Hesketh Park Aerodrome started and ended its existence as a civil aerodrome. However, during both the two world wars it was pressed into service for military use.
It was originally constructed by Southport Council in 1910. The grounds and hangar were rented by local aviator, John Gaunt. He was an incredibly early pioneer of flying, with the Wright Brothers only achieving the first powered flight (which lasted seconds) just seven years before.
First World War
The Royal Naval Air Service demolished the original hangar and installed two bow-strung truss-roofed hangars (commonly known as "Belfast hangars"). These were used to assemble military planes including de Havilland DH4, DH9 and DH9A types. Aircraft constructed by Vulcan Motors were also tested here, and would fly off to their delivery destination from the site. It became known as No.11 AAP (Aircraft Acceptance Park).
In 1920, two Canadian brothers - Norman and Percy Giroux - who were ex-Royal Flying Corps pilots, founded the The Giro Aviation Company. They leased one of the hangars to store their aircraft. The planes were used to give pleasure flights from nearby Birkdale Sands aerodrome, which was just south of Southport Pier. In the 1930s, they had regular flights to Blackpool, the Isle of Man and Ireland. They also branched out into pilot training with their own flying school.
Second World War
At the outbreak of the conflict, a Bellman Hangar was added to the site and it became No.7 Aircraft Assembly Unit. This is when the tarmac apron still visivle today was built. The aerodrome was turned over to assembling Mosquito and Anson aircraft, and repairing Spitfires. According to Aldon P. Ferguson's book 'Lancashire Airfields In The Second World War': "It is understood that over 200 people worked there. It is assumed they were all civilians as no accomodation for personnel was ever built here". The site was also the host of 'No.1 Packed Aircraft Transit Pool'. This group would dismantle planes, pack them into huge crates and have them shipped from Liverpool docks all around the world. According to Ferguson: "It is thought that over 1000 aircraft have been assembled at Hesketh Park".
Another wonderful nugget of information Mr Ferguson gives us is that the nearby Pleasureland fairground was used to store military aircraft along with other nearby sites and even central reservations of local dual carriageways had hundreds of aircraft stored in crates. Presumably enemy reconnaissance would not realise or suspect their contents.
After the war, the Southport Aeroclub took over the site, flying Tiger Moth biplanes. In 1961, they left the aerodrome to relocate to RAF Woodvale. With no further occupants, the site finally closed in 1965 and the remaining two hangars were demolished the next year. A row of bungalows were built where they stood.
What Remains Today
A large information board provided by South Shore Interest Group, with photographs of some of the aircraft associated with the site, stands on Hesketh Road. In the earliest pre-Second World War days of the aerodrome, the municipal golf course was where the planes took off and landed.
Across the road, where the bungalows now stand (some of which are converted to houses) is the location of the hangars used during the Second World War. Next to the information board, the tarmac strip where the aircraft from this conflict were parked remains evident, though partly grassed over. The planes would taxi down the tarmac to the nearby beach for take off. The original World War Two fence posts are still in place today at the edge of the tarmac.
The site is on Hesketh Road, but there is no obvious place to park. Instead park at the RSPB Marshside car park (there is a small fee - it accepts debit and credit cards only). At the pelican crossing, cross the road and head down Marshside Road and look out for a metal swing gate on your right. Follow this Public Footpath along the raised route of the old sea wall.
This Public Footpath takes you through the golf course, which was where the planes took off and landed during the earliest days. At the end of the golf course you will reach the Hesketh Park Aerodrome Heritage Site information board. Here you can see the remnants from the Second World War; the fairly extensive tarmac strip where the planes were parked and taxied is evident. Numerous concrete fence posts marking the limit of the site run parallel with Hesketh Road. The bungalows where the hangars once stood also run on the opposite side of the road, just across from the information board.
For more on early civilian flights from Southport area, see our companion website: Lancashire Past lancashirepast.com/2018/08/18/early-transatlantic-flights-via-southport/
ABOVE: Some of the original WW2 perimeter fencing
ABOVE: A row of bungalows stand today where two hangars once stood.
Between The Wars
South Shore Interest Group on-site interpretation board on Hesketh Road
Forgotten Airfields website forgottenairfields.com/airfield-hesketh-park-aerodrome-1249.html
Lancashire Airfields In The Second World War - Aldon F. Ferguson (2004) www.countrysidebooks.co.uk
ABOVE: Part of the aircraft apron still visibe on site today.