane, during the Battle of Britain. Similarly, the Minister of Economic Warfare, Lord Selborne, advised Winston Churchill that to Camm &lsquoEngland owed a great deal&rsquo.

Twenty-five years later, following his death in 1966, obituaries in the Sunday Express and Sunday Times, among other tributes, referred to &lsquoHurricane Designer&rsquo or &lsquoHurricane Maker&rsquo, implying that this machine represented the pinnacle of Camm&rsquos professional achievement. Sir Thomas Sopwith, the respected aircraft designer and Hawker aircraft company founder, believed that Camm deserved much wider recognition, being &lsquoundoubtedly the greatest designer of fighter aircraft the world has ever known.&rsquo

Born in 1893, the eldest of twelve children, Camm was raised in a small, terraced house. Despite lacking the advantages of a financially-secure upbringing and formal technical education after leaving school at 14, Camm would go on to become one of the most important people in the story of Britain&rsquos aviation history.

Sydney Camm&rsquos work on the Hurricane was far from the only pinnacle in his remarkable career in aircraft design and engineering &ndash a career that stretched from the biplanes of the 1920s to the jet fighters of the Cold War. Indeed, over fifty years after his death, the revolutionary Hawker Siddeley Harrier in which Camm played such a prominent figure, following &lsquoa stellar performance in the Falkland Island crisis&rsquo, still remains in service with the American armed forces.

It is perhaps unsurprising therefore, as the author reveals in this detailed biography, that Camm would be knighted in his own country, receive formal honours in France and the United States, and be inducted into the International Hall of Fame in San Diego.

This is a useful biography of one of the most important figures in the British aviation industry, someone whose career began soon after the first manned flight and ended with the Harrier jump jet.

Read the full review here

History of War

I enjoyed learning much about the great man's unexalted early life in Windsor. There is much to learn here about the birth of the Hurricane and the tribulations of being an aircraft designer caught up in the national and aircraft industry politics of the post-war period.

Battle of Britain Memorial Trust Website

A well-researched and informative bio.

Read the full review here

Vintage Airfix

This is an excellent, well-researched and highly readable book – not that one would expect anything less of John Sweetman – who members may recall gave a talk in May 2001 to the Ulster Aviation Society about his book on the Dambusters. Highly recommended.

Ulster Aviation Society

This book is a quality read with a wealth of research into the man, the environment in which he worked, and the decades during which he made such exceptional contributions.

Gary Connor, Air Power History, Summer 2020

John Sweetman’s new biography ably recounts the life of one of the most remarkable figures in 20th-century aviation history

Aviation History

John Sweetman’s new biography ably recounts the life of one of the most remarkable figures in 20th-century aviation history, whose career began during the era of wood-and-fabric biplanes and ended in that of advanced supersonic jets and who can arguably claim a share of credit for that progress.

Aviation History magazine, May 2020 – reviewed by Robert Guttman

"A good read, that comes recommended."

As featured in

Aeroplane, February 2020

John Sweetman's excellent book at last fills a major gap in the published histories of British aviation, in particular, Hawker Aircraft Ltd. There have been previous books on Camm but they were more about his designs than the man. This book concentrates on the man, his family life, how he worked with his staff at Kingston, how he collaborated with senior engineers at suppliers, such as Bristol Engines and Roll-Royce, and how he used his reputation to persuade officials in the UK government ministries and armed forces to support his projects.

All of Camm's life is covered from his birth in Windsor to his death at Richmond Golf Club from the Windsor Model Aeroplane Club, through his apprenticeship and work with Martin and Handasyde Aviation, to the HG Hawker Engineering Co, Hawker Aircraft Ltd and Hawker Siddeley Aviation. The author has clearly carried out several years of meticulous research, as the eight page bibliography testifies. He has spoken to Camm's relatives and to people who worked for him, he has read letters and papers in private collections and has referred to books, published and unpublished material and to newspapers, periodicals and journals - no stone has been left unturned.

This well produced, 320 page book is essential reading for those interested in aviation history and the men who made Britain a world leader in aircraft design and innovation. As John Sweetman shows, Camm's work was crucial to the survival of Britain, and therefore of western democracy, in the second world war.

Amazon UK Review

In summary, this is an informative thoroughly researched and engaging account of how Britain’s fortunes were inextricably linked to Sydney Camms’ vision and strength of character to bring the promise of the Hawker Hurricane to fruition against a conservative and vacillating Air Ministry.

