When Air Travel was Very Risky

Just before Christmas we had a few days in Malaga – We flew by Easyjet, I don’t care what some people say, I think they are ok, we’ve never had a problem. They also have nice new aircraft, which are probably as safe as air travel is ever going to be. We had an excellent trip. nice warm weather, a visit to the Picasso museum and the house where he was born. We had lots of delicious fish to eat a nice hotel and a lovely time was had .We left two of our dogs at the excellent kennels up the road from us (we like to imagine they enjoy their little holiday too). The kennels are lovely and John who runs them is a nice man, but the site of the canine doggy home is interesting for another reason.
The kennels are at a place called College Farm which is situated in an area called Hurst. In Kent “Hurst” means “Wooded Hill” and the area of that name does indeed contain one of the same. The farm is right on the edge of the flat marsh just before Giggers Green Road takes you up the steep hill ( a test for cyclists) which leads to Boat Lane.

A Bleriot 155

A Bleriot 155

87 years ago, in August 1926 an Air Union Bleriot 155 was on a scheduled flight from Paris Le Bourget to Croydon Airport, the weather conditions were poor with drizzle and fog right across the Channel and over Romney Marsh. To make things worse the aircraft had developed a fault in one of the four engines. It’s possible the pilot was lost in the thick fog or that he felt the plane could not make it over the hill. Whatever the reason he attempted a forced landing, presumably assuming that the flat terrain would give him a fair chance of achieving success. Unfortunately, the barn next to College Farm was in the path of the aircraft. The plane hit the stone building and ploughed through three haystacks, narrowly missing the farmer and two farmhands by ten feet. Sadly the pilot and one of his crew died in the accident, along with one of the thirteen passengers, who was an American. See a Pathe News clip here http://www.britishpathe.com/video/fr…uery/accidents
The airline Air Union, existed for ten years, before merging with four other companies to become Air France in 1933. in that time there had been twenty two crashes and serious incidents involving their aircraft, including two at Lympne and one at Hythe. Not what you would call an unblemished record. Although I suppose it was still relatively early days for air travel.

The Barn at College Farm

The Barn at College Farm

Some eighty sixty years on, the barn at College Farm remains in its damaged state, you can see it from the road if you are heading in the direction of Dymchurch. The owner John says he will get round to restoring it one day. For the time being though, it remains a reminder of that fateful foggy day in 1926, when air travel was a distinctly risky business.

Postscript 26th Dec 2013

The old barn now no longer stands. It was demolished in December 2013 and has now been replaced by a modern agricultural building. The photograph above is possibly the last picture to show the barn as it was.

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A Music Legend at my Front Door!

In the late 1970’s I was an art student at a college in a little town called Stourbridge. Stourbridge is famous for its decorative crystal glass and is situated in the area now known as “West Midlands” (the town used to be in Worcestershire). One of the things I became involved in whilst completing my degree (apart from drinking copious amounts of Bank’s Bitter) was the College Social Committee. This involved helping to run the bar, booking bands and apologising to the local residents for the excessive amounts of noise and drunkenness.
Our small but “atmospheric” little club became something of place to be seen, it wasn’t as though we had much competition. The nearest club was JB’s in nearby Dudley. JB’s in its original form was sweaty, slightly dodgy but great venue. It has recently reopened http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JB’s_Dudley.It doesn’t look quite the same somehow. At the college venue we booked bands like Dr.Feelgood, and The Kursaal Flyers, quite cutting edge at the time.
You might ask how does this relate to Dymchurch? Here’s the answer…
One of the bands who were never off our turntables at that hedonistic time were the Canterbury-based outfit Caravan. We couldn’t afford to book them, but their dreamy, Neo-Romantic songs, with a slightly jazzy edge and odd sounding keyboards, fitted the requirements of 70’s Art students very nicely. Their albums had clever titles like “Girls that Grow Plump in the Night”, “Cunning Stunts”, “In the Land of Grey and Pink” and “Blind Dog at St.Dunstans” http://www.caravan-info.co.uk/#/

Back to Dymchurch. Several years ago I was out walking the dogs along Eastbridge Road. A middle-aged couple approached us and said they were staying the night at The Ship Inn. They asked if they could get back to the pub through the fields. We told them they could but it had been raining hard all day so the main road was a safer option.
We chatted as we walked and it turned out that the man was in a band and was playing a reunion gig in Canterbury the next day. They had come to Dymchurch to enjoy a day at the coast. Of course I was intrigued as to which band the tall baseball- hatted man belonged to.
The man asked me if I had heard of bands called Hatfield and the North, Camel and – wait for it- Caravan, I said “Of course!”. A hazy, nostalgic vision of my student days appeared in my mind.
The man turned out to be Richard Sinclair, Bass player and Vocalist with all of the above. I wanted to chat forever, but finally we shook hands and off the couple went for a cosy night at The Ship.
I couldn’t believe it, it was like being transported back into my early twenties, a truly surreal moment when a prog-rock legend from my student past appeared outside my own front door!