MOUSEHOLD HEATH: Civil/military aerodrome later civil aerodrome and later airport before reverting to military airfield status
(Also known as MOUSEHOLD and MOUSEHOLD AERODROME plus being NORWICH AIRPORT)
Military users: WW1: Royal Flying Corps
From July 1915 No.9 Reserve Aeroplane Sqdn (Avro 504Ds, B.E.2Cs, Farman Longhorns, Caudrons & Martinsyde Scouts)
From August 1915 18 Sqdn (Farman Longhorns, Farman Shorthorns, DH.2s, Avro 504s and Martinsyde Scouts)
51 Sqdn (Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2Cs & B.E.12s)
65 Sqdn (Various training types, later Sopwith Camels)
85 Sqdn (Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5A)
Home Defence Night Landing Ground, Training Squadron Station and No.3 Aircraft Acceptance Park – the latter having fifteen hangars and twenty one large storage sheds situated on the north-west side of the airfield by the end of WW1
7 Wing Aircraft Repair Station
WW2: 40 E&RVTS (Miles Magisters, Hawker Hinds & Audax')
Operated by: Pre 1940: Norfolk & Norwich Aero Club on behalf of the City of Norwich
Airliner users: Pre 1940: Crilly Airlines
Air Taxi: Pre 1940: Commercial Airways
Flying School: Pre 1940: Commercial Airways
Aero club: Pre 1940: Norfolk & Norwich Aero Club (DH Moth, Avro 548, Avro 594 Avian types)
Post 1945: Norfolk & Norwich Aero Club (Tiger Moths, Auster 4)
Manufacturing: Norwich area in WW1: Boulton Paul Ltd (FE.2Bs, Sopwith Camels & Snipes), Garrett & Sons (FE.2Bs), Mann Egerton & Co (DH.9s), Portholme Aerodrome Co Ltd (Sopwith Camels) and Ransomes, Simms & Jeffries (FE.2Bs)
1930s: Boultan & Paul Ltd
Location: 2nm NE of Norwich city centre
Period of operation: Possibly from 1909, then 1914 to 1939 (Then spasmodic use until 1950)
Site area: WW1: 263acres 1006 x 914
Runways: When MOUSEHOLD became the airport for Norwich in 1933 four landing strips were provided, all grass of course:
N/S 823 NE/SW 1097 E/W 914 SE/NW 914
NOTES: As always I’ll ask the question about manufacturing as to whether aircraft were produced “on site” or if these companies used the aerodrome for final assembly and flight testing etc. It was many years later after making these remarks, in 2008, that I met an sixty seven year old English truck driver, who had once held a PPL and waiting for the Portsmouth ferry in Le Havre, who knew part of the answer in this case. It appears that Bolton and Paul built their Defiants during WW2 at their Riverside factory in Norwich and the fuselages, (with stub wings/centre sections), were towed to MOUSEHOLD HEATH by Austin 7s with their rear bodywork cut away, for final assembly and flight testing. He also told me that his father was taken as a child to MOUSEHOLD HEATH, (in 1909 perhaps?), to see Monsieur Blériot who have flown in, perhaps after crossing the English Channel? Either way it appears to provide an element of proof that MOUSEHOLD HEATH had been used, (at least once?), prior to 1914?
BOULTON & PAUL
In 2008 I discovered, (thanks to Ron Smith and others), that in October 1915 Boulton & Paul had started manufacturing aircraft as a sub-contractor, (the first being the FE.2B), at their Rose Lane works in Norwich, and these were taken to MOUSEHOLD HEATH for final assembly and test flying. By mid-1916 production had moved to a new factory at Riverside and by the end of WW1 over 2500 aircraft had been built including FE.2Bs, Sopwith Camels and Snipes. They also constructed hulls for the Felixstowe F.3 and F.5 flying boats, as well as building wooden hangars for the RFC and RNAS.
