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Looking back at the history of Lydd Airport


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What do actor Dirk Bogarde, model Diana Dors and the late Prince Philip all have in common?

The answer is, at one point or another, they all visited Lydd Airport - a small airfield on Romney Marsh, the most southern point of Kent.

A plane takes off in 1964 form Lydd airport
A plane takes off in 1964 form Lydd airport

Officially, it's called Lydd London Ashford Airport, although it is not in London, nor Ashford.

It was previously called Ferryfield, and was originally built as a replacement for the old Ashford Airport at Lympne for car ferry company Silver City Airways.

It was built in just six months costing £400,000 and first opened to traffic in July 1954.

It was in April 1956, that HRH, The Duke of Edinburgh, visited to officially open it.

Black and white photos show the Prince, who passed away last month, stepping off a plane to greet crew and staff.

His Royal Highness greets the crew of a Bristol Freighter that flew him to France from Ferryfield Airport, Lydd in April '56
His Royal Highness greets the crew of a Bristol Freighter that flew him to France from Ferryfield Airport, Lydd in April '56
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother during a visit at the airport. Date unknown
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother during a visit at the airport. Date unknown
Lydd Airport January 1974
Lydd Airport January 1974

By 1959, the airport was one of the busiest in the UK, with over 250,000 passengers annually.

In the early 1970s the popularity of the Hovercraft and roll-on-roll-off ferries led to a decline in the air ferry services from Lydd, although passenger and freight operations continued.

During the 1980s the airport was bought by Hards Travel from Solihull, who used the airport as its base for its holiday operations to Spain, Italy and Austria.

During this time Hards operated 14 flights a day from the airport, and used the large fields surrounding it for car parking.

A dig through our archives reveals a whole flurry of famous faces who have passed through the airfield, including singer Gary Numan and actor John Mills, as well as Dirk Bogarde and Diana Dors.

Plane getting ready for take off at Lydd Airport October, 1974
Plane getting ready for take off at Lydd Airport October, 1974
Diana Dors - pin-up movie queen - at the airport
Diana Dors - pin-up movie queen - at the airport
Actor John Mills
Actor John Mills
Dirk Bogarde - English actor and writer - taken to the tarmac of his limousine
Dirk Bogarde - English actor and writer - taken to the tarmac of his limousine
Cheryl Milstead was delighted to see Gary Numan at Lydd for the Shepway Air Festival 1992
Cheryl Milstead was delighted to see Gary Numan at Lydd for the Shepway Air Festival 1992

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother is also photographed at the airfield.

Other pictures show the airport's lounge in the 70s and control tower in the 80s.

Today the airport sees a mix of private and training general aviation, corporate jets, air taxis, cargo and maintenance.

It is currently able to handle aircraft up to the size of a Boeing 737, but the runway length means that such aircraft can only take off with a restricted payload.

Plans to expand the airport have been in the pipeline for more than a decade - although this has led to protests from those who oppose the scheme as well as a public inquiry.

In the control tower 1974
In the control tower 1974
The departure lounge at Lydd February 1978
The departure lounge at Lydd February 1978
In the waiting room at Lydd Airport in 1977
In the waiting room at Lydd Airport in 1977
The booking hall at Lydd Airport February 1978
The booking hall at Lydd Airport February 1978

The project includes a new passenger terminal and a 294m runway extension for fully-loaded passenger jets, which would be possible with the purchase of farmland next to the airport.

Approval for the expansion plans were granted in 2010, but it is still not known when this will go ahead.

A statement on the airport's own website reads: "We want to offer local people the chance to go on holiday or business from their local airport without the hassle and expense of flying from the London Airports which are becoming increasingly congested along with the roads that serve them.

"The developments will help to create much needed employment on the Romney Marsh."

There has been investment at Lydd Airport in recent years however - a new hanger was created in 2015 and search and rescue operations have been based at Lydd since the same year, run by Bristow Helicopters.

The air traffic control tower at Lydd in 1982
The air traffic control tower at Lydd in 1982
Aerial view of Lydd airport in 1991
Aerial view of Lydd airport in 1991
Aerial View of Lydd airport 1991
Aerial View of Lydd airport 1991

In 2019, a 12-hour dance festival was held there, kicking off at 6pm on Saturday, October 5, and coming to a close at 6am the next morning.

In total, 6,000 people attended the debut event - titled Connected Festival -, which saw more than 100 acts including So Solid Crew, Andy C, Wilkinson, Problem Central and many more perform over five stages.

