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History of Speke Airport

Prior to the establishment of an Aerodrome in 1930, private flying had been carried out in the Liverpool area for a number of years. As early as 1926 a special body was established to develop a local aerodrome and following a meeting with Lord Thomas, a former Secretary of State for Air, it was decided that the setting up of a flying club would be an advantage. Two years later the Liverpool Aero Club was formed and based at Hooton Park on the Wirral. 

About this time Sir Alan Cobham was touring the country in an attempt to promote flying and educate the general public to the benefits of air travel. The Liverpool City Council invited Sir Alan to survey possible sites for an aerodrome in the Merseyside area. Following a number of aerial surveys it was eventually a toss-up between Speke and Hooton Park. The City Council wasted no time in pressing for Liverpool to have the Aerodrome site for Merseyside and in 1928 purchased 2,000 acres of land known as the Speke Estate. Of this area 418 acres was destined to become Liverpool Airport. Work on the site commenced almost immediately and operations commenced in 1930 using the existing chapel farm buildings as a terminal and control centre. A metal hangar was constructed adjacent to the farm house and in fact still remains together with one or two of the original farm buildings. The initial aerodrome licence was issued in July 1930 although Imperial Airways had commenced operations on the 18th June, that year, using Armstrong Whitworth Argosy aircraft on a service between Liverpool-Manchester-Birmingham-Croydon. This service was subsidised by the local authorities involved, but was abandoned after only three months operation. The aerodrome then continued operations on a flying club basis only until Liverpool Corporation appointed an Airport Manager in 1932.  

The Airport was officially opened on the 1st July, 1933 by the Right Hon. The Marquess of Londonderry, K.G. Secretary of State for Air, and it is interesting to note that the Air Display was referred to at that time as the greatest Air Pageant every held outside Hendon. 100,000 spectators visited the Airport, and 246 aircraft attended the display. The Secretary of State for Air arrived in a Hawker-Hart machine from the R.A.F. Station at Sealand, escorted by No. 29 (Fighter) Squadron of the Royal Air Force flying Bristol Bulldog Machines.

Included in the programme was a ‘Fly Past’ by Civilian Machines together with a demonstration of aerobatics in an Avro Tutor training machine flown by Flight Lieut. G. H. Stainforth, A.F.C., R.A.F. (an aircraft which at that time was the standard training machine for the Royal Air Force and cruised at 100 miles an hour). In addition, there was a display by a Ceirva Autogiro and a landing competition where the Pilot who got nearest to a given mark, with propellers stopped, won. Two further competitions comprised a Liverpool - Blackpool - Liverpool air race and a parachute jumping competition. 

Following the successful opening, the Airport really showed promise with a number of airlines operating regular services. One of the first operators to use Speke was Blackpool and West Coast Air Services. Based at Blackpool this Company was originated by John Higgins, an instructor with the Liverpool Aero Club, and in association with two local businessmen his company commenced operations in 1933. The first scheduled service being Liverpool-Blackpool at a cost of 18/- (90p.) return. Other early operators included Aer Lingus and Hillman Airways with D.H. 8’+ Dragons and D.H. 89A Rapides, Midland and Scottish Air Ferries with Avro 10 and Avro 642 machines. Railway Air Services also operated D.H. Dragons and K.L.M. Royal Dutch Airline where operating Fokker F18’s. Other operators quickly appeared amongst them, United Airways, Crilley Airways, and British Airways. 

During the time that the traffic was building up, the City Council found it necessary to expand the Airport equipment and facilities to meet the requirements of the increasing traffic. The first necessity was the levelling and draining of the Airfield. It is interesting to note that so well had this been carried out at Liverpool that the ground remained safe for flying throughout the wet winter of 1935/36 despite the fact that almost all other aerodromes in England had either large portions out of commission at some period, or in some cases, had to close for a period of several days to all traffic. By the summer of 1937 the total area had been levelled and drained.

Hangar No. I was completed in 1937 and Hangar No. 2 during the War. The present Control Tower was completed in 1937 and the Terminal Building was added later, being finally completed in 1939. During the War additional metal hangars were installed, together with other hutted accommodation. Since the War, three private hangars have also been constructed at the Airport. Three runways, together with a taxiway were constructed during the War, however, none of these runways are in operation. 

The first connection with the armed forces was in 1936 when on the 8th January, No. 611 (West Lancs) Squadron moved to Speke. This Squadron was soon equipped with Avro Tutor aircraft to be joined later by Hawker Hart Bombers. In May 1939 No. 611 Squadron was equipped with Hawker Hinds and Fairey Battles and soon this Squadron was no longer the sole R.A.F. representation at Speke. Having been joined by No. 61. Squadron from R.A.F. Hemswell and within a couple of weeks No. 144 Squadron arrived also with both Squadrons being equipped with Hamden's. These two Squadrons operated from Hemswell by night flying sortes into Germany and returning to Liverpool at daybreak. The object of this exercise was to confuse enemy intelligence and foil Luftwaffe attempts to bomb east coast RAF bases. 

