A Brief History of Shoreham Aviation
A Brief Aviation History of Shoreham. Prologue- The Aeronauts Balloon Years
A Brief History of Aviation in Shoreham: Prologue- The Aeronauts Balloon Years.
Swiss Gardens, Shoreham. 1876
Any aviation history of Shoreham should hardly ignore the first attempts at flight by ‘lighter than air’ machines, otherwise known as hot air balloons. Quite by accident, while researching the history of ‘heavier than air’ machines, I came across old news articles which told the story of intrepid Aeronauts from a much earlier era, beginning with a cross channel flight no less. After digging a little deeper, I found these fascinating stories which take our aviation history back another 60 years to 1850, with a certain George Burcher Gale, and various flights in between. The Swiss Gardens, where the Swiss Cottage pub now stands, were the starting point for these adventures, advertised as part of the entertainments bill provided by the hosts.
Below are the articles from the time:-
Swiss Gardens, Shoreham, to Dieppe. Cross channel balloon trip, Monday 8th July 1850
News report from the:-
Brighton Gazette- Thursday 11 July 1850
‘A vast concourse of persons were attracted to the Swiss gardens on Monday evening by an announcement that Lieutenant Gale, R.N., would ascend in his balloon from the Gardens. The balloon, which was inflated with gas at the Hove Gas Works early on Monday morning, was taken down by hand, upwards of a hundred persons being engaged in its removal to the Gardens, where it remained for inspection till 7 o’clock, the time appointed for its ascent. When fully inflated it is about 90 feet in height, and 50 feet in diameter. Lieutenant Gale began to make arrangements for his ascent soon after 6 o’clock; and one or two persons expressed a desire to accompany him in his perilous voyage, for perilous it was deemed by many, inasmuch as from the state of the wind there was every prospect that the balloon must be taken out to sea, but Lieutenant Gale peremptorily refused the request.
Having made all ready for starting, he entered his wicker car, which was capable of holding several persons, and precisely at 7 o’clock, he desired the parties in attendance to loosen all the ropes but one. This was done and the balloon ascended a few feet. Having made an adjustment of the ballast, he ordered that the only remaining rope should be let loose; and in a few minutes he rose to a height of about 50 feet, in a slow but majestic manner, the spectators loudly applauding the feat and the band playing an air. He ascended almost perpendicularly, and when at an altitude of about 100 feet, the band having ceased playing and the people huzzaing, he leant over his basket and desired the assemblage to renew their cheers and the band to continue playing, which they did.
The balloon then took a westerly direction for a few hundred yards, and then appeared as if it would pass over Brighton; but of a sudden, it crossed the western branch of the harbour, and a current of air took the balloon and the intrepid aeronaut out to sea. In less than an hour the balloon travelled at least 12 miles, proceeding in the direction of Dieppe. When off Brighton the balloon had attained an immense height. Thousands of persons lined the cliffs, watching the object till it was out of sight, and all sorts of conjectures were hazarded as to the destination of the balloon. Some were of the opinion that he would go to Dieppe, whilst others believed that he would be taken to Boulogne or Calais, that is if he ever succeeded in reaching terra firma again. Nothing satisfactory was heard of the aeronaut during the whole of Tuesday; but yesterday morning a report reached Brighton that he had landed in safety a few miles west of Dieppe.’
George Burcher Gale had a far from ordinary life, and was deemed worthy of a mention in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, here is the first part of his entry:-
Gale, George (1797?-1850), aeronaut, was, according to the register of his burial, born about 1797. He was originally an actor in small parts in London minor theatres. He became a favourite of Andrew Ducrow [q.v] In 1831 he went to America, and played Mazeppa for 200 nights at the Bowery Theatre in New York. He afterwards travelled in the west and joined a tribe of Indians. He brought 6 of them, with their chief, ‘Ma Caust’, to London, and was scarcely distinguishable from his companions. They were exhibited at the Victoria Theatre till their popularity declined. Sir Augustus Fredrerick D’Este [q.v] had become interested in them, and procured Gale an appointment as coast blockade inspector in the north of Ireland. On the strength of this appointment, which he held for seven years, he afterwards assumed the title of Lieutenant. Tiring of this he made an unsuccessful attempt to return to the London stage, and then took to ballooning.
George Gale wrote to the newspapers to give his own account of his successful channel crossing from Shoreham:-
Brighton Gazette, Thursday 18th July, 1850.
THE LATE BALLOON TRIP ACROSS THE CHANNEL
Our last number contained a brief announcement of the night trip of Lieutenant Gale from Shoreham to France in a balloon. Subjoined are fuller details of the voyage, from the pen of the Aeronaut himself:-
“TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA”
“Sir,- As an account of an extraordinary aeronautic trip across the British Channel from Shoreham to Normandy, in France, may be interesting to your numerous readers, I beg respectfully to furnish you with the following details connected with this, the first successful balloon trip across the widest part of the English Channel:-
“At three o’ clock on Monday morning I was at Hove Gas Works, near Brighton, to superintend the inflation of the Royal Cremorne Balloon. The inflation was completed, the balloon was removed from Hove to the Shoreham and Brighton Railway, where the car was placed upon a truck and drawn to Shoreham, a distance of about 6 miles, and was safely secured in the Swiss Gardens, which were numerously attended by a respectable class of sightseers. At 7 o’clock p.m, I ascended alone; the wind setting seaward (N.N.W), so I declined taking anyone with me, (although my young friend Mr Arthur Goulston, was anxious to share the perils of this most novel trip.)
On rising, the broad expanse of the ocean was immediately presented to my view. In less than two minutes I found myself sailing above the waters, with numerous small craft, their white sails fluttering in the wind, and evidently preparing to run a marine steeple chase after the balloon probably imagining that I descend a short distance from the shore; but I had no such intention. On I went, keeping the shore of England full in view, and after some time I came abreast of Beachy Head, which was the last land I saw. The “shades of evening” began to spread around, and the shore gradually faded from my view. I caused the balloon to descend to within about 200 feet from the water, in order to make my observations as to the rate of speed the balloon was proceeding at.
At this juncture I hailed a schooner and a brig, apparently making up channel. I could hear voices, but could not distinctly hear what they said; however, I felt full confidence in the balloon, and rose to a greater elevation. Having discharged a little more ballast than was absolutely necessary, I found the balloon rapidly ascending. I had previously lost sight of the land; I now lost sight of the water, and the vessels I had seen floating on its surface. Now commenced a series of strange phenomena. The clouds were gathering around me, the stars were brightly breaking forth, and to the northward appeared dull, hazy streaks of light, which gradually diminished until they assumed an appearance similar to the sun, as seen on a winter’s day through a misty fog, and from the same quarter I perceived, at intervals, vivid flashes of sheet lightning.
My altitude now was about 3 miles, the air intensely cold, and as I had risen early in the morning, and had undergone considerable fatigue, I felt a strong inclination to sleep, and found myself dozing over the edge of the car; but I shook off this tendency to drowsiness, and brought the balloon by releasing some gas, to a lower altitude, before doing which, I looked around me on the gathering clouds, and the grandeur of this scene it is impossible to describe, the clouds around, the stars above, appearing larger than they do to beings on the earth. I noticed Ursa Major and the pointers, as also the well-known North Star. Turning my eyes below, was one vast abyss, to which I was gradually descending. I passed through the clouds; the stars were now obscured, and all around was darkness.
I began to hear the rippling of the waves, and saw the white foam of their curling heads. My grapnel presently made a splash in the water, and this reminded me that I must instantly discharge some ballast; I did so, and the balloon sailed majestically along, the grapnel occasionally touching the surface of the water; the length of the cable is 120 feet, so I knew my altitude. Presently I saw a light, which at this period was very cheering, as I was aware that I must be near the land; but I again lost sight of it and this rather dashed my spirits. In a minute or two I again saw the light, and then I discovered that it was a revolving light, and that instead of going towards it I was passing it. I kept the light in view for about an hour and a half, observing the course of the balloon by the trail of the grapnel on the surface of the water. I looked forward through the pitchy darkness endeavouring to descry some object, but all was blank save the light revolving.
Shortly after this I caught the sound of breakers, and in less time than I can describe the grapnel dashed on a rock, giving the balloon a shock, and a second time it struck, again a third, when it seemed to take a fast hold, and the car came to the ground above the surf, having passed over a ledge of rocks without touching the water. I now found myself securely landed under some high and precipitous cliffs, and my first object was to discharge the gas and place my balloon, as well as one pair of hands could do it, in safety. Of course this occupied me a considerable time, and it was 7 o’clock when I started from Shoreham, and 12 when I landed on the shores of France, having traversed over an expanse of ocean of about 100 miles.
Having, as I stated, secured the balloon, the next object was to seek assistance. I gazed above at the cliffs, and on each side of me, doubtful which course to take; I looked East and West, and chose the East, from a peculiar light on the horizon. I must have travelled over a stony beach a distance which I found after to be 6 miles. At length I saw a house at the end of a cliff on a slope on the beach, to which I proceeded; a middle-aged female, in a strange garb, was just opening the door. She appeared much alarmed, and talked rapidly in French. My first request was for water, which she supplied me with. I drank, I think, nearly a quart, and observing this, she asked me if I would take some brandy, which I gladly accepted. She also offered me bread, which I declined, from my inability to swallow it, my throat being so sorely parched with thirst.
While partaking of the brandy the woman gave a signal by shouting, and presently a man with a large moustache came, dressed half in uniform, and demanded my papers. I told him, as well as I could, that I had none, save a copy of the Era newspaper, which I showed him, and that I had descended in a balloon. Upon which he went to the door and called aloud, and five other men came armed. I heard the first man distinctly tell the others that he had arrested a conspirator from Boulogne. It was in vain I expostulated with them, and endeavoured to explain the means and cause of my being there. They unbuttoned my coat, and found I had around my waist the Union Jack of Great Britain, which I had secured to my person in order that it might lead to my recognition in case of accident.
I requested to be taken to some higher authority. After some delay I was marched about 3 miles further in to the town of Creal. I now found that I was in the province of Normandy in France, 14 miles from Dieppe and Treport. The Mayor of Creal perceived that I was very much exhausted from fatigue, and very hospitably set some excellent wine and bread and butter before me. I requested to be taken to the British Conul, which the Mayor, and a Donique, in uniform and armed, sat behind me; the distance I had to go was about 14 miles to Dieppe. We stopped at several houses on the road, where the Mayor explained to the people that I had come in a balloon from England, which they appeared to doubt; however, at every place they gave me wine and offered food.
Arrived in Dieppe, I proceeded to the British Consul, Mr Chapman, who, after an explanation, released me from custody; I then had time to look to the further safety of my balloon, and Mr D.L. Chapman, the brother of the Consul and a respectable shipping agent in Dieppe, took an interest in my case, and furnished me with money and advice. The following morning (Wednesday), at 9 o’clock, I took my departure from Dieppe for England, on board the Magician steamer, of London, belonging to the General Steam Navigation Company. I must now beg to return my thanks to Mr Chapman, the Consul, to his brother, Mr D.L. Chapman, to the Mayor of Creal, and to all parties concerned, for, although being arrested, I know they did not overstep their duty, although it put me to considerable inconvenience.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
“George B. Gale, Aeronaut. 24, mansion House Street, Kennington.”
