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Sunday, 10 July 2016

Dengie From The Air: The Blackwater as a London Airport

A London Airport we never had.

Following the 2nd World War the Government sought to improve transatlantic and long distant air transport.  Flying boats were considered suitable and Saunders-Roe were approached in 1945 to design a suitable plane.  The following year they received a contract for three of what were to be the largest flying boats – the S.R. 45 ‘Princess’. 

Steps were then taken to find a suitable site for a Flying Boat air port to serve London.  The Chichester area and the Blackwater were the two suggested locations and assessments were made in 1947 of their suitability.  Initial conclusions stated :

“At  Chichester, the ideal terminal cannot be provided without the engineering difficulties of building on reclaimed land.  At Blackwater, it cannot be provided without a larger terminal basin and mooring area than is proposed in the Blackwater Survey Report.  If neither of these courses should prove practical, then, in terms of taxying distances, Blackwater, with a terminal at Bradwell and Maintenance and M.O.S. at Ramsey, would be preferable to Chichester …

Extendibility of Alighting Area.  -  Chichester, once built could not be extended, whereas the length of run at Blackwater is practically limitless.

Availability.  -  Chichester would not be available for use until the end of a lengthy development period.  On the other hand, most of the alighting area at the Blackwater is available now and would be so during the development period.”

The three terminal sites suggested were at Osea Island, Ramsey Wade between Stansgate and Ramsey Island, St. Lawrence, and Bradwell Creek. The Bradwell basin would have utilised an enlarged Creek. At Ramsey it would have occupied the Wade, previously sealed off from the Blackwater in 1815. Both basins would have been deepened by excavation and at Ramsey Wade the sea wall demolished to gain access. 

The plans do not indicate where the Osea basin might have been but the terminal would have been on the island itself with a new causeway constructed to give road access towards the A12.

It was envisaged that the then redundant Bradwell Bay aerodrome could act as a feeder airport for the south bank sites.  They estimated that the road journey from these two sites would take 3 hours compared with today’s 1½ hours.

Consultations were held between several government ministries and local authorities.  Maldon’s M.P. Tom Driberg also requested to be kept informed.

One consultee put forward the Medway Estuary as a better alternative – a precursor to ‘Boris Island’ ?

The scheme came to nothing as it became obvious that land based airfields would cater more economically and safely.  Only one of the Princess aircraft ever flew, in 1952.

Small sea planes did operate on the Blackwater during the First World War in conjunction with H.M.S. Osea fast motor boat base.  Sea planes may still return to the Blackwater as there is currently a proposal to operate a service between Osea and small airports around London.

“The Dengie Hundred in the Air” is this year’s exhibition to be held at St Lawrence Heritage Church from 9th July until 11th September, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

TNA BT 217/1777   River Blackwater, Essex: proposed flying boat base
Maldon & Burnham Standard March 2016

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