Sunday, April 29, 2012

Malcolm Saville and Lydd Airport

Yesterday I posted a video from the group protesting against plans for the massive expansion of Lydd Airport in Kent - or London Ashford Airport, as the developers want it to become.

Lydd Airport has an interesting history. British Aviation Services was set up in 1945 and used former RAF aircraft to transport passengers and freight. The company soon changed its name to Silver City Airways and was involved in the Berlin Airlift in 1948-9 to break the Soviet land blockade of the Western-controlled sectors of the city.

The Silver City Association website tells the next part of the story:
Towards the end of 1953, it was clear that the all-grass airfield at Lympne was unsuitable for future expansion - particularly with the arrival of the larger Superfreighters. A new home was needed but none of the existing airfields was deemed suitable, so the obvious answer was to build a new one. For this venture, additional capital would be needed and Silver City Chairman Eoin Mekie persuaded the shipping company P&O to make a substantial investment. 
After reviewing a number of possible locations, a site near the town of Lydd at the northern end of Dungeness point on the Kent coast was selected. A contract for £400,000 (about £8.4 million today) was awarded to Richard Costain with completion planned for the summer of 1954. Silver City's purpose-built new home was to be called 'Ferryfield'.
One popular service Silver City ran from Ferryfield took passengers and their cars across the Channel to Le Touquet. So popular was it, says Wikipedia, that in 1958 it recorded more plane movements than any other UK airport. The photograph above by Anne Burgess shows a Bristol Superfreighter at Ferryfield in 1960.

Silver City was merged into British United Air Ferries in 1962 and by the 1980s Lydd was being used for holiday charter flights rather than short hops across the channel. But those short journeys must have survived for a while after 1962.

I have a guide book to Rye, the relic of a family holiday in a caravan on Winchelsea Beach in 1967 - yes, readers, I remember the Summer of Love. In it there is a British United Air Ferries advertisement featuring return trips to Ostend and Le Touquet for 71/-.

One person who must have used Silver City was my favourite writer as a child, Malcolm Saville. He set many of children's books in the country around Rye and Romney Marsh. And you can find the following passage in The Purple Valley, the second of his Marston Baines secret service thrillers "for that difficult teenage market":
Marston Baines's approach to a holiday in the south was more leisurely than most and had much to commend it. No start could have been quieter as Mini purred through the lanes of east Sussex, skirted the ancient town of Rye and then showed a few of her paces on the level roads across Romney Marsh to Lydd Airport ... 
The air journey from Lydd to Le Touquet with a few cars and their passengers takes about twenty minutes, so that by the time the traveller has had his last glimpse of the square tower of the church of New Romney and the green of the Marsh, he can turn and see the coast of France.
Almost before he has had time to get out his passport and papers for the car he is on the fair land of France again, and the blue-bloused porters are lowering the ramps in the nose of the plane and running out the cars.


Anonymous said...

In what part of the world is it a good idea to build an airport adjacent to a nuclear power station?

It would fairly scupper the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.

As seen on the earlier video, Airfix produced a model of the freighters with opening nose doors. I am afraid mine looked nothing like the real thing when finished.

It was not, shall we say, Airfix's most sophisticated moulding.

steve everest said...

not one person that I have read,
heard spoken or even produced a film regarding Lydd airport or the Romney marsh lives here. We the ordinary folk of the marsh love the area..but we also like money,jobs and community. Look around the area see the wealth, scratch deeper and you will also see unemployment, no prospects for future generations of children, and an area covered in rubbish...I see no one making this film or comment. I invite all you protectors of the earth, to write a true account of the modern Romney marsh and come up with a plan to stop children from having to move away from their families because they cannot afford to live in the area they grew up in.

Paul said...

My first flight was from Lydd - a Dan Air Vickers Viscount to Beauvais. The security check before boarding was a metal detector - a hoop of metal waved in your general direction by a member of the ground crew, whose uniforms had not changed since the Sixties.