This is the first of seven articles about the important part Shoreham plays in aviation history, written by local expert Andy Ramus.
Prologue- The Aeronauts’ Balloon Years.
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.
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:-
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 House.
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 22nd July 1911 reports:-
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, D.G. Gilmour and O.C. 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.
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.
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:-
January 1912 at Shoreham Aerodrome saw flying schools getting established, as reported in Flight Magazine- 06-01-1912
Last weekend has seen the successful completion of two machines, the Collyer-England tractor biplane and the Chanter monoplane. The first named made straight flights on Saturday and Monday, with Dowland in control, and was put through a fair amount of rolling by both England and Dowling. Mr M. Chanter took his new monoplane out on Monday, and was in the air with her shortly after leaving the shed. On Tuesday she was out again, under the pilotage of her owner, and gave still better results. Ross, Gattler, Kent, and Davies, were out on the Chanter school Bleriots.