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.