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The Rise and Fall of the Pebsham Aerodrome

A Cronological History of the Aerodrome
Early days until Public Enquiry 1930 - 1933



The history of the site at Pebsham was a long and protracted affair. I feel that Hastings and St Leonards missed many opportunities to become a successful Seaside Resort, because of it's procrastination regarding this opportunity.

The first evidence of the Pebsham estate being used for flying was in the Hastings & St Leonard's Observer on 5th July 1930, when an advertisement for pleasure flights was advertised by the Kent Aircraft Services Ltd. It advertised 'Exhilarating, Thrilling Flying, every day from 10pm till dusk, for the price of 5/- (5 shillings or 25p in today's money). Of course 5 shillings was a lot of money in those days. Endnote i

Another event that must have mustered enthusiasm for an airfield, was the visit to Hastings of that intrepid women aviator Miss Amy Johnson, in July 1931. Apparently, she discovered Hastings purely by chance, whilst flying along the coast. She apparently landed at Fairlight, though it is not clear where. In the interview with the H&SLO Endnote ii, she mentioned a Captain Tindall and asked why don't you have an aero club here? She brought her aeroplane Jason III to the town with the purpose of giving passenger flights. She was asked if she thought the landing site that she had used, would be suitable for an aerodrome, she said 'no the ground is too small and is too far out of town. Captain Tindall commented that the only suitable site was at Pebsham in Western St Leonard's. With regard to the passenger flights she was offering, they would be available between the 2nd and 8th July, between 2pm to 4pm and 6pm to 8pm. Tickets would be available from Messrs. Butler and Phillips, 161-182 Queens Road, for the price of 10/- (10 shillings or 50p in today's money). Also anyone interested in forming an Aero Club should contact Mr Butler at the same address.

In 1932, the Town Council decided to purchase the Pebsham Farm Estate. A report of a council meeting on the 26th July, the Finance Committee discussed the purchase of the estate for the sum of £10,000.Endnote iii The estate comprised of 880 acres, of which 300 acres was pasture and the rest arable land. It was though that the purchase price was a bargain, as a nearby site was sold for £148 per acre, whereas the cost of the Pebsham Estate only worked out at only £25 per acre ( however I am not sure how they calculated this amount, as £10000 divided by 800 equals £12.50 per acre?).

In the same edition of the H&SLO, Endnote iv a letter to the newspaper praised the decision of the Town Council and highlighted the opportunities that an Aerodrome would bring. Just a month later another article in the newspaper Endnote v, commented that an area of 500 yards square should be arranged as a temporary landing ground, as the cost of the full scheme would be difficult find in the economic climate of the time.

Also the name of Sir Alan Cobham was mentioned, a name that will appear frequently in this research. Apparently he was engaged by the Town Council as an expert in aerodromes and flying at the time.

In the 14th January 1933 edition of the H&SLO, Endnote vi a letter was received by the newspaper encouraging the town to build an Aerodrome and even suggested building another Brooklands style motor racing track on the same site. (John H Philpott for Ealing, London).

By April that year the Town Council had applied to the Ministry of Health for a loan of £10,200 to purchase the Estate. This involved a Public Inquiry, as the application also involved the dumping of refuse to level and raise the site. The inquiry was set for the 27th July 1933 at 10am and presided over by J C Dawes Esq. O.B.E. M.I.Mech.E. Endnote vii.

The Inquiry - at the inquiry it was explained that the landing ground, which was presently under water during rainy periods, would be raised by a system of controlled tipping, which it was estimated would take 14 to 16 years to complete. The site was selected as the most suitable site by Sir Alan Cobham, the famous airman, who was called in by the council to make a survey of the borough.

No objections were raised during the hearing. Others attending the hearing were: the Mayor (Councillor H Burden), the Deputy Mayor (Councillor G H Ormerod), the Town Clerk (Mr D W Jackson), the Borough Engineer ( Mr Sydney Little), the Deputy Borough Engineer (Mr H R Jack), the Borough Treasurer (Mr G H Butterworth), the Medical Officer of Health (Dr G R Bruce) and the Town Clerk of Bexhill ( Mr s J Taylor).

The Town Clerk explained that the borough had an area of 4,857 acres and the population based on the 1931 census was 65,200. He also outlined the boroughs income as £2,698 per penny rate and the current rate being 9s 4d in the pound (about 47p in today's money). The loan that they had asked for of £10,200 was repayable over 60 years. The interest charges were estimated at £408 per annum and the net charge to the rates would be 0.15d. Other expenditure in connection with the estate amounted to £125 a year and rent derived from the property was £85 a year. He anticipated that the total income would be £100 a year as compared to the expenditure of £125. The Town Clerk then outlined the history of the scheme, saying that the town had not been hasty in the matter. The town had set up a committee 5 years ago to consider the matter and 4 years ago, the committee called in Sir Alan Cobham to survey the town for suitable sites. Sir Alan had. Concluded that the Pebsham site was the only suitable site, although he added that a considerable amount of work would have to be done to prepare the site for a runway.