The Author’s reassessment of the Hurricane is particularly welcome in this regard, and whilst the moniker of “Saviour of Britain” sat uneasily with Camm, it is hard to argue against the pivotal qualitative and quantitative role played by his most famous machine at a time when Britain stood alone, anticipating Nazi invasion.

Read the full review here

Donna's Book Blog

As featured by

Berkshire Life, October 2019

As featured in

Battle of Britain Historical Society

Sydney Camm has never received the attention he richly deserved. This new book goes a very long way to rectifying the omissions of historians – Most Highly Recommended.

The 1940s weekend in Sheringham this year used to have a Battle of Britain flypast involving at least a Spitfire and a Lancaster Bomber. This year, we had a Spitfire on Saturday and a Hurricane on Sunday. Hurricanes are, of course,m more rare than Spitfires nowadays, and we were extremely privileged to see one close up, flying over the town and along the coast. John Sweetman looks at the pioneering designer, Sydney Camm and examines his legacy, which was the design of two of our most iconic fighter planes, the Hurricane and the Harrier. Brilliant!

Books Monthly

Informative, insightful and in-depth.

Watch the full video review here

Scale Modelling Now

Click here to listen to author interview

NOTE: set cursor to 1:14:41

BBC Radio Devon with presenter David FitzGerald, 18th September 2019

A very well-written and readable book. it is likely that this volume will have wide reader appeal. Aviation Historians may find it of use, as might Military Historians with in interest in military aviation. Aviation enthusiasts with an interest on the Hawker Hurricane, the aircraft of the Hawker-Siddeley Group and British Military Aviation might also find it worthy of their attention. The presence of a small number of aircraft images within the photo section might also interest aircraft modellers.

Keith Rimmer, NZ Crown Mines

Click here to listen to author interview

NOTE: set cursor to 9:40

BBC Radio Berkshire with presenter Sarah Walker, 29th August 2019

JOHN SWEETMAN&rsquos many publications include The Schweinfurt Raids and Oil Strike &ndash Ploesti describing American raids, Cavalry of the Clouds , The Dambusters Raid and Tirpitz &ndash Hunting the Beast about British air operations during the two world wars over Europe. Married with two sons and four grandchildren, he lives in Camberley.

Who Was Sir Alan Cobham? The Man Who Brought Aviation To The Masses - History

As Blackpool airport celebrates its centenary, we look back at the history of aviation in the town.

Credit for introducing aviation to the region belongs to Blackpool Corporation and to Lord Northcliffe, the proprietor of the Daily Mail.

Lord Northcliffe was greatly interested in flying and through his newspaper he sponsored numerous air shows.

He was inspired by French aviator Louis Bleriot - who made the first historic flight across the English Channel.

Lord Northcliffe was also inspired by the world's first public air display at Rheims, so he wrote to Blackpool Town Hall in August 1909 to suggest that the town put on a display of its own.

Blackpool Corporation was enthusiastic and a date was set for 18-23 October 1909 making it the first official aviation meeting to be held in this country under the auspices of the Aero Club of the United Kingdom (now the Royal Aero Club).

The meeting was to be organised on land at Squires Gate which was then part of Squire Clifton's estate.

With only seven weeks to finalise the show the Ministry of Labour employed over 200 previously unemployed men who worked day and night on the erection of hangars and grandstands.

The First Day - 18 October 1909

The first man to make a start was A.V. Roe who brought his small yellow aeroplane out of its shed for the purpose of testing it. However, the machine refused to rise and the chance was lost for an Englishman to be the first to fly at Blackpool.

That achievement went to Frenchman Henri Farman who completed a round of the course amidst huge applause. Farman also set the first official British record with a flight of just over 47 miles and went on to win the Grand Blackpool prize of £2,000 awarded to the competitor who completed the greatest number of circuits without touching the ground.

Records state that, in all, 200,000 spectators attended the event and drank 36,000 bottles of beer 40,000 dozen bottles of minerals 500 cases of champagne and 600 of whiskey - and even had the time to consume 500 hogsheads, 1,000 hams and 2,000 pork pies!

1911 Racecourse and the First World War

A Flying Carnival organised by the Lancashire Aero Club took place in 1910, however, this was the end of Squires Gate being a centre of aviation for many years.

In 1911 the ground was leased to the Clifton Park Racecourses Syndicate who laid out a racecourse and built grandstands and a clubhouse. The first race was the £1,000 Coronation Gold Cup, held on 1 August 1911 and watched by a crowd of over 20,000.

