History Section - Local History
In this part of the website we want to explore the history of East Boldre and the surrounding villages. We have brightened up the village hall with a gallery of historic photographs of East Boldre and the surrounding villages. If you have any old photographs of East Boldre or if you can remember how things were forty, fifty or sixty, a hundred or more years ago, let’s hear about them.
Meanwhile, you can read a detailed history of East Boldre from the dissolution of Beaulieu Abbey in 1538, through the time it became a separate parish in 1839 to the present date, by clicking here.
The New Forest Flying School at East Boldre 1910-1912
Did you know that in 2010 we celebrated the centenary of the airfield built in East Boldre in 1910. And in 2015 the village hall will be 100 years old. The airfield was built to accommodate a flying school that was the second to be opened in Great Britain and the fifth flying school in the world. If you want to know more about the history of our airfields, take a look at Alan Brown’s excellent hand written and hand illustrated books on the twelve wartime airfields built in the New Forest. More info can be found at the Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust website.
On May 26-30 2010, East Boldre Village Hall played a central role in celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the East Boldre Flying School, which opened in May, 1910 when you could learn to fly for just £80. It was started by William McArdle, who learnt to fly at the Pau Bleriot School in France, and J. Armstrong-Drexel, an American from a wealthy banking family who learnt to fly at East Boldre (No. 14 British Certificate).
William McArdle, born 1875, had set up an early motor car business in Bournmouth but in 1909, “Motor Mac” became very interested in flying. He sold his business and went to France to learn to fly. There he met J. Armstrong-Drexel.
These two pioneers sought permission from the Office of Woods to build an airfield at East Boldre but it was refused. Despite this, they built two sheds, one for a hangar and one for a workshop, and they hired some local lads to clear a strip of heathland for the runway. It was the second flying school to be opened in the UK, (the first being at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey).
On Sunday 1 May, 1910, a large crowd of people came to East Boldre to watch a flying display by McArdle and Armstrong-Drexel, who were flying two Bleriot monoplanes. Soon their fleet increased to six Bleriots and during 1910 they gave flying displays at Wallisdown (Whitsun), Southbourn (July), Blackpool (July/August), Lanark, Scotland (August), Leopardstown (August), and then by boat to New York and Philadelphia (November).
While they were away, Harry Delcombe managed the flying school and George Gould looked after the aircraft maintenance and repairs. Pupils at the school included two army officers and many civilians.
The flying school closed two years later in 1912 and the airfield reverted to quiet grazing land but in 1914, one of the sheds on the airfield was taken over by the Royal Flying Corps (forerunner of the RAF) and by 1915 the demand for pilots on the Western Front was so great that the training school, called RFC Beaulieu was built on the area. Three iron hangars, several huts and the Officer's Mess, which is now the village hall, were built in the village during 1915 and by 1917, four more large hangars, a powerhouse, workshops and accommodation for airmen, airwomen and officers were built on the Beaulieu to Lymington road. Three squadrons were formed at RFC Beaulieu before being moved to France. 84 Squadron still exists and still considers itself to be a Beaulieu Squadron.
After the end of WW1, in 1919, the camp was closed and most of the buildings were removed. During WW2, in 1942, a three runway airfield was built on the opposite side of the road but the current village hall was still used as the Officer's Mess. After the war, on 1 January 1945, the Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment came to the large airfield and used the old airfield as an parachute dropping zone until September 1950.
Original Research by Alan Brown
Between 1910 and 1916, the word ‘BEAULIEU’ was carved into the heath at East Boldre, in letters approximately 4.5 metres (15 feet) high, making the whole word spread over 33.5 metres (110 feet). There is some disagreement about its age. Some historians think that it dates back to the WW1, RFC flying school and suggest that it appeared in about 1916. Another theory is that it was excavated for the 1910 flying school. The letters are quite unique. No other RFC or RAF training school had or has similar letters which suggests that it was not made for the WW1 airfield.
During the days of the 1910 civilian flying school, numerous races were held and maps of the day which show the circuits they flew, indicate that the aircraft raced across the heath to a certain point where they turned for the return leg of the race. Neither pylons nor flagpoles to mark the turning point were permitted on the heath but the turning point coincides almost exactly with the position of the BEAULIEU letters. During these races both altitude and speed records were broken at East Boldre.
The letters were covered up during WW2 and do not appear on any aerial photographs of the day. Over the years, the chalk was gradually covered with soil and vegetation. Some local people think that the letters were previously restored during the 1960s. Since then nature reclaimed the letters and, once again, they became barely visible.
During 2012, local villagers carefully uncovered the letters by excavating down to the original chalk infill. The entire restoration process was filmed by the BBC and was televised on the BBC1 programme, ‘A Great British Story’.
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