Memorial unveiled in 1955 commemorating the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain flying grounds at Leysdown and Eastchurch (from 1909) and the first Royal Navy aviators based at Eastchurch from 1911. Portland stone with integral seating. Designed by Sidney Loweth FRIBA, sculpted by Hilary Stratton FRBS.
Reasons for Designation
The memorial to the ‘Home of Aviation’, which stands on Church Road, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* marking the outstanding impact of the Royal Aero Club on the development of aviation in Britain, based at Flying Grounds at Leysdown and Eastchurch, and the significance of civilian aeronautical engineering and training here to the development of military aviation;
* positioned to reference both Flying Grounds at Leysdown and Eastchurch.
* designed by Sidney Loweth FRIBA and sculpted by Hilary Stratton ARBS, the memorial includes high quality allegorical sculpture and an unusual frieze of early aircraft, in Portland stone.
* with the Church of All Saints (Grade I).
Attracted by the novel and exciting experience of ballooning, in 1901 Frank Hedges Butler, Vera Butler, and Charles Rolls formed an Aero Club which rapidly attracted an enthusiastic membership. The Wright brothers’ success in powered aircraft flight in 1903 in America then inspired the Club’s members to adopt this new, experimental, technology. In the short period before the First World War, much of Britain’s early success in heavier-than-air flight can be attributed to the group, which in 1910 became the Royal Aero Club.
In 1909 Griffith Brewer, a balloonist and agent for Wright Brothers, identified land at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey (Kent) for a Flying Ground. As well as recommending that the Aero Club adopt this as a club aerodrome, he suggested that Short Brothers locate assembly sheds and flight testing there in order to operate their production licence to build the Wright ‘Flyer’. Frank McClean bought the flying rights for the Club and, with its clubhouse at Mussel Manor (Grade II), thus provided facilities which in short order enabled a number of British aviation ‘firsts’ to be achieved: including the first flight in Britain by a Briton, when JTC Moore-Brabazon (Royal Aero Club certificate 1) flew in his Voisin at the ground.
Leysdown was not ideal and in May 1910 Short Brothers moved the factory the short distance to Standford Hill, immediately south of Eastchurch. Charles Rolls had already conducted test flights here, in 1909. The new and highly-fashionable Flying Ground was established when McClean bought 400 acres for the Club. Eastchurch is now one of only two locations where aircraft sheds built by early aviation pioneers survive (Grade II-listed at Eastchurch, 1912, and Grade II*-listed at Larkhill, Wiltshire, 1910).
In November 1910 the Club offered free flying instruction for Royal Navy officers. Four men were trained by Horace Short and George Cobham and in October 1911 the Admiralty was persuaded to set up a Flying School at the aerodrome. These facilities expanded during 1912 and when the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was formed on 13 April 1912, Eastchurch became the Headquarters of the RFC Naval Wing. When the Royal Naval Air Service was created on 1 July 1914, the Eastchurch Squadron was formed on station. Flying training, experimental flying, and aircraft testing continued during the First World War until, after the creation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, flying activity decreased from 1919.
The intense and inspirational period of pre-First World War aviation innovation on the Isle of Sheppey attracted great public interest both at the time and in subsequent years. In 1950, Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Brabazon of Tara (as Moore-Brabazon had become), and Horace Short, wrote to the Editor of The Times appealing for support to create a memorial at Eastchurch, marking these historic successes. They reported that a public meeting (held locally in 1949) had resolved to establish a museum or library in a new extension to Eastchurch village hall. They also called for memorabilia of the pre-war period to be gifted, with the aim of celebrating the Royal Aero Club’s achievements, Short Brothers’ first factory, and the place where the first officers had been taught to fly aircraft (before even the formation of the RFC).
In the event, the memorial committee decided that a commemorative monument would best serve and Sidney Loweth FRIBA agreed to provide the design. The memorial was executed by Hilary Stratton ARBS, and built by Messrs Wallis and Sons Ltd (Maidstone). The location was selected with reference to the roads towards the original Flying Grounds (Leysdown some 6km to the east, and Eastchurch approximately 2km to the south). The parish church opposite includes a memorial window (1912) to Charles Stewart Rolls and Cecil Stanley Grace, the first British aviators to die in flying accidents involving aircraft (both men flew from Eastchurch Flying Ground and are named on the Aviation memorial); whilst the nearby lych gate is the community First World War memorial.
The ‘Home of Aviation’ memorial was unveiled on 25 July 1955 by Lord Tedder, former Chief of the Air Service. Lord Brabazon and Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Longmore (one of the original group of four Naval officers trained by the Aero Club) spoke at the ceremony of their memories of Eastchurch in those pioneering days.
Sidney Loweth FSA FRIBA (d1977) was the Architect for Kent County Council. Hilary Stratton FRBS, who had been an Assistant to Eric Gill, also worked with Sidney Loweth on the Men of Kent (Norman Invasion) memorial at Swanscombe, unveiled in 1958.
