Winter 2001

Sun, Sand and Silver Wings

Article by John Mulliner, Southport Shore Interest Group

It is over 90 years since the first aeroplane landed on the shore at Southport. John Mulliner, Chairman of the Southport Shore Interest Group provides a brief insight into the towns aviation history. The story of flying at Southport is almost as old as the story of powered flying itself.
Hesketh Road hanger
Hesketh Road hanger with a Tiger Moth.
© John Mulliner

In August 1910 pioneer aviator Claude Grahame-White arrived unexpectedly at Southport, landing his biplane on the beach near the pier where a large crowed quickly gathered.

In the same year Southport Corporation built a hanger at the north end of the town and this, and the adjacent beach, was rented to a John Gaunt, who designed, built and successfully flew his own aircraft from this site the following year

In 1911, a second airfield was situated at Blowick, at the back of the town, and it was here that the first air displays were held over the summer and attracted many of the early pioneers including Charles Hubert, Clement Gresswell and Claude Grahame-White himself.

In 1919 the Avro Aviation Company operated pleasure flights, as well as scheduled flights to Blackpool, Manchester, Waterloo Sands and Fleetwood from a sand strip near the Birkdale Palace Hotel (now demolished).

The following year, 1920, two French Canadians and ex Royal Flying Corps pilots, Norman and Percy Giroux, set up a company to operate pleasure and charter flights from a new airstrip, Birkdale Sands, near Pleasureland. Over the years the Giro Aviation Company operated many types of aircraft including two of the famous De Havilland Fox Moth 5 seater biplanes. In the thirties the company ran a flying school and offered air services to Blackpool, the Isle of Man and Ireland as well as, of course, their pleasure flights.
Foxmoth 3 biplane
Foxmoth 3 biplane. © John Mulliner

The 1930's also saw the visit of Alan Cobhams Famous Flying Circus whilst in May 1937 Americans Dick Merrill and Jack Lambie, took off from Ainsdale beach on their return record breaking flight to America in their twin engined Lockheed Electra.

After the war the Giro Aviation Company renewed its' pleasure flights before Norman Giroux, now a Squadron Leader, retired in the early sixties at the age of 68. At the time he was the worlds oldest commercial pilot and had logged 30,000 flying hours.

In 1954 the recently formed Southport Aero Club began operated Tiger Moth biplane and a Wicko 2 seat cabin monoplane from Hesketh Park before moving to RAF Woodvale in 1961.

In the seventies the Birkdale Sands airstrip was moved seaward to allow the building of the coastal road and there encountering the first mud patches which increasingly plagued subsequent pleasure flight operators until in 2001 the Civil Aviation Authority declassified it.
Southport Air show
Lancaster Bomber at Southport Air show
© John Mulliner

The Southport Shore Interest Group has recently put forward plans to resite the strip further south where the beach remains firm. It is hoped a new site will attract private investment in occasional fly ins, parachute drops, parascending displays, pleasure flying and even balloon launches.

Meanwhile Southport continues to retain its air link of 90 years via its ever popular and expanding annual September Air Show.

A book SUN, SAND AND SILVER WINGS by John Mulliner on the history of aviation at Southport and along the Sefton Coast will be published later in 2004.

For a more details, visit Sefton Coast and Countryside's web site