Having heard of the exploits of Eugene Poitevin in France, taking a horse up with him in his balloon to heighten the excitement for the watching crowds, it appears the entertainer in Gale decided to add this trick to his own repertoire, with a sadly unfortunate result, and a lesson that future pilots would learn to their cost, locals will rarely have the necessary knowledge to properly handle these new but potentially dangerous machines:-
The balloon ascent of Poitevin and his horse from the Champ-de-Mars, July 14, 1850, Paris, France, illustration from L’Illustration, Journal Universel… " data-medium-file="https://wolfeeboy.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/poitevin-horse-balloon-1850-too.jpg?w=231" data-large-file="https://wolfeeboy.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/poitevin-horse-balloon-1850-too.jpg?w=450" class="size-medium wp-image-2227" src="https://wolfeeboy.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/poitevin-horse-balloon-1850-too.jpg?w=231&h=300" alt="" width="231" height="300" srcset="https://wolfeeboy.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/poitevin-horse-balloon-1850-too.jpg?w=231&h=300 231w, https://wolfeeboy.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/poitevin-horse-balloon-1850-too.jpg?w=462&h=600 462w, https://wolfeeboy.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/poitevin-horse-balloon-1850-too.jpg?w=115&h=150 115w" sizes="(max-width: 231px) 100vw, 231px" style="max-width: 98%; height: auto; border-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" />
The balloon ascent of Poitevin and his horse from the Champ-de-Mars, July 14, 1850, Paris, France, illustration from L’Illustration, Journal Universel…
Hertford Mercury and Reformer- Saturday 21 September 1850
Fatal Accident To Lieut. Gale The Aeronaut
‘The Times has the following:- “It is our melancholy province to record the death by accident of Lieut. Gale, the intrepid aeronaut, who, as our readers will remember, crossed the channel some weeks ago in his balloon from the Swiss Gardens, Shoreham. He made several ascents subsequently from the hippodrome at paris, and was led, by the great success which attended M. Poitevin’s exhibitions on horseback, to adopt that novel mode of riding through the air to heighten the excitement of his spectators at Bordeaux.
For this purpose he bought a pony of 2 years old, which had never before been mounted, and in 2 days broke him in to the part he had to perform. So immense a crowd as assembled on Sunday week had never before been seen at Vincennes. At 6 o’clock all Bordeaux was deserted, and several neighbouring villages poured in their contingent of visitors. During the delay in inflating the balloon the pony, gaily saddled and bridled, was paraded round the hippodrome, and caressed by the curious spectators. The little animal suffered himself to be girthed without the least resistance, Lieutenant Gale mounting, with the bridle in one hand, and saluting the crowd with the other, was borne rapidly up into the air. The balloon impelled by a steady wind from the north-west, mounted to a great height, taking the direction of the Lande of Pessac.
Lieutenant Gale had already thrown out his grapnel, which took fast hold in a pine, and the descent seemed on the point of being effected in complete safety, when the peasants who ran to his assistance, after releasing the pony, let go the cords before Lieut. Gale had disengaged himself. The balloon instantly rushing up with immense force, carried with it the unfortunate aeronaut, who clung on to a rope. The branch of the pine to which the grapnel was fastened was torn off by the violence of the shock, and away went the machine mounting to the clouds with the unhappy man. It seems he succeeded in seizing the cord attached to the valve for letting off the gas; for after about a quarter of an hour the balloon was observed to descend, and hopes were entertained that the aeronaut might have escaped the destruction that seemed imminent.
On the next morning, however, the discovery of the balloon half inflated, amidst one of those forests of pines, which stretch over the sandy Lands, left little doubt as to the fatal accident which had befallen its owner. After a long search, a body, identified as Lieut. Gale’s, was found at some distance among the trees. The unfortunate man has left a widow and eight children.’
17 years later, George’s son, Thomas Gale, decided he was going to try a channel crossing to emulate his father’s effort in 1850, departing from the same venue, Swiss Gardens, Shoreham. Explaining the proposed journey and mode of travel, the Cheltenham Chronicle writes:-
Tuesday 8th October 1867
Mr Thomas gale, aeronaut, is preparing to cross the English Channel in a balloon. He has had a balloon and car made specially to meet the contingency of a fall into the sea. He intends to start from Shoreham, on the 10th October, and under the very best circumstances he must travel 84 miles before reaching France. If the wind should be E.N.E, or E.S.E, Mr Gale considers that it would be absolutely necessary to lower the balloon in order that the car may descend into the water, and prevent the balloon and car being carried into the Atlantic ocean.
The very nature of balloon flying, and its reliance on the natural elements, not least the direction of the wind, meant things didn’t always go according to plan, and such was the case with Thomas Gale’s attempt to cross the English Channel, but he had promised the spectators they would see a flight, and the Sussex Advertiser covered the event in its issue dated:-
Saturday 19 October 1867
The Balloon Ascent From The Swiss Gardens-
Mr Gale, aeronaut, kept his word with the public, that he would make his ascent on Wednesday, under any circumstances; but , owing to the very unfavourable state of the weather, a heavy shower of rain descending at the time, condensing the gas very rapidly, he did not proceed more than a mile and a half, in an easterly direction, and alighted safely in a sheep field at Kingston.
Thomas Gale went to Australia soon after, where he made some famous balloon ascents over Sydney in 1870/71.
Thursday 5th July 1877, Captain Youens made an ascent from Shoreham’s Swiss Gardens with a crowd of 2000 in attendance. Excerpts which follow are from the Brighton Herald of Saturday 7th July 1877
THE GRAND BALLOON ASCENT AT THE SWISS GARDENS
Thursday last must be registered as a red letter day in the annals of the Swiss gardens. The grand balloon ascent, by Captain Youens, as arranged for on that day by the spirited proprietors, the Messrs. Mellison, proved to be a success in every respect.
Further on it states:-
The 2000 odd spectators assembled were treated to a sight to be remembered, and which, there is no doubt, will be repeated at an early date.
Describing the scene that greeted the arriving crowds, they report:-
The ascent took place a little later than was at first arranged; but the preliminaries afforded such an interesting and novel spectacle that this was little thought of, and therefore, -as it kept the curiosity of the spectators completely occupied,- maybe regarded as an advantage! The ascent was to be from the eastern lawn; and entering the Gardens at about 6 0’clock, the visitor, on reaching the lawn, saw in the centre of a roped enclosure a huge excrescence, shaped like a “shepherd’s stone”, or half an orange- of brownish hue, with darker bands running from the base to the apex, and on the sides of which were painted in large letters “Champion”. On closed inspection, this excrescence, – which proved to be the balloon in course of inflation,- was seen to be entirely quilted by cords, in diamonds, while round it, on the ground, attached to these cords, were ranged some 40 or 50 bags, containing wet sand, and each weighing about 20 lbs., for the purpose of steadying it and holding it down during inflation.
After a traumatic journey, which nearly saw them taken by the air currents, unwillingly out to sea, Captain Youens and his reporter passenger, Mr Wood, managed to bring themselves down over Poynings. The Brighton Herald article describes their eventual descent:-
In 17 minutes the aeronauts found themselves over Poynings, and determined there to return to mother earth, the weather being now very threatening. The grappling irons were thrown out, which, laying hold on the ground, somewhat checked the speed of the balloon. A hedge was next laid hold of by the irons, but for a moment; part of the thicket was torn away, and, the car sustaining an unexpected jerk, Mr Wood was well-nigh pitched out, and Captain Youens lost a valuable aneroid barometer, which, it is hoped, will be returned to the owner. Immediately after the car lodged in another hedge, and fortunately, several persons being at hand, every assistance was afforded. The voyagers learned that they were upon the land of Mr Martin Robinson, of Seddlescombe, who, after the gas in the balloon had been allowed to escape and it had been packed in the car, entertained the travellers most hospitably. They had been in mid air about 17 minutes, and during that time must have covered 17 miles- a journey whose termination, Captain Youens said, was among the worst without accident which he had yet experienced.
Moving on to the 20th century, there was a flutter of interest when a certain famous explorer, Captain Scott, landed in a balloon on the Southdown Golf Club on the Sussex Downs at Shoreham. The Brighton Gazette had it covered:-
Saturday 3rd July 1909
About 6 o’clock on Thursday evening golfers on the links of the Southdown Golf Club at Shoreham-by-Sea were surprised by a balloon which descended on the course. It turned out to be a pleasure party from the Crystal Palace, including Professor Huntingdon, Captain Scott of the “Discovery”, Dr Nathan, and Mr. Nathan. They had ascended from the Crystal Palace at half-past 3 that afternoon, and after a fair voyage put into “port” at Shoreham without mishap. The balloon was quickly packed up, and the party left Shoreham by the 7.16p.m. train.
Part One:- Harold Hume Piffard
While trawling the car boot sales last year, I stumbled upon an old book, 'The History of British Aviation 1908-1914', by R. Dallas Brett, 1933. As with so many of my car boot, book acquisitions, it took a while before I picked it up and had a decent nose through. When I did though, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many times our local airport was mentioned, and this inspired me to delve deeper in to Shoreham's aviation history, beginning with its very own pioneer, H.H. Piffard. I hope any local history, or aviation enthusiasts will enjoy reading the results of my research. Here is the first part:-
Aviation inventor and artist, Harold Hume Piffard was born at 33 Blandford Square, Marylebone, London, on 10th August 1867, to Charles Piffard, a barrister at law who became ‘Clerk of the Crown’ at the High Court of Calcutta, and Emily Hume. Harold’s two eldest brothers, Hamilton, (1862), and Reginald, (1863), had both been born in Calcutta, while he and his other brother, Lawrence, (1865) were both registered as having been born in Marylebone, London. Harold’s first introduction to the Adur Valley came when he followed his elder brother, Lawrence, and started at Lancing College School House in 1877. He was given the nickname, ‘Piff’, by his friends, and made a name for being a bit of a jester. According to Lancing College archivist, Janet Pennington:-
‘On Sunday afternoons, a train passed over the railway bridge near Beeding Cement Works, when Piffard apparently often took the opportunity to ‘execute a war dance – in puris naturalibus – in front of the engine, and then drop into the river through a hole in the track.’
‘Keen on dramatics, (obviously) at the age of 12 he absented himself from Lancing one winter Sunday afternoon and walked to London, arriving on the Tuesday. He tried all the theatres and music halls, unsuccessfully seeking employment. He slept on the Embankment for several nights before returning to face the wrath of the Head Master, the Revd. R. E. Sanderson.’
‘On leaving Lancing in 1883, Piffard returned to India and was employed on a Darjeeling tea plantation for a while.’
Harold Piffard was to become a successful artist, exhibiting 4 paintings at the Royal Academy from 1895 to 1899. At the 1895 exhibition, held between 6th May and 5th August, his first exhibit was number 881, ‘The Last of the Garrison’, in 1897, number 527, ‘The Last Review: Napoleon at St Helena in 1820, watching the children of General Bertrand playing at soldiers’. At the 1899 Royal Academy exhibition, Piffard had two entries, lot 64- Saragossa: 10 February 1809’, and lot 956- ‘The Execution of the Duc d’Enghien’. He is listed as having two addresses in the Royal Academy Exhibitors catalogue:- 29 Cambridge Avenue, Maida Vale, London, and 18 Addison road, Bedford Park, London.
His brother, Hamilton Piffard, was a successful actor touring Britain, receiving warm praise from the newspapers of the time, and also confusing this researcher for a while in to believing it was Harold, with yet another string to his already impressive bow. It took a while before an article eventually gave the full name rather than initialled ‘H.Piffard’, and the penny dropped.
Following the recognition of his obvious talent at the 1895 exhibition, Harold married Helena Katherina Docetti Walker on the 1st June 1895 at St John’s church, Dundee. Together they had four children, Harold (b 1896), Dorothy (b 1898), Ivan (b 1899), and Grahame (b 1900). It would seem the last child must have had complications at birth, as Helena died 27th November that same year, and Grahame died 12th Feb 1901, aged just 3 months.
Harold had also become a renowned illustrator of adventure books for boys, among which were:-
‘The City of Gold’ by E Markwick 1895
‘Sybil Falcon’ by E. Jepson 1895
‘Zoraida. A Tale of Arab Romance’, by William Le Queux 1895
‘Yerut the Dwarf’ by Max Pemberton 1897
‘Living London’, March 1903
‘The Boys Book of Battles’, Dec 1902
‘Victory Adventure Book’, compilation edited by Herbert Hayens. 1916
Was it coincidence perhaps, that in the Victory Adventure Book, the previous story to ‘A Terrible Night’, which Piff illustrated, was ‘How an Aeroplane Flies’, written by Claude Grahame-White, another pilot strongly associated with Shoreham Airport, from around the same time as Piff was trying out his hydroplane at Bungalow Town in the summer of 1911.
