Throwback Thursday: The 1930s airline that flew ‘no frills’ from Romford to Paris over Brentwood

Owner of the airline company Edward Hillman which flew from Maylands Aerodrome – that grass airstrip

Owner of the airline company Edward Hillman which flew from Maylands Aerodrome that grass airstrip situated between Brentwood and Romford (now Maylands Golf & Country Club). Picture: Brentwood Library - Credit: Brentwood Library

Enjoy Brentwood More’s history columnist, author and vice-president of the Brentwood Writer’s Circle, Sylvia Kent writes about Essex’s first airlines.

Just a century ago, in June 1909, two famous Americans arrived in Brentwood. Their faces were familiar, having made front page headlines in world press. They were Wilbur and Orville Wright. Six years earlier they had made history by becoming the world’s first aviators. They were in London that summer, promoting their great achievement and no doubt paid a visit to Mary Green Manor in Brook Street, where their ancestors, the Wright family had lived centuries earlier.

Although powered flight was a wonderful discovery, certain people had enjoyed seeing Brentwood from the air well before those Edwardian times. There’s the story of the dashing Duke of Brunswick, one of the nephews of George IV, who took off in a balloon from the tea gardens in London’s Bayswater during the 1830s. Accompanied by the beautiful Mrs Graham, the Duke was floating over Essex when something went wrong and they began descending rapidly towards Brentwood. They jumped out when nine feet from the ground. The Duke was unhurt but Mrs Graham suffered spinal injuries

Pilots have commented on the green spaces that surrounded the town before the developers got going after World War One. One young lady who undoubtedly enjoyed being at the flight control was Amy Johnson. At the age of 22 she’d made history by flying solo to Australia in a tiny Moth aeroplane. At one time, Amy worked for Edward Hillman who in 1931 developed his own air passenger service – flying from Maylands Aerodrome – that grass airstrip situated between Brentwood and Romford (now Maylands Golf & Country Club), situated on the western boundary of Brentwood. Hillman, who owned several bus and coach companies, had achieved success in starting one of Britain’s first independent airlines. He used three-seater de Havilland Puss Moths before going up to the ten-seater Dragon Rapides for his London to Paris route, the prototype of which was ceremoniously named ‘Maylands’ by Amy and her equally famous husband, Jim Mollison.

At that time Britain’s flag carrier was Imperial Airways. Hillman competed to give a cheap ‘no-frills’ airbus service keeping costs to a minimum. Pilots and staff were employed on low wages. The first service began on April 1, 1932, from Maylands aerodrome to Clacton-on-Sea. Passengers were flown in a de Havilland Dh.80 Puss Moth single-engine biplane. Hillman opened up an international route on April 1 1933. This service operated between Romford and Paris using the de Havilland DH.84. Hillman was the first operator to use this plane. Fares were £3 10s (£3.50) one-way – much cheaper than his rivals. Around this time, air flying displays were all the rage at Maylands.

Edward Hillman is remembered as being a fascinating entrepreneur - hard-working, but irascible whose name and reputation were, within a short time, catapulted to the forefront of the business world. However, Hillman died of a heart attack on 31 December 1934, aged just 45. Maylands is now a well known and popular golf course.

To read more about Brentwood Borough’s history and to buy a signed copy of Sylvia Kent’s latest book Brentwood in 50 buildings, please visit WH Smith or Waterstones in Brentwood High Street; also from Amazon and other Essex bookshops.