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100 years of flying from Blackpool
A.V. Roe missed the chance to be the first to fly at Blackpool
A V Roe missed the chance to be the first to fly at Blackpool

As Blackpool airport celebrates its centenary, we look back at the history of aviation in the town.

Credit for introducing aviation to the region belongs to Blackpool Corporation and to Lord Northcliffe, the proprietor of the Daily Mail.

Lord Northcliffe was greatly interested in flying and through his newspaper he sponsored numerous air shows.

He was inspired by French aviator Louis Bleriot - who made the first historic flight across the English Channel.

Lord Northcliffe was also inspired by the world's first public air display at Rheims, so he wrote to Blackpool Town Hall in August 1909 to suggest that the town put on a display of its own.

Blackpool Corporation was enthusiastic and a date was set for 18-23 October 1909 making it the first official aviation meeting to be held in this country under the auspices of the Aero Club of the United Kingdom (now the Royal Aero Club).

Lord Northcliffe was greatly interested in flying
Lord Northcliffe was greatly interested in flying

The meeting was to be organised on land at Squires Gate which was then part of Squire Clifton's estate.

With only seven weeks to finalise the show the Ministry of Labour employed over 200 previously unemployed men who worked day and night on the erection of hangars and grandstands.

The First Day - 18 October 1909

The first man to make a start was A.V. Roe who brought his small yellow aeroplane out of its shed for the purpose of testing it. However, the machine refused to rise and the chance was lost for an Englishman to be the first to fly at Blackpool.

That achievement went to Frenchman Henri Farman who completed a round of the course amidst huge applause. Farman also set the first official British record with a flight of just over 47 miles and went on to win the Grand Blackpool prize of £2,000 awarded to the competitor who completed the greatest number of circuits without touching the ground.

Records state that, in all, 200,000 spectators attended the event and drank 36,000 bottles of beer; 40,000 dozen bottles of minerals; 500 cases of champagne and 600 of whiskey - and even had the time to consume 500 hogsheads, 1,000 hams and 2,000 pork pies!

1911 Racecourse and the First World War

A Flying Carnival organised by the Lancashire Aero Club took place in 1910, however, this was the end of Squires Gate being a centre of aviation for many years.

In 1911 the ground was leased to the Clifton Park Racecourses Syndicate who laid out a racecourse and built grandstands and a clubhouse. The first race was the £1,000 Coronation Gold Cup, held on 1 August 1911 and watched by a crowd of over 20,000.

However, the venture proved not to be a success and the last race meetings were held in 1914.

With the outbreak of war within a year the land was in use as the King's Lancashire Military Convalescent home, over 3,000 men being housed in huts built over the racecourse.

French aviator Louis Bleriot made the first historic flight across the English Channel
Louis Bleriot made the first historic flight across the English Channel

The home remained in use throughout the First World War before being demolished in 1924 when the site was handed back to the Clifton Estate.

1919 Pleasure Flights

The intrepid flyers of the First World War had done much to establish aviation in the public mind.

In 1919 the A.V. Roe Company, later to become the famous aircraft manufacturer Avro, offered pleasure flights from South Shore before being transferred to Squires Gate where they were operated at five shillings a time by the Lancashire School of Aviation. Flying had returned to its original site.

In 1928 an Air Pageant was once again staged at Squires Gate with 73 aircraft from the newly-formed Royal Air Force. Whilst the officers were accommodated at the Queens Hydro hotel, the airmen slept under the grandstands!

1931 New Location - Stanley Park

Over the years Blackpool Corporation had become increasingly interested in aviation.

In 1927 the Corporation asked Sir Alan Cobham, who ran an air circus and was also holder of several air records, to recommend a site for Blackpool's Municipal Aerodrome. Cobham selected land to the east of Stanley Park apparently because the site was available for purchase unlike Squires Gate.

Some 200 men worked for two years on the site and the airport was officially opened at a cost of £39,000 in 1931 by the Prime Minister, The Rt. Hon. J Ramsay MacDonald M.P.

