Christchurch Airfield (1926 – 1939)

With most histories of Bournemouth Airport stating that it began in 1941 with the construction of RAF Hurn, it is perhaps a surprise that Bournemouth Airport actually started some 25 years before this. Prior to RAF Hurn was Christchurch Airfield, and preceeding this it was known as Somerford Aerodrome.

 

The history of aviation at Bournemouth Airport can be traced back to 1926 at an area known as Burry’s Field which was a part of Mudeford Farm.

Surrey Flying Services

The very first beginnings of Bournemouth Airport can be traced back to July 1926 when pleasure flights started from part of Mudeford Farm owned by Mr Burry. One of the very first users was a company called Surrey Flying Services who offered joyrides over the local area.

 

Surrey Flying Services operated pleasure flights from several aerodromes throughout the south of England including Croydon, Southsea, Yarmouth and Portsmouth, and for Surrey Flying Services this field acted as a satellite for their base at Portsmouth. Surrey Flying Services operated a variety of Avro aircraft, although mainly Avro 504Ks, and ceased trading in 1934.

 

They can, however, be seen as the first operator to utilise the airfield.

In May 1928,the Bournemouth & District branch of the Hampshire Aero Club operated from fields alongside Somerford Grange. When services first started, they were only operated on one day a week, but fate had some luck in store for the tiny airfield.

 

Very close to Christchurch was Ensbury Park Aerodrome. This was far larger than the little field in Christchurch and played host to a wide variety of aircraft, staged air races, and had a horse racing track. It was in fact known as the Bournemouth Aerodrome due to it’s proximity to the town.

Bournemouth Aerodrome
DH37 Bournemouth

With air racing at Ensbury Park Aerodrome increasing in popularity, in 1927 at the Whitsun Air Race Meeting, fate dealt a cruel blow. Locals were becoming increasingly unhappy with the noise of the aircraft, and with a total of 8 events and 26 aircraft competing it proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Bournemouth.

 

Things started badly with a fatal crash on the morning of June 4th, when DH37 G-EBDO piloted by Major H Hemming hit the scoreboard on takeoff. This obviously put a cloud over the remainder of the days activities, although racing went ahead, but far worse was to come on June 6th.

The first race of the day on the 6th was the Medium Power Handicap which had 12 participants in one heat.

 

Towards the end of the second lap, two aircraft collided and killed both pilots, and in the aftermath it was decided that no more than 3 aircraft could compete in any single heat.

 

The crashes that had plagued the Whitsun weekend spelled the beginning of the end for Ensbury Park Aerodrome with no more air racing and very little flying. By 1930 there were no more aircraft or horse racing, and by 1930 the area had been sold to a developer for housing.

Ensbury Park Aerodrome

With the closure of Ensbury Park Aerodrome, Bournemouth no longer had an airfield, and despite being several miles away, the tiny airfield in Somerford filled the role. Initially, the Hampshire Aero Club increased flights from Somerford to two days a week on a Wednesday and Thursday with Lt Swaffer flying an aircraft into Somerford from Hamble for the role.

 

The fate that had befallen Ensbury Park spawned a new era for Somerford, and in 1928 Francis Colborne Fisher leased an area near Somerford Bridge from the Grange Estate.

 

Fisher operated pleasure flights from the field for four summer seasons using an Avro 504K until his lease expired at the end of 1931.

Somerford Aerodrome
Fisher Avro 504K

With Fisher operating Avro 504K G-EBVL, and a variety of other small flying companies offering pleasure flights from Somerford, it perhaps comes as no surprise that by the early 1930’s Christchurch was becoming seen as a small airport.

 

Burry’s Field was now listed in AA Aviation Department Register of Landing Grounds as having two landing strips, one 650 yards long and another of 400 yards.

 

By the early 1930’s, Burry’s Field was increasingly known as “Somerford”, and was becoming one of the most popular aerodromes in the area.

 

1933 heralded a new dawn for the airfield.

For residents in the area today, Cobham PLC is still known as being one of the large resident companies. The founder of this company, Alan Cobham, had been a Royal Flying Corps pilot during the First World War, and by the 1930’s had a successful “National Aviation Day” which was a mixture of barnstorming and joyriding and toured the country.

 

On the 30th April 1933, Alan Cobham presented Christchurch with it’s very first air show and attracted over 8,000 spectators. Bournemouth Airport seems to have a habit of excelling in the face of misfortune, and fate once again came to the assistance of the small airfield.

National Air Display

The problem with aviation, even evident today, is noise. With the 1933 National Aviation Day held on a Sunday, the noise could be heard during Sunday service in Christchurch Priory and this had repercussions the following year when a formal application for planning permission to make Fisher’s Field (rather than Burry’s Field) an “airport” was made to Christchurch Borough Council by Francis Fisher.

 

The application was refused on several grounds.

 

  • It would spoil the development of a residential area
  • The noise would interfere with amenities and be injurious to public health.
  • Too far from Bournemouth(6.5 miles) and too close to Christchurch(1 mile)
  • It would affect a nursing home at a distance of 1,000 yds
  • Aeroplanes would be a danger to local historical buildings
  • Aeroplanes would interfere with Divine Service

 

An appeal was lodged with the Ministry of Health, and on March 27th 1934 the application was granted.

 

Bournemouth Airport Ltd was formed with Alan Cobham as chairman and Francis Fisher as managing director. From February 1935, the airfield became officially known as “Bournemouth Airport” for the first time and in March 1935 the 94 acre site was purchased for the sum of £17,000.

 

Early plans for a terminal building fell through, and a wooden hut was installed for the purpose.

Bournemouth Airport

Cobham started two services to Croydon and Guernsey using Westland Wessex aircraft, and a hanger was built at the airport to accomodate the aircraft.

 

Over the next few years, several other small airlines started operating out of the airport including Channel Air Ferries Ltd offering services to Cardiff and Shoreham, PSIOWA (Portsmouth, Southsea and Isle of Wight Aviation Ltd) operating flights to Ryde, Air Dispatch, Crilly Airways to Bristol, Hillman’s Airways charter flights, Jersey Airways Ltd, Provincial Airways flying to airfields in Devon and Cornwall, Railway Air Services (later BEA) and Western Airways Ltd.

 

By June 1935 there were full customs facilities at the airport enabling flights to Europe, although these were withdrawn in 1936.

 

With Christchurch now seen as a growing airport, and operations increasing every year, it was the outbreak of war that led to the next chapter in the history of Bournemouth Airport.