In September, 1939, No. 5 FTS equipped with Oxfords moved to Speke from RAF Sealand near Chester. Military activity now exceeded civilian use of the Airport and by December 1939 yet another unit appeared (No. 37 Squadron) equipped with Wellingtons. This Squadron’s stay was short-lived but during the five months of operations they carried out intensive training before leaving for the middle-east. 1940 the war effort increased and Liverpool’s importance as a seaport produced the inevitable influx of aircraft flown into Speke, dismantled and shipped abroad to such destinations as Rhodesia, South Africa and various points along the West African Coast. Inbound from the U.S.A. came thousands of American aircraft mainly shipped into the docks and transported to the Airport for assembly. Both the Douglas Aircraft Corporation and Lockheed Aircraft Corporation used the two main hangars to assemble Mustangs, Lightning's etc. Meanwhile in the adjacent shadow aircraft factory, the Rootes Group were producing Bristol Blenheims at a steady rate. 

Speke was now overloaded with aircraft often over 200 being evident at any one time. No. 13 Squadron having arrived with Lysanders and No. 1 O.T.U.. with Hudson's, No. 608 (West Riding) Squadron arrived for night training with Botha's and later No. 308 (Polish) Squadron equipped with Hurricanes was transferred from Blackpool Squire’s Gate. This Squadron soon moved to Coventry Baginton and was replaced by No. 312 (Czech) Squadron also equipped with Hurricanes. It was one of No. 312’s Hurricanes, a JU88, that recorded Speke’s first kill. The Czech Squadron was replaced by No. 315 (Polish) Squadron and No. 766 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, soon appeared with Roes; this Squadron being engaged on Naval co-operation training. 

On the 18th December, 1940 No. 96 Squadron was formed purely for the defence of Merseyside, being equipped with Hurricanes and based not at Speke but at Cranage, Cheshire. The defence of the City was supplemented by two balloon Squadrons -Nos. 919 and 921 - with headquarters at R.A.F. Fazakerly. This Unit, working in co-operation with the Army, had 76 anti-aircraft guns sited around Merseyside providing large scale cover. During 1941, with numerous air-raids on the City of Liverpool, locally based Spitfires and Hurricanes were almost continuously airborne. The main raids on the City occurred on the 12th and 13th March, 7th and 26th April, and the famous May Blitz on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 7th May. Of the raid on the 12th March, it is known that a force of 316 bombers were despatched against Merseyside by the Luftwaffe and a total of 303 tons of high explosive was dropped on the Liverpool Area on that one night. 

In 1941 Rootes Securities were awarded a contract to provide Halifax Bombers, the first Speke produced aircraft, which made its maiden flight on the 15th March, 1942. Two months later the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit arrived for tests of catapult launching of aircraft and these trials took place in the vicinity of the original farm house terminal building adjacent to the River Mersey. The first launch of an aircraft from this equipment took place on the 5th July, 1942; the aircraft being a hurricane on detachment from 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron. 

Three Fleet Air Arm Squadrons - Nos. 1832, 1834 and 849 - moved to Speke in 1943 and these Squadrons were all equipped with Martletts, Corsairs, Tara's and Hurricanes. The assembly of American aircraft continued with the types now including Thunderbolts for the USAAF and Rootes continued to produce Beaufighters, Blenheims and Halifax Bombers. From 1944 Speke’s role as a military base was run down but the production of American types continued until the end of 1946. On V.E. Day it is reported that the American aircrew at Speke gave the Airport Staff a spectacular impromptu air display using any aircraft that were available and by all accounts a Mustang stole the show with some spectacular low flying. 

During the war period the home based Squadron No. 611 claimed over 240 enemy aircraft destroyed and awards to officers and men included 10 DFC's and 4 Bars, 2DFMs and 1 American Silver Star.

Certain development work has been carried out by lengthening runway 08/26, enlarging the apron and the construction of new taxiways together with improvements to the Terminal Building since 1961 when Liverpool Corporation took over control of the Airport from the then Ministry of Aviation. As part of the long-term development of the Airport, runway 09/27, designed to the latest standards, has a minimum take-off distance of 2,169 metres. This runway was built on Corporation land between Hale Road and the River Mersey and was formally opening on the 7th May 1966 by the Duke of Edinburgh. Care has been taken to ensure that the runway will be capable of extension to accommodate future generations of aircraft. It is at present one of the few fully Category II runways in Europe. This means that aircraft which are equipped to land in such conditions of poor visibility as Category II may do so providing the visibility is not less than 150ft. vertically and 500 metres horizontally from the ground. 

