Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, has announced that it will base three aircraft at London Southend Airport from summer 2019, with between 55 and 60 weekly flights to 13 destinations in eight countries. The Irish airline expects to create 750 on-site jobs per year, and carry around a million passengers a year from the Essex airport, largely to Spain and Italy. However, the €300m investment in basing three planes at Southend is to be accompanied by the airline closing its Glasgow airport base because of low demand.

EasyJet established a base at Southend in 2012 after the site boundaries were secured, but with most of the Ryanair routes flying to four sunshine destinations already served from Southend by EasyJet – Alicante, Faro, Malaga and Palma, the competition between the two airlines could trigger a fares war.

Ryanair is also adding holiday services to Reus (described as ‘Barcelona’) and Bilbao in Spain, Brest in France, the Greek island of Corfu and Venice. Four city links are also on the new route map from the Essex airport: Dublin, Milan Bergamo, Kosice in Slovakia and Cluj in Romania.

The Stobart Group, which purchased the airport in 2008 for under £21m, announced pre-tax profits in May 2018 of £100m for the year to 28 February 2018, and is set to invest £40m in the airport between 2018 and 2021 following a 25 per cent increase in passenger numbers in 2017, and a 10 per cent increase in passenger numbers flying its own airline Stobart Air (formerly Aer Arann), which has been operating for Aer Lingus Regional and Flybe. The rapid expansion at Southend is set to continue, with Stobart anticipating five million passengers using the terminal by 2022.


The opportunity was taken between 1938-39 (while the EKCO works along Priory Crescent, Prittlewell, Southend-on-Sea, Essex, were being enlarged), to excavate the lamp factory, and rebuild it, incorporating a number of bomb and gas-proof air raid shelters. The build standard was dictated by the need to have a high security shelter capable of withstanding an all but direct hit, and which would safeguard the radar and the key design personnel, the engineering personnel and the senior managers and directors of the company.

EKCO Factory Southend

The biggest difference in their construction to that of ‘normal’ underground shelters was the technique of using two-metre (6ft 6in) inside diameter concrete pipes, the same as those used for large underground waterworks. This meant that it would have been a fairly quick process of dropping each of these pipe sections into the trenches as soon as they were dug.

Concrete steps led down to the shelters, which had heavy steel gauge steel blast and gas proof doors at each end and in the centre to protect the people inside. It was divided into three sections (called galleries), and each gallery was protected from blast damage in the adjacent gallery by an ‘anti-blast’ wall as well as the blast doors.

EKCO 03-09-09_38 (OP)500


Each gallery has two ‘Elsan’-type chemical toilets (the same type that was used on the Lancaster bomber), and a clean water supply, and off the central gallery was a separate power room, which was equipped with a diesel engine that drove both a dynamo and an air pump. Air was supplied through the shelter via outlet pipes which had automatic non-return valves in the event of gas contamination.


The shelter had its own power distribution panel where the lighting power could be switched over to an emergency DC power supply from the diesel generator should there be a mains failure or damage caused by enemy action. Behind the power room was a small extension leading to an escape hatch, which in the war years would have indeed have come up in the sports field adjacent to the factory, although with the post-war extension of the roadway this was now in the western roadway.

There was a cleansing station at each entrance to the shelter, where people who had been contaminated with gas would have been treated and washed down prior to going into the shelter. There was also a fully equipped first aid room at the base of north end entrance.

EKCO 03-09-09_31 (OP)500

Once locked in the tunnels during an air raid, there was no way for the people inside to know when it was over, and so fitted above each exit door was an illuminated sign that warned to ‘Stay in shelter until All Clear is sounded,’ and had a red and green mica panel which lit up showing the status. This was backed up by a bell system, all of which was operated from above ground.

Two further underground shelters were constructed around the same time, and these provided more basic facilities for the production line workers.

In March 2008, the demolition of the EKCO complex began – an early casualty of the changes in law on tax on empty buildings. The site was fenced off and the Kent-based company Downright Demolition Ltd began a nine-month contract to raze the buildings to the ground, and it was while this was going on in May that I arranged through their head office for the late Chris Poole and myself to have free access to the Air Raid shelters some 20-25 feet underground.

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We met the works foreman at the site entrance, who was happy to help, but insisted that we wore hard boots, hi-visibility vests and hard hats (which we had taken with us in readiness anyway), and his other provision was that we kept clear of the buildings actually being demolished. All being agreed, this was the start of what turned out to be a five-month stint of exploration and recording, by notes, photographs and video footage (often on a daily basis), the end of a landmark of Southend’s history.