On the 8th January 1902, Harold married Eleanor Margaret Hoile (b 1871) at the Chapel Royal of Scotland, Edinburgh, and on the 28thJuly 1905, they had a son, Hume Piffard, at 178 High street, Aberdeen, Harold’s occupation:- ‘Artist (portraiture)’
Sometime during the first decade of the 1900’s, he became interested in designing and constructing model aeroplanes at his studio in Ealing, with a friend, Barbara O’Manning, one of his students, (possibly the Barbara Blank mentioned in later photographs of Piffard’s experimental aircraft designs at Shoreham).
In April of 1907, models of aeroplanes and flying machines caught the imagination of visitors to Cordingley’s Motor Show and Aero Club Display at the Agricultural Hall, Islington, London. Of all the competitors only two attained anything close to success, A.V. Roe and F.W.Howard, who were streets ahead of their rivals. Mr Howard’s glider, the screw driven by a coiled spring, went over 70 ft, while A.V. Roe’s Aeroplane flew the distance into the safety net ninety feet away. Harold Piffard’s model was recorded as having bent its propeller on the first attempt.
The Wright brothers exploits were the talk of the town following the announcement of their first controlled, sustained flight on the 17thDecember 1903, near Kitty hawk, North Carolina. It’s not unreasonable to believe this may have helped to inspire Piffard’s aerial hobby, winning a bronze medal for one of his glider models in March 1909. Having decided to build and learn to fly a full-size aeroplane, he built it at his studio and transported it in sections to Hanger Hill, North Ealing. Unfortunately, after flying just a short distance, it was destroyed on the ground during an overnight storm. Not to be put off by this misfortune, Harold determined to construct another aeroplane, with a small band of fellow amateurs to assist, learning on the hoof, as all the early aviators had to do. Remembering from his time at Lancing College in the Adur valley, the expanse of flat land to the south of the college, north of the London Brighton & South Coast railway line, and to the west of the River Adur, Piffard realised that this would be the perfect place to continue his aerial experiments.
It was reported in the Bexhill-On-Sea Observer, Saturday 16th Oct 1909, that:-
‘A proposal is in the air for the establishing of an International ground for Aviation purposes at Shoreham’
This was the first mention I had found of a potential aerodrome, (or proposal for one at least), at Shoreham.
An early ‘star’ of aviation, was Monsieur Louis Paulhan, one of a number of world leading French flyers, and he was to be recognised, along with some noted British aeronauts of the time, by a dinner in their honour, among them, a certain H.Piffard. The Morning Post, Thursday 4th November 1909 reports:-
‘M. Louis Paulhan, who made such excellent flights on his Farman biplane “Le Gypaete” at Brooklands last week, has been engaged to fly at Sandown racecourse on Friday and Saturday next, when he will make attempts on the records for duration and height. M. Paulhan has inspected the racecourse, and expressed the opinion that it is suitable in every way as a flying ground. His aeroplane left Brooklands for Esher yesterday. The following distinguished aviators will be the guests of the New Vagabond Club at the opening dinner on the 15th inst. Mr G.T.C. Moore-Brabazon, Mr. Harold Piffard, the Hon. C. Rolls, M. Latham, M. Paulhan, and M. Delagrange.’
Louis Paulhan on his Farman biplane, “Le Gypaete” at Blackpool 1909
In Flight magazine of 28th May 1910, a picture of his latest aerial invention is shown:-
The Lancing College Magazine of May 1910 reported that Piffard was:-
‘…the first aviator to have made use of the Shoreham Aerodrome and we have been much interested in watching his ‘wheeling’ flights round the field. He lunched in Hall on May 8th …Rumour suggests that he will alight on Upper Quad and demand a ‘half’ ere long.’ (The latter was no doubt a hoped-for half day holiday rather than a half pint of beer). LCM June 1910 notes that, ‘Piffard…came sadly to grief towards the end of May…none of the aviator’s bones were broken and we understand that his courage is still unshaken.’
Piffard had apparently joined solicitor George Wingfield and established The Aviators’ Finance Co. Ltd., leasing the land next to New Salts Farm, Shoreham, with a view to creating a permanent flying ground. They built a hangar, (or shed as they called it then) for his aircraft that Piff had named Hummingbird, and achieved a few short hops, which were enough to capture the attention of a pub landlord, whose hostelry was off the road north of the airfield. One of Piff’s helpers, E.M.Sutton, recalls in a 1968 issue of Sussex Life Magazine:-
‘It is difficult to realise nowadays, the incredibility which the majority of people held in regard to mechanical flight. For instance, there was the landlord of an inn (Alfred Evans of the Sussex Pad Inn) situated at the farther end of the field where the aeroplane was housed in its shed. He was one of those who thought that, to try to fly like a bird was “against Nature”. After inspecting the machine in its shed he turned to ‘Piff’ and said, “If you ever fly the length of this field, walk in to my pub and I’ll give you a crate of champagne”
This exciting activity could hardly have failed to capture the attention of pupils and masters alike at Lancing College, resulting in the Head Master, the Revd. Henry Thomas Bowlby, inviting their former pupil, now aged 43, for a special dinner at the College in honour of his achievement. This would have had an inspiring effect no doubt on any aspiring aviators at the college.
After this initial success came many more flights, and no shortage of accidents to go with them, Piff sustaining various injuries which included being knocked unconscious, having stitches to a gashed leg, and doubtless, numerous bruises. In the September 10th 1910 issue of Flight magazine, it reports:-
‘Mr H. Piffard at Shoreham.
As a result of solid perseverance and experiments, Mr Piffard is now starting practical work in earnest, and last week was making some satisfactory essays over a half-mile stretch with his bi-plane.’
(The above picture shows Piffard flying the Hummingbird across Shoreham Aerodrome in 1910. You can see the 'shed' they had built in the background, the east to west running L.B.S.C railway is behind that.)
With the summer of 1910 over, sadly, in October 1910, Piffard crashed again, this time leaving his flying machine broken beyond repair. Leaving the Hummingbird stored in its shed, he returned to his studio in London, and set about designing an aeroplane which could take off from water.
A Brief History of Aviation at Shoreham. Part Two
Harold Piffard and friends with his own designed and built hydroplane at Bungalow Town, Summer of 1911
In the summer of 1911 Piff was back in Shoreham, but this time he used a large shed on the shingle peninsula known as ‘Bungalow Town’, on the beach front, near Ferry road. Thanks to fellow local history enthusiasts, Howard Porter and Roger Bateman, the bungalow has been identified as 'Palghar', and the shed they used to house his hydroplane, was the old Lifeboat.
Piff's next designs were forerunners of the seaplane, but the challenge now was to be able to ‘unstick’ from the sea. Flight magazine of 22ndJuly 1911 reports:-
‘Hydro-Aeroplane at Shoreham.
Mr Harold Piffard, who last year experimented at the Shoreham Aerodrome with an aeroplane, has now had another machine built, and this is fitted with airbags so that the experiments may be made over water. On Saturday evening Mr Piffard had it out on the sea at Shoreham for the first time, and although no flight was attempted, six people took their place on the machine and successfully tested its buoyancy. Motive power is provided by a 40-h.p. E.N.V. engine’
Piff, at the front, wearing the Boater hat, on Bungalow Town beach (Shoreham) with the latest hydroplane design. Summer 1911
A month later, Flight magazine of 19th August 1911 writes:-
‘Mr Piffard’s Hydroplane Capsizes.
After making one or two alterations to it, Mr Piffard had his hydroplane taken down to the sea at Shoreham on the 8th inst. Almost as soon as it was launched however, it capsized; but this was an emergency for which Mr Piffard and his assistants were well prepared, as they are all expert swimmers, and they soon had the machine ashore.’
Before Piff and his band of friends returned to carry on their hydroplane trials at Bungalow Town, on Shoreham beach, the nascent Shoreham Aerodrome had already become ever more popular with the British flying fraternity, with a number of aviators making it their base. 1911 was also turning out to be a ground breaking year for British aviation.
One of Harold Piffard’s hydroplane designs capsizes at Bungalow Town, Shoreham. August 1911
Earlier in 1911:-
Brooklands to Brighton Flight, Harry Preston get a Memento, 14th Feb
The Northern Daily Mail reported on Thursday 15th Feb, 1911, that Oscar Colin Morison flew his Blériot monoplane from Brooklands to Brighton, a distance of 40 miles, in 65 minutes the day previously. The flight would have been quicker had Morison not gone via Worthing, although he insisted, “there was not a hitch throughout the journey”. He had only intended to fly to Cobham, but as the weather was so fine, on arrival he phoned up Harry Preston,(owner of the Royal York, and Royal Albion, hotels), to let him know he would be landing in front of the Royal Albion that afternoon. Descending on to the beach between the Palace, and West Piers, he mistook the pebbles for sand, and his plane crumpled under him on landing, damaging the undercarriage and prop. No injury was incurred, but Harry ended up with the broken propeller hung up in his hotel smoking room as a memento of the landmark occasion. A reporter on the spot informed Morison that, “you are the first aviator to drop down on Brighton beach”, to which he replied, “So I am told. I have no particular impressions about the flight except that it has been a jolly fine trip” .
In Harry Preston’s book, ‘Leaves From My Unwritten Diary’ 1936, page 79, he recalls:-
“In my smoking room I have many air mementoes, among them a broken propeller. Oscar Morison gave it to me- he smashed it on Brighton beach, on an historic day in February, a quarter of a century ago, when he flew from Brooklands to Brighton”
“The intrepid aviator told me at luncheon at the Royal York that followed, that he would have made better time, only he had got off his line of flight. He was circling to land, when he noticed that there was only one pier, and he knew Brighton had two. “Wrong town,” said he, and flew along the shore line until he sighted a town with two piers. It was Worthing he had mistaken for Brighton. Air navigation was not quite what it is now’
This lunch at the Royal York had been quickly arranged by Harry as a member of the Sussex Motor Yacht Club, in Morison's honour. Afterwards they presented the aviator with a silver cigarette case in memory of his historic flight.
Oscar Morison flies from Brooklands to Brighton to see Harry Preston. Feb 15th 1911
The Daily Graphic, Wednesday 1st March 1911, writes about Morison's exploits, and his patronage of the new aerodrome at Shoreham:-
'Brighton for the past week has been entertaining her first visitor to arrive by air, in the person of O.C. Morison, who safely landed upon the beach at Kemptown after a surprise flight from Brooklands. The aviator is now stormbound, and his 50 h.p Gnome Bleriot is causing great interest among the visitors and residents who have inspected it in its temporary home in a local garage. When the present gale has blown itself out- and to judge by the "glass", this will not be for some days- the Bleriot will be wheeled along the front to Hove lawns, and from this spot Mr Morison intends to fly to Brighton and Hove's new aviation ground, where during the coming summer the town hopes to have the pleasure of receiving all the air's conquerors.'
O.C. Morison lands at Shoreham Aerodrome. March 1911
After repairs had been carried out, Morison took his Bleriot to Shoreham, on 7th March 1911 becoming the first aviator to fly in to the Aerodrome, from there, flying over to Lancing College at the invite of the Headmaster, Reverend Henry Thomas Bowlby. He put down on the College cricket field but the bowling green surface meant the plane hurried on a tad more than he expected, running the Bleriot in to a grass bank, breaking the elevator and thus rendering the machine temporarily inoperable. Morison put this opportunity to good use, showing the captive audience of schoolboys over the aeroplane, and the explaining the purpose of the controls. Given their former pupil, Piffard’s, exploits the year previous, a foundation of lasting aviation interest had surely now been cemented.
