Southend’s Seaplanes

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The sea at Southend was not the only attraction for tourists during the early 1920s. For a short period it was a hive of activity for seaplanes of various shapes and sizes. Some of these even gave people pleasure flights along the seafront. But the actual history of seaplanes at Southend goes back further before that. The first seaplane activity occurred during August Bank Holiday, 1912, when Southend staged its first "Flying Week." Claude Graham White (a famous aviator) who was on his "Wake up England" promotional tour for aviation in England landed in his new Henri Farman hydro-aeroplane in front of a large waiting crowed just west of the pier, he arrived at about 4 pm on 23rd August. The aircraft, a three-seat biplane was painted a vivid blue with the words "Wake up England!" boldly painted under the wings, plus a large Union Jack flag on the tail. He was later joined by two other aviators a Mr Noel and a Mr Travers. Both had taken off from Margate in the seaplanes, one of which was a Bleriot. An exhibition tent, kiosk and temporary hangars were built by Southend Corporation on a widened portion of the Esplanade a few days before. A special launching jetty was also constructed so that the seaplanes could taxi from the hangars to the sea. The three aircraft operated daily flights to the pier head, on Friday and Saturday these were from the sea. The mayor, chairman of the Pier Committee and other dignitaries were invited to fly. Admission to the Pier Head was 6d and an extra 2d to the Pier Extension which was the best vantage points to watch all the flying. Most of the flights were cancelled because of bad weather, but this did not deter hundreds of spectators from viewing the aircraft. On 7th August, Henri Salmet, one of Graham White's pilots, flew a Bleriot seaplane from Southend Pier to Clacton in about twenty five minutes at an average speed of 90 mph. During August, 1912, a Short S41 Hydro biplane made several flights across Southend en-route from Sheerness to Harwich on a coastal survey, on 27th August it landed next to Shoeburyness. The aircraft was unusual in that it not only had two long main pontoon floats but also had a small tail float with a water rudder. The next sighting of a seaplane at Southend occurred during mid-August 1913, when four aviators competed in the Daily Mail £5,000 "Seaplane Trial" around England from and to Southampton. In actual fact only two seaplanes flew over Southend, they were a Sopwith piloted by Mr H. Hawker, and a Short biplane flown by Mr R. McLean. The largest seaplanes to visit Southend were a couple of Supermarine Southampton flying boats. These large twin-engined aircraft landed on a state visit to Southend. Both aircraft moored off the pier and the mayor together with other local dignitaries boarded them. They were believed to be owned by the RAF Far East Flight. The visit occurred at the end of the 1920s, about 1928. The first joy flight service for the public was operated by Central Aircraft Company from Southend in June 1920. They operated a three-seat Centaur IVB, twin float seaplane. At 2.30 pm on 19th June 1920, the first joy flight was inaugurated. The mayor and local dignitaries were taken by launch to the aircraft moored off the Pier Head and given joy flights along the coast and over the town. They are reported to have "thoroughly enjoyed their eleven minute flight." The aircraft was hangared at Shoebury. Another seaplane was expected to join the Centaur later in the year to form the Southend Hame Aerial Squadron, but this fell through due to the apparent lack of public interest. During seven weeks only fifty-seven passengers were carried, an average of eight a week, with only 50s being taken against expenses of £70. The aircraft had arrived dismantled by rail after appearing at the Olympia Aero Show. The Southend Seaplane and Pleasure Trip Company was formed at Southend during June 1923. They were the first company to operate regular services from the area. They used a five-seat Short 184 fitted with floats and operated an on-the-hour service Rochester/Clacton-Southend-Margate run, but this was relatively short lived. Seaplane activity at Southend died down until 1928 when a Blackburn Bluebird flew over the coast. The aircraft was on a special "Seaplane flight around the Coast of the British Isles." It had taken off from Welsh-Hop lake at Hendon and flew from Woolwich down the coast to Southend then to Shoebury and up to Felixstowe, which was the mecca for seaplanes at the time. The special flight was made during the summer of 1928. The last reported sighting of a seaplane at Southend happened on 21st February 1937. A Short Empire flying boat of Empire Airways, named "Cambria" made a round Britain flight and circled the main towns including Southend and Colchester. The pilot was a Cpt. G. J. Powell, he flew the course in eight hours.
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