Plans had been drawn up for the closure of the existing terminal and airfield and for a new terminal to be built on the Speke side of the new runway. Since the new terminal will not be completed for another few years, it was decided to convert part of one of the large hangars into an international terminal. That terminal handled all international traffic throughout the year. Domestic traffic continued to use the old terminal building which had been further modified by conversion of the old customs area to a check-in for British Midland and undercover baggage claim. 

During the spring of 1972, further work was carried out on the apron to join two of the aircraft stands together to form a large parking area which would have accommodated a Boeing 747 or stretched version of the D.C.8. 

Today Liverpool John Lennon Airport is a wholly owned subsidiary of Peel Holdings p.l.c., the North West based property company. Peel acquired a 76% majority shareholding in 1997 from British Aerospace with the remaining shares held by the five Merseyside local authorities. On 9 May 2001 Peel Airports (Liverpool) Limited acquired the remaining 24% shareholding. Since the Peel Group took control of Liverpool John Lennon Airport passenger numbers have tripled, with around 2 million passengers using Liverpool in 2002 and an estimated 2.4 million forecast in 2003.

Regular daily scheduled services currently operate to 11 domestic and European destinations, whilst holiday charter flights serve 15 Mediterranean resorts. easyJet, the popular low cost carrier who began flights from Liverpool in 1997, signed a 20 year contract with the Airport late last year which will see a further expansion at their second U.K. base. This will bring a continued increase in the numbers of passengers using Liverpool from throughout the North West, North Wales, Yorkshire and the Midlands.

The airport also handles significant volumes of freight and mail. The Royal Mail have operated their night-time hub through Liverpool since 1979 with a sorting office on site, whilst express parcels, newspapers, car parts and general freight movement also combine to provide extremely busy night-time operations.

Some £10 million has been invested in a range of infrastructure works at the airport over the past three years and is now investing a further £42.5 million with European Objective One support. A new terminal building, control tower and other ancillary projects, were completed in 2002.

The building will be capable of handling up to three million annual passengers in a modern, spacious environment, offering the highest levels of customer service. The project will triple the current terminal size from 8,000 sq. m to 24,000 sq. m. Work will not only increase the number of terminal check-in desks to 36, but will also see the improvement of baggage handling facilities as well as the arrivals and departures process.

Major improvements will be made with a wide range of branded retail and catering facilities resulting in added passenger comfort. Car parking capacity will also increase to 4,000 spaces to accommodate the growing number of passengers.

The original airport is now being converted to a business park and the terminal has been renovated and converted into a hotel, No1 and No 2 hangers have also preserved and one of them has been converted into a sports centre.

Hurricanes of No 312 (Czech) Squadron at Speke

Hurricanes of No 312 (Czech) Squadron at Speke

Below follows a list of squadron movements through Speke,

SQUADRON/FLIGHT No

DATE IN

DATE  OUT

SERVICE

COMMENTS

611

06/05/1936

13/08/1939

RAF

 

61

Sep-39

Sep-39

RAF

Day time Detachment

144

Sep-39

Sep-39

RAF

Day time Detachment

236

29/04/1940

25/05/1940

RAF

 

13

17/06/1940

14/07/1940

RAF

 

No 1 Operational Training Unit

Jul-40

Jul-40

RAF

 

308

12/09/1940

25/09/1940

RAF

No aircraft

312

26/09/1940

03/03/1941

RAF

 

229

22/12/1940

20/05/1941

RAF

 

315

13/03/1941

14/07/1941

RAF

 

776

22/03/1941

18/09/1942

FAA

Detachment

Merchant Ship Fighter Unit

05/05/1941

07/09/1943

RAF

 

No 9 Group Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Flight

20/05/1941

Nov-41

RAF

 

303

15/07/1941

07/10/1941

RAF

 

306

07/10/1941

12/12/1941

RAF

 

829

19/02/1942

24/02/1942

FAA

 

776

18/09/1942

07/04/1945

FAA

 

1832

20/09/1943

09/12/1943

FAA

 

849

17/11/1943

25/11/1943

FAA

 

1834

19/11/1943

22/11/1943

FAA

 

787

12/11/1944

15/01/1945

FAA

 

1820

24/11/1944

11/08/1944

FAA

 

736

01/03/1945

11/03/1945

FAA

"B" Flight Formed at Speke

611

10/05/1946

26/07/1946

RAF

 

116

 

16/11/1942

RAF

"C" Flight

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