On our second visit, we were joined by John Anderson, an IT technician who worked for ‘Ecomold,’ and we continued taking photos and cataloguing what we found in the great network of tunnels. Following that visit, Chris invited the curator of Southend Museum to come along, and during the weeks that followed, a team from the Archaeological Department from Braintree arrived to professionally survey and make video recordings the tunnels.

The shelters were subsequently cleared of all furnishings  and put into storage for their future display in the new Southend Museum planned on the seafront at Southend. The only objects they could not remove because of their sheer weight and size, were the air-tight doors, but I understand that they made a fibreglass cast of one. When the demolition and levelling of the site was close to completion, the tunnel entrances were ‘sealed’ with rubble so no-one could gain access to them. It is most likely that the tunnels will never be seen by anyone again.

A real hard case

The ‘safe’ on the site, a steel mesh enforced concrete structure (where in most recent times the blank credit cards were stored) presented the demolition crews their biggest problem – it refused to break. Four one-ton Kango-heads had been broken trying to get into it, and so it was decided to leave this until last; it was too time consuming, and would take a cutting crew or explosives to open it.

The motor giant Ford put in a bid for the foam moulding plant, which was the last remaining operational unit on the site. The method that was used for the production of car bumpers was changing, and production would be continued in Europe – the processes used for foam injection moulding in the UK was to be made illegal by 2010, and the company wanted to secure the licenced production there right up to the last minute. However, the bid was turned down by the site developers.

EKCO 31-08-08_3 (OP)500

EKCO 12-10-08_7 (OP)500

What remained on the production site were the blue Staffordshire bricks that made up much of the design element of the hexagonal patterned slabbing between the EKCO main office building and the pavement of Priory Crescent.

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By the end of 2008, the sole remaining building  related to the company was the EKCO Social and Sports Club (ESSC), which still occupies the original clubhouse that was donated by Eric Cole at the time of the company’s Silver Jubilee in 1952. The clubhouse and sports ground were assigned to the ESSC in ‘perpetuity’, and while few in numbers, ex-employees can still be found there discussing times gone by. This is particularly true for the EKCO plastics tool room veterans who still endeavour to meet monthly.

It’s been a little while since last my last post, mainly because of the last minute re-writes, editing, and photo captioning stages of my latest book Birmingham Airport Through Time, which was released by Amberley Publishing on 15 June, and also because my ‘to-do’ list at home had stretched to a second sheet of paper. This has had the effect of putting me back on to the graveyard shift for researching and writing for the up and coming  projects. I usually try, despite perhaps being ‘on a flow with work’ or taking a break playing Scrabble online, to shut down the pc by 01.00 because our eldest cat (he is nearly 20 years old, mostly deaf and doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer) is in the habit of walking backwards and forwards over my head any time between 03.15 and 03.45 to wake me up for fusses and tummy time.

Stumbling around with half-closed eyes to carry out his requests usually wakes the other cats (we have five – all rescues) and it’s not often much before 05.00 that I can fire up the pc again to send and reply to emails before a pre-breakfast stab at the current project for an hour or so. Most of the cylinders are not firing at that time of day so it’s mostly re-reading the last piece of work done, although I spend a fair amount of time in Photoshop to repair or enhance photographs for future projects.

Pitches and enquiries have been put in for work contracts for 2018 – and there is quite a bit out there to be had in the Local and Military History line! Drop me a message if you want a link to a couple of those.


‘Dare Devil Ken’ Malin was only two years old when he first drove his car (which was originally painted red and gold) around the Coventry Bees Motorcycle Speedway Team circuit at Brandon on 7 August 1933, and from that night on, he became the Brandon Mascot, entertaining fans in the tiny petrol car at the beginning of races. Ken was presented with Brandon Speedway Supporters Cup by Tommy Farndon in 1936.

The car was built between 1932 and 1933 by Jen’s father James Malin, who fitted it with a two-stroke 250cc (225cc side-valve) Royal Enfield motorcycle engine – which was important in the UK as it was the largest engine which a ‘learner’ could ride without passing a test.

Around 1935, Ken had performed his next stunt, driving around Jack Wall’s ‘Wall of Death’ in Rugby. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the car was put into storage and stayed in store until 1962, when Ken got it going again for his youngest son, David, who was three years old….a bit of repeated history going on.

