Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines

Stories from the archives

The ever popular Bournemouth Air Festival, which started in 2008, was not the first aviation event to be held in Bournemouth. The Dorset History Centre holds records of an international aviation meeting that took place in Southbourne over 100 years ago.


In 1910 Bournemouth was celebrating its centenary, and as part of the festivities held an aviation meeting at Southbourne Aerodrome where 19 competitors could compete for cash prizes. Categories included longest flight, speed, altitude and slowest speed. The world speed record at the time was just 47 mph; not very quick when you consider today’s record is a whopping 2,193 mph.


Kathleen Durden, a young Dorchester woman, attended the meeting and kept a copy of her programme for the meeting in her ‘Sentimental Book’, which is now held at the Dorset History Centre (ref: D.2162/Acc 8695). Kathleen jotted notes in the programme recording the prize-winners but her notes also reveal the risks that these pioneers of flight took (Britain’s first powered flight had only taken place in October 1908).

Here are some excerpts from her notes:

 Boyle ‘accident on Sat: concussion of brain’, Christiaens ‘accident with passenger, neither hurt but aeroplane smashed’, Rawlinson ‘accident on Thursday 14th broke leg & shoulder’ Rolls ‘killed on Tuesday 12th [July] 1910’.

Although Kathleen doesn’t mention him another competitor, Edmond Audemars, also crashed during the meeting.

‘Rolls’ was Charles Stewart Rolls co-founder of Rolls-Royce and his was Britain’s first fatal air-crash. The accident is now commemorated by a plaque, placed at the site of the crash, now St Peter’s School sports ground.

The most successful pilot at the meeting was Leon Morane who won over £3,500; which would be like winning £200,000 today, not bad for a days work!