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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Squires Gate 1 North Shields 0

john Woodman

Blackpool's civil airport and adjoining land has had mixed fortunes for over a century.

For a start Britain's embryonic aviation showcase took place on land now occupied fittingly by the local airport in 1909. The first officially recognised aviation show utilised the coastal site bordering on Blackpool's southern boundary with neighbouring St Annes. An electric tramway ran all the way from Lytham's Cottage Hospital (as it was then) linking fast developing communities and continuing into Blackpool along appropriately named 'Lytham Road' as far as Blackpool South railway station. Here the Lytham trams connected with Blackpool Corporation Tramways and their own service which went as far as the Promenade at Victoria Pier using Station Road.

This first air show attracted competing machines and their 'intrepid' pilots both from France and England, as well as other countries. A £1000 prize was on offer for the fastest flight around a prescribed marked circuit - sponsored by Lord Norcliffe and the Daily Mail. Thousands attended with convoys of trams running to Squires Gate Lane from both systems.

Squires Gate was also the location for an important military hospital established during World War One. This provided convalescent care to recuperating soldiers benefitting from fresh sea breezes as well as proximity to Blackpool's ample leisure and entertainment offer - with a direct connecting tram service from the Hospital grounds to the town centre. It is noteworthy to record that when the US entered the war in 1917 the first troops sent across the Atlantic were destined to begin medical training at Squires Gate - learning the scope of wounds encountered by troops on the Western Front. This being of a wholly new scale of physical injuries thus far not known to the US military who were about to experience the especial medical requirements of modern warfare.

The Squires Gate airfield has been closely associated with pioneer female pilot of the 1930s, Amy Johnson, who was the first person to fly solo from the UK to Australia, among many other 'firsts' in that decade.

Squires Gate has enjoyed affinity with the new era of manned flight both civil and military. The Second World War saw a massive new bomber assembly plant built along Squires Gate Lane operated by Vickers and producing hundreds of 'Wellington' aircraft; whilst RAF Fighter Squadrons were formed including a famous unit with Polish aircrews who had escaped from their country in 1939. The postwar era saw further aircraft development at Squires Gate into the 1960s.

A remarkable tribute to the 1940s has now been created at Hangar 42 (itself of wartime construction) housing period aircraft and memorabilia through the work of aviation enthusiasts. This expanding heritage site venue, at present hidden from passing traffic on Squires Gate Lane, is a first class example of how Blackpool's transport history could be showcased and promoted to visitors. Consideration is now being given to further developments onsite which include representative trams and transport to widen the heritage offer. The Fleetwood Heritage Trust's collection is being offered, subject to formal approvals and funding, as a starting point.

It should also be mentioned that Squires Gate has been the site for football matches played by Blackpool's Electricity and Tramways team from the 1900s. An old Blackpool tram was donated to serve as a changing room, whilst the Lytham St Annes tramways operation had its tram depot and facilities on adjoining land. Blackpool Football Club continue to use the same training pitch to the present day but not without continuing criticism of its now rudimentary facilities, particularly when compared to the upmarket investment in Fleetwood Town's training ground by its Owner.

In fact Squires Gate also has its own Football Club which plays matches on a seperate site close to Common Edge Road and also adjoining the former Airport and Aircraft factory. The Squires Gate team are in a preliminary round for the FA Cup competition playing North Shields this weekend and winning 1.0.


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