Just for wry amusement purposes I shall include part of the reminiscences of Lieut Peter Wilson, (who test flew aircraft and delivered them from MOUSEHOLD HEATH during late 1917 and 1918), recorded by Mr Bruce Vaughan in 1964. “The Camel was a most wonderful machine – terribly sensitive – you could fly it with two fingers, but a wicked machine for torque. I think it was under-ruddered because, due to torque, if you put her into a steep right bank you had to clap on left rudder immediately to keep the nose up. There must have been hundreds of pilots who ‘went west’ through making right turns in Camels without sufficient rudder to counteract torque reaction.” From my perspective as a modern private pilot not at all “a most wonderful machine”; quite the opposite and certainly unfit for a combat role for inexperienced pilots?
This was my view until introduced to the concept, by those who flew the Camel in WW1, that flying an aircraft that does not point inherently in the direction it is flying – is very difficult to shoot down! A good example of lateral thinking and taking advantage of a serious design flaw.
BOULTON & PAUL'S FIRST DESIGN
By 1917 Boulton & Paul had designed their own aircraft, (the work of designer Mr John North), the first being the P.3 Bobolink, (I wonder where that odd name came from?), a single-seat biplane fighter which went to MARTLESHAM HEATH for evaluation. Probably not successful as only one was built. The P.9, a two-seat biplane followed but only three were built. If by now you are wondering why on earth is this chap including this most arcane information, it’s to lead up to this – the P.10. Ever heard of it?
No? Nor me either until the 18th March 2008 when researching Part Three of Norfolk and Suffolk Airfields compiled by Mr Huby Fairhead and Mr Roy Tuffen and published by the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum. My dear friend Austin J Brown found this for me, (if only Part One and Part Two had been available!), at an air show stall if memory serves and it is full of the most wonderful detail. Anyway, (and I do hope Messrs Fairhead and Tuffin got this correct!), the Boulton and Paul P.10 was, they claim, the first all-metal aircraft to be built in the UK – making an appearance at the Paris Air Show in 1919.
I have read dozens and dozens of books, visited many museums etc, but I am pretty damned certain I have never heard or seen or read anything about this astonishing Boulton & Paul P.10 claim to fame? There is another aspect too, when reading about the history of Boulton & Paul it soon becomes clear that this company was often in the forefront of aviation design and developments, but never seemed to quite succeed? The history of British aviation is littered with brilliance that never made a mark with the ‘establishment’.
For example I was brought up to regard the Boulton & Paul Defiant as being a bit of a flop, but when I learnt this design was on their drawing boards as early as 1934 it gives a totally different picture! It was way ahead of its time, and, if they had had the foresight to provide guns for the pilot to fire, the story may well have been different. But, I suppose there wasn't then an engine powerful enough to cope with all the extra weight.
Just a small aside, it appears that Boulton and Paul built the ‘frames’ for the ill-fated R101 airship, transporting them by road to CARDINGTON.
NORFOLK AND NORWICH AERO CLUB
On 25th February 1927 the Norfolk and Norwich Aero Club was formed here, their first aircraft being the DH.60 Moth G-EBQX registered to the club in May 1927. The second aircraft was an Avro 548, G-EBPJ, which arrived in November 1927, (staying till October 1928). In 1928 they acquired the Avro 594 Avian III G-EBXE and a second DH Moth G-EBZW. In May 1936 the DH.87B Hornet Moth G-ANDC arrived, followed in 1937 by two Gipsy Moths G-AAIW and G-ABUB and by September 1938 the DH.60 Gipsy Moth G-AADH was in service. Two DH.94 Moth Minors, (one being G-AFPI), were in service from August 1939. Presumably with a very short life in civil service?
THE KING'S CUP
On the 20th July 1928 MOUSEHOLD HEATH was one of the staging posts in the King’s Cup Air Race and taking part was the A.N.E.C. IV Missel Thrush G-EBPI which crashed at Peebles, (presumably later that day?), killing the pilot Mr Guy Warwick.
A GRAND EVENT
The Eastern Daily Press carried an advertisement placed by the Norfolk and Norwich Aero Club for an airshow to be held on Whit Monday 20th May, (possibly in 1933?). The text read like this but the layout is just my idea, (they often used a variety of fonts to ‘jazz’ the advert up).
GREAT AERIAL DISPLAY 11am to 5pm.