Bungalow Town resident, and regular columnist for 'The Daily News', John Frederick Macdonald, of number 2, Coronation bungalow, Beach Road, described the scene of Morison's arrival at Shoreham, giving a wonderful first hand account of not just how he saw it, but also a reporters eye view of how some of the other residents reacted to this novel event, for 'The Daily News', Tuesday 14th March 1911:-
'At eleven o’clock this morning I behold Shoreham-on-Sea, a simple and picturesque little town of three thousand inhabitants, in a state of excitement and delight. Out on their doorsteps come the trades people of the inevitable High Street, and, shading their eyes with their hands, they look eagerly upwards. More ardent interest in the skies on the part of the weatherbeaten old boatmen; still more rapturous gazing at the heavens from the maidens of Shoreham- and all kinds of incoherent exclamations from a group of small boys. “What,” I ask timidly one of the Shoreham maidens, “what is the matter?”, “we’re waiting for Mr. Morison”, excitedly replies the maiden- most radiant of blondes. “He’s left Brighton. He may arrive at any moment. He-“ , “Who is Mr. Morison”, I ask ignorantly. Then as the blonde regards me blankly- “I’m awfully sorry I don’t know Mr. Morison. In fact, it’s disgraceful of me. But I’m a stranger to these parts, and I’ve come here to lead the simple life, and-“
“That’s ‘im- no it’s not”, cries a boatman. “’Ere ‘e comes- no ‘e don’t”, shouts a small boy.
“You don’t know Mr. Morison?” exclaims the radiant blonde, with indignation. “Why we’ve been expecting him for five days. And I tell you he’s left Brighton at last. And I—“
“Here he is, here he is”, cries another maiden. “Coming along like mad”, declares a boatman. “Ooray”, yells a small boy. A whirring noise in the heavens. All eyes strained upwards. The whirring becoming stronger, almost thunderous. And over the narrow High Street of Shoreham, at a height of six or seven hundred feet, an aeroplane flies by. “That’s Mr. Morison”, gasps the blonde. And she and the other charming maidens, and a few of the tradepeople and a number of battered boatmen and, of course, all the small boys, run off down the High Street, and over the Norfolk Bridge, and along the high road that leads to the field in which Mr. Morison, the flying man and the idol of the South Coast, has descended.
It was an admirable flight. I am informed that Mr. Morison (who has travelled successfully from Brooklands to Brighton in his Bleriot machine) came over to Shoreham from the”Queen of the Watering Places”, a distance of six miles, at a speed of a mile a minute. Admirable, too, are the flights he made twenty four hours later—over Lancing College and over Bungalow Town, that colony of villas, chalets, and other strange miniature habitations formed out of abandoned old railway carriages, which has sprung up, quaintly, amazingly, to the number of three hundred on Shoreham Beach. So is Mr. Morison, most justifiably, Shoreham’s hero. So does Shoreham flock to the field and surround the shed, in which the aeroplane is housed. So does Shoreham proudly refer to the field as “OUR Aviation Ground”. So does Shoreham triumphantly allude to Mr. Morison as “OUR Flying Man”. And so—since Mr. Morison is stated to have declared himself satisfied with the field—so does Shoreham confidently announce that its fortune as a popular seaside resort is made.
“That’s what we wanted—a flying man, and I’m sure we’re most grateful to Mr. Morison for taking a fancy to our town”, a tradesman informs me. “With an aviation ground, and a flying man, there’s no reason Shoreham shouldn’t become a fashionable place. Flying, there’s nothing like it. Flying is what you London folk call the limit. Why, I can see Shoreham swelling and swelling in size, until Brighton and Worthing get green and yellow with envy and jealousy. To borrow another word from the Londoners, Shoreham is going to be IT”
In “The Brass Bell”
I cannot exactly imagine the “face” of Worthing and Brighton discoloured with jealousy; but I do know that I myself am envious of Mr. Morison’s popularity. A week ago I made quite a little sensation by appearing in High-street. I was a newcomer—and the old boatmen saluted me, and the small boys stared and gaped at me, and the blondes and brunettes gazed--O exquisite moment—curiously at me as I passed by. Gone, those attentions. Now I am a nobody; only Mr. Morison counts—and so how I wish I were Mr. Morison the idol of Shoreham! The fact is, one ought nowadays to be a flying man. Once it was splendid to be a Caruso, or George Alexander, or Wilkie Bard, or Sandow, or Prime Minister, or King; but the hero-worship of the hour is reserved for the gentlemen who fly—a throne up in the air excites infinitely more respect and enthusiasm than a throne in a palace. Is not simple Shoreham, since Mr. Morison’s coming, a new town? The whirring of the Bleriot has shaken it out of its slumber, frantically modernised it—rendered it ambitious, feverish, hectic, delirious. The very children now babble of aeroplanes. Old Joe the grocer, aged seventy, mumbles about aeronautics, as he searches for tins of sardines and packets of tea behind the counter. At the bakers, the “Standard” bread gossip has given was to aviation gossip. And one talks and talks of nothing but flying at the chemists, at the tobacconist’s, at the bootmaker’s, at--.
“Two Bass—one dry ginger—yes, now that flying ‘as come to Shoreham it’s going to make a powerful bit of difference”, states the landlord of “The Brass Bell”. “There was at least forty motors come over from Brighton today”, says a customer. “As many more from Worthing”, states another. “People will be coming from everywhere—just get flying and you get the money”, declares a third. But the landlord of the “Brass Bell” goes even further. He vows that simple Shoreham must be advertised—“you know, great big posters in the railway stations, on the ‘oardings, in the papers; pictures of a bloke flying, with the sky painted all blue, and words written underneath it like this—‘Shoreham for Flying. Shoreham and Air. Shoreham the ‘ome of Aviation and the Centre of ‘appiness and ‘ealth. Shoreham for the English’ “.
“What a time it will be!” exclaims a customer. “We shall have to have a theatre and a music hall, two shows a night”, says another. “You’ll have to enlarge your hotel. You know, a winter garden, and a band, and a garage, and an American bar—cocktails; and coffee beans placed handy on the counter for nothing”, advises a third. “Trust me”, replies the landlord. “Now that flying ‘as come to Shoreham, well, old Shoreham’s going to sit up”.'
James Valentine sets up at Shoreham
With a new railway station having been built at Shoreham airport, called the 'Bungalow Town Halt', the previous October, Shoreham Aerodrome was now attracting aviators of distinction, among them, James Valentine, who, as the Daily Graphic, Weds 1st March, 1911, reports further on from the previous article:-
'Mr Valentine, who flies a passenger carrying machine of his own design, has decided to make the new ground his headquarters, and during the summer will conduct a series of week-end trips between Brooklands and Brighton, a distance of 34 miles, via Leatherhead, Dorking, and Horsham. The railway line will make a splendid guide, and prevent any chance of the machine and its occupants arriving at some rival seaside resort by mistake. Mr Valentine's spare time is to be given to perfecting a machine of English make which will land and rise from the sea, so that he could not have chosen a better ground for his work.'
The Brooklands to Brighton Race, 6th May
The Brighton beach landing had inspired Harry and his brother, Dick, (Hugh Richard Preston, who helped run the two hotels with Harry, the Royal York, and Royal Albion), to put up a prize for a race from Brooklands to Brighton via Shoreham as the turning point, on the 6thMay 1911, a large balloon was attached to the Palace Pier acting as the finishing marker for the competing aviators. The proprietor of the Palace Pier, Mr Rosenthal, put up £80 for first prize, while Harry Preston put up £30 for second place. There was also a third prize of £20.
There were 8 entries for the race, but for various reasons only four aviators started, Graham Gilmour on a Bristol biplane with Gnome engine, Lieutenant Snowden-Smith on a Farman biplane with Gnome, Howard Pixton on an Avro D type biplane with a Green engine, and lastly, Gustav Hamel on a Bleriot monoplane with Gnome. It was a handicap race, with Gilmour starting first, followed by Snowden-Smith 4 minutes later, Pixton ought to have been next, but was at the time trying to win another prize, while Hamel took off 12 minutes after Gilmour, who was already out of sight, and Snowden-Smith was disappearing in to the haze ahead. Pixton got going 8 minutes later, having completed his flight with passenger, competing for the Manville Prize.
The four aviators missing from the starting line up were:-
J Ballantyne (Farman biplane)
Mr Gordon England (Bristol biplane)
Mr C.H.Cresswell (Bleriot monoplane) Got lost in fog flying from Hendon to Brooklands.
Mr Hubert (Farman biplane) Also lost in fog flying to Brooklands.
Interest in the race had drawn crowds along the route, The Globe, 6th May, 1911, reported:-
“All the competitors made two circuits of the course before heading for Brighton. There was great enthusiasm among the spectators, and there were high hopes that a fine race would ensue. – Along the route- Holmwood (three miles from Dorking)- Four aeroplanes passed here at 3.40. Large crowds had assembled in the town, and loudly cheered as the machines passed. Lancing.- Three aeroplanes have passed here heading for Shoreham. Shoreham.- Mr Hamel passed here at 3.50. Another machine, a biplane at 4.7.”
The ’machine’ at 4.7 would have been Lieut. Snowden-Smith.
The Lichfield Mercury, Friday 12th May 1911, reporting a week later of the finish line at Brighton, stated:-
“Quite early in the afternoon an immense crowd gathered at Brighton, filling the front from pier to pier and even beyond. Just after four o’clock the first aeroplane hove in sight in blaze of the sun. It was flying high and dipping a little in the wind, which was evidently stronger at that height than on the ground, where the flags scarcely fluttered. Slowly as it seemed, but surely, and heralded by a burst of cheers that rippled along the front, it gradually dropped and crossed the pier accurately in the middle. One saw the number clearly, though it was scarcely necessary for identification, because it was known Mr Hamel was flying the only monoplane in the race.”
“From the terrace of the Royal Albion Hotel, Mr Hamel’s father “snapped” his son with a hand camera as he came sailing triumphantly past, and turned to congratulate his wife on the success of the young aviator. After circling twice round the pier head, Mr Hamel flew back to the Shoreham Aerodrome, and afterwards departed for Brooklands.”
The ‘Sussex Express, Surrey Standard and Kent Mail’, picks up the story:-
“The first sight of an aeroplane renders one speechless for a time, but as Mr Hamel on his Bleriot monoplane gets nearer to the great mass of people the volume of cheers gets louder and louder. He is scarcely out of sight when Lieut. Snowden Smith, on his Farman biplane, arrives, and Mr Gilmour, on a Bristol biplane, comes next. The ease and grace which characterised the flying won great admiration. The times taken by these three competitors were:- Mr Hamel, 57 mins, 10 secs.; Lieut. Snowden Smith, 1hr. 21 mins. 6secs.; Mr Gilmour, 1hr. 37mins. 0secs.”
Explaining Pixton’s absence, it reports:-
“Mr Pixton, who descended on his all British Roe biplane on Plumpton Racecourse, received a warm welcome there. The people decorated his machine with primroses, and hundreds of names were written on it. He made the journey to Brighton after tea.”
Lieut. Snowden-Smith, who had finished second, it was pointed out, had missed the Shoreham turn, the competitors were supposed to keep west of the Adur Railway bridge before turning for Brighton, the Lieutenant had gone inside, to the east, so was disqualified, leaving Gilmour, who had finished in 1 hour, 37 minutes, promoted to 2ndplace. From Shoreham later, Hamel flew back to Brooklands in just 34 minutes, suggesting a strong headwind may have held them up during the race. Gilmour stayed the weekend at Shoreham, possibly taking advantage of the entertainments along at Bungalow Town, when he left, he flew to Portsmouth, according to a report in the Jarrow Express, Friday 12th May 1911:-
“The first aeroplane to pass over Portsmouth made its flight on Tuesday from Brighton (Shoreham aerodrome actually) to Gosport, as a sequel to last Saturday’s aerial race from Brooklands to Brighton. The aviator was Graham Gilmour, who paid a visit by air to his brother in-law, Fleet Surgeon Capps, one of the staff of Haslar Naval Hospital. Without alighting at Portsmouth, the aviator flew across the harbour to the hospital, and landed safely in the grounds, where it was reported that he had “shelled” a fort blockhouse at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour with oranges”
Douglas Grahame Gilmour, Shoreham to Black Rock race. May 13th 1911
Stuck in a tree at Haywards Heath
Oscar Morison decided to fly to Haywards Heath on Tuesday 9th May, taking Eric Cecil Gordon England with him as passenger. It was an incredibly costly business maintaining their machines, especially when they crashed, so occasionally, when they turned up at a town or village, where crowds would very soon gather, they could charge between a pound and a fiver a time for a quick flight, which was not unknown among the aviators of the time. Reported in the London Daily News, 10th May 1911, it states:-
'Mr Morison, the well known aviator, had a narrow escape from a serious accident tonight. Mr Morison arrived here from Shoreham yesterday on his biplane, and arranged to return tonight. A start was made about half past seven, Mr Gordon travelling in the machine as passenger. The aeroplane had only just started its flight however, when the engine suddenly stopped, and the biplane came down rapidly at the edge of a wood near a railway line. The crowd who had watched the ascent ran to the spot expecting to find the aviators seriously injured. On their arrival however, they found that the aeroplane had not reached the ground, the wings having been caught in the branches of an oak. The aviators, who were uninjured, were rescued by means of ladders. The biplane was considerably damaged.'
