Port Meadow Aerial View

Snapshots In Time Index

Flying from Port Meadow  - A brief history of the RFC aerodrome

Port Meadow’s connection with aviation goes back to the very beginnings of aeroplane flight in Britain. Jason Saunders, JP and former Mayor of Oxford, lived at Medley Manor just across the Thames. He gave his grandson an advance of £1000 on his will to build an aeroplane with. Geoffrey De Havilland built and flew his machine near Newbury, and the De Havilland company built such legendary aircraft as the Tiger Moth, the Mosquito and the world’s first jet airliner, the Comet.

Oxford’s first visit by an aeroplane came in May 1911 when Herbert Latham arrived in his Antoinette monoplane. It may not have been an especially glorious arrival, as a postcard in the "Red Lion" shows what appears to be a somewhat bent Antoinette surrounded by crowds. The first military aircraft to visit is better documented. On June 14th 1911, the Farman III Military Biplane "Air Battn F1" –the very first British military serial – landed on Port Meadow.

August that year saw an air exercise, with the same Farman and four Bristol Boxkites arriving between the fifteenth and the eighteenth, with a fifth Boxkite arriving ingloriously by road.

Flying from Port Meadow  - A brief history of the RFC aerodrome

Triumph and tragedy struck the year after. On April 17 1912 Wolvercote resident Frank Gooden parachuted from a balloon onto the meadow, and in October he flew his self-designed aircraft from there. A little earlier, sixteen aircraft of the embryonic Royal Flying Corps had taken part in the annual autumn military manoeuvres. Early on the morning of September 10th a Bristol Coanda monoplane was circling the field when a quick-release catch opened. The resultant structural failure caused it to crash, killing its two crew. Their memorial can still be seen in the wall near to where they fell.

The airfield was used for military manoeuvres up until the outbreak of the great war. In May 1916 permission was given to build a road onto the meadow, completed in October. A semi-permanent hangar-cum-workshop measuring 250 x 90 feet, plus timber huts, a quantity of tents and three canvas Bessoneau hangars were erected. Despite the RFC’s activities it remained common grazing land and the first job every morning was to drive the cattle off the airfield and onto Wolvercote Common to allow flying to begin! There were other hazards. Much of the meadow floods in a wet winter, and it is prone to mist and fog at the best of times.

The silhouette of an aeroplane was laid out on the meadow in chalk lumps (complete with German crosses fashioned from planks!) and used as a target for air-to-ground firing. A small concrete building further down the meadow on the ditch bounding Wolvercote Common was also used, and this survives and is still known as "the target" today.

A number of famous types had flown from the meadow, including BE2s, Avro 504s, Sopwith Pups, Camels and Bristol Fighters. At least six crashed in Wolvercote or on the meadow itself, and three more within sight of the meadow at Wytham and Cumnor, with the loss of thirteen lives. Ten men lie in Wolvercote Cemetery to this day.

With the coming of peace, the airfield was closed in early 1919 and the hangars and fittings auctioned off in February 1920. There was to be no more organised military flying from the meadow.