The Blackburn Beverley
Colin Sidaway, Features Writer
From a visit to a Yorkshire museum to a casual meeting on a car park unravelled a mystery only be replaced by another. This is the story of the museum visit and the meeting with Mike Roman.
Fort Paull was a surprise to me. I had a ride out to Paull on the bank of the Humber estuary on a warm summer's day. The fort was built in Napoleonic times as a protection of the Humber and is now a museum.
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The sign said that it had returned home to its last resting place. That was an obvious statement but the name Blackburn Beverley intrigued me.
Beverley, yes, it was just up the road from Hull but Blackburn I took to mean the aircraft establishment at Samlesbury near Blackburn. I took a photograph and forgot all about it until very recently when in an obscure way it came up in conversation with a chance meeting with Mike Roman, whom I had never met before. We were parked at Woodall Services on the M1 admiring each other's car. When asked what I did, I proudly told him that I was an author of novels.
What a co-incidence, he too was writing a book, about Prince Mikhail, the last Czar of Russia.
Now you are wondering where this conversation was heading and so was I.
Mike explained that Prince Mikhail had learnt to fly and landed or took off from Filey Beach. Ha! He's making this up, I thought, as fact turned into fiction which was the theme of his book. He was sincere in telling me that it was a fact that Filey Beach was used as a landing strip. This I was determined to take a closer look when the name Robert Blackburn popped up in my researches.
Now Robert Blackburn, whom I had never heard of, was born in Leeds in 1885 and made his first aircraft, flew it and crash landed at Saltburn in 1909. Not put off by this the young impetuous Robert Blackburn built another aircraft and actually flew the plane off the beach at Filey reaching a ground speed of 50 miles per hour. So part of Mike's story was true. The flight was in April 1911 and the dates are becoming more important as the story unfolded.
In 1914 Robert Blackburn opened a factory in Roundhay, Leeds to build aircraft hoping to start an air service between Leeds and Bradford. The site is now occupied by Tesco with a blue plaque giving testimony to the fact that indeed Robert Blackburn did build aircraft.
It was on a trip to Hull that he stayed at the Station Hotel in the village of Brough as there was an immanent air raid in Hull from a German airship.
The following morning he walked his dog along the shore of the Humber to find not only a flat field but a large stretch of calm water. This was the site he was looking for and built a workshop on the site to service his land and sea planes.
Evidently the Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Company built over 80 different aircraft during its time in business. The Roundhay airfield closed in 1920 and the manufacturing business transferred to Brough.
I'm jumping ahead. Blackburn was interested in not only building aircraft but also flying them. He offered flying lessons and established passenger flights between Hull, Leeds and Hounslow with summer trips to Harrogate and Scarborough. This enterprise was short lived and the business moved to freight only flying between Leeds and Amsterdam via Lympne and London. He had a grandiose scheme to fly from Hull to Copenhagen and onwards to Stockholm, Helsinki and Petrograd.
Hold the story right there. Petrograd was the name given to St Petersburg by Czar Nicholas II before he abdicated in favour of his younger brother, Prince Mikhail.
This begs the question why was Blackburn interested in flying into a country ravaged by war with Germany only to start a civil war between the regular army, the Bolshevics and the Menshovics?
Mike reckons that Blackburn taught Prince Mikhail to fly one of his aircraft and thus needed direct communication with Russia. Nicholas had exiled his brother, Mikhail, to England. So, Mike's story up to this point was all very plausible.
Blackburn Aeroplane Company made military aircraft up to and through World War II and in 1947 made the Blackburn Beverley, a four engined aircraft for carrying large freight that was operational until 1955 that coincided with Blackburn's death aged 70.
So the mystery of the name Blackburn Beverley was solved only to present me with another.
How much of Mike's story is fact and how much is fiction?
Mike said with a twinkle in his eye 'Read the book and make your own mind up.' I am now waiting to read Mike's book when it's published.
The moral of the story is: don't speak to strangers on motorway car parks.
The Blackburn Beverley, 26th October 2017, 11:55 AM