The Shoreham to Black Rock Race
On 13th May 1911 Morison was in a well-publicized air-race with Graham Gilmour from Shoreham Aerodrome to the eastern boundary of Brighton at Blackrock, Morison taking the straight course passed the winning post one minute before Gilmour. Reported in the Belfast News-Letter of May 15th 1911, it states:-
“The contestants used Bristol biplanes of equal power, but whereas Morison went straight for the winning post at a height of 800 feet, Gilmour flew farther out to sea and rose to 1100 feet. What might have been a neck and neck race consequently ended in Morison’s favour by about a hundred and fifty yards. The winner crossed the line just after five o’clock, having covered the course in a quarter of an hour. He, however, made a bad landing in the grounds of Roedean College, breaking his skids and damaging the elevator. Gilmour, who descended there, alighted perfectly, and afterwards flew back to Shoreham.”
Oscar Morison at Roedean school, east of Brighton, after the Shoreham to Black Rock race, 13th May 1911
Shoreham Aerodrome inauguration. 20th June 1911
Reported in the ‘Flight’ magazine of 1st July 1911, the Mayors of Brighton, Hove, and Worthing officially opened the ‘Brighton and Shoreham Aerodrome’. It writes:-
“The ceremony was preceded by a luncheon, at which the aims of the promoters were explained, and it was stated that the proposals included a clubhouse on the ground. The ground is about a quarter of a mile square, but surrounding it is a flat stretch of country about a thousand acres in extent, free from trees, and eminently suitable for flying purposes. Already a large number of hangars have been erected, and the arrival of the competitors in the European Circuit race on the grounds this week, from which point they “take off” for Hendon, should give the fine aerodrome a splendid send off. Brighton should be under a great obligation to the enterprising men who have thus given it, at this early stage, so important a chance in alluring aviators to the district”
The Mayors of Brighton, Hove, and Worthing, at the occasion of the inauguration of ‘Brighton and Shoreham Aerodrome’ 20th June 1911
In the next part, the ‘Four Kingdoms’ race around Europe comes to Shoreham.
A (not so) Brief History of Aviation at Shoreham. Part Three
Aviation cartoon in ‘The Sphere’ 8th July 1911, showing the dangerous nature with which observers regarded the flying craze.
Returning to May 1911, the aviators based at Shoreham were keeping busy flying all across the south coast, testing their machines, honing their aviation skills, and entertaining the local populace. Of these aviators, judging by the news reports of the time, Gilmour and Morison were among the busiest of these young men. Going through the old newspaper archives, it seems barely a day goes by without one aviator or another taking up column inches in the publications around the country. Britain had aviation fever, and any news of these intrepid airmen was eagerly digested.
Douglas Graham Gilmour, aviator, based for a time at Shoreham Aerodrome.
Of these two aviators, Gilmour was blazing a trail which would result in a bill being rushed through parliament by none other than a certain Winston Churchill, to “provide for the protection of the public against dangers arising from the navigation of aircraft”. On the 1st April, 1911, a number of aviators had taken the opportunity to fly over the University Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge, reported in the Reading Mercury, 8th April, 1911:-
‘Huge crowds and several aviators witnessed the annual race between Oxford and Cambridge from Putney to Mortlake on Saturday.’ Further on it writes:-
‘The race was accompanied for the first time in its history by an aeroplane, which circled over the rival crews at a height of about 300ft. There were several other aeroplanes over the course. The aviators who had a view of the boat race from their aeroplanes were, Mr. Graham-White, who carried a passenger on his biplane; M. Hubert (biplane), and Messrs. G. Hamel, C.H. Gresswell, and Prier (monoplanes). These all started from Hendon. Mr. D.G. Gilmour, flew from Brooklands over the course.’
The Framlingham Weekly News, Saturday 8th April, 1911, reported:-
‘The presence of the aeroplanes pleased everybody, and one aviator, accompanied by a passenger who took several photographs while in full flight, responded to the hearty cheers of the huge crowd at Putney by waving his hands’
Further on it describes Douglas Graham-Gilmour’s exploits:-
‘The Bristol biplane, driven by Mr. Gilmour, followed the boat race from start to finish. In great circling sweeps Mr. Gilmour crossed and recrossed the river, and in this way kept fairly level with the crews, although he was travelling at about thirty five miles an hour. “I wanted to see the race” said Mr. Gilmour in an interview, “so I went straight down to Brooklands, jumped into my machine, and came right away. I was in such a hurry that I had no time to fill up my petrol tank. I had four gallons, and that lasts about an hour. I should not have come down at all but for that. Yes it is a novel way of seeing the boat race, and I was the only aviator to follow the crews all the way up to Mortlake. It is far the best way to see the struggle, and I was able to follow all the changes of position easily. The distance between the two boats can be gauged as easily as between two points on a map. It is a curious site to see the swing of the crews and the sweep of the oars from above, and it was the dark blue of the Oxford oars that distinguished the two boats.”
On May 15th, Police Inspector Marsh of Shoreham was given the task of arresting Gilmour at Shoreham Aerodrome, to face charges relating to the death of a young boy in a motor accident. Having been bailed, he flew from Shoreham to Salisbury to face trial on the 26th May, circling Salisbury Cathedral on his arrival. After evidence, he was acquitted by the jury after just ten minutes of deliberation. This was also the day that Churchill tried to have his ‘Aerial Navigation Bill’ rushed through Parliament.
Between the arrest and the trial, Gilmour flew from Shoreham to Hove, reported in ‘Flight magazine', 27th May 1911, it states:-
‘Mr Gilmour at Brighton. (Hove actually)
'While flying with Mr Gordon England from Shoreham to Brighton on Sunday last, Mr. Graham Gilmour steered his biplane out to sea. When still at a good height the engine suddenly stopped and the machine commenced to glide down. Fortunately before it touched the water Mr. Gilmour got the engine going again, and rising for a short distance was able to land safely on the Lawn Gardens. Later in the day the two aviators successfully made the return journey to Shoreham.'
Douglas Graham-Gilmour at Hove lawns. May 21st 1911
In the same edition of Flight magazine, 27th May, it relates more flying activity at Shoreham:-
'Doings at Shoreham
Apart from the visit to Hove by Mr. Gilmour and Mr. England, a good deal of flying was seen at the Shoreham Aerodrome on Sunday last. Shortly after Mr. Gilmour left for Brighton, Mr. Morison was out on his Bristol biplane and made a circular trip over Shoreham and Lancing College. He then visited Brighton in his motor car, but soon after the return of Mr. Gilmour he was back at the aerodrome giving passenger flights. Mr. Gilmour and Mr. England also took up some passengers, heights attained being well over 1000 ft.'
The Great Aviation Race, June 1911.
Otherwise known as the ‘Four Kingdoms Race’, and the ‘European Circuit’, this was the biggest air race to date, with total prize money of £20,000, starting in Paris, and finishing at Hendon. Only two English aviators were entered, O.C.Morison, and Mr. James Valentine, both flying French built aeroplanes, although Morison appears not to have actually started. The Courier reported on Thursday 15th June 1911:-
‘Sixty aviators will start from Vincennes, near Paris, on Sunday morning next to compete in the great aerial race across France, Belgium, Holland and England, known as the European Circuit. The course is via Rheims, Liege, Verloo, Utrecht, Breda, Brussels, Roubais, and Calais to London. The competitors are due to arrive at Calais on June 26th. On June 27 they leave Calais early in the morning and fly across the channel to Dover, thence to the Shoreham Aviation ground at Brighton, and finally to the London Aerodrome at Hendon. There they will be met by a distinguished committee, and entertained on the following day in London. On the 29th they start for the final stage of the journey from Hendon to Paris; proceeding via Brighton and Dover.’
18th June 1911 Start of the European Circuit. Stage one, Paris to Liege.
R.Dallas Brett sets the scene in his, History of British Aviation 1908-1914, page 78:-
‘It was an imposing array of forty-three aeroplanes that lined up in three rows at Vincennes, ready for the start at 6 a.m. Since midnight a vast crowd, estimated at more than half a million people, had waited in driving rain to see the departure. A guard of 6000 soldiers and police had all their work cut out to keep control.’
Further on he continues:-
‘The perilous nature of the contest was shown up in terrible fashion on the first day. Before the control at Rheims was reached, three pilots had been killed and another badly injured.’
Flight magazine of 24th June 1911, writes:-
‘Altogether 43 of the 52 competitors who figured on the official programme were started, and 21 got through without trouble to Rheims, the “halfway” control for the day. Unfortunately, a fatality occurred during the starting operations to Lemartin on one of the Bleriots. He had made a good start, and was heading off to Joinville at a height of about 80 metres, when the machine seemed to suddenly collapse and fall to the ground, the aviator being so terribly injured that he died very shortly after admission to the hospital. Almost at the same time that this accident occurred came the news that Lieut. Princeteau, one of the officers who had received permission to follow the course, had met with a fatal accident while starting from Issy for Rheims. He had only risen to a height of about 30 metres, when apparently the carburettor of his machine caught fire, and in the sudden landing rendered necessary the monoplane capsized. The wrecked machine at once burst into flames and before anything could be done the unfortunate officer was burned to death. The third fatality occurred at Chateau Thierry, where Landron met his death in somewhat similar fashion to Lieut. Princeteau. The machine fell from a great height and the wreckage immediately burst into flames, making it impossible to rescue the pilot.’
Tabuteau flying at Dover, European Circuit 1911
Arriving at Calais on Thursday 29th June, the competitors were told that the stage across the channel to Dover had been postponed until first thing Monday morning, which allowed the stragglers to catch up. Flight magazine continues its coverage:-
‘At four o’clock exactly, as soon as the starting rockets were fired, Vedrines was in the air, and shaping his course by the great arrow laid down at Les Baraques, he soon disappeared out to sea. At three minute intervals he was followed by Vidart, “Beaumont”, Kimmerling, Gibert, Garros, Renaux, Train, Tabuteau, Barra, and Valentine. After the last of the aviators had gone, the crowd still remained at the arodrome awaiting news of the cross channel flyers, and at six o’clock a message was received by wireless telegraphy that ten of the aviators had arrived.’
The Courier, Tuesday 4th July 1911 reported the arrivals at Dover:-
‘Aviators Make Safe Passages
Leaving Calais at four o’clock yesterday morning, and subsequently at four minute intervals, the competitors engaged in the ‘Standard Journal Europe Aviation Circuit’ made safe and speedy passages across the channel to Dover, from whence, with a stop at Shoreham Aerodrome, the journey to Hendon Aviation Ground, in the north of London, was to be made.’
It seems amusing now, but was doubtless deadly serious at the time, but to be sure the aviators would find their way on the course, as stated in The Sphere, 24th June 1911:-
‘The organisers of the forthcoming European aviation circuit have sought the assistance of the Automobile Association and Motor Union in connection with the work of marking the course to be taken by the competitors in the English portion of the circuit. The route is chosen from Dover to Shoreham and from Shoreham to Hendon. The route will be marked by a series of large white arrows, 72 ft. in length by 12 ft. in width, placed at intervals on the ground in conspicuous places; smaller arrows, 36 ft. in length, will be used intermediately. Captive balloons are also being utilised at certain points along the route.’
