Night Landing Ground
By Susan Hall
At Hertfordshire Archives and local Studies we have a group of volunteers who come in and clean documents on a Monday.
The last collection that we cleaned was from the Hertfordshire War Agricultural Committee (AEC). The documents are papers relating to the Corn Production Act of 1917.
The Corn Production Act 1917 was an Act passed by the parliament of the United Kingdom under David Lloyd George’s coalition government during the Great War. The Act guaranteed British farmers a good price for their cereal crops so that Britain would not have to import them, as German U-boats were sinking ships importing food into Britain.
One Monday one of the volunteers found some papers concerning a farm called Shingle Hall, which is just north of Sawbridgeworth.
One particular item amongst the papers was to the clerk of Herts War Agricultural Committee from F J Lukies and Sons telling them that it was not in the national interests to plough up the field in his occupation as ” It is hired by the government for night landing ground for aeroplanes; we graze it with cattle by day it is now a good pasture. I had laid it down 17 years ago and have spent a lot of money in manures on it; only mowed it twice since it has been laid”.
This document was dated 24 March 1917 and the field in question was no. 792 on an ordnance survey map (1898) and was an area of 31½ acres.
This intrigued me. I needed to find out more about the farm, the Lukies family and the landing of aeroplanes in a field.
Francis John Lukies (known as John) was the farm owner; before the war he had 21 men and 4 boys working for him. When war came that changed, as men of military age had to go and fight.
Mr Lukies had to declare any military aged persons working on the farm; he had listed two men: Francis Nicholas Lukies (his eldest son) born 27 May 1893 and a J G Thoroughgood born 20 July 1897. Also attached is a list of farm workers; he had 7 women who “worked part time when they can get away from their home work“, 3 boys and 12 farm workers, plus himself; also given is the length of time they had worked at the farm. In a supporting letter to the Hertfordshire War Agricultural committee he said “We are short of good labour and have largely made this up by employing wounded soldiers and women who are doing their best, but require greater attention and supervision than ordinary agricultural labourers“.
The farm had 118½ acres of grass, 542 acres of arable land and 1½ acres of Orchard giving 708 acres in total. The arable acreage was broken down into crops:
67 Clover, Sanfion & temporarily grassed for mowing this season
He had 20 working horses, 8 other horses, 7 plough teams, 7 cows of which 2 were milked daily, 12 fattening cattle and 52 store cattle, 2 pigs and an average of 200 sheep.
The Lukies Family
The 1911 census gives Francis John Lukies as the head of the household, aged 54, and his occupation as Farmer. Living with him at Shingle Hall are:
Elizabeth, his wife aged 47, they had been married for 21 years and had had 7 children of which only 4 were still alive in 1911.
Francis John Lukies married Elizabeth Tucker in 1889 in Essex.
Ethel Florence was born in 1892 in Arkesden, Essex.
Francis Nicholas was born in 1893 in Arkesden, Essex.
Leslie Horace was born in 1896 in High Wych, Hertfordshire
Dorothy Bessie was born in 1905 in High Wych, Hertfordshire
Also living with them are two farm apprentices, Harry Hallows aged 20 and Stanley Miles aged 16. They also had a domestic servant, Ellen Townsend aged 24.
By the end of 1911 Elizabeth had died, leaving John a widower.
In the First World War Leslie Horace Lukies joined the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, Egypt Expedtionary Force.
Francis Nichols Lukies had applied to the Hertfordshire War Agricultural Executive Committe for an exemption certificate. He was originally given an absolute exemption certificate but as the war progressed the rules were changed, the following arcticle appeared in the Hertfordshire Mercury on 1 July 1916, page 4
“Mr F J Lukies of Shingle Hall, High Wych, applied for his son Francis N Lukies, whose certificate of absolute exemption granted by the tribunal had been cancelled by the new regulations. In this case it was stated the father was too ill to do much work and the son was absolutely indispensable. A medical certificate was produced stating that the young man was unfit for service and a conditional exemption was allowed.”
It would appear that his case was taken to the tribunal again in 1918 as there is documentation and a letter putting Francis N Lukies’ case.
