As I have stressed frequently items of our local history never fail to surprise
Like the part played by South Yorkshire in the history of aviation.
On 25th January 2003, 25th March 2003 and again on 26th October 2004 I wrote newsletters on Mexborough’s promotion of this innovative form of transport between the wars: how Sir Alan Cobham’s, fantastic, flying circus would visit; the talk, given in Mexborough, by Amy Johnson after her solo flight; and the temporary airdrome at Highwoods, on fields now occupied by the Firestation.
It was at this time that Mr.Philip L.Scowcroft came to give us a talk on the subject of the Doncaster Air Shows and its involvement in pioneering flight.
He also left an article, which could be use as a newsletter, for the benefit of those who were unable to attend that night.
As it is the centenary this year, of the first flight across the English Channel by the Frenchman Bleriot, I thought it would be a fitting time to put it into print.
Apart from various nineteenth century balloon ascents Doncaster’s, far from undistinguished, aviation history began in 1909 with an Air Display, Britain’s first, beating Blackpool for the honour by two days and scheduled to take place at the racecourse from Friday 15th October 1909 to Saturday 23rd.October 1909.
This was less than six years after the first heavier – than – air powered flight by the Wright Bros and only months after Bleriot's pioneering cross – channel flight.
This was a major feat of organisation, run by the two committees, a local one of councillors and another, including celebrated contempory names in flying like aircraft designer Louis Voisin and prolific thriller – writer William Le Queux.
The centre of the course was cleared by lopping bushes, filling in ditches and moving railings.
Local builders H.Arnold & Sons built four hangers, all be it only small ones, measuring 40ft 3in x 45ft 3in, and also observation stands.
A hundred policemen were drafted in from the West Riding -2- Constabulary to reinforce the Borough Police.
The major railway companies made excursion provisions; the Great Northern Railway provided facilities for foreign visitors at Doncaster Station and donated a trophy.
Extra taxis were brought in and Doncaster’s trams were expecting rich pickings; indeed the Racecourse Route carried over 50,000 passengers and netted an extra £500 over the week.
The aviators engaged were: Samuel Franklin Cody who was an American, but had signed naturalisation papers during the week and paid an enormous £2,000 fee; the Frenchmen Roger Sommer, Hubert Le Blon, Leon Delagrange, Molon, Saunier and Prevot; another American, Captain Lovelace; and Englishmen, Edward Mines and Captain Windham.
The meeting was bedevilled by high wind, fatal to those fragile aeroplanes, the best day being Saturday 16th October, when perhaps 100,000 people saw the fun.
Because of the weather, two days 25th & 26th October were added, to the annoyance of the fliers who were paid no extra.
Only two hundred and twenty-six miles official flying time was clocked, one hundred and thirty–six by Sommer, who also registered the longest flight of twenty–nine miles.
Delagrange set a new world speed record of forty–nine point nine miles per hours.
The French indeed took the honours; Sommer flew a Farmar Biplane, Delagrange, Molon and Prevot Bleriot monoplanes.
Cody disappointed expectations, by crashing his machine, a specially built Cody Flyer, on the first Saturday, though he flew a little later on.
The council lost £2,506 18s (£2,506.90) net, inclusive of £50 for the presentation cup and £94 1s 2d (£94 06) for a Mansion House banquet.
Not all the cups were awarded because of the restricted flying, at least one being won in 1934 when Doncaster’s Airport opened.
But at least more flying took place at Doncaster than at Blackpool whose sponsors, the Royal Aero Club, meanly tried to ‘black’ the fliers who had gone to Doncaster.
A year later another air display, organised by the private company Aviation Courses Ltd. , took place at the racecourse on 19th – 24th September.
It had been scheduled for June but following the death of King Edward VII it was postponed.
Again most of the flyers were French: M.M.Junien, Manet, Ladougne, Bruneau de Laborie, Paul de Lessops and le Beau (of the 1909 heroes Delagrage and le Blon had been killed in flying accidents).
The aviators included an intrepid Belgian lady, Helene Dutriev, but her engine failed to arrive.
The flights in 1910 were more ambitious, Ladougne and le Lessops flying over the town (no one had gone outside the racecourse confines in 1909); de Lessops reaching a height of 2,400ft against a maximum ceiling of 200ft the year before.
Public response was less, the novelty having doubtless worn off, but the meeting’s achievement showed the developments in aviation in just twelve months.
Aviation Courses lost £2,145 and went bust, but the corporation, by letting the Race Course Common to them, recouped £531 of its losses the year before.
These displays were a prelude to the many between the wars at Doncaster, Armthorpe, Bawtry and Mexborough by Sir Alan Cobham and others and, more recently Finningly – all helped to make the areas aviation heritage.
By Philip L.Scowcroft.
News From the Local History Room
Welcome to our new Venue Early this year your society, like all others who held
evening meetings in the libraries of the Doncaster area, were informed that they
could no longer accommodate evening lettings.