(Authors note:- The imp in me wonders if they had to hurriedly turn those arrows round ready for the trip back after the last competitor had passed on his way to Shoreham?)
Cartoon in ‘The Sphere’, 8th July 1911, depicting the arrows laid out for the contestants in the European Circuit
Preparations at the Brighton-Shoreham Aerodrome
In the same edition of Flight magazine, (Saturday 1st July 1911), which announced the official opening of the Brighton-Shoreham Aerodrome at Lancing, it reports on the work carrying on to ready the aerodrome for the first arrivals of the European Circuit race:-
‘Owing to the very bad weather this week, nothing has been done in the way of flying, though the inventor of the Valkyrie, (Horatio Barber), has been down here all week with a machine waiting for the first reasonable opportunity to get into the air. Although nothing has been done in the way of flying, great progress has been made on the ground itself in preparation for the large crowd which is expected to witness the arrival of the aviators in the great European Circuit on Friday this week. During the last few days the grand stand and ten new hangars have been completed. Refreshment booths are in the course of erection, and the band stand is nearly complete. Visitors to the aerodrome during the week, therefore, will be well catered for; they will be able to see exhibition flights every day by the Valkyrie, and the arrival and departure of those flying in the European Circuit, both on their way from Europe and on the return journey to France, which is down for tomorrow (Sunday).’
First in at Shoreham on the European Circuit: 7th and 8th Stages
Only two weeks after the official opening of the Brighton-Shoreham Aerodrome, it has the prestigious honour of being one of the control point stops in the world’s greatest air race to date, not once, but twice, as the race continues up to Hendon, then returns on the way back, back across the channel, before the finish line at Paris.
The Courier, Tuesday 4th July 1911, relays the latest race details:-
‘There was great interest and excitement at Dover, where people were astir at an early hour, and each arrival was the signal for outbursts of cheering. Leaving again at 6 a.m, Vedrines was first in at Shoreham at 07.16, and all the other competitors, with the exception of Train, who, losing his bearings, injured his machine in a descent at the village of Heighton, had reached Shoreham by 07.55.’
Aviator, Monsieur Train, (identified by his racing number, 67), at Newhaven after experiencing problems on the European Circuit, July 3rd, 1911
The Aberdeen Press and Journal, Tues 4th July, 1911, picks up the story:-
‘Vedrines led off in the stage to Hendon at 07.33, and, was the first to receive the congratulations of the officials and the general public at Hendon, in which there was a large sprinkling of the French element. He effected a graceful landing at 08.34. Vidart, who left Shoreham at 07.43, was the next in at 09 o’clock. Kimmerling, who departed at 07.50, followed at 09.04. Altogether, seven completed the journey yesterday morning.’
Regarding the aviators that had been held up on this short stage, it remarks:-
‘Mishaps to Airmen
Tabuteau lost his way, and came in from the north, and in addition to Train, Barra, Gibert, and Renaux carrying a passenger, met with minor mishaps. Barra had to descend at Heathfield, near Eastbourne, and eventually arrived at Shoreham at 5.45 p.m. He left again at 6.25, and ultimately reached Hendon at 7.40 p.m. Gibert, who won the trophy for the fastest cross channel flight, 37 minutes odd, was found in a hayfield near Dorking. The machine was removed to Holmwood Common, which he left at 5.35 p.m. and gained the goal at Hendon at 6 p.m. Renaux, who had to come down at Bodiham Park, just over the Kentish border, obtained mechanical assistance from Shoreham, and took two hours and a quarter in the flight from there to Hendon, which he reached at 8.33 p.m. still carrying his passenger, M. Senouques. Train, the only competitor failing to finish, sent a message from Newhaven saying it would take him a day at least to repair his machine, damaged by collision with a wire fence at Heighton. Renaux was cordially greeted by the few remaining spectators at Hendon, among whom was his wife in a state of considerable anxiety.’
French aviator, Barra’s, biplane awaiting repairs at Heathfield, Sussex. 3rd July, 1911
Meanwhile, over the Thames:-
On the 5th July, Douglas Graham-Gilmour flew his Bleriot monoplane up and down the Thames, causing a sensation which filled column inches throughout Britain and beyond, the first time an aviator had dared to try such a thing. Two days later, he flew down the Thames over the Henley Regatta course, The London Daily News, Saturday 8thJuly, reported the incident:-
‘-there were a few moments of great excitement when a Bristol biplane appeared over the course between the two races. It was manoeuvred beautifully, descending so that the starting wheels touched the water and sent up a shower of spray. It rose again, and the cheering at least equalled that given to the closest race of the day. Mr. Graham-Gilmour is believed to be the aviator.’
Gilmour’s daring display was considered a step too far, and brought him in to inevitable conflict with the Royal Aero Club, who hauled him before their committee and issued him with a flying ban for one month. This proved a most unfortunate situation for the popular aviator, as it precluded him from taking part in the coming ‘Circuit of Great Britain’ air race, organised by Lord Northcliffe’s Daily Mail, which carried a prize of £10,000.
There was understandable concern regarding the possible dangers of aviation, especially where crowds were gathered. As recently as 21st May, 1911, the French War Minister, Monsieur Bertreaux was killed by an aeroplane whose pilot had lost control of his machine. ‘The Daily News, Monday 22nd May, 1911, reports the scene:-
‘The tragic event occurred at the aviation ground Issy-les-Molineux, where huge crowds had gathered from the early hours to witness the start of the Paris-Madrid flying race. M.Train, one of the aviators, was seen to be in difficulties from the moment he rose from the ground. He had turned back in the direction of the sheds, and was endeavouring to avoid a squadron of cuirassiers who had been clearing the course, when he lost control and dashed in to the Ministerial group of sightseers with appalling results. M. Bertreaux, the Minister of War, was killed instantly, his arm being completely severed. M. Monis sustained a double fracture of the leg, and is believed to have received internal injuries.’
The European Circuit race finale
The competitors were now closing in on the final stages of the Four Kingdoms/European Circuit air race, flying from Hendon to the control point at Shoreham, before heading east to Dover, and crossing the channel and on to Paris for the finish line. The Evening Telegraph and Post, Wednesday 5th July, writes:-
‘From a very early hour this morning a stream of motors and other vehicles conveyed spectators to Hendon Aviation Ground to witness the start of the ten competitors in their return flight via Shoreham and Dover to Paris.’
Later in this correspondence:-
‘As six o’clock approached the aeroplanes were brought out, and practically as the hour struck Beaumont got away in fine style. Garros, Vidart, and Vedrines followed in quick succession. Then came Gibert, whose red coloured machine had a striking appearance. Renaux, the only competitor to carry a passenger was next, and apparently found his burden no obstacle to his progress. Tabuteau, Valentine, and Barra got off in the order named, and thus nine men had started within half an hour. There was some little delay owing to Kimmerling’s machine requiring attention, but the last of the ten starters got away by a quarter to seven.
Flight magazine of 15th July 1911 reports on the aviators at Shoreham as they await the European Circuit contestants:-
'Mr Barber made several trial flights early in the morning of Tuesday last week with a Valkyrie (Type B), taking with him one of his mechanics as a passenger, and also Miss Meeze. Next day Mr Barber started about 5 a.m on a Valkyrie with Miss Meeze, to fly to Hendon, as mentioned last week. Messrs. Gordon-England, Pizey and Fleming, who had flown over on Monday on Bristol biplanes, gave exhibition flights, and some pretty glides were witnessed by the visitors, who were already assembled to see the arrival of the aviators in the European Circuit.'
The Times newspaper, 6th July 1911, takes up the story of arrivals at the Shoreham Aerodrome:-
'Ten airmen left Hendon early yesterday morning for Dover on the final stage of the circuit of Europe air race, organised by the Standard, and the Journal (newspapers) of Paris, and the Petit Bleu, of Brussels, and nine of them succeeded in reaching Dover after landing at Shoreham. They will leave on the cross Channel flight for Calais and thence for Paris at 4 o'clock this morning. A feature of the days flying was the fine performance of Vedrines, who occupied just under two hours on the journey from Hendon to the Whitfield Aerodrome at Dover. He wins the Shoreham £200 prize for the fastest flight between Hendon and Shoreham.'
Further on it continues:-
'Vedrines was the first of the competitors to arrive at the Shoreham Aerodrome, where a considerable number of spectators had assembled before 7 o'clock. He was sighted at ten minutes to 7, travelling at a great speed, and in a little over five minutes had made a skilful descent amid hearty cheering. Without leaving his seat he signed the official record and was on his way to Dover. The next arrivals were Garros and "Beaumont", the former alighting only 40 seconds before the latter, and before Vedrines had quite cleared the aerodrome. These were joined in about five minutes by Vidart. "Beaumont" was next away at 07.10, and was followed by Vidart and Garros at 07.20. Gibert in his red monoplane, descended at 07.11 and within six minutes of his arrival had taken the air again. It was nearly 07.40 before the next airman, Tabuteau, had alighted, and he was quickly followed by Renaux with his passenger, while two minutes later Kimmerling was on the scene. Of the three machines then on the ground that of Kimmerling's was first away at 07.52, and Tabuteau's was only a minute behind. In the meantime Barra had arrived, and after resting for half an hour started for Dover at 08.16 before Renaux, who left two minutes later. All the ten competitors had now arrived at Shoreham with the exception of Valentine, who, on finding that his engine was misfiring, descended without accident at Brooklands.'
(Meanwhile, also at Shoreham on the 4th July, 1911, the world's first air freight delivery is dispatched)
Aviator Horatio Barber made the news for the inaugural transport by air of goods- ‘The Sphere’ 22nd July, 1911, writes:-
‘Brighton and Hove’s people have had the distinction of witnessing what is believed to be the first time in the world’s history that aerial transport has been accomplished, the flight having been made on July 4 from Shoreham to Hove. Notwithstanding that a large number of people were disappointed at the flight not taking place on the 3rd, which was due to the absence of a searchlight arranged to be in Marine Park, Hove, to show the aviator where he should land, hundreds of people assembled in the park in the evening to watch the flight and descent. They were not disappointed either. The aeronaut was Mr. Barber of Hendon, and the novel and interesting exhibition was arranged in conjunction with the General Electric Company, LTD, of 67 Queen Victoria Street, London, E.C., Mr. Barber carrying on his powerful Valkyrie, type B, No.5, monoplane a consignment of Osram lamps for delivery to Messrs. Page and Miles, LTD, Western Road, Hove. Arrangements were to have been made to enable the monoplane to be illuminated with Osram lamps, but this was not carried out.’
European Circuit final stage, 7th July.
This race had highlighted how far ahead France were from Britain in aviation design, construction, and piloting, with James Valentine, the only Briton who actually started, and despite his valiant efforts to continue in the race, eventually gave up after encountering problems on the Shoreham to Hendon leg. So Britain’s only involvement at the final stage was Maurice Tabuteau, who was flying a Bristol biplane, built by the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, Ltd, at Filton, Gloucestershire. Flight magazine of 15th July, 1911, describes the Paris finish:-
‘At Vincennes there was another huge crowd, among whom was General Roques and several other highly placed Government officials. At half past eight an extra sharp eye detected a speck in the sky, while an expert ear caught the sound of the unmistakable hum of a Gnome motor. Within a few seconds the news had spread round the concourse, and the cry went up, “They are here!”. The next question was “who could it be” as the news of Vedrine’s accident had come through, and it was realised he could not be the arrival. It only needed a few minutes, however, to bring the monoplane nearer in to view, for it to be seen that it was the Deperdussin monoplane, and of course piloted by Vidart. He landed at 8.37, and was at once carried shoulder high to the Deperdussin shed to the strain of the Marseillaise. There was then a delay of seven minutes before the arrival of Gibert, who it should be remembered is the only monoplanist who had completed the full distance on the one machine, whereas the others have changed their machines several times. The third to arrive was Garros, at 9.15, and then the others came in at fairly lengthy intervals, “Beaumont” being fourth at 9.26.’