An amazing display of speed, skill and daring, comprising aerobatics, crazy flying, parachute descents, aerial competitions, bombing a Fort and much more
SEE Tranum leap from his ‘plane and fall thousands of feet through space
WATCH Inflexible – the world’s largest monoplane
LEARN “How not to fly”, from some of Britain’s worst flye
FLY WITH Britain’s Air Ambassador….climb with him to cloudland….see the sea from Norwich by the sea
Aero racing, upside-down flying, joy-riding and many other features
I always find it interesting to see the admission fees and similar items, for example: Members enclosure 5/- (4/- if taken before the day), cars to Members enclosure 7/6, ordinary car park 2/6. Admission to ground 1/-, children 6d. Reduced train fares from all parts. A percentage of takings will be donated to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. This was taking place of course about two decades before the National Health Service was introduced and indeed, at least one “Flying Circus” operation touring the UK in those days, the BRITISH HOSPITALS AIR PAGEANT run by Barker and McEwen King in 1933), proclaimed itself to be devoted just to raising hospital funds. A rather cynical exploitation or clever marketing, or both perhaps?
The reference to “Britain’s Air Ambassador” must surely have been directed to Sir Alan Cobham who arrived in the DH.61 Giant Moth “Youth of Britain” G-AAEV. The Beardmore Inflexible J7557 arrived from MARTLESHAM HEATH flown by Sqdn Ldr Hilton. Can the claim to be “The world’s largest monoplane”, at that time be substantiated? It certainly was big for that time with a wingspan of 150ft. (The first Boeing 747 was 195ft 8ins, but the Bristol Brabazon was 230ft, oddly enough exactly the same span as the Convair B.36 the largest ever bomber). However, with just three 650hp Rolls Royce Condor engines the Infexible (what an odd choice of name?) must surely have been seriously underpowered?
Also attending the event was Capt Broad, test pilot of the De Havilland company who flew in with a DH.60 Moth from STAG LANE. Another Moth arrived flown by a Mr Jackson of the London Aero Club. An Avro Avian piloted by Mr S Brown of the Lancashire Aero Club won a Moth car mascot in the aerial golf competition! (Does anybody know today what on earth that comprised?)
Probably mainly through ‘Armed Service’ connections (?) there seems little if any bar between civil and military activities. For example, at this airshow the aerobatic slot of the Blackburn F.2 Lincock M.1 G-ABVO, (a single-seat fighter), was flown by Mr G E Lowdell, a flying instructor of the Suffolk and Eastern Counties Aero Club based at HADLEIGH. It was reported to be a breathtaking display with high speed aerobatics and inverted flying! Six competitors took part in the handicap air race from MOUSEHOLD via Ranworth and Wroxham. The winner was Mr W P Cubitt in a N. & N.A.C. machine. (Don’t you just wish for a more precise description to be recorded? Even a registration).
A Boulton and Paul Sidestrand displayed it’s manoeuvrability, the Sidestrand being the first twin-engined day-bomber built by Boulton & Paul to go into production for the RAF? It was said to be faster than current RAF fighters, could outfly them, and was aerobatic too! So, a forerunner of the DH Mosquito.
HISTORY DOES PERHAPS REPEAT ITSELF
This airshow proves a historical point. For the Fort bombing demonstration fifty Boy Scouts dressed up in white to act as Afghans! When it began to look desperate for the “Afghans” they were ‘rescued’ by Sir Alan Cobham in the Giant Moth. A lovely little exercise in propaganda? He also flew many members of the civic party aloft at no charge, plus a number of school children paid for by Sir Charles Wakefield of Castrol fame. For the general paying public, flights with Sir Alan lasted just seven minutes!
MORE INTERESTING ARRIVALS
Appealing enormously to my anoraky dotage was the entry stating that yet another DH Moth arrived from Teignmouth in DEVON piloted by Flt-Lt Jones with - wait for it - Air Vice Marshall Sir Sefton Brancker as a passenger! The equivalent in aviation terms, (if aircraft had been around a hundred or more years earlier), of landing and saying, “I’ve brought Admiral Nelson along.” I assume they took off from HALDON?
