Lee Hutchinson, collections officer for Industrial and Maritime History at M-Shed museum, describes a historic moment in the history of flying that 30,000 came to watch on the Downs. Ron Cross describes going to the Downs to say goodbye to Concorde.
On the 14th Novemebr 1910 Sir George White, who was director of the British and Colonial airline company, introduced flying machines to the public and he chose the Downs to do it. The flying machine was called a Bristol Biplane which we know as the box kite, and was essentially lots of wood, glue and canvas all string together, in modern terms it was a very flimsy machine and prone to breaking up if not handled very carefully.
So we’re stood by the water tower now and what you have to try and imagine is that over 100 years ago thousands of people would have been gathered here on a wet and windy, quite a horrible winters day really. But they still came out, the ladies were dressed in their finery, there were whole families, people from all walks of life, all different classes came out to see it. For a lot of people flying machines were just out of this world, quite hard to comprehend how anything could get into the air. For them it was a staggering spectacle. There would have been a massive buzz and they were yearning to see it.
Sir George White was a consumate showman and he was absolutely keen to put on a great display for the Bristol public. So around 3 o’ clock there are aournd 30,000 people gathered on the Downs that’s the police estimate, and they had difficulty taking off because they had to obviously clear the way for the take off, but a Frenchman called Maurice Tetard was piloting the plane, and he took off somewhere not far from the Sea Walls. So he went towards the Sea Walls, over, up and across the gorge, and back, probably a few minutes really, probably about a ten minute flight, and came back down over the water tower, to thousands of cheering crowds, so that was the most spectacular event of the day.
So it wasn’t just the test pilots who took the planes up into the air, Sir George White also offered the members of the public flights, and the first recorded paying passenger was Mrs Farnell Thurston, who was a niece of Sir George, and she returned to earth breathless and without her hat so that blew off somewhere in the flight , and by all accounts she was quite terrified of flying.
On that day in November 1910 Bristol people took aviation to their hearts, from then on the industry expanded and flourished and over the years the lives of thousands of Bristol people have been sustained and enriched by the aeronautical industry.
See I think you can draw a comparison between the scenes in November 1910 and the scenes almost 100 years later when Concorde had its last flight over here, and you could say in a way that in 1910 people were saying hello to the flying machine, and when Concorde had its last flight they were saying goodbye, the link that connects them together is Filton airfield ,and when you think that the box kite was developed in a tramways shed at Filton, and then you consider that you had Concorde being built there was well it’s quite an amazing evolution.
Yeah I was up on the Sea Walls when Concorde came back to say goodbye to Bristol. and that was a wonderful sight and a wonderful aircraft, a wonderful aircraft. and there were crowds, there were crowds, massive crowds up there then. You could scarcely see a blade of grass, and I gather that was sort of all the way through, like the Downs was a vantage point obviously, but right the way through to Filton and there were people obviously out in their gardens and so on.. It came flying in from Ashton, over the suspension bridge. And that’s an iconic sight to see Concorde above the suspension bridge, and it came across the Sea Walls on its way to Filton. I think because it was associated with Bristol, that’s why so many people went up there I think. And it was such a beautiful futuristic aeroplane, that was a gorgeous sight to see.