‘The overall winner was Andre Beaumont, with a total race time of 58 hours, 38 minutes, followed by Garros, on 62hrs, 17 mins, 3rd place was Vidart, on 73hrs, 32 mins, and Vedrines, who had led for much of the race, came in fourth with a time of 86hrs, 34 minutes, having damaged his machine while landing on the next to last leg.
Oscar Morison flies from Paris to Shoreham.
While the worlds press followed the race around Europe, aviators elsewhere continued to push the boundaries of what could be achieved in their fragile looking aeroplanes, and O.C.Morison was one of these intrepid aviators. He had hoped to race his new Morane monoplane in the European Circuit, but it wasn’t ready in time, and actually picked it up from the factory in Paris just after the race had finished. ‘The Daily News’, Monday 10th July, 1911 reports:-
‘Paris to Shoreham in 5 Hours
A remarkable feat was accomplished by an English aviator on Saturday (8th July), Mr. O.C. Morison (one of the most successful flying men in this country) getting from Paris to Shoreham with only two brief stops, and setting up what must almost be a record. Mr. Morison showed considerable pluck, for he did not announce the attempt, and there was consequently no tugs or torpedo boats out to render assistance should he require it. In five hours the aeroplane covered 250 miles, giving the high rate of 50 miles an hour, and this included the stops. Mr. Morison started his monoplane at Paris shortly before noon, and averaged a mile a minute to Calais. Stopping just long enough to replenish his petrol tank, he went on straight for Dover, and mounted at a great speed to a height of nearly two thousand feet, seeming through the heat haze to be almost among the lower clouds. The channel was crossed in half an hour, and, passing over Dover Castle, Mr. Morison made straight for Eastbourne, and descended in a field there at ten minutes to four. A quarter of an hour was occupied in once more taking in petrol, the engine was again restarted, and just before five p.m, the machine descended at Shoreham.’
Coming up in part four:- Lord Northcliffe, owner of the Daily Mail, offers £10,000 as a prize for the aviator that wins a Circuit of Britain race. Shoreham gets busy, more top aviators set up at the newly expanded facilities.
Daily Mail Circuit of Britain pilots 1911. Flight magazine.
Hot on the heels of the Circuit of Europe air race, came the Circuit of Britain race, which had been announced by the sponsor, the Daily Mail, shortly after their famous £10,000, London to Manchester race between Claude Graham-White, and Louis Paulhan, a year earlier, during April, 1910. This epic encounter between the English and French airmen caught the imagination of the general public, virtually guaranteeing the success of any future great air race.
Some of the pilots entered in the £10,000 Daily Mail Circuit of Britain 1911. Flight magazine.
The Daily Mail Circuit of Britain would also be for a prize of £10,000, and would be using Shoreham Aerodrome as one of the control points, which is why I have included a good amount of the race details in this aviation history of Shoreham, but also to give an idea of just what a sensation these aviators and their flying machines were creating all over the country. Among the entrants were a number of aviators who had been associated with Shoreham, James Valentine, O.C. Morison, Gustav Hamel, E.C. Gordon-England, C.P. Pizey, Lieut. J.C. Porte, and C. Howard-Pixton, with the unfortunate Gilmour under suspension, missing out. For this race though, the emphasis would be on the durability of the machines, whereas in the Circuit of Europe, the aviators could change entire planes, or any parts thereof, as often as was felt necessary, now they had to finish the course in the aeroplane they started with. Added to that proviso, there were to be ten parts of the machine which would be marked by officials before the race, of which only 6 parts could be changed during the course of the contest. These conditions were intended as a test of the resilience of the various machines, something that had not yet been done in a race situation.
Flight magazine, July 22nd 1911, reports on the Shoreham flying ground:-
'Great preparations are being made here for the reception of the racers in the Daily Mail second £10,000 contest, and for the accommodation and comfort of the public, who will have a splendid opportunity of seeing the men and their machines for 1s, 2s.6d, and 5s. each person, while cars, including the chauffeur, can enter at 5s. or 10s., according to the enclosure chosen. Holders of season tickets are admitted free.'
Daily Mail Circuit of Britain course 1911. Flight magazine.
In the Leeds Mercury, Monday 24th July, 1911, it reports on the scenes their correspondent witnessed on the first leg, Brooklands to Hendon:-
‘The whole of the twenty mile route from Brooklands to Hendon was crowded with spectators afoot and in conveyances, and at some points great multitudes assembled. In the immediate neighbourhood of the aerodrome at Hendon, there were fully 50,000 people. “Beaumont” was the first to arrive, the time being 04.20’
Entrant number 2, H.J.D. Astley taking off at Brooklands 22nd July 1911 in the Circuit of Britain race. Before chocks were used, the air machines were held back by human force until told to 'let go'.
The Hendon and Finchley Times, Friday 28th July, 1911 describes the human sea descending upon the area to catch a sight of this highly publicised air race:-
‘The London crowds began to gather here before midnight. Thousands tramped through eight miles of long roads leading to the aerodrome. Cyclists streamed by all night. In taxi cabs and motor cars, by early trains and motor omnibuses, in costermongers’ carts and tradesmen’s vans, the army of sightseers passed north and west, through the black night and grey dawn. Scenes strange beyond experience resulted from this midnight gathering of the people. Within a mile of the aerodrome men and women slept by the wayside and on the sun baked earth of the fields, heedless of the throng which passed onwards chanting choruses.’
‘Every Hampstead tube station on the route to Golders Green had its crowd waiting for the first train at 2.45a.m. At the Golders Green terminus all the horse omnibuses available and at least 300 taxicabs were plying for hire, hooting and rumbling through the night, scattering the stream of wayfarers and rousing the sleepers by the wayside.’
Daily Mail Circuit of Britain 1911. 4a.m to see the aviators take off from Hendon for Harrogate. Flight magazine.
While the race itself was a rousing success, (it was estimated that around half a million people saw the start from the Hendon to Harrogate stage at 4a.m!), it also highlighted once more just how far behind France, Great Britain was in the aviation technology race. The first stage from Hendon to Brooklands, a mere twenty miles, whittled the field down from 29 starters, to just 16, with Vedrines and Beaumont already establishing a lead, with a further 9 entrants dropping out of the contest by Harrogate, where a crowd of between 70-150,000, (depending on which newspaper you read), were waiting for the first arrival, Vedrines, at 7.03a.m, very closely followed by Beaumont four minutes later. Only three more aviators made it to Harrogate, Valentine, Hamel, and Cody, with Hamel causing a great deal of concern on his arrival. The London Daily News, Tuesday 25th July, 1911, reports-
‘The 70,000 people who from daybreak till dusk thronged the fine green stretch of the Stray were perhaps most moved by the dramatic circumstances which attended the descent of Hamel, the young British flier. We saw his Bleriot monoplane gleaming in the sun five miles to the south east soon after half past eleven, and ten minutes later, having planed gradually down from a height of 1000ft, it was hovering over the Mayoral enclosure. A moment more and the machine had gently dropped in the centre of the ground. But there was no movement on the part of the flying man. Officials and mechanics hastened to the machine, and found to their dismay that the aviator was unconscious. Lifting him tenderly from the seat, they stretched him on the ground, and while some rendered first aid, others went in search of a doctor. Luckily a medical man was near and hurried to the spot. He found a man with faintly fluttering pulse, ashen cheeks, and hands and feet stiff and cold, and a quarter of an hour passed before there came a glimmer of returning consciousness.’
By the end of the second days flying, only Beaumont, on a Bleriot monoplane, Vedrines, on his Morane-Borel monoplane, and Valentine, flying a Deperdussin monoplane, had made it to Edinburgh, having stopped at the control point at Newcastle en-route. Gustav Hamel, having recovered sufficiently at Harrogate, later struggled on to Edinburgh, and then to Chryston, Glasgow, but he had been having engine problems for most of the race, and it finally gave out at Dumfries, forcing his retirement on Wednesday 26th July. Of the other Shoreham ‘associated’ aviators forced to retire, were;- Gordon-England, retired with engine trouble at the start at Brooklands, Lieut. Porte, crashed at the Brooklands start, Pixton, crashed his plane on a forced landing at Spofforth, while Pizey was forced to land at Melton Mowbray owing to propeller issues, only to damage the undercarriage when landing.
Gustav Hamel taking off from Chryston, near Glasgow. Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race 1911
Entrant number 24, Gustav Hamel, at Stirling. Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race 1911
The Yorkshire Post, Tuesday, 25th July, 1911, takes up the story from Edinburgh:-
‘Beaumont started off again from Edinburgh in the great flight at 03.10 this morning. He was closely followed by Vedrines at 03.25. According to one report, Valentine had also left, but another account states that up to 04.20 Valentine had not left. Large crowds had gathered to see the start, and the aviators, as they rose from the ground and soared off to the west, barely outlined on the grey sky, were very loudly cheered.’
Further on it reports the arrival of the leaders at Stirling:-
‘It was 03.40 when the great crowd assembled on the aviation ground outside Stirling caught sight of the first aviator. At first barely visible by telescope, the great Bleriot soon became visible to the naked eye. The machine came right over the town, not by the castle, as expected, made a gliding half circle, and then came down. Vedrines, 18 minutes later, came from the same direction, and also alighted. As the first to arrive, Beaumont was presented by the Provost with a silver inkstand. Both aviators met with a tremendous cheering when they descended.’
Vedrines at Kings Park, Stirling. 25th July, 1911. Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race.
Beaumont flew that stage just three minutes faster than Vedrines, they were still neck and neck, with Valentine not too far behind them, while Cody, determined to finish, hadn’t yet reached Newcastle. The next stage for the leaders, was from Edinburgh to Bristol, via control points at Stirling, Glasgow, Carlisle, and Manchester, both having decided they were going to try and complete the stage that same day. The Western Daily Press, Wednesday 26th July describes this stage:-
‘Keenness of the Frenchmen
Later in the day the race resolved itself in to a struggle between the two great French aviators. Leaving Edinburgh at fifteen minutes behind Beaumont, Vedrines was, roughly, 16 minutes behind at Sterling, 54 minutes at Glasgow, and 44 minutes at Carlisle. Beaumont it will be seen, had gained substantially on his opponent, and the latter, when stopping at Glasgow to take refreshment, made no secret of his chagrin in not being able to maintain his original lead. Nothing apparently happened to Beaumont or Vedrines until they had passed Carlisle. Some 60,000 people were waiting at that town to give them a hearty welcome. The first to arrive was Beaumont, who flew over the racecourse nearly due north. He planed down quietly and landed without the slightest difficulty.’
Crowds at Manchester use rolling stock freight wagons to get a better view of the aviators in the Circuit of Britain race 1911. Flight magazine.
Manchester received the French aviators as everywhere, with vast crowds and tremendous enthusiasm, and down at Filton, near Bristol, it would be no different, further on in the article, it explains:-
‘The scene which greeted Beaumont’s arrival this evening baffles description. The crowds had thickened beyond proportion since the news was received of Beaumont’s departure from Manchester at 5.44, Vedrines following upon his tail at 6.11’
False sightings kept the huge crowds ever alert, until;-
‘Glasses were trained upon this tiny black point, and it seemed absurd to believe that a man could so appear. But the speck increased in size until it resembled nothing so much as a huge blackbird with long, outstretched wings. The cheers from the aerodrome grew in volume, and the great Bleriot monoplane, with its red wings, and Beaumont sitting serenely at the controls. The fire was situated at the back of the hangars, and Beaumont steered directly for it, planning down upon that strip of the aerodrome nearest Filton station, and coming to a standstill quite near the fire.’
Beaumont’s landing time was 8.37, having taken 2 hours, 55 minutes. Unfortunately for Vedrines, the British and Colonial Company, that build the Bristol aeroplanes, have their own aerodrome, and he landed there by mistake, but to compound the error, he sustained damage to his aircraft too, holding him up even further. Eventually he made it to the correct control point, but it was now after ten, and dark, Vedrines had lost valuable time to Beaumont.
