High flying times for Dalkeith residents in the ’30s

Reaching new heights - a display for a flying display in Dalkeith in 1934.
Reaching new heights - a display for a flying display in Dalkeith in 1934.

In July 1934, Hall the Butcher’s van stalled on a level crossing at Woolmet Colliery and was hit by a train.

The Advertiser said, “The vehicle was totally wrecked and the beef completely destroyed”. Almost as an aside, it said that the driver had escaped!

Also in July, the Town Council were informed that Scottish National Airways proposed an aerodrome near Gilmerton Station, between the Gilmerton and Danderhall roads. They hoped this would be a stop-off point on the British-Canadian air route, via Scotland, Iceland and Greenland.

Edinburgh Corporation gave the go-ahead in May 1935, and said that the Ministry of Defence had given permission for Turnhouse to be used until the new aerodrome was ready. Thankfully for us in Dalkeith, the aerodrome was never built, probably because the War, or threat of war, intervened.

Flying was still only 30 years old, and there were frequent references in the Advertiser. As early as 1916, there was an article on an imaginary trip around the world, 10 years in the future, in a five-seater air cruiser, powered by an electric engine with a top speed of 150 mph.

Then in 1931, an advert appeared saying that a flying display would take place at “the Flying Field, Dalkeith”. The fact that it only said “the Flying Field” made me think that perhaps flights were held there on a fairly regular basis. Further investigation showed that this field was, in fact, on the Lauder Road, just opposite the Easthouses Road end.

Apart from stunt flying and a wing walking display by a Mr Burt of Liverpool, flights were offered to the public at 2/6 a go (12p), and were so popular that the visit was extended by two days.

So great was the impression made by this visit that a Dalkeith Gliding Club was formed on November 31, although it was never mentioned again.

Interestingly, Winnie Stevenson of the Roslin Heritage Society attended an Aviation Festival in Orkney recently and one of the talks there was by the son of Captain Ted Fresson, who was a pioneer of early flights to Orkney and also took people for joy rides. One of his slides showed a log book/diary of flights done in 1931 and she saw the word Dalkeith mentioned.

When I checked, the then Flying Officer Fresson was the pilot involved in the public flights mentioned above.

Apparently, there were 3000 civil pilots in the UK in 1934, and about the same time as the Gilmerton aerodrome proposal, some bright spark had the idea for “Fog Signposts in the Sky”.

This had a balloon floating in the clear air above the airfield with the direction and angle of glide need to bring the plane down to the runway written on the side of the balloon. The pilot would follow these directions then chuck out a weight on the end of a 15 foot flex.

When the weight touched the ground a red light would come on in the cockpit and the pilot would touch down “with daylight precision” – at least that was the theory. Not quite on the same standard as radar and automatic landing systems!

But back to August 1934. Two thousand people turned up to see Dalkeith Thistle hold Nitten Star to a 1-1 draw and remarkably, Lamb & Dunn the Ironmongers, had a staff outing to Belfast. Thirty-five people caught the 6.20am train from Edinburgh to Glasgow, sailed to Belfast, did some sightseeing and got back to Dalkeith at 11.20pm!