A committee meeting was held at which the decision was made to obtain alternative accommodation, for our society’s monthly meetings.
It wasn’t just a case of finding a hall it had to meet certain criteria and some of these were: it had to be on a bus route for those using public transport; it’s exterior had to be well lit and in a busy area so our members felt secure; there needed to be secure parking for our cars; also, if possible, the hall had to be on the ground floor, for our members who, for whatever reason, couldn’t manage stairs.
The first establishment tried by your society was Mexborough Working Mans Club but this was found, by some, to be unsatisfactory.
Although it did not meet all the criteria we required it was then thought best to return to our old base of the New Masons’ Arms and arrangements were made for us to again hold our monthly meetings there.
At last we could relax and concentrate on finding speakers, but as they usually require 6-12mths notice and we had to be fitted into a specific slot this was difficult.
It was at last accomplished and everyone gave a big sigh of relief, we were back in our old home once again and meeting our old friends every month, or so we thought.
Then when we went for our August Committee Meeting there, the landlord dropped a bombshell, he was leaving and if a new landlord could not be found the pub would be put out to lease or sold.
In a very short time it we saw the New Masons’ closed a boarded up and your committee had to start all over again looking for new premises.
There was only a few weeks to go to the start of the new season and we had no alternative but to cancel our September meeting as we had nowhere to go and October’s would have been likewise if certain members of the committee hadn’t seen an advertisement stating that the Miners Alms had been taken over by a new landlord.
We at once went to see him and discovered that it was David, who was a frequent visitor to the Local History Room and very interested in local history.
We explained our plight to him and he was only too happy to help us, informing everyone that the function room was newly cleaned and decorated and that we could have it free of charge, likewise the use of a projector and screen, he could also accommodate us on the dates we required.
At last we had a new home all we had to do now was to find out if the speakers, we had previously booked, were still available and luckily some of them were.
We were now up and running for the start of our new season Let’s hope that we will be in our new home for as long as we were at the ‘New Masons’ Arms’ and I can see no reason why we cannot be as happy.
In Honour of William Blount (The Electric Man)
This summer Julia was approached, at the Local History Room, by a group of young
people who were studying for a Lifestyle Award.
They wished to know what an old metal box, situated at the junction of Dolcliffe Road and Bank Street, was originally used for.
She was able to tell them that it was the last remaining, intact, junction box in existence, used to control Steel Lighting.
It was installed in the early 1920’s and that one of the men who installed it was William Blount.
They were interested to know something about the man and she was able to tell them that he left school in 1918 and went to work for Yorkshire Electrical Power, who was then laying cables, for Mex.Urban District Council, to provide the shops and homes of Mexborough with electricity.
Mexborough U.D.C.then asked him if he would turn on, and off, the street lighting.
Firstly this was done by illuminating every light individually, but as the amount of street lighting increased they had to buy him a bicycle. It was following this that junction boxes were installed.
Shortly after this he studied to become one of the first, qualified, electricians in our town.
Julia also informed them of some of the other jobs he did, such as: Erecting Mexborough’s extensive Christmas Lights which extended from the Royal, Bank Street to Post Office Square, where they culminated in a chain of lit cartwheels, stars, and a huge Christmas tree The putting up of Mexborough Illuminations (remember them?) erected at times of note such as V.
E.and V.J. Days plus a number of coronations ending in that of our dear Queen.
The lighting of Mexborough Markets was reliant on him He read the Electric Meters Repaired household appliances rented out by Mexborough U.D.C.Electric Dept.
After finishing paid employment at 9.30p.m.he would then repair the household appliances and wiring of friends and neighbours.
During the war he became an A.R.P.Warden, ensuring that the people of Mexborough were safe.
The young people were so surprised by the number of jobs he did, and the dedication he showed to the people of Mexborough, for over 50yrs, that they decided to honour him.
They: discovered the present owner of the junction box and arranged for it to be renovated; researched the original colour which the box had been painted, which was Brunswick Green, and painted it; obtained a brass plaque and had it inscribed, which the owners of the box have had bolted to it; not content with that they took a piece of waste land, close by, and creased a garden, in memory of William Blount.
On Wednesday 28th July 2009 Julia and her Mum attended a presentation ceremony.
Julia says “we hear such negative reports of teenagers, in the newspapers and on T.V. it has been refreshing to work with such polite, hard working, good young people and I believe that William Blount, my grandfather, would have been proud of them, as we all are”.
TOP - ’The Doncaster Airshow of 1909 & 1910
ABOVE - The last remaining intact Street Lighting Junction Box, of its type, in existence. The brass plaque erected by the young people reads: ‘In honour of William Blount (affectionately known as the Electric Man) who illuminated the lives of the people of Mexborough for over 50yrs.'
(Copyright: this newsletter may not be reproduced, in part or in its entirety without the permission of Mexborough & District Heritage Society.)