However, the venture proved not to be a success and the last race meetings were held in 1914.

With the outbreak of war within a year the land was in use as the King's Lancashire Military Convalescent home, over 3,000 men being housed in huts built over the racecourse.

The home remained in use throughout the First World War before being demolished in 1924 when the site was handed back to the Clifton Estate.

1919 Pleasure Flights

The intrepid flyers of the First World War had done much to establish aviation in the public mind.

In 1919 the A.V. Roe Company, later to become the famous aircraft manufacturer Avro, offered pleasure flights from South Shore before being transferred to Squires Gate where they were operated at five shillings a time by the Lancashire School of Aviation. Flying had returned to its original site.

In 1928 an Air Pageant was once again staged at Squires Gate with 73 aircraft from the newly-formed Royal Air Force. Whilst the officers were accommodated at the Queens Hydro hotel, the airmen slept under the grandstands!

1931 New Location - Stanley Park

Over the years Blackpool Corporation had become increasingly interested in aviation.

In 1927 the Corporation asked Sir Alan Cobham, who ran an air circus and was also holder of several air records, to recommend a site for Blackpool's Municipal Aerodrome. Cobham selected land to the east of Stanley Park apparently because the site was available for purchase unlike Squires Gate.

Some 200 men worked for two years on the site and the airport was officially opened at a cost of £39,000 in 1931 by the Prime Minister, The Rt. Hon. J Ramsay MacDonald M.P.

The operation of the aerodrome was leased to National Flying Services Ltd, and other operators soon became established including the British Amphibious Air Company who ran trips to the Isle of Man in four-seater planes at a fare of 36 shillings return.

Competition quickly started to heat up when in 1932 aviation returned to Squires Gate and Blackpool and West Coast Air Services established a rival airport. In 1933 the operator started running flights from Liverpool to the Isle of Man via this new Squires Gate aerodrome as well as offering pleasure flights.

Other airlines were also attracted to use Squires Gate and soon Stanley Park was becoming little more than a flying club. It became clear that one airfield would have to close.

In 1935 Blackpool Corporation took the decision to acquire the Squires Gate site for £175,000 from the Clifton Estate as it was viewed as offering more potential than Stanley Park.

Following advice from the Ministry of Transport in 1936 the decision was made to cease operations at Stanley Park and concentrate on Squires Gate.

Second World War - Wellington Bombers

Blackpool's hopes for its new airport hit a setback with the outbreak of war in 1939.

Squires Gate was taken over as an RAF Coastal Command training station and Stanley Park was requisitioned as an RAF parachute training centre. It was later used as a venue for the Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show and eventually as the site of the town's zoo.

Three runways were built at Squires Gate, along with hangars and ammunition stores for RAF aircraft. Fighter Squadrons were based there for the defence of Merseyside against German bombers.

A large factory was also built by Lord Beaverbrook's Ministry of Aircraft Production and was occupied by the Vickers Company who built 3,842 Wellington Bombers at Squires Gate between 1941 and 1945.

A state of uncertainty existed during the post-war years, regarding the ownership and the future of the Squires Gate airport. Officially, it was under the control of the newly-formed Ministry of Civil Aviation which had taken over nearly all other municipal aerodromes.

Fortunately, Blackpool's ambitions to have an international airport were not forgotten and with agreement that the airfield could be used for civil operation, the first scheduled flights were provided in 1946 by British European Airways from Manchester to the Isle of Man via Blackpool.

Pleasure flights also resumed and several companies became established, including one of the largest, the Lancashire Aircraft Corporation.

In conjunction with North-West Airlines, services were offered from Blackpool to the Isle of Man, Manchester, London, Leeds, Birmingham, Southport and Glasgow.

The airport was redesigned in 1949 to make it more attractive to passengers and by 1950, 25,000 passengers were passing through the airport.

The 1940s and 1950s also saw a number of other operators and airlines using the airfield as well as a diverse range of aircraft Rapides, Austers, Dakotas, Herons, and the Bristol freighters.

There was also renewed activity soon after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 in the airport's factory with the production of Hawker Hunters.

1962 - Municipal Airport

By 1958 it was considered that the operating costs were too much for the government. After three years of negotiation, Blackpool Corporation agreed to pay £175,000 for 528 acres of land, runways and buildings and assumed control on 1 April 1962.

