Flying Week in Warrington – September 1919
Today we have a further blogpost from our Archives Volunteer Carol Mayo. Carol had been looking at events around the end of WWI for us and came across an interesting story to share with you. In local newspapers of the time she found the following details of Warrington Flying Week, 7th – 14th September 1919.
One of the surprising events in Warrington after WW1 was Flying Week. For this to go ahead a temporary landing ground licence was granted by the Air Ministry near Chester New Road at Arpley Meadows. This came about as Mr H. W Griffin Hon. Secretary of the Infirmary Fund arranged for the Blackpool Golden Eagle Aviation Company to visit Warrington. The Infirmary Fund was attempting to raise money towards a target of £10,000. Flying Week was considered to be an excellent fundraiser as the novelty of exhibition flights and first time passenger flights captured people’s excitement and imagination.
There were two De Havillands which were piloted by ex WW1 officers, Major Shield and Captain Hedges. In 1914 Shield had been one of the first pilots to shoot down a German plane. There were also four mechanics and two assistant mechanics. Once landed the De Havillands were guarded by policemen as many of the crowd hurried to look closely at the machines. All pre-booked flights had preference and some people could register for a free flight. Application was to be made to Mr Griffin at 26 Sankey Street. The free flights however were strictly for people aged over 70. Two of the free flights were granted to Mr Griffiths of 6 Dickenson Street in Orford aged 77 and seven months, and Mr F Taylor of 243 Liverpool Road. It was hoped that children would have the opportunity to fly but unfortunately the Director of Education refused to give his permission.
The cost of the flights were as follows – an exhibition flight was set at £2. 2s. whilst “up in the clouds” for half an hour was £3.3s. Once the flight had finished each person received a commemorative certificate from the pilot. Entry to the ground was charged at 2d for children and 3d for adults. There were refreshment tents, side shows and fairground entertainment. If the public were unable to afford a flight they could watch the De Havillands displays from the field. They were able to watch the planes circling the ground at a height of 1000 to 2000 feet over Walton, Stockton Heath, Bridge Foot and back to the landing ground. In his exhibition flights Major Shield flew “looped de loops and daring revolutions”. It was estimated that in one day 140 people had flown.
For the majority of people the flight prices were out of their reach, but affluent and prominent townspeople were able to experience their first flight. The Examiner’s reporters were so intrigued that they listed the names and the number of flights each person had arranged. Some of the names included were Alderman Tinnion who had three flights, Alderman Bennett, Miss Broadbent who had six flights, Miss Watkin of the Lion Hotel, Mrs Brocklehurst of Appleton six flights for her family and Lady Greenall who went on a long flight over Walton. Before take-off Lady Greenall tied her scarf around her hat. This was a wise safety precaution as another passenger was disappointed as he had lost his hat. Lady Greenall was so thrilled that she wrote a full account of her experiences in a letter which was published in the Examiner. In this she describes looping the loop as “most exhilarating”. Alderman Bennett’s flight also had exciting stunts “Immelman Turns” (half a loop and then half a roll to return to a level position), “stalls” and “side-slips”. He said he had “fulfilled an ambition that he had held nearly all his life and it excelled all his anticipations”.
A further account is provided by an unnamed Examiner reporter who flew with Major Shield. The reporter described the wait as “fascinating anticipation”. It reminded him of his first encounter with shell fire during the War – fear of the unknown. He boarded the plane and sat in front of the pilot; a man in white started the propeller and the engine roared. Once in the air he said the flight was very much like Maxim’s fliers at Blackpool South Shore. He went on to describe his views of the district. He could see glimpses for about ten miles and saw dots of colours on a green background. He could see they were coming in to land and then the dress of the spectators. He was also certain that he had never travelled quicker. It was the most novel experience of his life.
The general consensus was that flying was delightful and it proved to be an excellent fundraiser.