The car went back into storage in 1964 until 2008, when Ken took it down to Devon to work on it again, and now its permanent home is Coventry Transport Museum.

The official opening of the British Historic Aircraft Museum (as it was first known), situated on the boundary of Southend Airport, took place on 26 May 1972, with Air Marshall Sir Harry Burton in attendance accompanied by a small RAF delegation, all of whom flew in aboard de Havilland Devon VP981.

Ministry of Defence officials had been very co-operative and supportive of the museum, which was never intended to run in competition with Hendon or any other museum, and had made several aircraft available at ‘knock down prices’. With these, the likely donation of a Bristol Britannia donated by Monarch Airlines, and negotiations being in progress for the acquisition of a de Havilland Comet, plans were soon in hand for an extension to be added to the sixty-foot tall museum building. As it was, the museum also displayed more than their collection of flying machines, with rare First World War engines and propellers from the Imperial War Museum, Rolls-Royce Merlin and Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah engines from the Second World War, and engines donated by British Air Ferries, along with bombs and other armaments, personal souvenirs donated by well-known local pilots, both civil and military, and rare photographs and maps, etc, to provide an authentic and often nostalgic backcloth to the aviation collection.

The museum closed its doors on 27 March 1983 after only eleven years because of the lack of visitors and rising costs, and its aircraft and aviation artefacts were sold at auction on 10 May where just over £175,000 was raised. The Blackburn Beverley (which when received by the museum was one of the last two airworthy aircraft of the type and was intended to act as a ‘walk-around’ museum) was the only aircraft not to sell, given its condition of general fatigue after years of neglect and attack by the elements of weather, and was eventually scrapped on site by a JCB over the weekend from 7 April 1989. A further seven years would lapse before plans were unveiled to build a Fitness Centre on the site together with landscaped gardens.

For the second year running, the Shoreham Airshow will not be staged out of respect for the families of the eleven people who were killed when a vintage 1955 Hawker Hunter T7 (WV-372) jet fell to the ground during a rolling manoeuvre, destroying a number of vehicles and bursting into flames during the airshow on 22 August 2015.

The vintage jet aircraft crashed during a display at the Shoreham Airshow

The findings of an 18-month probe by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) to determine the cause of the crash and make safety recommendations to prevent similar incidents were published on 3 March,  and does not “apportion blame or liability”.

21 safety recommendations made by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) have been accepted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which include a review into whether changes should be made to the minimum distance required between the public and display aircraft, and a review of guidance for air show organisers, including how they carry out risk assessments.

Flight trials carried out following the crash indicated that the pilot could have pulled out of the ‘loop the loop’ stunt up to four seconds after the aircraft reached the top of the loop, but that the pilot of the jet failed to achieve sufficient height. An investigation by Sussex police concluded in July 2016 that the pilot, Mr Andrew Hill of Sandon, near Royston, would be charged with possible endangerment pursuant to Article 138 (Endangering safety of any person or property) of the Air Navigation Order 2009 and also manslaughter by gross negligence.

Mr Hills’ display authorisation permitted him to carry out aerobatics at a minimum altitude of 500ft and the normal technique would be to enter the loop at an airspeed of at least 350 knots and use maximum engine thrust to achieve a height of at least 3,500ft at the apex, but he flew at just 185ft at a speed of just 310 knots, reaching only 2,700ft at the top of the loop. Mr Hills survived the impact when he was thrown clear from the plane during the crash, although he was in a critical condition. He was discharged from hospital the following month.

Cockpit footage during the flight showed Mr Hill “alert and active”, with no suggestion he had passed out, investigators said. Aviation specialists have speculated that Mr Hills may have become confused during the manoeuvre because he usually flew a Jet Provost, for which the height and speed would have been correct, being smaller and lighter than the Hunter.

Having written a few aviation-based books, I have learned a great deal from research and from stories from aircraft crew as well as Flying School trainers. These, coupled with the reports via AAIB investigations into many of the unfortunate incidents that have occurred over the years, have led me to the conclusion that there are two basic rules of flying that have to be picked up quite quickly and adhered to at all times by people in control of, or wanting to learn to be in control of, an aircraft:

1. Try to stay in the middle of the air.
2. Do not go near the edges of it.  The edges of the air can be recognised by the appearance of ground, buildings, sea, trees and interstellar space. It is much more difficult to fly there.

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