The recent closure of Manston Airport meant doubts for some Newmarket passengers, not wanting to lose the convenience of flying from Kent. Happily, Lydd (London Ashford) Airport stepped in, ensuring tours would continue as planned. The BBC’s report on our flights is probably the first time Newmarket Holidays and ‘blonde bombshell’ actress Diana Dors have been mentioned together! And while Newmarket’s Regional Charter Manager Amanda George called this June’s departures a ‘new chapter at Lydd’, it’s also just the latest installment of that airports fascinating – and often forgotten – history.
Holidaymakers may think that flights from the UK have always been centred on its current major airports, such as Heathrow and Gatwick, but in the 1960s – the era of the emerging jet-set – one of the world’s busiest airports was based at Lydd.
Lydd, then known as Ferryfield, began life in 1954 as a home for Silver City Airways, which operated a car and passenger air-ferry service. This very British affair flew to the elegant French resort of Le Touquet and connected travellers with Ostend in Belgium. The airport was already thriving by the time the Duke of Edinburgh visited in his private plane in 1956, although Silver Cities eventually declined with the popularity of alternative Channel crossings – hovercraft and modern ferries.
Commercial air travel once meant that only a lucky few enjoyed the glamour of the skies, but Lydd also became known as a place for famous faces to make incognito departures. Diana Dors took off from Lydd, as did Hollywood stars Humphrey Bogart and Gregory Peck.
A black-and-white photo of Diana Dors arriving at Rome’s Ciampino airport in 1957 shows the actress emerging from an aeroplane ready for the waiting cameras – tanned, sunlit, her fur coat slung over a gloved hand.
It’s a contrast with an earlier shot from Lydd. Dors stands beside her open-top car, a Silver Cities aircraft in the background. She’s a smiling star but things are simple, relaxed and familiar – almost like a family photo.
In another vintage shot from Lydd, Gregory Peck strolls down the tarmac. He’s chatting with the pilot, his newspaper under his arm, his crumpled raincoat over his arm.
Even more nostalgia can be found in delightful footage from British Pathe news. It shows a group of Boy Scouts boarding their plane to France in 1956. Contenders in an Anglo-French Soapbox Rally, they’re heading out for a ‘cultural exchange’.
Who know’s what the next chapters in Lydd’s story will hold, but customers flying to some of Newmarket Holidays’s most popular destinations this summer can also fly with the knowledge that they’re also following the flightpath of some surprising famous faces.