The Duchess of Bedford also flew in with the DH Moth G-AAAO, presumably from WOBURN? There is no doubt about it, right from the start certain members of the British aristocracy embraced aviation and were very enthusiastic about it, including the Prince of Wales in the 1930s. Private flying was mainly rather elitist in the 1920s and 30s, hence the huge amount of public admiration and adoration for a “commoner” like Amy Johnson achieving what she did? In fact her father was a wealthy fish merchant in Hull, so her family heritage was distinctly middle class. Plus, she acquired sponsorship from Lord Wakefield for her outstanding flight to Australia.
NOTABLE LADIES IN AN AIR RACE
Competing in “an air race in Norwich” in 1927 was Lady Mary Bailey, possibly Lady Mary Heath competed too and it was she who had introduced Lady Mary Bailey to flying at the London Aeroplane Club at STAG LANE (LONDON). It seems quite astonishing to me that Lady Bailey only got her license in October 1926 and in early 1928 announced she was going to fly to Cape Town to visit her husband. No records would be attempted, just a bit of trail blazing. After some local flying in South Africa she flew back too!
Incidentally, Lady Mary Heath came from common Irish stock and became a Baronet through marriage to her second husband in 1926. She was remarkable in many ways although many thought little of her due to her outspoken and bombastic opinions and general attitude in public, being given the nickname ‘Lady Hell-of-a-Din’. Then again who else might have even considered, or have the tenacity, for taking on the might of the International Commission for Air Navigation based in Paris who, in those days, absolutely forbade women from having commercial jobs in aviation, although, they could pass the exams. She did this only two years after the Commission had withdrawn their ban on any woman getting any kind of pilot license! Her fight to gain parity for women almost deserves a book in itself, so needless to say, she won!
She also did something else which has great appeal to me, having completed a series of flights in the rough weather autumn of 1992, (on commission from publishers Ian Allan), with Austin J Brown to fly a light aircraft into as many major UK airports as possible. Much more sensibly, departing in July 1927, (our contract was put off until the autumn), she decided to make a tour of British aerodromes, visiting over fifty and landing at thirty-three. In his book Powder Puff Derby author Mike Walker explains: “There were two good reasons for what might seem a rather pointless accomplishment.” (Mr Walker is not a pilot, which might help explain something?). “First, Britain was woefully provided with airstrips (I think he means aerodromes) and no coherent map of these had been constructed. There was also a need to link in the temporary landing grounds that were not up to commercial or club standards but which, in an emergency might prove to be life-savers.”
Mr Walker is over-egging the cake here, his comment applying to modern times generally speaking. In the 1920s and 30s most aircraft, of all types and sizes, were designed to cope with using quite rough fields. Indeed, it was quite common for pilots, (including the military), when ‘temporarily uncertain of position’ – (pilots never get lost of course), to land in a convenient field and seek directions. Put simply aircraft had lower landing and take-off speeds and much bigger wheels, which could cope with rabbit holes etc. This is not to say that most such landings were successful. Having a “Whizzo prang by jove” was par for the course in those days. Set against this the commercial pilots of those days invariably achieved a high degree of competence and safety and rarely made a ‘forced landing’. Mr Walker does make an interesting point; “Mary’s flight provided the first such plan of the country’s landing zones.” I have some doubts about this claim?
There is another aspect regarding the rivalry between these two ladies, and that was the setting of altitude records for light aircraft. At some point, (in 1926?), Mrs Elliott-Lynn, soon to become Lady Mary Heath, set a British light aircraft altitude record in an Avro Avian of 16,000ft. In 1927 Lady Mary Bailey topped this to 17,283ft in a de Havilland Moth. Lady Mary Heath tried at least once and failed to top this, but, in 1928 regained the record to 23,000ft. No oxygen was used, nor was it required. She took one hour ten minutes to reach this altitude and about ten minutes to get down. One thing I learnt, (a surprise to me I have to say), when being instructed in Alpine flying, is that the effects of altitude take quite a while to have any effect. For example a quick climb to fly past the top of Mont Blanc, which I did taking off from Aosta, had no effect, or would I was assured, would a flight around the top of the Matterhorn.
