How an enterprising Boots competition gave people their first flying experience from Blackpool sands

By Barry Band

By Claire Lark
Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 3:45 pm
Mr Roe (right) and his triplane with Aviation Pioneer Henri Farman
Mr Roe (right) and his triplane with Aviation Pioneer Henri Farman

The photo, three weeks ago, of a Blackpool bus blocked by snow outside the Halfway House Hotel, caused some discussion.

The caption said 1950 but it has been suggested the photo was taken in 1940, when there was big snowstorm.

Perhaps a Blackpool bus buff could answer the question, while in the same article there was another puzzle picture.

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Humphrey Roe (left) and his brother Mr A. V. Roe (right) and his triplane at Squires Gate airport Blackpool, 1909

This was the junction of Squires Gate Lane with Leach Lane, which came across the old airport site from St Annes and was closed off in February, 1940.

The intriguing bit was a poster on the corner of Squires Gate Lane and what is now Amy Johnson Way. The poster advertised flights for three shillings and sixpence.

The question, of course, is: Did Blackpool’s first pleasure flights take place from Squires Gate or Stanley Park in the 1920s and 30s?

A quick flip through The Blackpool Story, by Palmer and Turner, reveals that pleasure flights were explored in 1919 by the AV Roe company, flying from the sands at South Shore.

Now, that rang a bell and I retrieved my Memory Lane article of August, 2015, about an enterprising sales promotion by the Blackpool branch of Boots the Chemist.

Their advertising people thought: “Let’s offer our customers flight for only a shilling” (just 5p).

They declared “Spend a shilling at a Boots store in the Fylde, fill in an application form, and take part in a daily draw for free flights.”

The offer was advertised in a half-page ad in the Gazette on August 15, 1919, which reminded readers that the first transAtlantic flight had recently been made by Sir John Alcock and Sir A. W. Brown (knighted for their achievement).

Every day in the following week flights would be won by 30 Boots customers, whose names would be announced every evening in the Empress Ballroom of the Winter Gardens.

The Mayor of Blackpool Ackerman A. Lindsay Parkinson MP, would announce the first names on Monday, August 18.

The Boots copywriter told readers: “In the past, flying has been limited to but a handful of gentlemen adventurers” . . . but civilian flying was no longer a dream of the future.

It continued: “The latest Avro machines will be used for the Boots free flights and will be in the charge of experienced war pilots.

“The Avro aircraft have made thousands of passenger flights over Blackpool and such flights have been entirely free from accidents of any kind.

“All the flights will take place from the Avro Aerodrome at South Shore, described as one of the finest aerodromes in Great Britain.”

The 1919 advertising copy leaves us with two puzzles. Was the Avro aerodrome where the famous Blackpool Air Show was held in 1909 and when did those “thousands of passenger flights” begin?

They are hardly likely to have been before the start of the 1919 holiday season.

A bit of exaggeration, perhaps?