Memorial monument at the junction of High Street and Church Road, Eastchurch.. Unveiled in 1955, the memorial was designed by Sidney Loweth and sculpted by Hilary Stratton.
MATERIALS: brick, Portland stone ashlar, Kentish ragstone, with timber seating, flint cobbles, and glass setts.
DESCRIPTION: the memorial stands on the west side of Church Road, at the junction with High Street, opposite the Church of All Saints (Grade I-listed) and the war memorial lych gate (unlisted).
It takes the form of a curved wall with Portland stone ashlar, facing east. The central section comprises a plinth supporting the bust of Zeus who holds a sceptre and lightning bolt, against a backdrop of clouds. To either side of the plinth the flanking walls continue to end piers. To the front of the flanking walls, the Kentish ragstone base supports built-in wooden seating with Portland stone bench ends. A cobbled pavement fronts the seating with, in front of the central plinth, a Portland stone kerb marking out an area, paved in blue glass setts, for the placement of floral tributes.
The southern flanking wall is at one height, simply coped. Its end pier supports a ball finial in the form of a globe, surrounded by navigation instruments. The pier ends in a pilaster topped with an aircraft wheel carved in relief. This pilaster carries the sculptor’s signature. The inscription at the southern end of the wall reads FRANK MCCLEAN (LATER SIR/ FRANCIS MCCLEAN) LEASED/ STONEPITTS FARM TO THE/ AERO CLUB FOR A NOMINAL/ RENT 1909. HE ALSO PROVIDED/ AEROPLANES FREE OF CHARGE/ FOR THE FIRST NAVAL OFFICERS/ TO BE INSTRUCTED IN AVIATION/ 1911.
A series of eight early aircraft are carved in relief along the face of the wall, each named and dated. These include an Avro Triplane, the Cody 1, a De Havilland No 1 biplane, a Howard Wright 1909 biplane, the Dunne D.5 experimental biplane, a Bristol Aeroplane of 1911, a Handley Page Type E monoplane, and a Sopwith-Wright biplane.
The central plinth is in three vertical sections, the middle of which projects forward. The principal dedication is recorded on the middle section, reading THIS MEMORIAL/ COMMEMORATES/ THE FIRST HOME OF/ BRITISH AVIATION/ 1909/ NEAR THIS SPOT AT/ LEYSDOWN EASTCHURCH/ (MUSSEL MANOR) (STONEPITTS FARM)/ FLIGHTS AND EXPERIMENTS WERE/ MADE BY MEMBERS OF THE AERO/ CLUB (LATER ROYAL) OF GREAT BRITAIN/ ALSO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE/ FIRST AIRCRAFT FACTORY IN GREAT/ BRITAIN BY SHORT BROTHERS 1909/ AND THE FORMATION OF THE FIRST/ ROYAL NAVAL AIR SERVICE STATION. Below this is incised an image of a Short Flying Boat.
The inscription on the left-hand section reads AVIATORS/ J.T.C. MOORE BRABAZON/ THE HON CHARLES ROLLS/ FRANK K. MCCLEAN/ PROF A.K. HUNTINGDON/ LIEUT JAMES W. DUNNE/ THE HON MAURICE-EGERTON/ T.O.M. SOPWITH/ CECIL GRACE/ ALEC OGILVIE/ PERCY GRACE/ ERNEST PITMAN/ G.P.L. JEZZI/ JAMES L. TRAVERS/ AND OTHERS.
To the right, the inscription reads DESIGNERS AND/ CONSTRUCTORS/ HORACE SHORT/ EUSTACE SHORT/ OSWALD SHORT/ AND THE CRAFTSMEN/ OF SHEPPEY/ ROYAL NAVAL/ AIR SERVICE/ LT CDR C.R. SAMPSON RN/ LIEUT A.M. LONGMORE RN/ LIEUT R. GREGORY RN/ CAPT E.L. GERRARD RMLI/ AND TWELVE RN/ TECHNICAL RATINGS.
The northern flanking wall is stepped, raking down to the north. Its end pier supports a finial in the form of an aviator’s bust, fully-dressed in flying gear including breathing apparatus. The pier ends in a pilaster topped with an aircraft wheel carved in relief. A series of seven early aircraft are carved in relief along the face of this wall, including a Short biplane, a Short seaplane, the Short Twin, a Short S38, a Short S27, the Short No2 (built for Moore Brabazon ), and the Short No1 (built for McClean). The inscription at the northern end of the wall reads FIRST CONTROLLED AEROPLANE FLIGHT/ IN GREAT BRITAIN BY A BRITISH SUB-/ JECT 2ND MAY 1909 AND THE FIRST/ CIRCULAR FLIGHT OF ONE MILE IN A/ BRITISH AEROPLANE DESIGNED AND/ CONSTRUCTED BY SHORT BROS 30TH/ OCTOBER 1909 BOTH FLIGHTS WERE/ MADE BY J.T.C. MOORE BRABAZON/ (LATER LORD BRABAZON OF TARA).