The airport continued to develop and grow and by the 1980s there was a significant increase in passengers and air traffic movements. One holiday company even offered 'Landladies Specials' - holiday package tours from Blackpool to the Mediterranean.

In 1987 Blackpool Airport was recognised as a Private Limited Company with Blackpool Borough Council as 100% shareholder. For 17 years the airport remained under its control until 2004, when MAR Properties Ltd purchased it.

The following year around 400,000 passengers travelled via the airport thanks to the introduction of several new flight routes and the introduction of new airlines.

By 2006, a £2m refurbishment of the passenger terminal was completed and the airport now has the capacity to handle two million passengers a year.

Golden tribute to Wolverhampton's disappeared airport

The story of Wolverhampton's long disappeared airport has been brought to life for the internet generation.

As part of an historical project, during the 50th anniversary year of its closure, transport enthusiast Ron Leach, 76, has worked with fellow enthusiast Dave Nutting to prepare a video feature.

The video, which has now been launched on YouTube, remembers the municipal aerodrome at Pendeford, which has since been replaced by housing and an industrial park.

Mr Leach, from Hurst Hill, Sedgley, said: "This is our way of marking the anniversary.

"We see it as a gift to like-minded transport enthusiasts. It takes the information from a little book by my friend Dave Welch and sets it out in a form suitable, I hope, for YouTube.

"I wanted to make Dave's information available to people who might not buy books.

"These days a younger person might hear about Pendeford, wonder about it, and go online to try to find information, and this presents it in a concisely, summarised form.

"The video lasts only 10 minutes but is full of accurate facts, maps, drawings and period photographs.

"It is intended to stand the test of time and be a reference source for years to come."

The video is titled 'Pendeford Airport – A Brief History'.

There is also a second 12-minute video, by Mr Nutting alone, which covers the development of the airfield and its features.

But it also tells the story of the movie The Man In The Sky, starring Jack Hawkins, which was filmed on location in and around the airfield in 1956.

Mr Leach said the airfield formally closed on December 31, 1970.

"It's all rather sad, really," he said. "People were campaigning to keep it open, and then an aeroplane crashed on a house in Redhurst Drive in Fordhouses, killing somebody. So that was the end of that."

That tragedy in April 1970 claimed the lives of a resident, and also the two crew of a Hawker Siddeley Dove, which stalled while trying to land in bad weather.

Mr Leach visited the airfield in 1964 to watch a flying display, but said: "I haven't been to the site since.

"I'm disabled and housebound now, so I couldn't get there if I wanted to."

Dave Welch, who wrote a 52-page book on which information in the video is based, joined Don Everall Aviation at Pendeford in 1957, and lives now near Taunton.

"I left school in about July and was going to join the air force straight off, but then got offered a job as a trainee mechanic at the airport and worked there for about six months," he said.

Later he did some flying training there in Austers, and later still, when making occasional visits to see his parents in Stafford, would pop to Pendeford to see what was going on.

"It was never very busy," he added. "When I worked there, if we got two visiting aircraft in a day, that was a good day."

Despite a campaign to stop the closure, that 1970 air tragedy spelt its doom.

Mr Welch said: "A lot of us felt the place had potential. We knew the M6 and M54 were going to come nearby so it would have good road connections.

"It was a much better airfield than Halfpenny Green, and had a pretty good weather record.

"It had that really nice art deco clubhouse with a bar and restaurant. It had everything going for it.

"If the council had had a more positive attitude towards the place it could have been a success."

The origin of the airfield was a surge in enthusiasm by cities and towns in the 1930s to have their own aerodrome, and the Express & Star was a leading champion of Wolverhampton's cause.

Examples of the paper's support for early aviation included sponsoring in November 1927 an attempted non stop flight to India by Bert Hinckler and a Captain McIntosh – it failed as the airmen were forced down by a blizzard in Poland – and the following year the E&S proprietors presented a new de Havilland Moth aircraft, called Wulfrun, to Midland Aero Club.

The site at Barnhurst Farm, Pendeford, was recommended by Sir Alan Cobham, and the airport opened on June 25, 1938, with Midland Aero Club appointed to manage the aerodrome on behalf of Wolverhampton council.

Performing the opening was a record breaking airman, Flying Officer Arthur Clouston, who said he thought the aerodrome could be enlarged.

"The Mayor, Councillor R E Probert, he said, had told him that the Corporation owned all the surrounding land, and if they liked they could have the biggest airport in the world," the Express and Star reported on the day.

