Our October meeting was held using Zoom and saw, members enjoy Joy Pibworth’s presentation on The Heroes of Woodley Airfield, looking in particular at the aviation background to many of the present road names in the area. Joy outlined the early history of aviation in and around Reading.
After the First World War, interest in private flying grew and local enthusiasts formed the Berks Bucks and Oxon Flying Club. On the area between Woodley and Hurst known as Hadleigh Heath there was a 100 acre field, and in 1928 it was bought to become Reading Aerodrome.
A Reading garage, Phillips and Powis, set up a flying club and school and held open days in 1929. Phillips and Powis built a factory to make two-seater planes designed by F G Miles at Woodley.
They were capable of 90mph and returned a consumption of 23 miles per gallon.
Activity on the airfield (a grassed field) saw displays by barnstormers, and the chance to take cheap trips in a plane – Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus offered such, and Sam Cody, the American showman, was another who landed there.
Women were seen as an important market for planes at that time, as well as being a support to male aviators.
Maxine Miles, known as ‘Blossom’, was taught by Frederick George Miles, usually referred to as F G Miles.
She soon qualified as a solo pilot and the pair fell in love. She divorced her first husband and remarried FG. Despite being blind in one eye, ‘Blossom’ was an excellent draughtswoman, and designer of planes.
The couple joined Phillips and Powis, and the planes they designed were either named after birds, or had names with an initial ‘M’ (for Miles – Phillips and Powis later being taken over by Miles Aircraft Ltd). One of the present-day roads across the area is Miles Way.
Another of the main roads across the airfield is Bader Way, named after Douglas Bader. He joined the RAF in 1928, but was reprimanded for some of his flying stunts. In December 1931, while performing one of these, he crashed at Woodley airfield, and had to have his legs amputated at the Royal Berkshire Hospital. Bader recorded the occasion in his diary “Crashed slow-rolling near ground. Bad show”.
Mollison Close, Joy said, might be named after either Mr or Mrs Mollison. In 1932 Jim Mollison set a record of four days 117 hours for the flight from England to South Africa. Soon after he met an aviatrix – and they became known as the ‘flying sweethearts’. She was Amy Johnson, and both were very competitive – each breaking the other’s flying records. The marriage lasted six years, with Amy retaking her maiden name.
Joy told of the aviation personalities recalled by several other Woodley roads including Farman Close (Henri Farman, pioneer aviator and plane maker) and Harris Close (Arthur ‘Bomber Harris), while Concorde Way recalls the passing at 10.52am each morning of the supersonic airliner overhead, turning at the Woodley beacon, from 1976-2003. Miles had been involved in initial research into sonic airflight.
Miles Aircraft continued to build aircraft at Woodley until 1948, when it faced bankruptcy.
In part this was due to a ban on the use of fuel for private flying, to FG Miles’ paternalistic attitude, and to their continuing to build wooden planes.
FG and ‘Blossom’ moved back to Shoreham, and in 1980 the site was sold to Bryant Homes – the road names ensuring that the sites aviation heritage is not forgotten