Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Earlston - the first with an aerodrome in 1931

This poster from  local historian, the  late John Weatherly,   is now in the collection of Auld Earlston.  Printed in Galashiels, it appears to be a "shell" poster, with space to fill in the details of date and venue. 

The event promised
"Famous pilots, aerobatics, stunts, looping, rolling, upside down flying,  crazy flying and  walking the wings at 100m.p.h. by Daredevil Draycott - the man who rides the winds" - plus passenger flights from  5 shillings a time.
But where and when  did these events take place. Did you know that Earlston once  had an aerodrome?   A search of local newspapers provided information. 
 "The Scotsman" of 1st August 1931 had a brief item under the headline "Earlston's Aerodrome" - also carried by "The Hawick News & Border Chronicle".

"The Berwickshire News" of 28th July 1931  gave a fuller account, with the revelation that the local firm of Messrs Wm Rodger & Sons owned the plane. 

"Earlston is very fortunate in being the first town in Berwickshire to witness an aeronautic display.  On Monday evening a large number of Earlstonians were entertained to a succession of thrills by the advent of an aeroplane, the property of Messrs W. Rodger  & Sons which gave several aerial exhibitions at a newly constructed aerodrome at Purveshaugh, Earlston.  The enterprising firm is lucky to have secured the services of an skilled aviator and pilot   in the person of Mr J. Hinklin of Hornchurch and late of the Royal Air Force.  They have also secured the services of a competent ground engineer  viz Mr. J. Hellon  of the Scarborough Aero Club.  The pilot gave a thrilling exhibition of  flying in the presence of a crowd of nearly 400 spectators, many of whom were desirous of "getting up".  Messrs Rodgers gave a couple of free flights which were greatly enjoyed and appreciated.  It is understood that operations are to commence immediately".  

The next week's paper of  4th August 1931 noted that
"A considerable number of spectators...visited the Purveshaugh Aerodrome , near Earlston...when about 100 persons of both sexes, mainly young people, booked flights  and were taken up in   Messers Rodgers aeroplane.  The plane had also been in commission the previous evening when 50 passengers went up. All seemed to enjoy the novel and enthralling sensation".
What was the background to this event?
Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first powered flight on December 17th  1903. 

The aeroplane came of age in World War One and tens of thousands were produced in the UK alone. But, despite there being hundreds of sites used by fixed-wing aircraft across the UK, most British people had never been close to an aircraft and it appears that a quite large proportion of the population still hadn't actually seen one.

On 24th July 1924 "The Southern Reporter" thought it noteworthy to write that:  
"Three aeroplanes  passed over the west end of Earlston about 8.30 a.m  but were observed by comparatively few persons.

Following the First World War, experienced fighter pilots were eager to show off their new skills, flying into towns across the country, as well as taking paying passengers for rides. It was men like Alan Cobham who promoted air tours to raise awareness of the importance of aviation. To attract the crowns, he included displays of not just aerobatics, but stunt' flying too.

Not all sections of society were in agreement with his intensive event schedule.   in Berwick, the Lord's Day Observance Society  objected to Commercial Air Displays and Pageants being held on a Sunday - but the council decided to take no action. on the complaint. (Reported in "The Southern Reporter": 3rd December 1931.)

"The Berwickshire News" of August  1932 reflected the interest in this new form of transport with reports~ 

"Considerable interest  was several Earlstonians of the younger generation, especially when one of Messrs Rodger's aeroplanes landed in a field adjacent to the local football pitch owned by Mr Alexander Brownlie, The machine which had just arrived from Blairgowrie after a successful series of fights, under the pilotage of Mr Wells, made  a convenient landing preparatory to being overhauled  for further service.


An optimistic  writer in "The  Berwickshire News" of 9th September 1930 expressed the hope that@
"We must concern ourselves  with the laying out of aerodromes. I thoroughly believe that it will not be long before every town planning scheme will include provision for aeroplane traffic."  

In Britain commercial air travel began with the formation of Imperial Airways in 1924 and developed in the 1930's for those people who could afford it.     A flight from London to Brisbane, Australia, for instance, (the longest route available in 1938) took 11 days and included over two dozen scheduled stops. One advisement boasted "By Air to South Africa or India in less than a week!"

1939 of course changed the face of air travel, as war became the focus.  

Never again was Earlston  to be at the forefront of the aeroplane age in the Borders.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder how many Earlston people know of this "first" in Earlston's past. Thank you for telling us about it.


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