July 24 2014 Latest news:
Almost 75 years ago, on the evening of September 29, 1934, a single-engined Airspeed Courier aircraft mysteriously crashed into the ground at the bottom of Cockerhurst Lane, Shoreham.
Almost 75 years ago, on the evening of September 29, 1934, a single-engined Airspeed Courier aircraft mysteriously crashed into the ground at the bottom of Cockerhurst Lane, Shoreham. The pilot and three passengers were killed.
The aircraft, powered by an Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah engine, was owned by the London, Scottish and Provincial Airways Company. It had flown from Le Bourget and was on its way to Croydon Airport. The pilot was 26-year-old Ronald Maxwell Smith, from Ealing, and his passengers were a mother, her daughter and a friend. It was believed the cloud cover had forced him to fly low and he became lost and disorientated.
Gordon Anckorn was a local newspaper reporter and someone from the village tipped him off that an aircraft had failed to clear one of the ridges of the North Downs. The incident was heard, rather than seen, by several local people, including the local policeman, Reuben Mannering, who discovered hot burning wreckage scattered over a large area.
Gordon, true to form, was on the scene before the emergency services; so quickly in fact that he was able to take a picture and then help with the gruesome task of placing the remains of the bodies in one corner of the field. The police and ambulancemen then arrived, told Gordon he was not qualified for such tasks, told him to get lost and cordoned off the area from the huge crowd which had gathered.
From material gathered by Tony Whitworth over many years, Joy Saynor of Shoreham has produced a small pamphlet about the crash. She says that PC Mannering, with Messrs Shone, Stevens, Chaplin, Swaisland and other villagers, rushed to the scene. Wicker baskets were brought from the home of Miss Maud Berkeley at Upper Timberden to collect the remains of the victims.
Apparently, the fuselage and engine were completely broken up but the tail unit was little damaged. Part of the fabric from the port aileron was found nearly a mile from the wreckage. The suggestion that pilot error had caused the crash was unacceptable to the chief engineer of the aircraft company. A coroner's inquest with a jury was held at Sevenoaks but the cause of the crash was never fully established.
A memorial cross was placed near the crash site in Crockerhurst Lane. It was vandalised, stored in a barn at Oxborne Farm, repaired and finally sited in the churchyard by the north west corner of the tower. This was one of many airliners that came down in fog and bad weather during those pioneering days of passenger flights.