Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Page last updated at 18:30 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009
How city welcomed Amelia Earhart
By Victoria Bartlett
BBC Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Amelia Earhart
"Women must try to do things as men have tried," Amelia Earhart, 1935

Amelia Earhart landed on Southampton Water on 19 June 1928 after becoming the first woman to fly across the Atlantic with a crew.

She had intended the city to be her first UK destination so a big welcome party was laid on for her.

However, it was put on hold because she was forced to land in Burry Port in South Wales, nearly out of fuel.

Once the seaplane was refuelled the crew flew to Southampton where they were greeted by thousands of people.

Southampton welcome

Cheering crowds lined the banks of the River Itchen to see Amelia come ashore.

Amelia Earhart

She had celebrity status - nicknamed "Lady Lindy" after aviator Charles Lindbergh had been dubbed "Lucky Lindy." Lindbergh had become the first person to fly the Atlantic solo the year before.

Amelia's feat was made even more interesting to journalists and the public after three women had died trying to achieve the same thing in the previous year.

After being greeted by fellow aviator Amy Guest and the mayor of Southampton, Mrs Foster Welch, the crew proceeded to the luxury South Western Hotel - known to countless seagoing transatlantic passengers - to answer questions from the press.

After landing, she continually tried to credit her crew. She said: "Stultz [her co-pilot] did all the flying. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes. Maybe someday I'll try it alone."

She did manage to complete the flight solo four years later, becoming the second person, and the first woman, to do so.

"Mecca" for aviation

This was the early part of Southampton's love affair with aviation which would last through the era of the flying boats, the Spitfire and development of commercial flights.

The River Itchen in 2009
Friendship taxied up the River Itchen and the crew came ashore at Woolston

Alan Jones, director of Solent Sky Museum in Southampton, said the area was steeped in seaplane expertise: "It was an absolute Mecca at that time.

"One can only presume Amelia chose to land in Southampton as it was somewhere within striking distance of some important services and workmen that could help her with the plane if necessary.

"In fact I know that her plane was serviced while in Southampton. A gentleman came to me many years ago with a jubilee clip which would go on a plane's radiator - it was from her plane. He took it as a memento as a small boy."

Alan said he had the "greatest admiration for early aviators."

He added: "They were like the footballers or celebrities of today but much more important in my view. Those like Amelia were flying cutting-edge equipment over areas with little or no support - which was very gutsy. So many serious things could, and did, go wrong."

Local author tells the tale

Mary S Lovell

The lifestory of Amelia Earhart was written by Brockenhurst author, Mary S Lovell.

The biography is based on original documents, letters, and logbooks of Earhart and her contemporaries, along with press reports, interviews with Earhart's and Putnam's families, and recently declassified US Navy records.

Mary said: "There is some news reel [of Amelia's landing] which is fascinating. The plane was fitted with floats so she actually landed on the water. It's amazing to see all the old ships along Southampton Water in it too."

Mary's book, The Sound of Wings, was published in 1989 and has now been made into a Hollywood blockbuster.

She said: "I'm beside myself waiting to see the movie. When my book was published the rights to it were bought immediately by Warren Beatty and Annette Benning. They then held on to it for 10 years but couldn't get it off the ground.

"Then about four years ago two New York accountants wanted to pick up the option. I'm not a snob - I'll take anyone's money! I had a 'power breakfast' with them and they were so nice I never thought they would make the film, I thought Hollywood would eat them up.

"But the next thing I know they were calling me to say they had Ewan McGregor, Hilary Swank and Richard Gere were on board - so how wrong can I be?"

Leading the way

Amelia Earhart

Amy Guest had expressed interest in being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic ocean after seeing Lindbergh do it.

After she decided the trip was too dangerous, Amelia Earhart got the offer to accompany Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon on the flight. Amy Guest sponsored the project instead.

The team departed Trepassey Harbour, Newfoundland on 17 June 1928, in a Fokker F7 named Friendship, landing in the Wales around 20 hours and 40 minutes later - then on to Southampton in two hours.

Earhart was the first woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for becoming the first aviatrix to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Amelia married project co-ordinator, George Putnam, three years after her achievement. Said to be intent on retaining her independence, she referred to the marriage as a "partnership" with "dual control."

During an attempt to make a circum-navigational flight of the globe in 1937 in a Lockheed L-10 Electra, Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island.

Fascination with her life, career and disappearance continues to this day.

Many aviation companies started in Southampton. In September 1913 Noel Pemberton-Billing opened an aircraft factory on the east bank of the River Itchen at Woolston called Supermarine. He started building aircraft and flying boats to his own designs.

By about 1919 a Sealion aircraft took off from Southampton Water by the Royal Pier with the mayor on board and thousands of people watching. When they landed, Southampton was declared as the first "air port" in the world.

After this event aviation development really took off in the city. R J Mitchell, who went on to design the Spitfire, joined Supermarine in 1916 and other companies such as Fairey Aviation based in Hamble and Simmons Aviation based in Woolston. Plus A V Roe - a pioneer in British Aviation - was also operating out of Southampton.

Alan Jones said Southampton was also a city with many "firsts" in flight: "In 1924 the British Marine Air Navigation Company Ltd designed amphibian flying boats which started the first scheduled flying boat services in the world from Woolston to the Channel Islands. This company went through a couple of mergers to then become the British Airways we know today.

"By 1927 Supermarine flew very large open cockpit aircraft called Southampton Flying Boats to the Far East, Australia, and Singapore and opened up some of the flight paths that are still used today."

Every couple of years Jacques Schneider, a French arms dealer, gave a trophy for the fastest and safest plane in world. The UK course was over Woolston, Hythe and Isle of Wight and Supermarine were always in contention.

Amelia at the door of Friendship
Amelia was a very influential woman during "The Golden Age of Flight"

A quarter of a million people came to Southampton Water and Southsea to see Supermarine win the the Snyder Trophy for the third time and secure it for good in 1931.

In the end eight world records were beaten in Southampton for air speed across the Solent. Two of those were achieved before Amelia flew to the city - another possible reason for her interest in coming to the area.

The Sound of Wings by Mary S Lovell is published by Arrow Books.

Amelia is released in cinemas on 13 November 2009.

Archive photographs are reproduced courtesy of George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart papers, Purdue University Libraries, Karnes Archives & Special Collections

Writer excited over aviator film
13 Nov 09 |  Hampshire
Derry filmmakers part of US doc
30 Jun 09 |  Foyle and West
Earhart supporters vow to keep site
08 May 09 |  Foyle and West
Festival celebrates air pioneer
13 Aug 08 |  Foyle and West
Town hopes to land Earhart role
12 Feb 08 |  South west
Island prison hunt for Earhart
29 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific



Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2018 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific