On 25 July 1909, Louis Bleriot became the first man to fly a powered aircraft across the English Channel. This incredible feat caught the imagination of Bradford aviation enthusiast, Albert House.
So inspired was House that he travelled to France where he purchased a Bleriot Type XI monoplane of the type which had made the epic crossing and which Bleriot was manufacturing and selling.
The aircraft was transported in several pieces by train to Bradford where House assembled it at his workshop near Lister Park and charged visitors to view it.
Meanwhile, House had formed the Northern Aero Syndicate and built a hangar and airfield at Rawdon Meadows, Apperley Bridge (between Woodhouse Grove School and the River Aire). The hangar was situated on what is now the playing fields car park and the aircraft took off and landed on a grass strip (now football pitches).
Albert’s son, John, was the Syndicate’s lead pilot. During one flight, in 1910, the engine began to mis-fire and John lost control of the Bleriot which rapidly lost height before crashing into a stone wall, damaging one wing and the propeller. Luckily for John, he escaped unharmed.
Whilst the Bleriot was being repaired, its place was taken by a biplane which had been constructed at Skipton by John Gaunt (a relative of the textile magnates of Farsley).
A few weeks after its arrival at Rawdon Meadows, a scheduled flight of the biplane had drawn a large crowd to the airfield. As the engine was being tested prior to departure, a flame from the exhaust ignited petrol in the tank causing a large explosion inside the hangar. Several bystanders, including Gaunt himself, were badly burned.
Once it had been repaired, Albert and John moved the Bleriot to Filey Beach, where the compacted sand made an ideal runway. However, the Bleriot suffered several more prangs and the Northern Aero Syndicate went bust.
There is no longer any trace of Rawdon Meadows’s short-lived history as an airfield but there is a collection of photographs of it, including the one below, in the archives of the Bradford Industrial Museum.
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