The site as it was was unsuitable and would require raising by controlled tipping and the removing of various hills. He explained (The Town Clerk), that had this been done a few years ago it would been a very expensive proposition, but now the Council had been advised that the tipping of refuse would be the most economical solution. He added that the Council would, of course carry out rigidly any precautions that the Ministry of Health required. As most of the site was in the borough of Bexhill, their Town Council was also prepared to allow the tipping of refuse, as were they also prepared to join with Hastings in the provision and administration of the aerodrome. The Mayor described the councils efforts to establish a municipal aerodrome and their decision to purchase the site was unanimous and that he was quite certain that the ratepayers were behind the scheme.

The Inspector- 'Were the Council also unanimous as to the tipping of refuse?'

The Mayor- Oh yes!

The Borough Engineer said he had made the survey in conjunction with Sir Alan Cobham. The ground was very low- lying and subject to flooding, which could be avoided by the construction of flood banks or by raising the level of the site. Regarding the system of tipping, he. Said that the present refuse destructor was not in the best position and the proposed system of tipping would be as cheap and have enormous advantages. He said that it would be necessary to drain the surface water into the Combe Haven, which would be excavated for the purpose. The cost of the drainage would not exceed £6,000. The area proposed for tipping was 110 acres and it would be covered to the required level within 14 to 16 years, but it could be used before that. Details were given on loans and charges for existing buildings, plant and equipment for the treatment of waste at that time.

The Inspector commented that clay soil was not suitable for covering refuse, but the Borough Engineer said that he was afraid that clay was present in the soil to be excavated from the hilly parts. Mr Taylor (Bexhill Town Clerk) questioned the Borough Engineer about the refuse tip close to Bexhill Road, pointing out that there had been a fire there recently. The Borough Engineer replied, that he did not agree that tipping had been carried out there to any great extent. A ratepayer, Mr T Dunn, asked what type of refuse would be tipped there, as house refuse can be very objectionable.

The Borough Engineer replied that the system of controlled tipping properly carried out would not create a nuisance.

The Inspector replied in connection to a further question from Mr Dunn that any tipping undertaken by the Council would be carried out in accordance with Ministry of Health regulations and that it had been carried out all over the country with very great success.

The Medical Officer of Health said her saw no objection to the scheme from a public health point of view.

Mr Taylor pointed out that controlled tipping was already being carried out in Bexhill and he would be quite satisfied with the undertaking given by the Town Clerk. The inquiry concluded and afterwards certain technical details were discussed in camera. Endnote viii

In the following weeks H&SL O an article said that some landing ground may be cleared by autumn of that year and that the council had entered into a conditional contract to purchase the site. Endnote ix

In an edition of the H&SL O of the 13th May 1933, an Observer reporter visited the Cinque Ports Flying Club at Lympne, and spoke to Mr W E Davis in charge at Lympne as a representative of the Brooklands Aviation Ltd. Endnote x

Mr Davis said that several local residents were already coming to the club for flying lessons, so he thought that this would be a nucleus of people to form a club. If a club was formed and an area of about 400 to 600 yards square was cleared, they would be prepared to lend alight aircraft and an instructor as soon as a club was formed. He continued to say that to put the club on a proper basis they would have to erect a hanger and a temporary clubhouse for the convenience of members. He thought that this could be done for about £1000, but until that was done they would be prepared to send a plane over daily, if their cooperation was desired.

He commented that many of the regular Continental air services crossed the coast near Hastings and in case of emergency they would be able to land at Pebsham. Also the proximity of the airfield to the coast and to the new Bathing Pool at Bopeep would be an additional attraction to aviators. He said that most aerodromes were situated miles away from the town centres, but Pebsham was very close to the town.

Regarding the suggested air taxis, he said that a service could be easily started, which would mean that a businessman could be in the centre of London within 1 hour.

Mr Davis later visited the site at Pebsham and afterwards expressed the opinion that at a cost of £2000 it would be possible to have a landing ground ready, within 6 weeks. He considered that to a great extent the work of levelling could be done by rolling. It did not matter too much if the ground was bumpy, as long as there were no ruts. There were several small dykes that could be filled in and the larger dykes could be covered over and turfed. He commented that the area was big enough for the larges airliner of that time and said that the best place for a clubhouse would be at the east side of the site, where a access road could be built to join the main road.

On 30th June 1933 the Council received the official sanction to borrow the £10,200, so that they could proceed with the purchase of the Pebsham Estate. In the H&SL O of the 1st July 1933, Endnote xi they reported that the sanction had been received, so they could now proceed with controlled tipping to raise the ground. This was going to take several years, but they reported that it was likely that enough ground would be cleared, large enough for light aeroplanes to land. In this edition they reported that at least one local resident would be prepared for the aerodrome, this being Mr. K Butler, of the local motor firm Messrs. Butler & Phillips, who qualified for his 'A' pilots licence on 28th June 1933. He was a member of the Cinque Ports Flying Club at Lympne and was a great believer in the future of air travel, and he can be relied on to be a lead figure in setting up a local club.

Endnotes

Reference to Newspaper date and page
i H&SLO - 7th July 1930 - P.1
ii H&SLO - 4th July 1931 - P.13
iii H&SLO - 30th July 1932 - P.9
iv H&SLO - 30th July 1932 - P.7
v H&SLO - 27th August 1932 - P.5
vi H&SLO - 14th January 1932 - P.12
vii H&SLO - 22nd April 1933 - P.9
viii H&SLO - 29th April 1933 - P.5
ix H&SLO - 6th May 1933 - P.10
x H&SLO - 13th May 1933 - P.9
xi H&SLO - 1st July 1933 - P.9