Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: January 03, 2019
Webpage updated: April 01, 2020





Following a successful series of proving flights from a site near to RNAS Laira at Chelson Meadow, Plympton, early in 1923, the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce asked for an air station at Plymouth to deal with the foreign ocean mails.

As a result, the Ministry of Civil Aviation rented a former polo field at Roborough on a month's trial for an experimental daily passenger and parcels service to Birmingham, Manchester and Belfast using a de Havilland DH50 supplied by the de Havilland Company's Aeroplane Hire Service and piloted by their Mr Alan Cobham.

At 10am on Thursday September 28th 1923 Mr & Mrs Cobham left the Roborough Polo Ground in a de Havilland DH 50 for Manchester.  They returned to Plymouth at 5pm.  Another pilot, Captain Hope, left Manchester at 2pm for Belfast, which was reached at 4.50pm.  Meanwhile a third pilot, Mr Broad, flew from Manchester to Plymouth with one passenger, a Mr Gillett, and some motor parts which had been ordered from a factory in Birmingham.

This service started on September 15th 1923 and ended on October 13th 1923.

Plymouth City Council saw the opportunities this airfield offered  but they did not act fast enough and in 1929 the Air Ministry stepped in and acquired or rented the site for use in important air co-operation exercises to be carried out between the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and the Army.

AVRO 536, G-EAKM, belonging to the Surrey Flying Services, in a field near the George Hotel, Roborough,
 waiting to take joy-riders on a flight.
From the author's collection.

Royal Engineers from the Plymouth Garrison were sent out each day by lorry and turned the polo field and two fields adjoining in to an aerodrome.  The polo ground, which bordered the Plymouth to Tavistock road, was nearly 700 yards long and 300 yards wide.  The two smaller fields lay to the east, alongside the road from the George Hotel to Plym Bridge.   About 300 yards of the high bank and hedge that divided the polo ground from the fields was demolished and replaced by a temporary wire fence that could be removed when the RAF wanted to use the site.  The hedge between the two small fields was also removed.  A number of trees at the north-western edge had to be removed and the telegraph wires that ran alongside the main road were re-laid underground to give clear access.  The work was completed on Thursday June 6th 1929.

The Air Ministry made it clear that the site was only required for a couple of days each week during June, July and August 1929 and they had no intention of making it a permanent RAF airfield.

After considering possible sites for an aerodrome at Staddon Heights -- the favourite, apparently -- Chelson Meadow, Staddiscombe, Roborough Down and the land below Ernesettle Camp at Saint Budeaux, the Council eventually bought the site at Roborough for 20,478.  The site was way outside the City boundary at that time, which was at Hartley. 

It was licensed as an aerodrome in 1930.

The hanger was erected in early 1931.  It was unique in design as it had the control tower on top of the roof.

HRH the Prince of Wales carried out the official opening ceremony on Wednesday July 15th 1931.  Bad weather prevented the Royal party from landing at the aerodrome and a flight from there to the Isles of Scilly was also cancelled.   Instead, and unusually, the aerodrome was declared open from inside the Council Chamber in the Municipal Offices in the centre of Plymouth, where His Royal Highness was presented with a silver model of his moth flying machine as a souvenir of the occasion.

For more information about passenger services provided by the Great Western Railway, Railway Air Services, Channel Air Ferries and the Great Western & Southern Air Lines from Plymouth Aerodrome during the 1930s visit the Air Services webpage.

At least two air taxi businesses also used Roborough Aerdrome during the 1930s: Olley's Air Service Ltd and the British American Air Services, which met ocean liners and flew passengers to other parts of the UK.

In July 1935 it was announced in the press that arrangements had been made by Custom's officials in Plymouth to establish an office at the Airport in anticipation of flights being started to France and other foreign countries.  The decision had been prompted by the inauguration of a service between Plymouth and Jersey, although it had at this time been suspended. 

Empire Air Day was held at Roborough Airfield on Saturday May 28th 1938.

A Boy Scout troop in Plymouth was the first to form an Air Scouts patrol.  The troop was the 30th Plymouth, based in Regent Street.   They were first and foremost Scouts but had introduced aviation to their hobby and endeavoured to put this to good use by performing simple duties and ground work at local aerodromes.  Their Scoutmaster was Mr G P S Hill, who was assisted by Mr A T Davey.   District Commissioner Mr V R Winnicott stated in January 1937 that favourable reports had come from Roborough and as a result a corner of the airport had been set aside for the flying of model aeroplanes.  Mr Whitney Straight and Flight Lieutenant Knowlden both supported this new activity.

During the Second World War the airfield became firstly Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Roborough and then Royal Air Force (RAF) Roborough.

The site was transferred to the Air Ministry on May 1st 1942.

The primitive but functional control tower at Plymouth Airport in May 1949.
From the author's collection.

A silver coloured de Havilland Heron of the Queen's Flight landed at Plymouth Airport on Friday May 25th 1956, bringing Her Royal Highness the Princess Alexandra to the City to lay the foundation stone of the new parish church for Crownhill.  During the day she also visited the Margaret Macmillan Nursery School and the Royal Naval Hospital.  The Princess was accompanied on the flight by her Mother, the Duchess of Kent, who was making a private visit to Sir John and Lady Carew Pole at Antony House, Torpoint, Cornwall.

In the years since the end of the Second World War many small airlines have come and gone at Roborough.  In 1960 Dan Air started air services from Plymouth to Cardiff and Liverpool; to Gatwick; and to Newcastle.  They all ceased in 1965.

Jersey Airlines commenced a service in 1961 and in December of that year approval was given for Mayflower Air Services to start two air services.  Flights from Plymouth to the Isles of Scilly began on Monday February 26th 1962 to be followed on Friday March 2nd 1962 by a service to Gatwick Airport.  Their services ceased at the end of 1963.

It was not until the 1970s that Plymouth Airport really became established as a civilian airport, when Brymon Aviation, later Brymon Airways, started air services to a much wider range of destinations.

At one time Roborough had three runways but the third, aligned as 01/19, was discontinued in 1970.  In 1975 the grass runway 06/24 was given a tarmac surface.  Another grass runway, 14/32, was partly tarmacced in 1986 and realigned as 13/31 in 1988.    06/24 was increased in length to 1,170 metres in 1989 to enabler BAE 146 aircraft to land.