Bristol to Shoreham stage
When the race was devised, Shoreham was intended to be an overnight rest stop, but Beaumont and Vedrines had already used up a good deal of their allotted rest time, so opted for a short stop there and push on to the finish line at Brooklands. Flight magazine of 29th July 1911 gives details of the final stage:-
‘They were astir in the small hours of Wednesday morning looking over their machines, and at ten minutes to five, “Beaumont” was given the signal to start, and getting away sharply, was followed two minutes later by Vedrines. The latter again proved the Morane was the faster machine, and arrived at Exeter two minutes before “Beaumont” at ten minutes past six. He was away again at a quarter to seven, while “Beaumont” did not start again till twenty minutes after, his engine requiring a little attention. A straight course was set for Salisbury Plain, where Vedrines arrived at ten minutes past eight to be followed about twenty minutes later by “Beaumont”. No sooner was “Beaumont’s” machine reported to be in sight, then Vedrines was anxious to be away, and as a matter of fact he started for Brighton (Shoreham Aerodrome) after resting only thirty three minutes, just about ten minutes after his rival had landed. About nine o’clock there was a sharp shower of rain at Brighton (Shoreham), and this probably kept the general public away, so that when Vedrines arrived at three minutes to ten the crowd to welcome him was not very large.’
Vedrines waits at Shoreham, Daily Mail Circuit of Britain 1911.
Meanwhile, horse racing enthusiasts on a train to Goodwood had been keeping an eye out for a glimpse of these famous aviators, as reported in the Leeds Mercury, Thursday 27th July, 1911:-
‘On the journey up from Brighton to Chichester this morning, the chief topic of conversation was not the Goodwood Plate, or whether Mushroom would beat Sunder, but the great air race. It was known that Beaumont and Vedrines were expected to arrive at the Shoreham Aerodrome during the morning. The aerodrome is only a few miles out of Brighton, on the way to Chichester, and is close to the railway. We saw plenty of people in the Aerodrome, but no flying machines. Just after passing Ford Junction, however, about 10.30, a fellow traveller, who was keeping a look out on the side facing the sea, shouted, “Here you are”, and in the distance we saw one of the air monarchs approach. The machine was at a great height, and travelling at a great speed. As if to give us a better view the train happened to come to a standstill just at the moment, and from every carriage window appeared the heads of eager and delighted sightseers. The aeroplane was having a very smooth journey in spite of the fact there was a good breeze, and it would arrive at Shoreham soon after half-past ten. We afterwards learned that this was Beaumont’s machine, and that Vedrines had arrived nearly an hour before.’
Vedrines and his mechanics waiting in a hangar at Shoreham Aerodrome. Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race 1911. Flight magazine.
Flight magazine, Saturday 29th July, 1911 details the finish of the race, Wednesday 26th :-
‘ “Beaumont” did not leave Salisbury Plain until 09.47 and so was practically an hour after Vedrines in arriving at the Shoreham Aerodrome, which formed the control station at Brighton. He, however, had used up a good deal of his rest time and so was due to start before Vedrines on the last stage to Brooklands. He had 3 hours and 40 minutes to rest, and took advantage of this to have a little sleep and a rub down. Punctually at 1.28.15 he was in the air and winging his way to Brooklands Motor Course, where he landed after a flight of practically forty minutes. Vedrines was not due to start from Shoreham until 2.41, when punctually to time he was away, reaching Brooklands at nineteen minutes past three. On his arrival at Brooklands, “Beaumont” was carried shoulder high, and after the officials had examined the seals, &c., on his machine and found them all in order he was declared to be the winner of the race and the £10,000 prize.’
Beaumont at the finish line, Brooklands 1911, in the £10,000 Daily mail Circuit of Britain race. Flight magazine.
James Valentine on his Deperdussin monoplane, and S.F. Cody on his self-built Cody biplane, were doggedly continuing, determined to see it through, and still the crowds turned out in their thousands throughout the route, as the sheer noise of the machines advertised their arrival well in advance. The Gloucestershire Echo, Friday 4th August 1911 writes:-
‘Valentine arrived at the Shoreham Aerodrome at 7.30p.m, having covered the distance from Salisbury Plain in sixty eight minutes. He thus wins the gold cup presented by the Brighton Hotels Association to the first British aviator reaching Shoreham in connection with the British aviation circuit.’ It concludes:- ‘Valentine left Shoreham for Brooklands in the “Daily Mail” aerial race this morning.’
The Leeds Mercury, Friday 4th August, 1911, updates Cody’s progress:-
‘Cody, who is still trying to complete the course of the great air race, left Clifton, Bristol, en route for Exeter, at 7.25 last night. He arrived at Weston-super-Mare at 8.15, effecting an easy landing on the sands in the presence of a large crowd. He expected to Leave for Exeter at three o’clock this morning.’
Nearly two weeks after setting off from Brooklands, and nine days after the Frenchmen, Beaumont, and Vedrines, had crossed the finish line, James Valentine finally completed the Circuit of Britain course, but not without mishaps even on the final leg from Shoreham to Brooklands. In the Globe, Saturday 5th August 1911, is announced his valiant effort:-
‘Mr Valentine, after being detained near Horsham by a broken stay, reached Brooklands at 6.49 last evening. He was cordially greeted as the first English competitor to complete the distance.’
Cody over the line at last, beats the telegraph.
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Monday 7th August 1911, gives account of S.F.Cody, as the last competitor to finish what was considered to be the greatest air race to date:-
‘Telegraph service put to shame
Leaving Salisbury at four o’clock on Saturday, Cody landed at Shoreham Aerodrome at 06.15, and after partaking of breakfast, considerately provided for him by the manager of the aerodrome, left again at 08.25 for the final flight to Brooklands, which he reached at nine o’clock. Valentine when flying from Salisbury to Shoreham on Thursday evening beat the telegraph by twelve minutes, but Cody did still better on Saturday, the telegram announcing his departure from the Cathedral City at four o’clock not being received at Shoreham till 9.16.’
For a more full description of the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race, 1911, follow the link below for an excellent summary.
Next up in part 5;- Horatio Barber’s Valkyrie School at Shoreham, Miss Trehawke Davies flies in to Shoreham, James Valentine flies down the river and over the Adur bridges, Chanter school comes to Shoreham.
A (not so) Brief History of Aviation at Shoreham. Part 5
A (not so) Brief History of Aviation at Shoreham. Part 5
Shoreham was becoming ever more popular with the flying fraternity, but the sisterhood were getting involved with this growing aviation lark, and on the 31st July, Horatio Barber took a young lady already gathering a reputation in the flying world, Miss Trehawke-Davies, on a flight from Hendon to Shoreham, in his own designed and built, ‘Valkyrie’ monoplane. The Belfast News-Letter, Saturday 5th August 1911 relays Barber’s story:-
‘The story of a remarkable flight with a lady passenger from London to Brighton (Shoreham) and back was told to the “Evening Standard” by Mr. Barber, the well-known aviator, who recently presented several aeroplanes to the War Office. At the offices of the Aeronautical Syndicate on the 30th ult, Miss Trehawke Davies, of 11 Portland Place, W., booked a return ticket for an aeroplane passage between Hendon and Brighton (Shoreham). Previously Miss Davies had made several less important cross-country flights on a Valkyrie monoplane. “We started on Monday”, said Mr. Barber, “at 5.55a.m. I took out a 50 h.p. Gnome Valkyrie racer, and ascended with Miss Davies in a slight breeze, making only two circuits of the aerodrome when we attained an altitude of 500 feet, and practically at six o’clock passed over the boundary of the flying ground in the direction of Brighton. Before reaching Harrow the wind had considerably increased from the south, and half an hour passed before we arrived over Brooklands track at an altitude of 1500 feet. Owing to the strong headwind I deemed it advisable to descend there in order to replenish the petrol tanks. In ten minutes this was accomplished, assisted by friendly aviators and mechanics. We at once resumed our journey.”
“An altitude of 1400 was maintained. Higher up the wind was found to be very strong, the barometer registering drops of 100 feet in a few seconds. When in sight of Lancing College and Shoreham Aerodrome the petrol supply was exhausted owing to the strong headwind, and we made a forced descent near Steyning in a four-acre field surrounded by trees. To ascend from such a restricted space is rather difficult, but we succeeded in flying through a gap in the trees with only three feet to spare, and in five minutes we landed at Brighton and Shoreham Aerodrome. The return journey was commenced at 7.56a.m. on the 1st inst., in spite of a twenty mile an hour wind. At an altitude of 1000 feet we flew in to the clouds and the wind increased to about 35 miles an hour. In ten minutes the Valkyrie was over Horsham. We descended on the golf links 1 ½ miles north of Horsham, and alighted at 8.7a.m., having travelled at a speed of about 95 miles per hour. Immense interest was shown by thousands of people from the surrounding country. Half a gale of wind blew all day, and it only calmed down towards 8p.m., when I decided to give a demonstration. A charge of 6d and 3d was made, and about 600 people availed themselves of this opportunity of examining the aeroplane and witnessing a flight at an altitude of 2000 feet. The proceeds were given to the local cottage hospital.”
Barber and Trehawke Davies at Steyning. July 1911
Another sign of the growing belief in Shoreham Aerodrome as a commercial adventure, was a proposed flying race between Dieppe and Shoreham, about which, Flight magazine, 12th August 1911, reported details of discussions: –
‘The proposal to organise a flying race between Brighton and Dieppe has been well received in both places, and on Friday of last week two delegates from Dieppe visited Brighton in order to discuss the proposal. It was originally intended that the race should have taken place at the end of this week, but it has been decided to postpone it until September 2nd, and one suggestion is that there shall be one race from Brighton to Dieppe and another race from Dieppe to Brighton, substantial prizes being offered for each. Another idea, which seems to find most favour, is that the race should include the double crossing, starting from either side, with three prizes of £600, £200, and £100 respectively.’
As it happened, the Royal Aero Club vetoed the race, deciding the risks attached to be too great for the 80 mile crossing. Nonetheless, Shoreham had by now become a handy staging post for the emerging band of young aviators keen to ply their trade in and around Sussex and beyond. Not least of these was James Valentine, whose operations at Shoreham did not go unnoticed by:-
Flight magazine. Saturday 16th Sept. 1911
The most important items of the past week were contributed by Valentine. On Wednesday afternoon he carried out some fine evolutions here before proceeding to Preston Park, where he put up a splendid exhibition before a large gathering at the Motor Gymkhana held by the car section of the Sussex Motor Yacht Club. On returning to the Shoreham Aerodrome he was warmly received by a considerable number of enthusiastic spectators.
On Thursday afternoon Valentine again had his Deperdussin out, this time taking his airing between the piers at Brighton, where the crowds on the front enjoyed a really splendid demonstration. At times he rose to a good height, and swooped down till the machine almost touched the water. Those who witnessed his return to the aerodrome will long remember the sight; flying low across the bridges, so that all might have a close view, he came to earth in splendid style at a speed of about 70 miles per hour.
Metzgar Bros. and Leno are working hard at their tests, which are proving very satisfactory. The new tractor biplane of Collyer and England has not been out yet, owing to a propeller bursting just after starting up for the initial flight.
September was a busy month for Valentine in the news, with many papers covering the aviator flying his Deperdussin to Dover on Thursday 21st September, here is the Worthing Gazette article:-
VALENTINE’S EXCELLENT FLIGHT.
From Shoreham to Dover in Seventy Minutes.
The aviator Valentine flew on Thursday from Shoreham to Dover, a distance of 80 miles, in exactly 70 minutes. He was assisted by a wind blowing at the rate of 20 miles an hour. He carried a letter from the Chief Constable of Brighton to the Chief Constable of Dover. His hands were numbed with cold, which rendered him unable to shut off the motor at the correct time. This caused the machine to dip, sticking her nose almost into the ground. He regained control, however, and landed safely.
Later in the day he gave an exhibition flight, and dropped a number of suppostitious bombs over Dover.
This would appear to have been the last aviation activity of any note to happen at Shoreham in 1911, the weather playing such a large part in those days of flying machines, constructed as they were by such lightweight materials that any decent gust of wind often put paid to many an aviator’s objectives. The air machines at this point in time were still some way off from being master over the elements.