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  • Bournemouth Airport Through Time by Mike Phipp

    Before the end of World War Two BOAC established a base at Bournemouth. Services included the route to Australia with Lancastrians, which were converted Lancaster bombers. (Author collection)

    Researching Bournemouth Airport Through Time I discovered that the development of an airport can often be a torturous affair. Many UK cities and towns have ended up with one, whilst others, seemingly deserving, have not. During 1929/30 many locations were visited by aviation pioneer Sir Alan Cobham as part of his Municipal Airport Campaign. He considered that air travel was the way ahead and that Municipal Airports would be required all over the country. His reports were forwarded to the Air Ministry who would occasionally publish details of what progress was being made. They also pointed out that to become an airport the site had to provide customs facilities. Despite suitable locations having been established, many cities and towns were unable to finance the development of their own airport. However forty had been established around the county by the end of the 1930s.

    Sir Alan Cobham was a prominent figure in the aviation world. In the 1930s he was heavily involved in the establishment of airports around the country. (Author collection)

    In the early 1930s Bournemouth made use of the airport at nearby Christchurch. In 1930 Sir Alan Cobham had recommended a number of more suitable sites. However these were ignored by the Council who decided to enter into a partnership in 1935 with adjacent Poole to establish an airport there. Finance proved the downfall of this plan, with Poole pulling out of the project in 1938. Sir Alan had also visited the county town of Dorchester in 1929 in the search for a site. Although a field was selected and a few services operated in 1934, there turned out to be insufficient demand. Weymouth had a site which was also visited by Sir Alan (which he referred to as Weymouth Aerodrome) but it failed to be developed into an airport for the town. I compared this situation to Southampton which opened its Municipal Airport in 1932, although situated in the neighbouring town of Eastleigh. In the other direction Exeter in adjacent Devon developed a successful airport which opened in 1937.

    Aircraft of BOACs successor - the present day British Airways - are still seen at Bournemouth. This Airbus A319 has been diverted from Gatwick. (Author collection)

    Back in Bournemouth I found that Sir Alan Cobham has been seeking other sites in 1938/39 as the existing Christchurch Airport was proving too small. As normal he passed on his recommendations to the Air Ministry but nothing had happen prior to the outbreak of World War Two. It was wartime needs that saw the Air Ministry requisition land at Hurn Village for the establishment of a fighter base. This was one of the sites recently surveyed by Sir Alan. RAF Hurn opened on 1 August 1941 and proved to be a valuable military airfield. Its operational use came to an end three years later and, as with most wartime airfields, it could have returned to farmland. However, anticipating the return to peace, the Air Ministry selected Hurn as a new base for BOAC. It was also the UKs initial post-war international airport pending the completion of Heathrow. Even when Heathrow opened BOAC retained a base at Hurn/Bournemouth due to the lack of space at Heathrow. When they moved out further uses were found for their hangars and Bournemouth Airport slowly developed. It has seen ups and downs in traffic over the years, but remains important due to the amount of businesses – both aviation and non-aviation – situated around the airport. Having visited all my life I still find Bournemouth Airport a fascinating place.

    Mike Phipp's new book Bournemouth Airport Through Time is available for purchase now.

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