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Channel Hopping for High Flyers

A blog on the prestige of flying to Paris from Cheryl Bailey, one of our U3A project team:

Passengers taking a return flight to Paris in the 1930s paid just £6 15s. which sounds not like a great deal to us today but of course in those days it was a lot of money. The average skilled workman only earned around £4 a week so airborne channel-hopping was only accessible to very successful people – politicians, big businessmen, celebrities of stage and screen and the very well-off. The staff on the planes loved spotting famous faces on board especially if they were known to be big tippers. Sometimes their names were even added to the pilot’s log.

Henry and Margaret Bartlett (c) Croydon Airport Society
The glamour and excitement of a trip to the continent was very appealing to honeymooners who were prepared to splash money to celebrate getting hitched. The photo shows Henry Bartlett and his new wife Margaret setting off for honeymoon in May 1931 after their marriage in Richmond, Surrey. Henry was a war hero from World War I having been awarded the Military Medal for bravery. His subsequent career was in the financial world. The happy couple look very smartly turned out and Margaret has taken advantage of the fashion for kick pleats in her dress-skirt so that she can travel in comfort. Her close-fitting hat was also a good choice for air-travel as the rotating propellers made boarding a very windy process for the passengers.

Travellers could be very tempted to spend a lot of money on Paris fashions and jewellery while abroad and it was sometimes tempting to ‘forget’ about their purchases on their return home as customs duty was high. In 1939, returning honeymooner, Mrs. Margaret Milne Turner of Buxton, Derbyshire was stopped at customs in Croydon and found to be wearing and concealing a bracelet worth £250, a diamond watch, and a brooch that had been purchased abroad. Further investigation revealed that nearly all her clothes had been purchased in France as well. She ‘crumpled up’ and confessed what she was doing, claiming that she was in a hurry and that she knew the duty would be high. Later in a Croydon court she was fined £782 13s 4d. Her defence lawyer claimed that she had not deliberately planned to smuggle the goods. She had never been abroad before and her husband had bought her the clothes and jewellery as gifts in Paris.

The high cost of travel certainly prevented most people from flying but in 1931 one ingenious young Belgian had himself posted from Brussels to Croydon and spent the flight in a container in the closed postal compartment of his plane. He was unloaded with the mail at Croydon unharmed but it was doubted that the British Post Office would be prepared to let him travel home in the same way. His fare as a passenger should have been £4 but as a packet he only cost the equivalent of £2 8s. in francs. Quite a saving!

Cheryl Bailey

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