Calshot was said to be a lonely outpost for the soldier and families who were stationed there as it was a very isolated and barren bit of coastline and it was frequented by bands of smugglers who found the shingle beaches and little inlets perfect places for them to land their contraband at the dead of night without being seen by the Revenue men.
James Parkinson was the Captain at Calshot and it is said that he ruled with an iron fist and he began a reign of terror that included a bit of privateering for many years, and his men would not let ships past the castle unless they paid a 'toll' of at least half of their cargoes.
During the Civil War of 1642 a Captain Swanley who was the commander of a Parliamentarian gunboat somehow managed to disable the canon in the castles of Calshot, Netley and St Andrews and held Southampton under siege, and would not lift it till the townspeople pledged their support for Cromwell. It was another six years before the Governor of Carisbrooke Castle on the nearby Isle of Wight made a report which stated that Castle had great strength.
One settlement here was known locally as Lazy Town as the men there seldom did any work and were thought to be involved with the local smuggling trade. A custom house was stationed at Hythe and they were ordered to stop the smuggling but as there were so few of them and so many smugglers who were so well organised that it made their mission impossible, especially so as many of the local villages in the area gave their support to the illegal trade. Luttrell's Tower was stood at the beach end of Calshot Spit and it was constructed in 1780 by Temple Simon Luttrell. It was a rather prominent building but ideally it had a network of tunnels that linked the cellars of the house to the cliffs.
At the end of the Napoleonic Wars a brand new Coastguard was set up and all along the coat houses were built for Revenue men to live in with their families. This also happened at Calshot but gradually they fell into disrepair and have been demolished.
It was a cold day in Kittyhawk, North Carolina. on 17 December 1903, and there were only five people assembled to welcome the Wright brothers as they flew a heavier-than-air machine for the very first time.
The soldiers and coastguards at Calshot that December, were completely unaware of the goings on at Kittyhawk as they prepared for Christmas. But within ten years this event would change this lonely spit of landy in a way that nobody imagined. Within seven a band of enthusiasts formed The Hampshire Aero Club at Gosport and in 1911 came the start of aviation history along the Solent area. Many boat builders also opened aircraft departments in the hope that this would lead to them to contracts with the Royal Navy who were showing an interest in the development of the aircraft. Samuel White and Saunders started production at the site at Cowes, Isle of White, Luke and Co. at Hamble and a year or two later Sopwith Aviation opened a factory at Woolston on the River Itchen. Camper and Nicholson also opened at Northam Bridge Southampton. Four naval officers were posted to the Isle of Sheppey to attend a course on flying and one of them Lieutenant Commander Longmore did his first solo flight and only 2½ hours of tuition. He was not to know how much Calshot would influence his later life
In 1912 a wealthy French industrialists, Jacques Schneider, announced his new aviation trophy competition. Schneider's race was different from others of the time for it was for seaplanes only national aero clubs, not individual pilots, could take part. But it was Schneider's intention to encourage development of seaplanes not just as racing machines but as practical aircraft, So his contest involved a speed trial over a 150 mile course over open sea as well as a seaworthiness trial. The second Schneider race was held at Monaco in 1914 and the winner was a Sopwith Tabloid at a speed of 86.75mph. But as war was looming on the horizon no races were held until Bournemouth in 1919 which was won by an Italian Savoia aircraft.
Here in the United Kingdom competitions were regularly being held and in 1913 a Sopwith Bat Boat won The Mortimer Singer Prize for a practical amphibian craft,despite the fact that its undercarriage had to be lowered by a well-aimed kick from the observer on board!
In the same year a round Britain trip put up by the Daily Mail was won by another Bat Boat and both planes were purchased by the Royal Navy and started life at the newly formed Royal Naval Air Station, Calshot. which opened on 19 March 1913 and consisted of three sheds built to house 12 planes, one of these the Sopwith Hangar is still in use today. The first commanding officer was Lieutenant Spenser Grey who flew into the base from his home in Southsea every day in his own seaplane.
The first aircraft to arrive here was a Sopwith Bat Boat and the work at Calshot was encouraged greatly by Winston Churchill, who at the time was the First Lord of the Admiralty, and it was from here that he took his first trip in a seaplane on 28 August 1913, piloted by Tommy Sopwith who later taught Churchill to fly.
At nearby Eaglehurst House lived another famous person, albeit his fame was of a different nature. The was Marconi and he often entertained officers from the station to dinner at the house, and this helped hi in his early trials for setting up wireless telegraphy from the aircraft themselves. A poignant reminder of those early pioneering days is a small building on the site that was the wireless telegraphy shed.
Squadron Commander Longmore took over command at Calshot in January of 1914 and with his experience and that of other officers in the use of torpedoes and guns added the use of the seaplane into an offensive role to the reconnaissance trials that were being held at the time. The observation of U-boats, torpedo attacks, aerial photography and the use of mounted guns and bomb dropping techniques were all developed from these early beginnings at Calshot. On 4 August 1913 Longmore returned from a dinner party at Marconi's, Eaglehurst House to find a signal there for him from the Admiralty to tell him that the war with Germany had begun.
A Kings Review was held at Spithead in July 1914 and a large collection of aircraft from the Royal Naval Air Stations was assembled here, a total of 17 lined up with the fleet and did a fly past of the Royal Yacht. The political situation got worse within a few days, and the spit at Calshot was taken over with the former Castle Yacht Clubhouse becoming the officers mess. After the declaration of war on 4th August both Calshot and Dover along with some other small coastal stations too over the defence of the English Channel and Calshot also acted as a training station for new recruits into the service and Calshot had an excellent war record. In 1916 patrols for the year achieved over 3,000 flying hours and the U19 was sunk off of Portland Bill by a Royal Navy ship that was helped by a spotter plane from Calshot. A White seaplane, sank the U32 by dropping a 100lb bomb from a canvas sling which was opened by the pilot pulling a string to disengage a split pin!
