The R101 airship docked, with classic cars in the foreground
Historic photography Listed places Second World War

9 Places That Tell the Story of Early Flight

The first formally recognised, sustained, powered, heavier-than-air flight in the UK took off 110 years ago.

On 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.

Here 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

A large stone monument surrounded by a protective metal barrier. A plaque can be seen on the stone
The Lunardi Balloon stone – the first flight from English soil – 15th September 1784 via Wiki commons

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

Exterior of the G1 bulding in Farnborough
G1 Building at the Royal Aircraft Establishment. via wiki commons

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

Memorial to Lieutenant Reginald Archibald Cammell, Air Battalion Royal Engineers © N Chadwick (cc-by-sa/2.0)

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

Aeroville EstateBooth Road Hendon  London NW9
Aeroville Estate, Booth Road, Hendon London © Historic England Archive DP103098

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

Eastchurch aviation memorial
Eastchurch aviation memorial © Historic England Archive DP177807

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

Stow Maries Airfield, near Maldon Essex
Stow Maries Airfield, Stow Maries, near Maldon, Essex. View from airfield looking towards Pilots’ Ready Room with SE 5A [replica7/8 scale] in foreground. © Historic England Archive DP217227
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

Aerial view of Brooklands Motor Course and airfield
Brooklands Motor Course and airfield, Brooklands. August 1926. © Historic England EPW016858

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

DH91 aircraft seen in front of the airport building, with passengers and staff in the background
DH91 at Croydon, in front of the control tower. via Historic Croydon Airport Trust

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

The R101 airship attached to
The R101 moored at Cardington for its test flight, 1929 © Historic England EPW029994

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. 

Further reading: 

9 comments on “9 Places That Tell the Story of Early Flight

  1. Reblogged this, a fascinating post to highlight some historic sites.

  2. Chris Hills

    Did you know about Joyce Green airfield run by Vickers in 1911 then taken over by RFC in 1915. Joyce Green was used for testing aircraft built at both Erith and Crayford.

    • madmitch56

      Indeed it was! I used to work for Vickers Ltd. In the photo and AV dept. It was also home to the Vickers Flying School, till the whole operation moved to Weybridge.

  3. Reblogged this on keithbracey and commented:
    My daughter is a serving member of the RAF Police and this year the RAF celebrates its 100th Anniversary…..this is a special piece about the places that played a role in the story of flight in Britain

  4. Charlie Fraser-Farnborough

    Good to see this EH celebrition of Britain’s aviation. These early years witnessed a technical rate of change over a short period. From military ballooning and kites, and finally aircraft. Many areas of the Britain were involved, but Farnborough was critical in these early days. Design, Manufacturing, Validation (Testing) and Social Impact (Housing). More sites in Farnborough should be investigated for potential listing. Especially these where leading designers, scientists and pilots lived remain at risk

  5. manchestermama

    There is an amazing Aviation Museum in Farnbourgh…… It’s a place well worth visiting. In fact the area around it abounds with historical reminders of aviation glorious past.

  6. No mention of Chard in Somerset where the ‘first’ aircraft to fly under its own power was flown by its inventor, ‘John Stringfellow’ (1799-1883), in 1848 ?

  7. Re Lunardi – a hydrogen balloon I think as between the early days of short hops such as those pioneered by the Montgolfier flights that left the fire behind on take off, and the use of burners working on liquefied gas from the mid-20th century that made sustained hot air balloon flight straightforward, most manned balloon flight of any distance was using hydrogen, and sometimes coal gas. It is perhaps also more accurate to describe the site of the take-off as The Royal Artillery Ground, Finsbury; or the Honourable Artillery Company Grounds, Finsbury, as the old open expanse of Finsbury Fields – part of Moor Fields – had already begun to be divided up and used for various purposes by the time of the flight.

  8. Great article! I love the mix of aviation and history.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: