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Alexandra Park

Alexandra Park Aerodrome was the second purpose-built aerodrome in the Manchester area. The site was chosen by the War Department in 1917 because of its open agricultural nature, and lay between the neighbouring districts of Fallowfield, Chorlton, Whalley Range, Withington and West Didsbury, at the junction of Princess Road and Mauldeth Road West, three miles south of Manchester’s city centre: the land was owned by the Egerton Estate.

Following the closure of the Trafford Park Aerodrome (Manchester) in 1918 after only seven years of spasmodic use, Alexandra Park Aerodrome was constructed and opened in May 1918 by the War Department for the assembly, test flying and delivery of aeroplanes for the RAF built in the Manchester area by A. V. Roe & Company (Avro) at Newton Heath and the National Aircraft Factory No. 2 (NAF No.2) at Heaton Chapel. The aerodrome took its name from the nearby Alexandra Park railway station on the Great Central Railway branch line to Manchester Central railway station.

Many aeroplanes were brought to the aerodrome in major sections by rail from Avro and NAF No.2 to the nearby station; other dismantled aeroplanes came by road. A Relief Landing Ground was designated at Turn Moss, 1 nautical mile to the West, in Stretford.The Avro Transport Company operated the UK’s first scheduled domestic air service from Alexandra Park via Birkdale Sands (Southport) to South Shore (Blackpool) between 24 May and 30 September 1919, mainly using Avro 504 three-seat biplanes. Although the weather caused a few flights to be cancelled, the daily service was operated without mishap. Aircraft left Alexandra Park at 2:00 pm and arrived in Blackpool 45 minutes later, after having stopped over at Southport. Tickets cost 9 guineas return or 5 guineas one-way, equivalent to about £324 and £180 respectively as of 2008.

Alexandra_Park_Aerodrome_1923

Photograph of the aerodrome in 1923 looking west over the two sets of large triple Belfast Truss hangars.

From 1922 until 1924 Daimler Airway operated daily scheduled passenger flights from the aerodrome to Croydon Airport near London, later followed by a regular extension to Schiphol Airport Amsterdam. The northbound flight left Croydon in the early evening and after an overnight stop, the aircraft returned south during the morning. These timings enabled Manchester passengers to connect readily with Daimler’s other continental flights to and from Croydon; also with other airline services from that airport. Because air travel was seen as so dangerous, the ticket agent, Messrs. Robinsons of Whalley Range developed a system to reassure travellers relatives. Upon a safe landing at Croydon Airport, a telegram was despatched to Robinsons’ office, on receipt of which a messenger boy was despatched in turn to the travellers home.On the merger of Daimler with other airlines to form Imperial Airways in April 1924, the new monopoly airline terminated the service: it was 1930 before Imperial again flew any schedules to any UK airport north of London.

The terms of the land lease, laid down by Maurice Egerton, Baron Egerton of Tatton, stipulated that flying from the site would cease within five years of the war’s end. The ancillary buildings that had been erected for training RAF personnel, were converted to provide accommodation for single constables of the Manchester City Police. This marked the start of a Police presence that continues through until today.

The aerodrome closed to air traffic on 24th August 1924, and the hangars demolished. It would have been unable to cope anyway with the increasing size and weight of airliners by the mid-1930s. Princess Road was built through the eastern part of the site in 1924–25 and a council housing estate was built to the east of the new road. During World War 2 temporary housing was built alongside Princess Road by German POWs. This was demolished in 1961.

Aircraft competing in the King’s Cup Race air races landed here in 1922 and 1923; there were also a number of flying displays at the aerodrome. The Lancashire Aero Club, the oldest flying club in Britain, was formed at and operated from Alexandra Park until 1924, when it moved to Woodford Aerodrome.

On the evening of 14 September 1923 the northbound de Havilland DH.34 ten-seat biplane airliner crashed near Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chilterns during an attempted forced landing in poor weather. The two pilots and three passengers were killed, making this the first fatal accident on an internal air service in the UK: because of this the route was suspended for a period before recommencing.

Alexandra Park 1

 

Chart showing the layout and facilities at Alexandra Park Aerodrome 1917–1924. The sets of hangars are in the north-east section. Princess Road, built after closure in late 1924, passes through the centre of the old aerodrome. Mauldeth Road West runs to the north (top) of the site.

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