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1911 - Magnificent Mid-Sussex aviators fly over Burgess Hill and land in trouble at Haywards Heath

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

On 6 May 1911 the celebrated Air Race from Brooklands to Brighton (1) took place with Shoreham serving as the turning point; it was a distance of 45 miles. The Sussex Daily News excitedly proclaimed the race 'would go down to posterity as the first aerial point-to-point' . A large balloon was attached to the Palace Pier acting as the finishing marker for the competing aviators. The proprietor of the Palace Pier, Mr Rosenthal, put up £80 for first prize, while Harry Preston put up £30 for second place. There was also a third prize of £20.

There were 8 entries for the race, but for various reasons only four aviators started.

Interest in the race had drawn crowds along the route.

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 09 May 1911




We are living in exciting times: In every new and history-making movement - whether pertaining to mother Earth, or soaring skyward toward the realms of unalloyed bliss - Burgess Hill, of course, must take its part. If it cannot lead, it will follow and follow with a rush, too. The townspeople there have been pointing their noses heavenward lately, not to provide beacon lights for earthward bound visitors from space–that would indeed be a libel on the hundreds of sober and industrious Hillians–but to see if they could sniff anything in the way of novelty.

On Saturday afternoon their eyes beat their noses and gained a distant glance of Mr Paxton's aeroplane, considerably to the east of Burgess Hill and much out of its course in the race from Brooklands to Brighton. A crowd watching a cricket match in St John’s almost stampeded! Next day a closer view of

the same aviator’s aeroplane was obtained as it flew over the neighbourhood to Haywards Heath. But the real excitement–the experience of a lifetime was reserved till yesterday (Monday) morning when a Bristol biplane came right over the centre of the town and descended a little to the north of it.

The aviators in it were Mr Oscar Morison and Mr Gordon England, the latter, who is only about 20 years of age, being a son of Mr and Mrs England of Oakwood, Haywards Heath. They left Shoreham at 6:30, and went beautifully along at a great height. There was not much wind and the sky was aglow with vermillion and crimson hues. It was shortly before 7:15 PM when


of anything unusual presented itself in the sky, and a typical Spring day was pleasantly closing. Far to the south, towards Clayton, appeared “a little cloud or a kite”; it dipped slightly, and then looked like “a large pocket handkerchief”; onward it came, every moment becoming more and more clearly defined. Yes, it was an aircraft, sailing majestically with the engine half snorting and half clicking rapidly, propelling the welcome visitors along above a veritable fairyland. It seemed to pass over the town from the direction of the ancient Burgess Hill Farmhouse, over Park Road and Leylands Road, towards Haywards Heath.

Somewhere in the vicinity of the old sweep-less Windmill the sound of the engine ceased; the aeroplane glided gracefully, and gradually descended: and it was eventually lost to view. What had happened? Where had it come down? Why had it come down? To settle these questions the inhabitants–hundreds of them!– rushed pell-mell northward from every conceivable point. From Leylands Road they could see the


by Freeks Farm, a good distance away, and the main London Road, the Mill Road and the other thoroughfares were teeming with fast moving humanity - in motors, on bicycles and on foot. Never has the Sewage Farm, through which half the throng went, and the adjoining country, presented such a scene! Men, women and children– those excited children– scrambled through the hedges and coppices, jumped ditches, and darted and stumbled over ploughfields in never-ending streams, many people being hatless, some coatless, and not a few almost breathless. Several got entangled on barb wire, and one of two fell into a brook and had to be rescued. Scores of bicycles were left in the fields, and motorcars were deserted on the rough paths.

The crowd of sightseers surged around the aeroplane, which had been safely brought to earth on the top of a slight incline. Mr W. G. Wheatley of Burgess Hill, took photos of the scene and he is today doing a roaring trade with picture postcards. “why did you come down here?” asked one of our representatives of the intrepid Mr Morison “Oh,” he replied, “I simply ran short of petrol, that's all”. “it was a perfectly natural descent?” queried the pressman “Yes, quite” came the reply. The aviators were kindly treated by the farmer, who provided them with tea. More petrol was obtained, and the airmen were enthusiastically cheered on making their reappearance. About 8 o'clock Mr Morison made a splendid ascent, this time without his passenger, and as the aeroplane took to the air, the assembly gave another rousing cheer. Soon the machine semi-circled from a southern start and eventually it


It was Mr England's desire that the descent should be made in his field, but although he saw the alighting mark Mr Morison considered the adjoining field (belonging to the Holy Cross Home) a better landing ground, and down he came. There were not many people about at the time, but all who saw the descent rushed towards the aviator and congratulated him on his safe arrival.

We say “all”–but that is not quite correct. There was one who was much annoyed that the descent was made on the Holy Cross Home property, and that one was the bailiff– Mr G. Nichols. He did not hide his displeasure. Very sharply he ordered the biplane to be removed at once from the field, and on Mr England resenting this unsportsmanlike attitude, pointing out that the darkness made another ascent risky for the aviator, Mr Nichols said if a payment of £5 was made the biplane could


in the field. Mr Morison expressed regret that the unpleasantness had arisen, and said he would endeavour to fly into Mr England's field. Mr England evinced his appreciation at the offer and the onlookers said some very uncomplimentary things about the bailiff. Mr Morison soon had his machine going and as the airplane rose in the air the little crowd eagerly watched his flight, hoping that no harm would come to him. The aviator circled the meadows, and came down at the spot marked for him in Mr England’s field. Again he was enthusiastically congratulated, and subsequently accompanied Mr England to Oakwood. Today (Tuesday) passenger carrying flights will be undertaken. Before leaving the ground yesterday we were shown a telegram from Mr Pixton, who left Oakwood about about five o’clock for Brooklands - a distance of 44 miles. He arrived at his destination in 45 minutes.

(1) Brooklands was a 2.75-mile (4.43 km) motor racing circuit and aerodrome built near Weybridge in Surrey, England, United Kingdom. It opened in 1907 and was the world's first purpose-built 'banked' motor racing circuit as well as one of Britain's first airfields.


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