worthing history


One of our airfields is missing...
June Laster
June Laster, pictured in 1936, standing beside one of the many pre-war aircraft in which she flew as passenger with aviation stars of yesterday.
SO where was the old Thakeham airfield, mentioned in recent recollections of the visit by Sir Alan Cobham Flying Circus in 1933? Freddie Feest explains

A reader called to say he had lived in Thakeham for many years but had never known the village to have an airfield.
          He's right, of course, if you think of an airfield in today's terms. But in the terminology of 1933, when there were relatively few restrictions on private flying, an airfield could be anywhere that was more or less flat, where the relatively tiny aircraft of the day could land or take-off.
     What was described in 1933 as old Thakeham airfield was, in fact, a few hundred yards north up the B 2139 - a farmer's field close to the Danehill Crossroads at Coolham.
     In those days visiting private aircraft, which required only a very short grassy strip for both taking off and landing, often used it.
     The biplanes of Alan Cobham's Flying Circus, most of which could lift-off from them after a run of only a few yards, often used such privately owned fields as part-time air strips up and down the country.
     During one of his local visits, Cobham even landed what he described as his air liner in the grounds of Courtlands, a large private house that still exists in the middle of Goring!
     Recollections of Cobham's sometimes hair-raising flying exploits reminded me of a story told to me by John Healey, of Worthing, about his first flight in the 1930s, for which he paid 10 shillings.
     As I bought the ticket, he recalled, I was asked Air liner or two-seater?
     I decided on the two-seater and on being handed the ticket I noticed it read acrobatic flying.
     I found the plane “an old crate” and I climbed up a home-made ladder. In the cockpit were some baby straps, all broken.
     The pilot started off with the plane rocking and bumping up and down. Once we were airborne, I looked over the side and the wind nearly blew my head off!
     Suddenly the pilot decided to loop-the-loop.
I was only able to cling on by putting my hands under the seat and my feet against the side of the cockpit.
After landing, I watched the plane take off again and go through the same aerobatics. I asked a steward, Does he always do the same tricks?
Yes he replied. And last week at Hunstanton the pilot hung on to the loop-the-loop too long and the passenger fell out and was killed.
IN her young days, when her father was organising manager of Alan Cobham's flying circus, June Lester, of Durrington, flew so many times with famous stunt pilots that she was nicknamed The Flying Schoolgirl.
     She recalled that in the 1930s those flying aces were seen by the public in much the same way as today's daring Grand Prix drivers. But they treated an awe-struck schoolgirl with much fun and kindness.
Dear Freddie Feest
THE story about the Littlehampton-based brig, Ebenezer, delivering coal to Worthing beach, sparked fond memories for the two grandsons of Alfred Steel, who spent part of his career as its captain. This artist's impression shows the Ebenezer under full sail.
LAWRENCE Crisp writes from East Wittering, with a postscript to the story Grate Expectations, published at the end of January.
     I WAS most interested to receive, by a rather circuitous route, a copy of your article regarding the story of Richard Bacon. This I received from Minorca – your readership spreads far and wide!
My cousin, Tony Steel, who lives in Minorca and myself are the grandsons of Alfred Steel who was for a time the skipper of the coal brig Ebenezer, which brought coal to the South Coast as you describe.
     The Ebenezer was the flagship of a whole fleet of colliers owned by the Robinson brothers, of Littlehampton.
     Other ships in the fleet were named Clio, Adela and the Samian Gem. They would sail from Littlehampton in ballast bound for the coal ports of Sunderland, Gateshead and Newcastle, returning with a cargo of coal they would deliver to the ports of Shoreham, Littlehampton and up river to Arundel.
     Many southern ports and towns in Sussex had their own colliers. In Chichester harbour, for example, was the Two Sisters, which was built at Bosham and served the port of Chichester by off-loading coal at Dell Quay that they brought all the way from Sunderland.
     They did not always carry coal, from time to time taking general cargoes to ports on the north coast of France or sailed to the West Country to pick up china clay and tin.
     The method that Mr Bacon used in the unloading was in common use from medieval time. His experiences I found most interesting, giving us all a sense of the working seamen and dockworkers of the past on which this country relied for its coal until railways were able to serve us more efficiently.
     Our grandfather served on all the Littlehampton ships I have named as first mate or captain, until he retired from the sea in 1912. He then moved from Rustington to the village of East Wittering to take up the license of the Royal Oak, which the Steel family held until 1952.
     It is important that we do not forget the past and especially the presence of a busy port that Littlehampton was in the nineteenth century, which I have found is regrettably lacking in the museum of that town since it modernised its river frontage.