The opening was marked with an air pageant which included a display in a Kirby Kite glider by the famous woman aviator Amy Johnson.

Other excitements for the crowds included a wayward parachute drop by a Miss Ray Clark, who nearly landed in the canal, and a mock air raid display by local ARP (Air Raid Precautions) wardens and firefighters that was so botched it drew derisive laughter.

The outbreak of war in 1939 ended all civilian flying, and the airfield was used by the RAF to give pilots elementary training using Tiger Moth biplanes.

It was also used by the Boulton Paul factory on the doorstep, which made the Boulton Paul Defiant and Blackburn Roc, which were fighters equipped with gun turrets.

Pendeford attracted the attention of the Luftwaffe only once, when a Junkers Ju 88 raider dropped five bombs in September 1940, which fell harmlessly.

Post war, private flying gradually resumed, and Wolverhampton Aero Club was formed in 1946. The video tells how in 1950 the airfield hosted the King's Cup and Goodyear Trophy air races – airport manager Ron Paine finished ninth.

Later, Wolverhampton Aviation ran the airport for the council, and the first scheduled flight was to Jersey on July 18, 1953, in a de Havilland Rapide.

The video says Wolverhampton Aviation did not renew its contract to operate the airport, and Don Everall Aviation took over the running of Pendeford.

Alas, the airport was losing money. Grass runways and limited technical facilities hampered its potential development, and closure was recommended when Everall's agreement expired on December 31, 1970.

In its final decade, Pendeford was notable for several flying displays, usually in support of the Royal Air Forces Association.

Mr Nutting's separate YouTube video – titled 'Pendeford Airport & The Man in the Sky' – looks at the history of the airfield and its features, but chiefly takes an in-depth look at the filming of The Man In The Sky, including using a "then and now" format comparing still images from the movie with the locations as they are today.

Forgotten hero Frank McClean paved the way for modern airplane travel

Frank McClean spent his life traveling and experimenting with aviation. His early flights in Egypt helped pave the way for commercial flights in the 1930’s.

Born in England to Irish immigrant parents in 1876, McClean’s interest in flying introduced him to some of aviation’s biggest names. In 1908 he met and flew with one of the Wright Brothers in France. Orville and Wilbur Wright are remembered for their successful flight in North Carolina in 1908. McClean gave financial aid to the Short brothers: Oswald, Horace and Eustace who had one of the earliest aviation manufacturing companies. In addition he bought and tested some of their airplanes.

It was one of the Shorts’ planes that helped McClean achieve celebrity status in his own right. In 1912 he flew one of their seaplanes between the towers of Tower Bridge in London. His feat made headlines and he became a celebrity overnight. He then flew under London Bridge, Blackfriars, and Waterloo, which were lower bridges.

The BBC quoted that Flight Magazine’s reported on August 7, 1912, “Approaching London Mr McClean brought his machine lower down and negotiated the Tower Bridge between the lower and upper spans, but the remaining bridges to Westminster he flew underneath, the water being just touched at Blackfriars and Waterloo bridges. He reached Westminster about 8.30 and was taken ashore to Westminster Pier.”

The next year McClean traveled to Egypt and he took off in the Short seaplane for the Nile Delta. He turned south towards Cairo and landed on the Nile River. Helping him reach his destination of Khartoum was his co-pilot, Alec Ogilvie, a four man support team, and McClean’s sister Anna. Since the seaplane could only seat four, they took turns traveling in the seaplane and traveling overland.

Flying the Short seaplane was not an easy feat. The engine broke down 13 times during his travels. After he reached Aswan, he had engine trouble and the wait for new engine cylinders from England took a month. Unusually impatient, McClean wrote to Horace Short in a letter, he was “getting tired of this series of happenings.”

As frustrating as it could be for McClean, his travels helped pave the way for future aviators. In 1925 British aviator Sir Alan Cobham’s route to Cape Town included several stops on the Nile where McClean had been about ten years earlier.

McClean flew with the Royal Naval Air Service during World War I and afterwards spent a short time flying with the Royal Air Force.

By the 1930’s, Egypt became an important stop in routes taking people all over the British empire. Travelers would stop and see the sights Cairo had to offer before continuing on their commercial flights. Egypt enjoyed this prominence until the end of World War II, after which Beirut had greater aviation importance. After the end of WWI, the British Air Ministry Teams began organizing a route of seaplane landing spots that later linked Egypt and South Africa.

