On Sunday 9th January 2005 I featured the History of Liverpool Airport on my Local History slot on the Norman Thomas Show. Although I have a great interest in the history of the airport I have yet to write about it, but until then, I have provided a few short notes, an early chronology and reference to sources for those who wish to delve further.During the sixties, myself and a few school friends would spend hours at the old Speke Airport. It was an exciting place to a young 10 year old – what a playground! We became serious plane spotters with our radios, registration books, binoculars and other essential items. No anoraks for us as we sped around the airfield on our bikes tormenting the ground crews to let us on board to sit in the cockpit while they turned the plane around for its next flight (image that in the present security conscious climate) or racing down to the Banks Road hangars to admire the Mosquito or play in the abandoned DC-3. Into our teens we became more grown up and joined 90 squadron ATC hoping to eventually make it into the RAF to become a pilot. Then my eyesight went. Gutted, I donned the goofy gold rimmed specs and tried to cope with my loss. So when I was asked by Norman Thomas to feature the Airport I was pleased to return to those sentimental days, but still felt despondent both for not making it as a pilot, but also at the old airport site no longer being used as the main airport. Although I know the history of the Airport well, I have not written on it. Mainly as I have had in my possession since 1982 an excellent booklet by Phil Butler. This has just been updated and reprinted. I shall instead refer you to that volume. However, I have included an early chronology regarding the main events prior to the opening of the airport and included a few links which may be of interest. Regarding my memories above I was ashtonished to find an identical story by Trevor Morson on his DC-3 web site while preparing this page. Even more so as it came only a few days after the Radio Merseyside Programme. On the way home I stopped at the old airport as I had my 10 year old son with me and I drove around the back of the Marriott Hotel on the old apron, before giving him a rambling reminiscence on ‘when I was your age ...’. Trevor could have been in the car with me on the Sunday afternoon. This is a brief extract from what he wrote;
“Liverpool Airport, Speke, has replaced this older terminal building with a new one at the other side of the field. I have many fond memories of this Airport and its terminal. The green railings that can you see (pic on his site), was the spectators balcony and groups of us (as aircraft spotters), would spend hours upon hours there with our bikes which we used to travel to the airport on, along with our aircraft radio's, binoculars and aircraft spotting books. In between the aircraft movements, we would play football with our bicycle clips. Often times we would we would get up to mischief and fill our crisps (potato chip) bags with water from the metal seats on the balcony (they had a recess in them that collected rainwater), and we would make water bombs with them, some often landed on boarding passengers. I know, bad stuff, ..but we were just kids remember. Although I am now 45 years old, I still chuckle about the great times we had as kids at Speke airport.
We, as aircraft spotters hung around with each other as a group for many years. We travelled or hitch hiked around the UK to other airports together and when we became old enough to drive, we would rent cars and spend vacations visiting airshows and airports around the country. Some of us stayed in touch for a very long time indeed. One of these people I am still in touch with, he is godfather to my two younger daughters.”
This comes from the Liverpool Airport & the DC-3 page on his brilliant site decicated to all things about the Dakota in its many incarnations. Well worth a visit.
Also on my searches I found this picture on a couple of sites:
An Illustrated History
by Phil Butler.
Soft-back published by Tempus with larger format 9 ¾ x 6 ¾ with 160 pages and colour section, price £16.99. ISBN 0 7524 3168 4
Reviewed by the Airfield Research Group :
This book is definitely recommended!
More than twenty years ago the author produced a similarly titled book and during the intervening years has gathered much more information which is presented in a totally different format. Easy to read with plenty of well-produced photographs it will become an important work of reference to the history of this airport.
Earliest days of aviation in Liverpool are given as an introduction, the plans for a marine airport in the Mersey estuary and various sites inspected for a municipal airport. At the time a number of municipalities were proceeding with their “airports” and civil aerodromes and Liverpool then an important sea-going port needed one themselves.
Eventually a site was found near Speke, licenced and a small terminal and hangar erected whilst the familiar large hangar and control tower later followed by the Terminal was built. The large attractive Hangars and Terminal happily survive and Grade II “listed” for preservation. Much detail of the progressive development and use is given in the book. The engineering shop at the end of Hangar 1 was demolished when the David Lloyd sports centre was installed, with an annexe of a different height being substituted, why this escaped the “listing” is unknown.
Both national and international services were operated from Speke prior to the Second World War (even during the war it was a “hub” of civilian operated UK services of AAJC). Rootes built a factory for the manufacture of Blenheims (later Halifaxes) and aircraft service work. RAF ordered Hudsons shipped over from the USA assembled and checked by Lockheed began a very large operation in handling American built aircraft in the two large hangars, additional hangars were erected. The author has located many previously largely unseen photographs and used them to illustrate this important contribution to the war effort.