Four of the dance stages - Connected Main, Breakin Science, Garage Nation, and Underground House - were held in big top tents, while the fifth, the #RCFF stage, was set up in the airport's newest hanger.

Food stalls, a bar, medical tent and facilities were also set up on the runway, which was previously home to world dance raves in the 90s.

Revellers came from all over the UK for the non-stop party, including Scotland, Ireland, Manchester, London and Brighton, as well as Kent.

The new airport hangar in 2015
The new airport hangar in 2015
Crew from Lydd Search and Rescue team based at Lydd Airport (run by Bristow Helicopters). Copyright: Bristow Helicopters
Crew from Lydd Search and Rescue team based at Lydd Airport (run by Bristow Helicopters). Copyright: Bristow Helicopters
Work was carried out to transform Lydd Airport into a base for a rave in 2019
Work was carried out to transform Lydd Airport into a base for a rave in 2019
Connected Festival at Lydd Airport. Photo: Dan Desborough
Connected Festival at Lydd Airport. Photo: Dan Desborough
Thousands attended the 12 hour dance party. Picture: Dan Desborough
Thousands attended the 12 hour dance party. Picture: Dan Desborough

Plans for a second Connected Festival are in the works, but have been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

If all goes to plan, it will be held in May 2022 and will be extended to two days.

At the beginning of this year, the airport was transformed into a vaccination centre as part of the ongoing fight against Covid-19.

It serves Church Lane Surgery, Orchard House Surgery, Oak Hall Surgery and Martello Health Centre, and volunteers from the Romney Marsh Day Centre help keep things running smoothly.

Thousands of people are understood to have been vaccinated at the airport over the last few months.

Damian Collins and staff at the vaccination centre at Lydd Airport. Picture: Damian Collins
Damian Collins and staff at the vaccination centre at Lydd Airport. Picture: Damian Collins

MP for Folkestone and Hythe, Damian Collins, is hopeful that the expansion plans will still go ahead, believing it will bring investment and opportunities to the area.

He said: "Lydd Airport has been a vital part of the local community in Romney Marsh for over 70 years, and indeed has played a crucial role in fighting the pandemic by hosting a Covid vaccine centre for local residents to easily come and get their jabs.

"I have long supported the controlled expansion of Lydd Airport, approved by the district council when I was first elected in 2010.

"It is my firm belief that this could bring major infrastructure investment, tourism opportunities, and new, high-skilled jobs to the Marsh."

Cllr David Wimble, member of Folkestone and Hythe District Council, is also keen for the expansion to come to light.

He said: "I have long been a supporter of small regional airports and hope that one day the airport will return to a more commercial footing should it eventually extend its runway and have the new terminal facility built.

Demonstrators protest to the airport's plans to expand in 2010. Picture: Martin Apps
Demonstrators protest to the airport's plans to expand in 2010. Picture: Martin Apps

"The airport management over the years has changed a few times but again they are not scared of trying different things, such as the all night music festival a few years ago which I know went down very well and was superbly organised by both the airport staff and the event people.

"Maybe the problem is that it has always proven troublesome to attract a commercial airline to take up the offer of a base at the airport.

"I know formerly that the management went all over Europe to aviation shows promoting the site which with its proximity to London offers a great value and reduced landing fees compared to Gatwick Heathrow Stansted and Luton.

"I hope that trade picks up along with more opportunities for jobs and apprenticeships within the aerospace industry.

"One thing that is for sure is the modern jets are a lot quieter than the old Bristol city freighters that stunk of paraffin as they used to transfer cars and passengers across the channel.

The manager of Lydd Airport looking out over the runway in February 1978
The manager of Lydd Airport looking out over the runway in February 1978
Skyway DC3's at Lydd Airport 1999. Photo: Jack C Adams, A.I.I.P., A.R.P.S. Incorporated photographer
Skyway DC3's at Lydd Airport 1999. Photo: Jack C Adams, A.I.I.P., A.R.P.S. Incorporated photographer
The first Small Planet plane touches down at Lydd 2014. Picture: Paul Amos
The first Small Planet plane touches down at Lydd 2014. Picture: Paul Amos
A superfreighter being loaded at Lydd Airport. Picture courtesy of Silver City Association
A superfreighter being loaded at Lydd Airport. Picture courtesy of Silver City Association

"I live right on the flight line and can honestly say even larger planes coming into land or taking off really do not cause any problems to me and anything that I can do to help promote the airport with its expansion plans I will fully support."

Do you have any memories of Lydd's airport? Comment below.

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