It says that “in consequence of a very serious illness to Mr John Lukies (from which he has only partially recoverd) he was away from the farm for his health for some months in every year, 1913-14 he was away for about 7 months, 1915 9 months, 1916 for 6 weeks and 1917 for 6 weeks and that it was essential that matters should be cleared up and that Mr John Lukies should be free from anxiety”.
Francis John Lukies survived the First World War and he remarried in London in 1918 to Helen Scott Findlay. He died at the age of 81 in 1937, leaving £34465 13s 9d (£1,274,541.12 in 2005 money) to his two sons Francis Nicholas Lukies and Leslie Horace Lukies and his second wife Helen Scott Lukies.
With the First World War came the employment of the aeroplane as a fighting machine. In 1916 the home defence detachments at Sutton and Hainault Farms, Essex were merged to form 39 Squadron RFC. They were sent to North Weald Basset which was a 1st Class flight station in Eastern Command near Epping.
The main role of the squadron was defence againt German Zeppelin raids on London. They needed more landing fields and immediately on arrival at the station searches were made for suitable sites.
They already had a number of sites but they needed more. The fields were designated night landing grounds and were postitioned at set distances from the flight station and each other. They were only intended to be used by aircraft that had got lost or were experiencing difficulties during a night patrol.
Three areas were surveyed around Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire.
The first being level ground with good approaches of about 56 acres, at the junction of West and Cambridge Roads. This was rejected as it was decided that it was too close to the town.
The second site was smaller, only 24 acres just to the north east of Tharbies Farm. The approaches were good but it was rejected as it was at the top of rising ground.
The third site was to the west of Shingle Hall; it was 31 acres in size and the approaches were good. It also benefited from being away from any major population areas and a public road ran along one of the boundaries, which made access to the site easy.
By the end of April 1916 it was fully established as a second class night landing ground. The field was west of the hall and it had no aircraft hangerage, only a windsock and a small felt covered wooden hut, and the odd tent was erected in bad weather as a shelter for the men, but repair facillities were available.
The site was manned by local civilians and an RFC officer, would have been in charge. His duties would be to lay out an L shaped pattern of “Money” flares with the long leg pointing down wind.
The flares had an asbestos wick soaked in paraffin inside a wire cage and burnt at a rate of 1¼ gallons an hour. This flight path was effective in showing through mist and fog and it was lit when an aeroplane was over head.
Any aircraft using the landing ground did not generally stay very long, however, one example noted by “Len Eve of Burstead, was a Bristol Fighter with the inscription ‘Zanzibar the 8th’ which, after taxi-ing out for take off one morning, failed to get airborne and went through the hedge on the east side”
The landing ground remained in operation until November 1918, after that it was decommissioned and returned to agriculture.
In 1928 a gliding club formed at Shingle Hall. Launches were made by a hand winch, but this either ceased to work or people power ran out and an old Bentley car was used as a launch vehicle. The club only ran for about a year as it was recorded in the Mercury of 1932 that ploughing matches had been held for three years.
An organisation was set up in 1932-33 calling itself the British Hospitals Air Pageant, a rival to Sir Alan Cobham’s National Aviation Days, his secretary Barker, set it up.
Baker selected a Charles W. A. Scott to head up the British Hospitals Air pageant, Scott holds the world record for his flight in a DH88 Comet Racer in the England-Australia air race.
The Herts and Essex Observer 22 April 1933 reported the following:
“Great Air Pageant
Bishops Stortford Hospital
On Wednesday 17 May 1933,the biggest fleet of civil aircraft yet seen in this country will give a magnificent air display at the Flying Ground, Sawbridgeworth, in order to help the funds of Bishops Stortford Hospital.
Led by Mr Charles W A Scott, AFC, the famous airman, who holds the world’s record for his flight from England to Australia, no less than 15 aircraft will take part in a display of 20 events illustrating every branch of modern flying, in addition to daring feats in the air such as wing walking and parachute jumping.”
The article goes on to say that members of the public will be able to “experience the pleasures and thrills of flying” possibly reaching speeds of over 200mph.
This campaign was organised by Mr J McEwan King in gratitude for the treatment received in hospital after a serious accident. He had set himself the task of collecting £100,000 for hospitals in five years and hoped to raise £20,000 this year by these air displays.