A V Roe offered pleasure flights from South Shore in 1919
A V Roe offered pleasure flights from South Shore in 1919

The operation of the aerodrome was leased to National Flying Services Ltd, and other operators soon became established including the British Amphibious Air Company who ran trips to the Isle of Man in four-seater planes at a fare of 36 shillings return.

Two Airports by 1932

Competition quickly started to heat up when in 1932 aviation returned to Squires Gate and Blackpool and West Coast Air Services established a rival airport. In 1933 the operator started running flights from Liverpool to the Isle of Man via this new Squires Gate aerodrome as well as offering pleasure flights.

Other airlines were also attracted to use Squires Gate and soon Stanley Park was becoming little more than a flying club. It became clear that one airfield would have to close.

In 1935 Blackpool Corporation took the decision to acquire the Squires Gate site for £175,000 from the Clifton Estate as it was viewed as offering more potential than Stanley Park.

Following advice from the Ministry of Transport in 1936 the decision was made to cease operations at Stanley Park and concentrate on Squires Gate.

Second World War - Wellington Bombers

Blackpool's hopes for its new airport hit a setback with the outbreak of war in 1939.

Squires Gate was taken over as an RAF Coastal Command training station and Stanley Park was requisitioned as an RAF parachute training centre. It was later used as a venue for the Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show and eventually as the site of the town's zoo.

Three runways were built at Squires Gate, along with hangars and ammunition stores for RAF aircraft. Fighter Squadrons were based there for the defence of Merseyside against German bombers.

A large factory was also built by Lord Beaverbrook's Ministry of Aircraft Production and was occupied by the Vickers Company who built 3,842 Wellington Bombers at Squires Gate between 1941 and 1945.

Blackpool has hosted an annual air show since 1909
Blackpool has hosted an annual air show since 1909

Post War

A state of uncertainty existed during the post-war years, regarding the ownership and the future of the Squires Gate airport. Officially, it was under the control of the newly-formed Ministry of Civil Aviation which had taken over nearly all other municipal aerodromes.

Fortunately, Blackpool's ambitions to have an international airport were not forgotten and with agreement that the airfield could be used for civil operation, the first scheduled flights were provided in 1946 by British European Airways from Manchester to the Isle of Man via Blackpool.

Pleasure flights also resumed and several companies became established, including one of the largest, the Lancashire Aircraft Corporation.

In conjunction with North-West Airlines, services were offered from Blackpool to the Isle of Man, Manchester, London, Leeds, Birmingham, Southport and Glasgow.

The airport was redesigned in 1949 to make it more attractive to passengers and by 1950, 25,000 passengers were passing through the airport.

in the 1980s one holiday company offered Landladies Specials
In the 1980s one holiday company offered Landladies Specials

The 1940s and 1950s also saw a number of other operators and airlines using the airfield as well as a diverse range of aircraft; Rapides, Austers, Dakotas, Herons, and the Bristol freighters.

There was also renewed activity soon after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 in the airport's factory with the production of Hawker Hunters.

1962 - Municipal Airport

By 1958 it was considered that the operating costs were too much for the government. After three years of negotiation, Blackpool Corporation agreed to pay £175,000 for 528 acres of land, runways and buildings and assumed control on 1 April 1962.

The airport continued to develop and grow and by the 1980s there was a significant increase in passengers and air traffic movements. One holiday company even offered 'Landladies Specials' - holiday package tours from Blackpool to the Mediterranean.

The Last 25 Years

In 1987 Blackpool Airport was recognised as a Private Limited Company with Blackpool Borough Council as 100% shareholder. For 17 years the airport remained under its control until 2004, when MAR Properties Ltd purchased it.

The following year around 400,000 passengers travelled via the airport thanks to the introduction of several new flight routes and the introduction of new airlines.

By 2006, a £2m refurbishment of the passenger terminal was completed and the airport now has the capacity to handle two million passengers a year.

In pictures: Airport memories
17 Sep 09 |  History
In pictures: Blackpool Air Show 2009
10 Aug 09 |  Nature & Outdoors



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