The RAF (as well as the AAF) had a presence at Speke, most notably the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit whose activities are included in much interesting detail.
The author through further research has been able to dispel the myth was that Rootes did all the work on USAAF aircraft at Speke. Various journals of the time must have been unaware that the work was done at Blythe Bridge . References to Stirling production are also new and the Speke production of Blenheim Mk.V is definitely new (and corrects Graham Warner's excellent Blenheim book).
After the war, Speke regained its network of national and international services had the latest landing aids but like so many sites limited in expansion because of insufficient room for long runways. Further land virtually “off airfield” was taken over for a new runway and the existing facilities up dated. This was not enough and the decision taken to build new terminal facilities by the later runway and evacuate the original aerodrome for flying purposes. Airline traffic is growing at what is now known as Liverpool John Lennon Airport .
Each of these major developments over nearly 70 years is illustrated by good photographs and supported by historical detail. A list of service unit movements, first visits of type, airlines which operated and statistical data concerning growth (and variations) in aircraft movements are included with other subjects in the Appendices.
A useful short history on the SOUTH LANCASHIRE AVIATION RESEARCH website.
A few notes and photographs on the origins of the Airport on the Black and White Picture Place Web Site
Rapide MagazineThe Magazine for the North-West Vintage Aviation Enthusiast: Rapide is published approximately four times a year on a non-profit making basis. Its objective is to promote the invaluable contribution to aviation heritage made by the people of the North-West and North Wales.
Starways Ltd began in 1948 as a small charter company based in Blackpool and first flights began in January 1949 using a Percival Q.6 light aircraft. This aircraft was lost in an accident and Starways leased an Avro 19 Anson twin and moved flight and maintenance operations to Liverpool airport flying newspapers and general freight.
North West Air News
Our website mostly concentrates on Liverpool John Lennon Airport, however our monthly magazine, North West Air News covers details of all aviation activity in the North West of England, plus news from further afield.
Hooton Park Trust
Prior to being developed as an aerodrome in l9l7 this site was a racecourse set in the grounds of Hooton Hall, which was requisitioned in 1914 for Army training purposes at the beginning of WW1. The first unit stationed at the new aerodrome was a Royal Flying Corps pilot training unit who remained until disbanded in 1919. In 1927, the site was purchased with the intention of creating a major airport serving Liverpool and the Northwest of England.
A History of Hooton Airfield
Hooton became one of the best Airport in the North West. Shortly after WW1 Hooton was providing the whole of the Wirral with successful air transport. A study of the site by three year 9 pupils of Whitby High School South Wirral
Another brief history of the airport with illustrations.
Chronology of Key Events before its opening
Nov 1917 Cunard Steamship Co. given contract to build 500 Bristol F.2B Fighters at Aintree (later the site of Courtaulds). Test flown on the racecourse.
1918 Factory taken over by the government – became National Aircraft Factory No.3. Only 126 aircraft delivered before production ceased in March 1919.
1924 Northern Airlines at Aintree operate a daily mail service to Belfast (de Havilland 50s). Passengers also carried for £3.
1927 Liverpool Organisation (partly financed by Liverpool City Council) lobby for a municipal aerodrome. Air Ministry also advise and put pressure on local authorities to develop plans.
April 1928 Liverpool and District Aero Club formed. However, still no suitable site so Hooton Airfield was used (another racecourse used as an airstrip during WWI).
1 Aug 1928 Liverpool City Council purchase Speke Estate – 2,200 acres from executors of its former owner Miss Adelaide Watt (of Speke Hall) for housing, industrial estates and a municipal aerodrome. In Feb 1929 Government sanction a loan of £162,150 to purchase 1,726 acres of land. Balance of the area bought in 1933.
Sept 1928 Liverpool Organisation operate a mail/passenger service, Liverpool – Belfast. Flying Boat (Short Calcutta) of Imperial Airways used on the Mersey. Liverpool Maritime Aerodrome was operated by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board between Rock Ferry Pier and Garston Docks. Only ran from Sep 22 to Oct 4.
1929 Town Council proposed 5 sites:
2 sites within site of the now Old Airport
1 site within the present airport site
1 site straddled the now Woodend Avenue area
1 site within Walton Hall Park
March 1930 Construction began on the chosen site at the ‘Northern Airfield’
16 June 1930 Licence granted for a private use aerodrome
Armstrong Whitworth Argosy airliner of Imperial Airways arrives that day – begins a service from Croydon to Speke via Birmingham and Manchester. Ran successfully until September. No further regular services until -
1 July 1933 Official opening of Liverpool Airport
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