On this day 110 years ago, 16 October 1908, the British Army Aeroplane 1 took off in what was the first formally recognised, sustained, powered, heavier-than-air flight in the United Kingdom.
It was built by American aviation pioneer Samuel Franklin Cody at the Army Balloon Factory in Farnborough and signalled a new age of daredevil experimentation and sky-high ambitions.
In celebration of this anniversary, we take a look at nine listed places that tell us about the early days of aviation:
1. The Balloon Stone (Lunardi Monument), Standon Green End, Hertfordshire, Grade II listed
This stone monument commemorates the first ever feat of aviation in England- the first recorded hydrogen balloon flight. Italian aeronaut Vincent Lunardi launched from the Honourable Artillery Company grounds in Finsbury, east London, flying for 2 hours and 15 minutes before landing near this spot in rural Hertfordshire on 15 September 1784.
2. G1 building (now known as Trenchard House) at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, Grade II* listed
Built in 1911, this building was the first home of military aviation in Britain. It was the headquarters of the first flying unit of the British Armed Forces, Royal Engineers’ No 1 (Airship) Company of the Air Battalion, and is now the home of the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust.
3. Memorial to Lieutenant Reginald Archibald Cammell, Air Battalion Royal Engineers, Aldershot, Hampshire, Grade II listed
A testament to the dangers of early aviation, this monument is one of the oldest that commemorates the death of a pilot. Lieutenant Cammell was involved in testing early aircraft, but sadly crashed in a newly designed Valkyrie plane in 1911. He is buried in Aldershot Military Cemetery.
4. Aerovill, Hendon, London, Grade II listed
This social housing complex is one of the few remaining structures associated with the pioneering role of Hendon airfield in the development of aviation. It was commissioned by Claude Grahame-White, a hugely influential figure in early aviation, for the workers in his aviation company in 1917. The site comprises of around 30 two-storey houses and flats surrounding a garden quad.
5. Memorial to ‘The Home of Aviation’, Eastchurch, Kent, Grade II* listed
An Aero Club was founded near here in 1901 by Frank Hedges Butler, Vera Butler and Charles Rolls (the latter of Rolls Royce). In the short period before the First World War, much of Britain’s early success in heavier-than-air flight can be attributed to the club, which in 1910 became the Royal Aero Club. In November 1910 the Club offered free flying instruction for Royal Navy officers; when the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was formed on 13 April 1912, Eastchurch became the Headquarters of the RFC Naval Wing.
6. Stow Maries FWW Airfield, Maldon, Essex, Grade II* listed
Aircraft from the former Royal Flying Corps airfield at Stow Maries flew in defence of London during one of the first significant air raids on the capital in July 1917. After the war, the airfield remained in use until March 1919, when it closed and the land was converted to agricultural use. The airfield is now a museum.
7. Brooklands motor racing circuit and aerodrome, Surrey, scheduled monument
Many notable figures in early 20th century British aviation learned to fly at Brooklands, and the airfield saw the maiden flights of some of the best known British military aircraft, including the Sopwith Pup, Sopwith Camel, Hawker Hurricane and Vickers Wellington. The site is now home to Brooklands Museum.
8. Airport House, Croydon, Grade II* listed
Built in 1926-28, this is a rare surviving example of the first wave of purpose-built airport terminals. Croydon was London’s main airport and the UK’s first international airport, before Heathrow replaced it in 1946. The airport closed in 1959 and the building is now an aviation museum.
9. Number 1 Shed at RAF Cardington, Bedfordshire, Grade II* listed
Dating to 1916-17, this is the only in situ example of an airship hangar that survives from the period up to 1918. After the disaster of October 1930, when the R101 airship crashed on its maiden voyage, the British government terminated its support for the UK’s airship programme. The R100 was broken up inside the No 1 Shed and sold for scrap. During the Second World Ward this was the RAF’s principal barrage balloon training centre. The site remains in use for aviation, including by airships. The sheds are also regularly used for filming music videos and films: parts of the original Star Wars movie was filmed here.
Written by Joe Flatman, Head of Listing Programmes at Historic England.