It has been suggested that when Lady Mary Heath went to the USA to pusue her flying career, was deliberately sabotaged by G P Putnam who was determined at any cost to promote his wife, Amelia Earhart. Trying to unravel this history is a complex task at best, but at face value this does appear to be the case. Without much doubt Lady Mary Heath was a far better and qualified pilot than Amelia Earhart.
Although not pertinent to this ‘Guide’ there seems little doubt that Putnams interference in selecting the navigator, (a “last minute change”), on Earharts fatal round the world flight attempt did, in effect, cause directly both their deaths. Another case of ignorance, arrogance, wealth and influence overcoming practical considerations. Exactly the case, in many respects, resulting in the catastrophe regarding the R.101 crashing near Beauvais on the flight to India. Aviation history is heavily peppered with similar accounts.
FLYING CIRCUS VENUES
Venue, (19th May 1929), for Sir Alan Cobham’s Municipal Aerodrome Campaign tour.
Venue, (18th to 19th April 1931) for the C.D. Barnard Air Tours ‘Tour of the UK’.
Note: It is reported that Capt Barnard’s ‘Flying Circus’ thrilled the crowds. Possibly one of the most interesting aircraft being displayed was the Cierva C.10 Mk.III Autogyro G-AALA? To me of equal interest was the Fokker F.VII G-EBTS “The Spider” in which the Duchess of Bedford made her record breaking flight from CROYDON to Karachi in 1929
Venue, (23rd July 1932), for Alan Cobham’s National Aviation Day UK Display Tour. They returned on the 19th August 1933 and 13th July 1935. As said before and elsewhere, Sir Alan Cobham detested the term “Flying Circus”.
THE NORFOLK AND NORWICH AERO CLUB ANNUAL DINNER
On the 17th March 1931 Amy Johnson flew in with her yellow Puss Moth ‘Jason II’. Leaving from “London” at 3.30pm and, (flying into a strong headwind), she arrived a few minutes past 5pm. Arriving at about the same time was Lt.Col Shelmerdine, (Director of Civil Aviation and his wife), as guests at the Aero Club annual dinner, held at Spring Gardens and attended by 240 people. Think about this, an Aero Club boasting about five aircraft, and yet hosting an event of this magnitude with such illustrious guests…..????
JUST TWO AERODROMES IN NORFOLK?
In 1930 on the Ordnance Survey ‘Aviation Map’ only two aerodromes were listed in Norfolk. MOUSEHOLD and BIRCHAM NEWTON. PULHAM was depicted simply as a D.F. (Direction Finding) Station.
A NEW BEGINNING
In 1932 it was decided MOUSEHOLD was to become the site for NORWICH airport, (possibly due to influence by Sir Alan Cobham?), and on the 21st June 1933 the Prince of Wales arrived in his DH Dragon G-ACGC for the official opening. To assist in commemorating the occasion a line up of Boulton & Paul Sidestrands of 101 Sqdn were present, plus the Fairey Long Range Monoplane K1991. The first airline to operate from here was Crilly Airlines using DH Dragons and the General Aircraft Monospar ST.24 types. They flew regular services to Bristol, (WHITCHURCH?), via Leicester, (BRAUNSTONE), which eventually connected to Nottingham (TOLLERTON), Northampton (SYWELL), Liverpool (SPEKE), Manchester (BARTON), DONCASTER and London (CROYDON and/or HESTON?) and Sunday trips to RAMSGATE and Southend, (probably ROCHFORD?)
Air taxi and aerial photography operations were going on too.
A RANGE OF MOVEMENTS
MOUSEHOLD HEATH remained fairly busy right up to the cessation of civilian flying prior to WW2. For example visitors recorded for the week up to the 28th May 1939 included two DH Dragonfly’s from CROYDON, a Taylorcraft from WESTLEY (Bury St Edmunds), a BA Swallow from Nottingham, (presumably TOLLERTON?), a Tiger Moth from HATFIELD, a DH Fox Moth from CROYDON and a Blenheim of 21 Sqdn based at WATTON. It has to be remembered that just a few arrivals a day constituted quite normal operations at most regional airports.
