Guarlford History Group

Flying Circus

Keith Chester remembers Alan Cobham's Flying Circus coming to Malvern before WWII.

He recounts that the pioneer aviator brought his rather primitive bi-planes to Malvern in about 1937 for 5/- flips. The temporary airfield was behind Mill Farm. "My brother Paul and I squeezed into the rear cockpit with two others and, no seatbelts, bounced off. Can't say I enjoyed it - scared stiff in fact. All that blue sky over one side and all that Malvern over the other. Happy in the RAF a few years later - with reassuring straps"!

Keith was initially in the Home Guard. "We had regular Sunday morning parades at the Morgan works in Pickersleigh Road, next to Sir Alan Cobham’s Flight Refuelling Co, an early pioneer in refuelling aircraft in flight. I met Sir Alan several times in about 1942/3 when Malvern Council were requisitioning empty houses for his war workers at Flight Refuelling. Needless to say he had little time for bureaucracy."

Alan Cobham rented Pickersleigh Court, once home of the Bartleet family, a short walk from the Morgan factory.

AJ Cobham Flying at Reading June 1919, click for larger image

Interestingly another villager found this photograph of Alan Cobham offering flips in 1919. The photo is annotated AJ Cobham Flying at Reading June 1919. RAF roundels can be seen on the fuselage.

A curator at the RAF Museum has been able to identify the aircraft and provide further background about the career of Sir Alan Cobham for the history group:-

The aircraft in the photograph is an AVRO 504K. In 1919 Sir Alan Cobham (who had been in the Royal Flying Corps) with his two business partners, the brothers Fred and Jack Holmes, operating as Berkshire Aviation Tours (BAT) Limited, acquired an ex-RAF Avro 504K (G-EACL) and used it to sell joy-rides to the public while touring England and Scotland.

By 1920 G-EACL had been lost in a crash but BAT carried on with one and later two replacement Avros. However, after the very wet summer of 1920 Cobham abandoned the venture to join the Airco Manufacturing Company and later the De Havilland Company, where he began his career as a long distance charter and survey pilot.

He returned to the joy-riding business with a new venture in the early 1930s and "Cobham's Flying Circus" became a household name.

If you have photographs or memories you would like to share about flying from Mill Lane, please contact us via the webmaster.

More about Sir Alan Cobham, can be found in a well-illustrated book by Colin Cruddas called "Cobham: The flying years" which was published by Chalford in 1997.

Flight Refuelling Ltd now trades as Cobham plc