Although, he had done much for early aviation, McClean did not contribute to commercial aviation and after a long illness he died in 1955 at the age of 79.

For more on aviation in the early twentieth century, read Gerald Butt’s History in the Arab Skies: Aviation’s Impact on the Middle East.

Now having 5,500 + listed!

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A guide to the Highland & Islands

A brief guide to the area of Scotland known as the Highland & Islands

The 1950s I.T. revolution

Not what we understand by I.T. today, in the 1950s I.T. stood for Inclusive Tours. And it created a whole new vacation concept which blossomed and is still very popular today.


Without any doubt the purest and in many ways the most skillful form of flying. And, it preceded powered flying by about fifty years.

Harrogate flying sites

Note: This map only gives the location of Harrogate town within the UK.

HARROGATE: Man carrying kite trials?

NOTES: In December 1901 a telegram was sent, (presumably from the War Office?), to Samuel F Cody at, The Grange, Walker Road, Harrogate. Asking if it was convenient for an officer from Aldershot to see his kite experiments. I assume these were man-carrying kites for reconnaissance purposes as by 1899 at least Cody had demonstrated such a device near Carlisle. And, Cody was very keen for the British government to adopt the idea.

The more you look into early British aviation history Harrogate crops up time and time again. But why? Having visited the town many times I can&rsquot really understand why Harrogate was a favoured location for early aviation pioneers. Can anybody explain?

HARROGATE: Temporary landing ground

Period of operation: 24th July 1911

NOTES: A site near Harrogate was selected to be the first Control Point for the Daily Mail &lsquoCircuit of Britain&rsquo air race. Twenty one aircraft departed from the assembly point in BROOKLANDS on the 22nd and fifteen aircraft departed from the race starting line at HENDON on the 24th. Five aircraft reached Harrogate and only three managed to reach Edinburgh. Incredibly this acheivement compares really very favourably with some flying circumstances today when attempted by private pilots! But it must be borne in mind most of us today would never take such risks as they did.

For example in May 2003 I was involved in a strictly VFR (Visual Flight Rules) flight departing from ELSTREE to a unique airshow at Ober-Schleissheim near Munich. It took us three days to get there, (although we did arrive before 8AM on the third day), mainly due to weather and air show administration difficulties and of the two hundred or more light aircraft visitors invited on the Sunday only about sixteen arrived and we were the first to arrive before the weather closed in. We had also travelled the longest distance across Europe of anybody attending we were told.

In effect we had not really made much progress compared to these early aviators. Except that we were not prepared to risk our lives!

HARROGATE: Temporary aerodrome for &lsquojoy-riding exhibition flights&rsquo

Operated by: The Northern Aircraft Co

Period of operation: 1914

NOTES: Although I have found no proof of an actual flying site, the fact that The Northern Aircraft Co had an office at No.9 Station Square seems to indicate they would have been operating in the area.

HARROGATE: Civil airport

British airline user: North Sea Aerial & General Transport

NOTES: It appears that a regular Scarborough-Hull-Harrogate service commenced in April 1919. Could anybody kindly provide a location for this 'airport'? It needs to be remembered that a regional airport, even in the 1930s, could consist of just a field with a windsock. Perhaps just a tent or shed to provide shelter in some cases.

HARROGATE: This was the 14th venue for Sir Alan Cobham&rsquos 1929 Municipal Aerodrome Campaign Tour. Starting in May it ended in October with one hundred and seven towns and cities visited. Mostly in England but with two venues in Wales and eight in Scotland. Without any doubt this Tour encouraged several aerodromes/regional airports to be constructed - but not in Harrogate.

The aircraft he used was the DH61 'Giant Moth' G-AAEV, named 'Youth of Britain'. This tour was an amazing example of stamina and organisation and I can highly recommend reading his memoirs in A Time to Fly.

It seems possible that the Cobham 'Tours' visited HARROGATE during every Tour from 1929 until 1933? The latter being 'Flying Circus' venues.

In 1932 it appears that a very serious accident occurred, according to Ted Chapman in his excellent book Cornwall Aviation Company published in 1979. The Cornwall Aviation Company were sub-contracted to the Cobham organisation to provide 'stunt flying displays' but also joy-ride operations.

Note: This picture, c/o A.J. Adams, was scanned from the book Cornwall Aviation Company.

