Pioneer unveiled UK’s first aircraft factory in Barking
Aviation pioneer Frederick Handley Page opened Britain’s first aircraft factory in Barking at the dawn of the 20th century.
Here, the Post looks back at the early years that saw the aviator fly his experimental machines above the Barking marshes before going on to manufacture RAF bombers that helped defeat the Nazis.
Less than a decade after the Wright Brothers flew the first powered and controlled aircraft, planes could be seen in the skies of Barking.
It was thanks to aviation pioneer Frederick Handley Page, who opened Britain’s first aircraft factory.
Sir Frederick was just 24 when he unveiled his flying machine facility at Creekmouth with capital of �10,000.
It was June 1909 and aviation was still in its infancy. The Wrights had first flown in the US in 1903.
The son of a furniture maker, the engineer leased a corrugated iron shed and a piece of marshland off River Road at the site of the old Barking Power Station.
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The following year, he bought three sheds belonging to the Royal Aeronautical Society at their flying ground adjacent to Dagenham Dock and rebuilt them at Creekmouth.
Handley Page began testing his planes after acquiring flying rights over two-and-a-half miles of rough marshland on the north bank of the Thames between Barking Creek and Dagenham Dock.
His initial attempt involved a monoplane glider with an undercarriage featuring three bicycle wheels, according to Barking: A History by Sue Curtis.
During 1910, he developed the first Handley Page powered monoplane, the Type A, known as the Bluebird.
The plane had a 32ft wingspan and a top speed of 35mph.
Type A was exhibited at the second Olympia Aero Exhibition and “HP” successfully made a few straight hops on May 26, 1910, but crashed at the first attempt to make a turn.
Undaunted, the aviator pressed ahead with his experiments and unveiled a new version, a two-seat monoplane which had wings and tails varnished with yellow anti-corrosion paint.
Its pilot, Edward Petre, called it the “Antiseptic” but it was affectionately known at the Creekmouth factory as the Yellow Peril.
It had a 48ft wingspan, could fly for three hours and its top speed was 60mph.
Only one was built but it flew successfully from 1912 to 1914, carrying several hundred passengers and flying several thousand miles.
The plane first took off on April 26, 1912, at a Handley Page airfield in Fairlop and soon performed well enough to fly to the works at Barking piloted by Mr Petre.
The Yellow Peril was also used to carry dozens of passengers on joy flights, including two children.
Handling was improved and several flights were made with three passengers before being inspected by King George V at the Olympia Show in February 1913.
Despite theses early advances, Handley Page also suffered setbacks with crash landings and even deaths, according to Barking Past by Richard Tames.
“Handley Pages’ eventual success was by no means assured as the improvements which he achieved in these early years were bought at the cost of crash land and, in 1912, a double fatality.”
In that year, Handley Page relocated to Cricklewood in north London to expand.
Although the Creekmouth site was advertised for sale as a ready-made aircraft factory, it was never used again and was later engulfed by Barking Power Station, which opened in 1925.
During the First World War, HP produced a series of heavy bombers to destroy yards housing German Zeppelin airships used for reconnaissance missions.
Between the world wars, Handley Page turned one of the bombers, the O400, into a passenger plane flying between London and Paris. In 1924, he created the UK’s first national airline service, Imperial Airways.
During the Second World War, HP produced the Halifax, the second most prolific British heavy bomber.
Its first operational raid was against Le Havre in Normandy, France, on the night of March 11-12, 1941.
The bombers went on more than 80,000 operations, dropped 200,000 tonnes of bombs and more than 6,000 models were built.
In addition to bombing missions, it was used to parachute agents and arms into occupied Europe.
After the war, the company manufactured commuter aircraft but resisted pressure to merge with other companies and eventually went into liquidation in 1970. He received a CBE and died in London in 1962 aged 76.
n Town planners are to pay tribute by unveiling Handley Page Road at the new Barking Riverside housing development near the old Barking Power Station.
Maria Williams, of Creekmouth Presevation Society, said: “The two famous monoplanes built at Creekmouth were The Bluebird and The Yellow Peril. Frederick Handley Page test-flew some of these very first models himself. He went on to much bigger and greater things. His factory is an important part of Creekmouth history.”