Arnold's First Aeroplane


At approximately 8am on the 28th July, 1911 an aeroplane flew low over Arnold which attracted great excitement and interest in the local population. Aircraft were very rare at this time. The first ever flight in the UK only having taking place three years previously.

The machine slowly circled the town and then came into land on Lime Lane Meadow off Ollerton Road. The aircraft was a Birdling monoplane and was piloted by H. J. D. Astley.  Astley was a well-known pilot at the time. He obtained his licence no. 48 on the 24th January, 1911.

He had been taking part in the £10,000 Daily Mail Competition for the circuit of Great Britain. The Proprietors of the Daily Mail had offered the sum of £10,000 to be awarded to the aviator who completed a circuit of 1,000 miles in the shortest time within the appointed dates

The contest commenced on Saturday, July 22nd, 1911, and was to finish at the latest, Saturday, August 5th, 1911, at 7.30 p.m.

In order of take-off, Astley was drawn number two out of the thirty competitors although only seventeen actually started the race. He had intended using a machine designed by Mr. Macfie but unfortunately this was damaged in its trial outing on the Monday before the race. He therefore, had to fly another machine the ‘Birdling.’ which then had his number two painted on the tail .

He completed the first section of the race from Brooklands to Hendon and then commenced the next section on to Edinburgh. During the 182 miles to Harrogate he was very badly delayed by fog. Not reaching Harrogate until the Tuesday evening, and so with no chance of completing the race within the time, he had to retire. After a rest he decided to fly back to London. By the time he arrived at Arnold he had become very tired and airsick and so landed at Lime Lane.

As soon as his plane touched down he was surrounded by the local people who flocked to the meadow to see this wondrous site. When he escaped the crowd he visited the Waggon and Horses at Redhill where he rested and ate a good breakfast. He decided to leave his aeroplane where it was and return to London by train. He was taken to the Midland Railway Station in style by Mr Tom Shipside of Shipside motors in one of his Morris cars.

The next day he arrived back at Arnold by train, recovered his aircraft and then returned to London.

Unfortunately, while flying at Belfast Cattle Show Ground on the 21st of September, 1912 his aircraft banked too sharply and crashed into the ground from 150 feet. Astley died the same day from head injuries received in the crash.

All articles © Bob Massey

The Birdling at Lime Lane