Until its demise in 2004, Newcastle Aero Club was Britain’s oldest flying club. It was founded in 1925 and for its first 10 years operated from Cramlington Aerodrome, which was situated near Nelson village and had been used for coastal air defence during WWI. In 1935, it moved to a site in Woolsington, which subsequently became Newcastle Airport. Arthur Andrews has been researching its connections with a well known Heaton family.
At an early stage, Ringtons Tea Company owner, Sam Smith, became involved with the club and was even its president for a time. We know from his great grand daughter, Fiona Harrison, that the Heaton entrepreneur loved flying. He was also a founder member of Newcastle Gliding Club. But flying was more than a hobby: he had business interests in aviation too, as a director of Newcastle Air Training Ltd and a founding investor in Dyce Airport, Aberdeen.
He generously bought Newcastle Aero Club two De Havilland Tiger Moths, one of which was called ‘The Ringtonian’.
Sam Smith and Ada, his wife, at the hand over of the Tiger Moth to Newcastle Aero Club (Courtesy of Newcastle City Library)
Young Sam Smith
Following in his father’s footsteps, Sam Smith Junior obtained his pilot’s licence on 26 June 1936 at the age of 30.
He was the manager of Rington’s subsidiary, Northern Coachworks and lived at 17 Jesmond Vale Terrace, Heaton with his wife, Mary Ann Noddings, the daughter of horse dealer and exporter Edward Noddings and his wife, Catherine, who were now living at 2 Stannington Grove.
On 30 June 1936, just four days after getting his pilot’s licence, Sam was flying in the Derwent Valley. According to a newspaper report, he lost his bearings due to mist and rain and while he was trying to find a field safe enough to land in, the plane’s engine stalled and it crashed into the farmyard of Glebe Farm. Sam was thrown from the cockpit, hitting the farmer’s wife, Mrs Elizabeth Armstrong and ended up in a pool of water or slurry. Sam was uninjured but Mrs Armstrong was badly bruised and shocked. The headline was ‘Falling ‘Plane Strikes Woman – Pushed in Pool with Craft on Top – Amazing Escapes’.
Nine months later, on 6 March 1937, another mishap took place at Woolsington, this time involving ‘The Ringtonian’ . It was not reported whether Sam was injured or how badly the aircraft was damaged.
A third accident took place on 14 May 1938, while Sam was piloting a Percival Vega Gull on a flight from Newcastle to Liverpool.
The weather was apparently fair in Northumberland but, by the time the aircraft had reached the Lake District, conditions had markedly deteriorated: a heavy mist gave little or no visibility and the plane crashed into a hillside near Skiddaw. Sam was killed along with his two passengers, Robert Radcliffe (26) and Norman Ayton (30). The coroner’s verdict was ‘accidental death’.
Sam’s younger brother, Malcolm, should have been on board too but fortunately for him, a business commitment prevented him from boarding.
There had been other flying related deaths at Newcastle Aero Club, but this was the worst in its short history. The loss of Sam Smith Junior was a great shock to his family and the local area. A large funeral took place with many local dignitaries attending. The City Council passed a vote of condolence by standing in silence.
The 1939 Register shows that Sam Smith Junior’s young widow, Mary Ann, moved back to live with her parents in Stannington Grove.
Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group;
Thank you to Fiona Harrison for help with the history of the Smith family and Ringtons;
Thank you to Newcastle City Library for permission to use photographs;
In addition to original research:
70 years of flying 1925-1975 by John Sleight ISBN 0952690802 (A history of Newcastle Aero Club)
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