Had you happened to be passing by the little village of Llanfynydd, deep within the Flintshire countryside on the 16th June 1933, you would likely have been staggered to find that you were actually lucky enough to have seen passing overhead the very latest in British aviation, when the very latest of British aviation was some of the very best aviation in the world.
There is little to show now that during the 1930s, this field of which scrub and bush are all that remain once saw the finest of British aviation roaring above.
Barnstorming gyrocopters and low flying Avro Ansons roared through the skies of Flintshire, wing walkers waved and parachutists drifted down onto Claude Pierrepoint Hunter’s aerodrome beside his home of Rhos Uchaf House. This was Sir Alan Cobham’s National Aviation Day Display, his famous ‘Flying Circus’, midway through its British tour of that year.
The visit of the Cobham’s aviation spectacular to Llanfynydd has been seen as something of a mystery, since nothing much now remains of the airfield that existed for little more than a decade, barely a shadow in the earth, and in truth, Llanfynydd is somewhat off the beaten path. But perhaps the truth is that it should not be considered that odd, at all.
Rhos Uchaf Airfield, and the house beside it, was owned by Claude Pierrepoint Hunter, the owner of Hunters of Chester, the son of its founder James Hunter. Based on Foregate Street in the nearby city and established in 1883, the business had become by 1913 one of the leading farm seed suppliers in the British Isles, famous for the quality of its seeds. Rhos Uchaf House had been turned into a sort of experimental site for the scientific development of seeds, and C.P. had built a number of greenhouses on the grounds of the House to that end. At some point in the early years of the 20th century, Hunter had begun to diversify the business interests of his company, and had begun to establish Hunters as a producer of high quality grass airstrips - a process which became known as ‘Hunterising’, sometimes as ‘Hunterised Greensward’.
Airfields and aerodromes throughout the British Isles were Hunterised, from Aberdeen to Portsmouth, where the new landing strip was described in Flying magazine in 1946 as a, ‘billiard table surface which was a delight to use.’ Perhaps the most famous airfield laid by Hunters of Chester was the Great West Aerodrome, now better known as London Heathrow Airport. Such Hunterised airstrips were capable, it seems of bearing the weight of considerable aircraft without the surface being cut up.
It is unknown whether C.P. Hunters interest in aviation pre-dated the involvement of his company in the creation of renowned grass airstrips, but it is certain that his passion led to the creation of Rhos Uchaf Airfield in the early 1930s (possibly earlier). The AA Register of Landing Grounds of 1933 details one hangar on the site and an airstrip of some 380yds, along with information regarding fuel, a telephone and nearby accommodation (in nearby Mold). And Hunter’s passion had led to him gaining his own pilots license. The hangar at Rhos Uchaf contained his own personal little squadron of planes, including a Klemm L.25, an Avro Avian and a Robinson Redwing (G-ABNX). The last of these, the Redwing, was one of only 12 produced and is in fact, the only one remaining in the world. Currently in storage near Southampton awaiting renovation, it can be seen in flight in the British TV series, Brendon Chase from the early 1980s.
Perhaps the arrival of Cobham’s Flying Circus at Rhos Uchaf is not the surprise it seems. The explicit aim of the National Aviation Day events was to build a sense of ‘airmindness’ amongst the British public, and the scope of the event was enormous. A tour had taken place in 1932, would continue through into 1934, and each event was one of a pair. As the 14 aircraft of Cobham’s Circus flew through the skies of Llanfynydd, a further event was taking place in Newport Pagnell, some 150 miles away. There seems little known about how popular the event at Llanfynydd actually was, but there is no reason to believe that it was, as some have suggested, a mistake in coming to Rhos Uchaf. While Llanfynydd and Treuddyn would have been, and indeed are quiet little villages in the 1930s, they are close enough to Wrexham and Mold, Denbigh and Ruthin to have drawn sizable crowds. And aviation was still in its infancy, still a thrill, and properly advertised, as Cobham’s events indeed were, both in poster and newsreel, it is not hard to see the two Flintshire villages busy with spectators. Cobham’s events were extremely popular, with nearly 3 million visitors coming to witness the wonders of modern aviation.
It is also worth noting that the Circus had been at Oswestry previous to Rhos Uchaf, some 37 miles to the south, and would be at Birkenhead subsequently, some 30 miles to the north as an Avro Anson flies. Rhos Uchaf might well have been geographically convenient. And of course, Hunterised airfields were famous throughout the British Isles, with C.P. Hunter himself being sufficiently well known in aviation circles, perhaps to warrant a visit. It is also possible that Rhos Uchaf was designated as an open airfield, hence its inclusion in the AA Register, whereas perhaps other airfields in Wrexham were either closed to such traffic or temporary affairs.
Cobham’s visit in June 1933 was probably the highpoint of Rhos Uchaf Airfield’s brief existence. By 1939 it was gone, closed down and the Hunterised airstrip slowly returning to an unruly growth. Still, it is extraordinary to think that for no more than a decade, close to the birth of powered flight, this little area of Flintshire was at the forefront of British aviation. And for a blistering bright moment in June 1933, enjoyed the breath catching delights of Sir Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus.