Portsmouth Airport

Portsmouth Airport in its heyday

Portsmouth Airport in its heyday

I’ve just started a new project researching Portsmouth Airport.

Plent of people have written about the Airport before. There are books about the planes, or about the people who flew the planes, or full of wonderful pictures of all of the above. But none of them really tell us very much about how the Airport came about, the impact that it had on the city, and the reasons for its demise. Also, what happened to the site after it closed?

Work was begun on the airport in 1930, giving local people unemployed during the great depression something to work on. The airport was opened in 1932 with a flying display attended by thousands of people. Soon after it opened the company Airspeed moved its factory to Portsmouth from York. Founded by the author Nevil Shute Norway, Airspeed are well known as the builders of the wartime Horsa Glider, and the Airspeed Oxford monoplane.

As well as attracting aeronautical industries, the airport also proved to be a base for airline companies. However the Airport never really achieved its full potential, unlike its counterpart at Southampton. The Royal Navy were anxious to limit activity at the site, as it impacted on its own flying operations at HMS Daedelus in Gosport. A scheme to turn Langstone Harbour into a base for Flying boats was turned down by the Government after the Navy opposed it, as was a scheme to turn Farlington Marshes into an airport.

As aircraft became more demanding, the grass runways at the Airport severely limited what planes could use the facility, and several crashes in 1967 and rapidly growing losses lead to the closure of the Airport in 1973. The city began to focus more on developing its commercial port, and the Airport site was earmarked for redevelopment. It eventually became an Industrial estate, and the Anchorage Park housing estate.

We know very well all of the developments – the dates, the people, the planes, the technicalities. But what we do not know, is just what impact the Airport had on the city, its people, its economy, its culture, and its geography. These are gaps that I hope I will be able to fill. Theres a whole load of sources out there that no-one has looked at – City Council records, the Evening News, and Government records in the National Archives. There some very important parts of the story yet to be told.



Filed under airshow, Local History

9 responses to “Portsmouth Airport

  1. Interesting piece. I seem to remember attending a Hampshire Scouts Jamboree on the airport grounds during the 1980’s.

  2. dalyhistory

    Hi Paul, thanks for your comment. It must have been a perfect site for events like that. I think the Council missed as trick when they redeveloped it, think of the issues we’ve had over trying to find a site for a new Football Stadium in the city…

  3. dalyhistory

    I’ve just been reading about how in 1980 there was a festival at the Airport, featuring Glenn Campbell and Johnny Cash! that I would love to have seen…

  4. John French

    My father, John French was employed by the airspped company in the machine shop and eventually became a skilled Miller working for De haviland and Hawker Siddeley on the same site.
    He was awarded a gold watch in 1961 for 25 years service with the de haviland aircraft company.
    He met my late mother while they both worked for the company and they married in 1952.
    The company had a social club which was in Moneyfields Road I think in Copnor. I believe it is still there.
    When the factory closed he moved to Hamble and then back to the site of the Airspeed company to work for his friend Les Spragg, also an ex employee.
    The company produced a lot of skilled labour over the years who went on to work in various industries to train new apprentices, one of which was me. They left a lasting legacy on the whole of Portsmouth and the outlying districts.

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  8. colin budden.

    Hi, I have an ex RAF ww2 truck that i believe may have been stationed at portsmouth airfield. It’s a 1942 Ford snogo snow blower used to clear airfield run ways. Do you have any records for such a vehicle by any chance? Many thanks, Colin.

  9. John

    My father John Griffiths was a foreman supervisor at Portsmouth De Havilland from 1947 to 1961.
    I was all set to join DH as an apprentice in 1962 but sadly my Dad died of cancer in May 1961 at the age of 49. I joined the RAF instead.
    I do remember the Christmas parties for the Kids and the generous presents given out at the end of the party. All now a bygone era and never to be seen again. Regards.

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