Flying Over Bedfordshire 1913
Flying over Bedfordshire in Summer 1913
Summer Fetes throughout the County were enlivened in 1913 by the displays of 'exhibition flying'. One of the most famous pilots of the day was Claude Grahame-White (21 August 1879 - 19 August 1959), a former pupil of Bedford Grammar School whose parents lived at 23 Rothsay Road, Bedford. He became internationally famous in 1910 when he was the first pilot ever to make a night flight, during te London to Manchester air race. In the same year he won the Gordon Bennett Aviation Cup race in Belmont Park, Long Island, New York. In 1911 he established a flying school at Hendon and it is alleged that in 1912 he gave H G Wells his first flight.
Crowds gathered at Biddenham for the Primrose League Summer Fete on Thursday 24 July, and the Bedfordshire Times & Independent recorded the anticipation:
'At 3.40 it was said that Grahame-White had made three attempts to leave Hendon, but that the wind was too strong. The pessimistic ones said 'He won't come' but in spite of this there was a brisk demand for tickets for the flying ground. Once there was a roar from the multitude. Shouts of 'Here he is! Went up and all eyes were scanning the sky, but it was only a good sized wood pigeon and the crowd enjoyed the hoax….the next message was received at Mr Peacock's house at Biddenham, was to the effect that Graham-White had left Hendon at 6.20 in a morane-Saulnier monoplane, and at a quarter to seven when the organ on the roundabouts was sarcastically playing 'We all go the same way home' there was a growing excitement among the crowd at the far end of the field. At first there was some suspicion of another joke, as only those with good eyesight could discern the speck advancing at great height from the south east. In less than a minute everybody seemed to have gone crazy. Hats came off, handkerchiefs were being waved, spectators cheerfully paid the price of admission to the enclosure, and little boys scrambed through the hedge. Cheers came from thousands of throats, thousands of faces were turned skywards, and the pessimistic ones clapped the back of their companions and said 'I told you so'. The promoters of the fete heaved a sigh of relief. The steam hooter on the roundabouts went into hysterics, and two men left the refreshment booth without finishing their drinks.
Meanwhile, the aeroplane had passed over the high Street, from which point it was seen at 6.45, turned down Lime Street and made of ffor Biddenham…the golden rays of the westering sun gilded the machine, which against the blue sky looked magnificent. Each circuit bought him nearer and at last, with a glorious vol-plane, his machine touched earth…and ran about 500 yards before it stopped.The crowd…cheered enthusiastically as aviator arose from his seat and laughingly acknowledged the greetings of his admirers.
Mr Grahame-White then received the congratulations of a number of ladies and gentlemen, among whom we noticed Mr Gerald Hargreaves, Mr & Mrs R Whitworth and Major B F Columbine.[ref.Z50/143/160]
Two days later Claude Graham-White was displaying his prowess in the south of the County. The Luton news reported the 18th Leagrave and Limbury Horticultural Society show as a great success.
…'a factor which played an important part in bringing the venture to such a gratifying issue was the happy idea of securing the services of a famous aviator to give exhibition flights in the grounds. Everything was conducive to success. The Clerk of the weather who had previously been in an undecided mood,shone forth in all his glory and a brilliant afternoon attracted what mush have been a record crowd for Leagrave. The takings at the gate amounted to £140, and the attendance has been estimated at least seven or eight thousand. Some £25 was taken in the flying enclosure. The aviator was the famous Grahame-White, who arrived at about half past three, circled round the park three or four times and then alighted in the enclosure. He flew a Morane-Saulnier monoplane and he was given an enthusiastic reception as he descended. After having rested for half an hour or so he flew three or four times around the park, gave an exhibition of vol-planing, then went off without alighting to Hendon.'