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Hendon Aerodrome

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Hendon Aerodrome was an aerodrome in Hendon, north London that between 1908 and 1968, was an important centre for aviation.

It was situated in Colindale, seven miles north west of Charing Cross. It nearly became "the Charing Cross of the UK's international air routes", but for the actions of RAF after the First World War. It was famous as a place of pioneering experiments which included the first airmail, the first parachute descent from a powered aircraft, the first night flights, and the first aerial defence of a city.

Henry Coxwell and James Glaisher were the first to fly from Hendon in a balloon called the Mammoth in 1862, and ballooning at the Brent Reservoir was a very popular spectacle for the crowds gathered on bank holidays late in the 19th century.

1909 The first powered flight from Hendon was in an 88-foot long non-rigid airship built by Spencer Brothers of Highbury. It took off from the Welsh Harp in 1909 and was piloted by Henry Spencer. Its only passenger was the Australian suffragette Muriel Matters. The first attempt at aeroplane flight was by two men called H. P. Martin and G. H. Handasyde again at the Welsh Harp (their partnership was later called Martinsyde). They constructed a monoplane with four engines in the ballroom of the hotel, but were never able to get the result airborne.

Inspired by Louis Bleriot’s flight across the Channel, Everett, Edgecumbe and Co began to experiment with a plane to be built at the works at Colindale, Hendon, erecting a small barn like hangar to house the aircraft. Between 1908 and 1910 their “Grasshopper” as the plane was called, taxied about, hopped, but refused to get truly airborne, albeit attracting quite a crowd.

In 1906, before any powered flight in the UK, the Daily Mail newspaper had challenged aviators to fly from London to Manchester or vice-versa, offering a prize of £10,000. The journey was to be completed within twenty-four hours, with no more than two landings. Aircraft and engine design improved sufficiently by early 1910 to make a realistic attempt at winning the prize. Both Claude Grahame-White and French aviator Louis Paulhan prepared for the challenge during April 1910. Grahame White made two attempts, but it was Paulhan who succeeded. He chose a field on the future aerodrome site as his point of departure. On 27 April he flew 117 miles from Hendon to Lichfield, easily the longest flight in the UK at that time. Before dawn on 28 April he took off and reached Burnage on the outskirts of Manchester after three hours 55 minutes in the air during a period of just over twelve hours. This was the first true flight from the Hendon site.

Claude Grahame White created a new company, the Grahame-White Aviation Co, taking control of more than 200 acres of Colindale and converting it into what could be recognised as a proper modern airfield.

1911 The first ever “official” UK airmail was flown from Hendon to Windsor and vice versa, as part of the George V coronation celebrations, between 9 and 16 September 1911.

The first fatality at Hendon[1] was Bernard Benson (aged 23). He fell 100 feet from a Valkyrie Machine.

1912 The first aerial Derby was held here in 1912; it was said that 500,000 people watched the race which became as important as Ascot and Epsom during the London Season.

1914 The aerodrome was requistioned by the Air Ministry for the war and not released until long after the war was over

Claude Grahame White and other members of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) mounted a night defence of London in 1915, constituting the very first aerial defence of London.

In November 1916 the War Office commandeered the flying schools at Hendon, after which the aerodrome trained 490 pilots.

The first RAF “Pageant” was held in 1920, and it soon became a regular event which for a brief period was called the "Empire Air Day".

Hendon was briefly active during the Battle of Britain, but for most of World War II the Aerodrome was mainly used for transport activities, and flying dignitaries to and from London.

Production of aeroplanes was one of the features of the aerodrome's activities under Grahame White. During the First World War production increased rapidly. To facilitate the transportation of the 3,500 workers and materials, The Midland Railway built a spur from the embanked main line with a platform close to the main line and a loop around the airfield to the plant. It had been Claude Grahame-White’s conviction that Hendon would become the “the Charing Cross of our international air routes”, but the Air Ministry took over in 1922, which led to a protracted and ugly legal action lasting until 1925 with Grahame White leaving the site. Aircraft manufacture went into decline between the wars.

Hendon Aerodrome was under pressure even before the war, with the possibility that RAF Hendon would become a target for enemy bombing raids. After the war the base was increasingly unsuitable, particularly because the runways were too short, and the close proximity of suburban houses made matters worse. The RAF argued the military importance of the complex into the 1950s in case future developments in aviation technology might render the base suitable again, but eventually Hendon Borough Council and the London County Council were able to argue that houses were needed more than the aerodrome.

The last flying unit, the Metropolitan Communication Squadron, left Hendon in November 1957.

Late in 1968 when two-thirds of the runways had been removed a Blackburn Beverley, flown in to be an exhibit at the new RAF Museum, was the last aircraft to land in Hendon. The RAF base finally closed altogether in 1987.

The area of the aerodrome is now the site of the Grahame Park Housing Estate, and Hendon Police College. The RAF Museum now situated on south east side of the site.


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Sources of Information

  1. reported in The Times in May 1911