"A more serious accident occurred almost at the end of the tour. At Harrogate, on the 5th October, Captain Crundall in Avro G-AAUJ was unable to recover from three spins started at a height of 1,500 feet. The aeroplane was nearly level at 50 feet, but hit the ground obliquely whilst still diving. The pilot and one passenger were not seriously hurt, but the other passenger was thrown out and died on the field."

I think this is of great interest. It appears "The Yorkshire Herald, which had previously found fault with CAC at Yeadon criticised the organisation of the display and thought no pilot could do low aerobatics every day and get away with it."

And of course they were spot on. But I think that we should not judge those pilots by the standards we have today. Their job was to thrill the crowds, and flying very close to the edges of 'the envelope' was simply part and parcel of the job, which they accepted. Plus, I suppose, as many if not all of them were brought up to think of the risks of flying in WW1, by comparison these sorties were a doddle?




Aces Low – Bournemouth’s flying races

Published in September &rsquo13

The scene at the entrance to one of the Bournemouth Air Races on Easter Monday, 1927

Today Bournemouth has impressive aviation credentials. Its airport enjoys international status, its air festival attracts large crowds, and its residents live in relative harmony with the associated airborne comings and goings ’twas not ever thus.
Turn back the clock to just over a century ago, when manned flight was in its infancy, and it was a town seething with controversy over the proposal of a Yorkshireman called Frederick Etches to create a racecourse and aerodrome complex in Kinson. Uproar at his intention to race planes at high speed over houses was further fuelled by the fact that he planned to stage some of these ‘spectaculars’ on Sundays. The local clergy were not amused and fire and brimstone sermons on the evils of unbridled frivolity and, worse, of gambling on the Lord’s Day thundered from many a pulpit. Also up in arms was the council, raising objections and attempting to block any plans associated with the scheme. And as for the locals, while many relished the potential thrill of horses thundering on the ground and flying machines whizzing overhead, yet more feared it would be irritating, detrimental to their properties and downright dangerous.

The route over which the air-races used to take place

Etches, who lived at Edgehill Road in Winton and was a pioneering pilot with his own Monsanto-G aircraft, had harboured ambitions of the aviatory kind for the town as far back as 1915, when he leased a couple of fields on what is now Bournemouth University’s campus on Wallisdown Road, opposite Talbot Village. Here he set up the Bournemouth Aviation Company, a flying school which trained pilots prior to entry into the Royal Flying Corps, later to become the RAF. From here he also masterminded the first plane landing in Poole to raise funds for Poole Soldiers’ Home and Cornelia Hospital, a haven for war casualties named after its benefactress, Lady Cornelia Spencer-Churchill, wife of Ivor Bertie Guest, 1st Baron Wimborne, and aunt of Winston.
The historic flight left Wallisdown, piloted by the school’s chief instructor, and landed in a field next to Poole Park four-and-a-half minutes later. In reply to a query over the cost of the exercise, a peeved Etches replied: ‘What? Don’t you think we can render a little service for two noble causes in the most important town in the country in which our flying school is situated?’
His school thrived, with some of the world’s leading lights in aviation, including Sir Alan Cobham, going through their paces there, until in 1917 it transferred to an 88-acre site at Ensbury Park, roughly covering the area around Hillview Road and Redhill Drive. Pilots continued to be schooled there and it was requisitioned by the Royal Flying Corps when the Royal Air Force was formed in 1918 it became RAF Winton. Airmen were trained in the emerging art of aerial warfare and introduced to new communication devices at the on-site RAF Wireless Telephony School.
During this period, the perils of early flight were highlighted by more than a few ‘prangs.’ One highly-decorated pilot took off and circled low to wave to his girlfriend below. His plane hit a tree and he was killed. Another, Second Lieutenant Edward Rebbeck, son of a former Bournemouth mayor, was killed when his aircraft plunged to the ground, and a biplane barely missed crashing into Bournemouth town centre after suffering engine failure as it looped over the Square.

William Sholto Douglas, the man who flew the inaugural flight from Ensbury Park in 1919

In 1919 the RAF moved out and the aerodrome became civilian, an event marked with an inaugural flight by an ex-RFC Handley Page bomber (0/400 D8350) with one of the war’s legendary fighter pilots , Lt Col William Sholto Douglas, at the controls. Douglas was famous for his fierce dog-fights with the enemy, including an intense plane-to-plane battle with Hermann Goering over France. He was in Bournemouth in his role of a Handley Page test pilot but would later rejoin the RAF, rising to head of Fighter Command shortly after the Battle of Britain.
So, while action in the skies was a familiar sight in Bournemouth, the town remained divided over Etches’ flying circus-cum-racetrack plans. Undeterred, he acquired the RAF site and finally found support and funding for the stadium, which lay roughly where Leybourne Avenue sits now. Air services were established and occasional air shows were staged. In the early 1920s the racecourse with two grandstands and stabling for 100 horses was finally built by McAlpine at a cost of about £100,000. Suddenly Fred Etches was manager of the Ensbury Park Racecourse Company and the first horse-race meeting in 1925 was a runaway success, attracting a crowd of 12,000 on the opening day.

The start of the April 1927 Killjoy Trophy race at Ensbury Park

The Ensbury Park course was owned by Etches along with a syndicate of entrepreneurs, one of whom was Sir Henry John ‘Jock’ Delves Broughton, after whom Broughton Avenue is named. A controversial figure, he was subsequently tried for murder in Happy Valley, Kenya in 1941. It was alleged that the baronet shot dead the Earl of Erroll, who had been having an affair with Brougton’s wife. Broughton was acquitted through lack of evidence and a dispute over the gun used. In the film White Mischief, based on the story, Broughton was played by Joss Ackland.
For a while, race meetings at the two-mile, figure-of-eight course became the place to be seen and it was tipped to become ‘the Ascot of the South’, but an overwhelming lack of enthusiasm for betting, combined with high ticket and transport prices, resulted in the horse-racing lasting just eleven months. Etches wasn’t fazed. He had always intended the place to be an arena for showcasing the era’s flight developments and, despite continued protests from the churchmen, the first public air-race meeting was held in August 1926, with townsfolk witnessing for the first time aircraft tearing at high speed along a course marked by pylons. It was foolhardy by today’s standards, but these were the heady embryonic days of flight and nothing could stop the daredevil pilots.

The frankly terrifying spectacle of air racing just feet above a National Hunt steeplechase course

The initial meeting, the ‘Bournemouth Summer Aviation Race’, took place over the August bank holiday weekend. Entry to each of the eight events cost ten shillings, with prize money topping £100 for the main event, the Bournemouth Summer Handicap. There were races with turning points over Kinson Farm and Parley Green and it was not the magnificent men in their flying machines but a local farmer who stole the headlines on the historic first day. His name was Trelawney Reed and he was so incensed by the infernal contraptions buzzing over his land and unsettling his herd, not to mention his poorly mother, that he let off both barrels of his shotgun at a low-flying biplane, narrowly missing the pilot, who was on his honeymoon.
Reed was arrested and taken to court, where he told the magistrate that the planes flew so low they took the heads off his red-hot pokers. Reed was supported in court by his friend, the celebrated artist Augustus John, who lived a few miles away at Alderney Manor. His testimony obviously held some weight as the farmer was found not guilty and discharged. The Bournemouth Times & Directory correspondent opined that, ‘Whilst shooting at planes is to be deprecated…any vulgar-minded aeronaut is now suffered to fly his noisy, menacing machine over the town.’ It may have had nothing to do with the noise and the menace, but a short time later Augustus John moved to Fordingbridge.

Major L P Openshaw's Westland Widgeon passes in front of the Ensbury Park grandstand, just moments before he was fatally injured crashing into another plane on 6 June 1927

Not surprisingly, the races brought a string of accidents and while Reed’s shotgun failed to take down the maverick airman on that particular show day, the dangers of racing planes were brought home during the third meeting, at Whitsun 1927, an event that was to be the swansong of racing in the town. It began badly on the first morning of 4 June when a DH37, G-EBDO, piloted by Major H Hemming, hit the scoreboard on take-off and crashed into the enclosures. The pilot was severely injured and the passenger, Mr St John-Plevins, died. Astonishingly, the event went ahead, but there was more tragedy to come on 6 June when two planes collided near West Parley, killing both pilots. Ironically, one was the same pilot who had been previously shot at by Trelawney Reed.
This meeting was the largest of its kind ever to have been held in Britain, but the tragedies spelled the end for Ensbury Park Racecourse Ltd and it went into liquidation the following year. By 1930 all racing – plane, horse or otherwise – had ended and within two years much of the land was a housing development new roads built included Leybourne Road and Western Avenue, upon which the main grandstand had once proudly stood. The last part of the old racecourse was built over near Gillam Road and a new road was created. Its name? Etches Close.


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