Buildings, offices and workshops were constructed in 1917 and Calshot castle was practically engulfed by hangars, slipways and jetties. A new camp was need to give domestic and living accommodation and it was decided to built one at Eaglehurst. The officers mess was in The Flying Boat Inn, which sadly is now demolished and only St Georges Chapel remain. A narrow gauge railway was built to run from the spit to Eaglehurst and later the RAF bought the track and trains. A favourite sight for the locals was the Calshot Express which stayed in service up until VJ Day in 1945, and it was used to carry the personnel back and forth each day. One of the small locomotives. 'Douglas' is still in use on the Talyllyn Railway in Wales.
The largest hangar, Sunderland Hangar, was once H Hangar and is now the Calshot Activities Centre and it was built during expansion of the site in 1917, the Schneider Hangar is a little bit older and the Sopwith Hangar goes back to 1913 and is the second oldest hangar left in Britain. It was the combining of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service on April 1st 1918 that was the beginning of what is now known as the Royal Air Force and the three flights that were based at Calshot became 240 Squadron RAF and in 1920 saw Calshot named as RAF Calshot and was a training establishment for flying boats and also a base for Coastal Reconnaissance.
There was also a large part of the unit designated for the training of motorboat crews and other marine craft, the boats mainly used for the rescue of airmen who came down in the sea. Another job they did was to tow targets for ships to shoot at as well as aircraft, and also as tugs for the flying boats.
Felixstowe flying boats powered by twin Rolls Royce engines were stationed here near the end of WWI and these could stay airborne for around six hours, and became one of the U-boats most formidable foes.
In 1925 Supermarine 'Southampton' flying boats took the place of the Felixstowe, the Southamptons had wooden hulls and a problem was that through seepage of water a further 400lb was added to their weight. Though later Duralumin which was then used. But though the hull was of metal the wings were still built our of wood and canvas. The Southampton had five open cockpits, including a tandem pair for the two pilots and the other three for the gunners who were equipped with Lewis guns, with five 97 round amunition drums, mounted on a metal rim to enable them to be swivelled.
It was 12 March, when Flight Lieutenant Sam Kinkead, flying the S5, was
tragically killed when his plane crashed into The Solent while on a record
attempt. Kinkead, was one of the service's finest junior officers, and
buried at Fawley, and is commemorated at Calshot Activities
Centre by the Kinkead Conference Room.
A crowd of around a million lined the Solent to
watch the race on Saturday 7 September and Flight Lieutenant Waghorn did
the seven laps at an average speed of 328.63mph to take
the prize for Britain. And then five days later, Squadron Leader Orlebar smashed
the air-speed record in an S6 at 365.1 mph.
Shaw came to Calshot to help with the 1929 Schneider Races and was the personal fitter for Wing Commander Smith of RAF Mountbatten in Plymouth. Shaw was seconded to the British Powerboat factory at Hythe, and he worked closely with Hubert Scott Paine, the owner. Launches were the workhorse for many tasks at a flying-boat station, being used for towing disabled aircraft, collecting bombs from practice runs, and for towing gunnery target boats.
Work at Hythe in developing these high speed launches led to the development of air-sea rescue craft and very fast motor torpedo boats.
In 1931 the work of the High-Speed Flight reached a climax, when it had to fly for the right to forever retain the prestigious Schneider Trophy. With the government near to recession they could not afford to develop a new plane to replace the S6 which were not powerful enough to guarantee success.
It was Lady Fanny Lucy Houston, formerly Lady Byron, who joined with two associates who provided a £100,000 sponsorship to allow Mitchell to develop the S6B racing seaplane from his successful S6 of 1929. This design allowed a new Rolls Royce 'R' engine, which was capable of giving 2,350bhp. T
he engine, a V12, was developed by Rolls Royce in just seven months, and Mitchell nicknamed it the 'Flying Radiator', as its large and floats all available space and were used to cool the powerful engine.
The race was won by Flight Lieutenant Boothman who attained a speed of 340 mph and he is remembered by the Boothman Conference Room at Calshot. A fortnight later Flight Lieutenant Stainforth achieved 407.5mph in an S6B which again smashed the air speed record, this was not beaten until a further two years had passed.
The combined generosity of Lady Houston and the courage of the Schneider Cup pilots along with RJ Mitchell's designs brought an era of aviation history to a fitting end. In five years Mitchell went on to design the one aircraft that made him most famous The Supermarine Spitfire with its Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Mitchell died on 11 June 1937 at the age of 42 and did not see the success of his plane.
In 1938 Calshot was again preparing for hostilities, and the land at the spit was bought by the RAF and the beaches and beach huts closed. When war was declared the resident squadrons, 240 and 201 were sent to Scotland and Pembroke Docks. Calshot was then responsible for the repair and maintenance of the flying boats and marine craft and for training the crews of the launches. Eaglehurst was enlarged to house the ever increasing number of personnel that passed through the base and in 1940 several strange float planes appeared at Calshot. Norway had bought Heinkel He115 seaplanes before the war, and before the country fell to the Germans the planes were flown out and later were often used to pick up special agents from inside enemy territory.
Calshot also sent five seaplane tenders to help in
the evacuation at Dunkirk on 31 May 1940 and three of these tenders
carried 500 men to safety, with one of them making a successful second
Short Brothers built he first Sunderland flying boats, at
Rochester.and by 1938, Short and Harland, in Belfast was building the
planes for the RAF. In all, 749 aircraft were built.
Footnote: Today the Coastguard is more into safety at sea and on the shoreline while smuggling comes under the Customs and Excise.
Thanks to the Calshot Museum for allowing us to use these photos and text