On 6 May 1933 the Herts and Essex Observer reported that Admiral Sueter MP would be opening the pageant. There was a programme of about 20 events, including aerobatics, wing walking and parachute decents.
Another feature of the pageant would be the opportunity offered to the public to experience the pleasures of different types of flight in various types of flying machine from the fastest to the latest air liners.
In order that the children understand the basics of flying the “Local Education Authority has been asked to distribute to each school copies of a simple and entertaining flying lesson by Mr Charles Scott and to allow 500 local school children to attend the pageant in order to see the lesson demonstrated by means of a radio controlled aeroplane.“
As a reward to the children who attended, they were each given a balloon.
The constitution of the British Hospital Pageants provides that the hospital shall receive ten per cent of the gross gate receipts, £30 worth of flight tickets, thirty three and one third per cent of the programme sales and the gross profits on the sales of model aircraft and books about flying.
The pageant started with a grand parade and flypast of all the participating aircraft. There were 15 machines at the pagent including various Avros and Gipsy Moths, a Spartan Cruiser, Fox Moth, Desoutter, Miles Satyr, Fairy Fox and a Drone.
The attendance was slow to build but by the afternoon attendance was good. Many people bought tickets for rides, these cost 5/- for a circuit of Shingle Hall and Thorley, or 7/6d if the passenger wanted to go as far as Bishops Stortford. This was probabley the first time many people would see their area from the air as social flying was in its early days.
Bishops Stortford Hospital
On 20 May 1933, the Herts and Essex Observer reported on the opening of a new wing of Bishops Stortford Hospital by HRH Duchess of York (the late Queen Mother). She arrived promtly at 2.30pm and was received by the Lord Lieutenant viscount Hampden, she was escorted to a platform where she was presented to Dr Young, who then promptly read the illuminated scroll which was the address. It was then placed in a silver casket and presented to Her Royal Highness.
Members of the management and medical staff were presented to HRH the Duchess of York. Mr Tresham Gilby then expressed the Board of Managements welcome to the Duchess, he talked about Bishops Stortford’s need for this new wing and said that Her Royal Highness has graciously consented to open the new wing.
He finished his announcement with “Ladies and gentlemen I have now come to the end of my very pleasant task. It only remains for me to ask Her Royal Higness before receiving the purse and ‘brick’ envelopes, graciously to declare the New Wing open.”
Her Royal Highness replied “I am very charmed to be here this afternoon to declare open the New Wing. The history of this hospital ever since its inception in 1894 has been one long record of generous benefactions on the part of friends and well wishers, culminating in the building we see today.
Thanks to the public spirit and generosity of the people of this neighbourhood, they pocess a Hospital of which they may be indeed proud.
I have great pleasure in declaring the New Wing open.”
The Duches was then presented with a bouquet of flowers and there then followed a presentation of purses and “bricks”. The Duchess was then conducted through the hospital and expressed her pleasure and surprise and finding it so up to date in its equipment.
She chatted with patients and staff and before leaving the hospital she presented an autographed photograph of herself. Her last duty was to inspect a guard of honour formed in the grounds of guides, brownies, cubs and scouts.
She then entered her motor car and left the ground to the cheers of the assembled crowd.
The future of the landing ground
The next use for the landing ground came in 1934. The Air Pilot Supplement of December 1934 stated that Mobile Beacons were established at various aerodromes and Emergency Landing Grounds. The co-ordinates given placed a beacon on the southern edge of the First World War Night Landing Ground, 100 yards from the rear drive of Shingle Hall.
Although landing grounds remained in the Sawbridgeworth area during the Second World War, Shigle Hall NLG was too small. The landing strip moved to north of the Much Hadham Road, opposite Blounts Farm, south of Newsett and Mathams Wood.
As a small point of interest, Mr Lukies moved to Blounts Farm when the gliding club were using Shingle Hall field.
So from one small document found in an agricultural archive a lot of history can be found revolving around one small field near Sawbridgeworth.
More information can be found about Sawbridgeworth’s airfields in the book:
Where the Lysanders Were; The story of Sawbridgeworth’s airfields by