DISMISSED FROM DUTY
During WW2 this airfield did not become operational, HORSHAM St FAITH by then being the favoured ‘Norwich’ site, and from 1940 to 1942 this airfield became a ‘K’ Site decoy for HORSHAM St FAITH and dummy Hudsons were place around the airfield. However, it is reported that from June 1940, and for several months, some of the Blenheims based at HORSHAM St FAITH were dispersed here. Another report states that at 19.30hrs on the 1st September 1940 a Blenheim IV, (possibly of 139 Sqdn?), made an emergency landing here.
In the autumn of 1940 military DH Tiger Moth trainers were being flown here to be placed into storage! Note that date! The over-production of Tiger Moths in WW2, (and many other types), is a scandal still waiting to surface. There appear to be no records of any aircraft activity beyond 1940 during WW2.
A TARGET FOR THE LUFTWAFFE
Fortunately for us the Germans in WW2 were particularly inept at intelligence gathering and espionage, and placed little importance on photo-reconnaissance. Perhaps arrogance and over-confidence paid a large part?
One of the first bombs to fall in the Norwich area destroyed the Norfolk and Norwich Aero Club hangar and clubhouse, the latter containing all the Club’s records. It is claimed the last fixed wing aircraft to land and take-off from MOUSEHOLD HEATH did so in 1946 but the identity of this aircraft appears a mystery? However, the story didn’t end here, although many claims are made the airfield ceased operations in 1939!
BECOMING A HELIPORT
What has really surprised me is how long it took in my researches to eventually discover the activities of the BEA (British European Airways) Experimental Helicopter Unit which was in existence from 1948 to 1950 at least. This enterprise was an incredibly forward thinking and highly significant if not revolutionary development in the history of British aviation. Think about it. Even in those days there were a few people in BEA, (generally speaking a rather unsafe operation for much of its existence - they had a lot of serious crashes, which possibly eventually led to the merger with BOAC, with arguably a somewhat better safety regime, to create British Airways), with the guts and vision to explore the potential of running regional helicopter services on a scheduled basis. They really did believe this was possible, although inevitably financially unviable - even the case today I suppose?
Based in PETERBOROUGH they ran a series of ‘airline’ operations, a few at night, to service east Anglia. The delivery of mail quite rightly being seen as a major revenue source.
Even today Norfolk and Suffolk doesn’t have a single stretch of motorway and even Essex only ‘cheats’ by having the M.25 running through it, albeit in the outer vicinity of the Greater London area and the M11 barely encroaches of course. MOUSEHOLD HEATH was a key point, being a refuelling point on the convoluted route devised. (see PETERBOROUGH). The Sikorsky S.51 Dragonflys used, (G-AKCU and G-AJOV at least), had a very limited range. It seems the periods of operation were June to September 1948, February to March 1949 and October 1949 to April 1950.
Bernard GrantThis comment was written on: 2016-05-27 18:48:45
My Grandfather & an Uncle worked in a shoe factory based in a hanger at Mousehold. Mr. Herschel was the owner circa 1933 /4/5/6. The factory became The Florida group, then Van Dal . Do you have any records of this ?.
Reply from Dick Flute:
Dear Bernard, I am afraid to say I have no knowledge of this. But, can anybody else help here?
Les WhitehouseThis comment was written on: 2017-10-23 16:21:38
A few notes: P.3 Boblink rather than the company chosen name Hawk, because the War Ministry decreed that all B&P aircraft had to start “BO” and fighters had to be named after birds. Name later altered to Bobolink well after the design was scrapped – an American thrush-like bird with either spelling. Hence P.7 Bourges, P.12 Bodmin, P.15 Bolton since twin engine machines had to be named after towns. A total of 9 P.9’s were built and the P.10 was a metal framed, plastic covered version built to demonstrate the possibilities of steel. Norwich museums own a wing and rear fuselage/fin from the machine. Only the prototype Defiant was started in the Mousehold Heath factory/hangars of B&P, it was completed in Wolverhampton. But FE2b aeroplanes were towed to Howes at Chapel Field for engine fitment and thence to Mousehold for final erection and flight. Les Whitehouse Archivist – Boulton Paul Association
Reply from Dick Flute:
Hi Les, Many thanks indeed for this information, which I shall keep posted. Best regards, Dick
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