Silver City story begins with the formation of a company called
British Aviation Services (BAS) at the end of 1945. This was
set up by the shareholders of the British Aviation Insurance
Company to provide technical services to the aviation industry.
The managing director was Air Commodore Griffith Powell - usually
known as 'Taffy' - and with him were several ex-RAF people who
had served with him in Ferry Command and Transport Command.
of their early tasks was to act as technical advisers to Alberto
Dodero - an Argentine shipping magnate who was planning to operate
an air service between Buenos Aires and Montevideo. He purchased
five Short Sandringham flying boats which were flown out to
Buenos Aires by BAS and on which a number of Dodero's friends
travelled as passengers. One of these was John Govett, Chairman
of the Zinc Corporation - a major mining company with its
headquarters in London and its principal mines in Australia.
this introduction to BAS, the Zinc Corporation decided to set
up a company to provide them with air transport and general
charter services. BAS were to manage the company and they also
had a small shareholding. The three directors were John Govett,
Air Commodore Powell and W S Robinson.
The name chosen for the new company was 'Silver City Airways'
- for the reason that the Zinc Corporation's principal mines
were at the town of Broken Hill in New South Wales, a town popularly
known as 'Silver City' from the days when it was principally
a silver mine.
Silver City Airways was registered in late 1946 with a fleet
of Avro Lancastrians and Douglas Dakotas and its first charter
flight from London Airport (Heathrow) to Sydney left on 24 October
1946, operated by a Lancastrian under the command of Captain
John Adams. The round trip via Johannesburg with refuelling
stops en route took 14 days.
large engineering base was established at Blackbushe Airport
(near Camberley, Surrey) in 1946 and maintenance of the Silver
City Lancastrian and Dakota fleets was undertaken there from
early 1947 - together with maintenance work for other operators.
City Looks East
the same year, the partition of India before Independence had
resulted in a mass migration of Hindus from the newly-formed
Pakistan to India and of Muslims in the other direction. An
airlift was organised in September 1947 and Taffy Powell despatched
Silver City's Dakotas to India. These aircraft could carry between
30 and 40 passengers and Powell would have loved to have "stretched"
them to increase their capacity. However, he soon heard that
one of the new Bristol 170 Freighter demonstrators was standing
idle at Filton and had a better idea. This aircraft (a 40-seat,
all-passenger Mk II 'Wayfarer' registered G-AHJC) was duly leased
from the Bristol Aeroplane Company and sent to India. It soon
created a record by lifting 1,105 people and their baggage in
nine days. On one flight, it carried 119 people after all the
seats and fittings had been removed.
Air Ferry Emerges
170 demonstrator G-AHJC at Blackbushe
One of Taffy Powell's favourite pastimes was to take his Armstrong
Siddeley Lancaster car touring in France. Making the Channel crossing
by sea was a time-consuming business in those days and Taffy soon
realised that the standard Freighter version of the Bristol 170
with its 'clamshell' nose doors and substantial cargo hold could
provide the answer, so a second Bristol demonstrator (G-AGVC)
was soon being ferried back from its North American tour.
first Silver City car ferry operation took place on 15 June 1948
as a proving flight from Lympne (near Hythe) in Kent to Le Touquet
on the French coast, using the same aircraft - G-AGVC - and with
just one vehicle (Powell's Armstrong Siddeley) and a set of loading
ramps on board. The airfields had been chosen as being the two
closest cross-Channel civil airports - just 47 miles apart. The
inaugural public flight followed on 14 July 1948 - Bastille Day
in France. The Silver City Air Ferry was born.
Initially, the Air Ferry flights had to be operated on a charter
basis, with most flights being taken by the AA and RAC but on
2 May 1949, the Ministry of Civil Aviation issued a licence for
one year's scheduled service.
170 Mrk 21 G-AIFV at Lympne
Silver City had been taking part in the Berlin Airlift, having
joined with a single Bristol Freighter in September 1948. This
was such a success that further Freighters were leased from Bristols.
When the airlift was scaled down in February 1949, Silver City's
Freighters were the last civil twin-engined aircraft there - having
flown a total of about 800 hours. The airlift continued for some
years and Silver City's involvement - including the use of Dakotas
and a Breguet Br761S 'Deux Ponts' - continued until 1953.
170 Mk IIA G-AHJC on the Berlin Airlift, September to November
1948. The aircraft was on lease to Silver City from the
Bristol Aeroplane Company.
In late 1949, the Zinc Corporation decided that it no longer
needed its own air transport company and could rely on scheduled
airline services. Its total shareholding in Silver City was
therefore acquired by BAS, who adopted the trading name of 'Britavia'.
1952, the Air Ferry operation had proved a great success - but
there was often an imbalance between outward and return loads.
Taffy Powell realised that a larger aircraft with a bigger payload
but lower operating costs would help to overcome the problem.
The result was the Bristol 170 Mk 32 - or 'Superfreighter'.
This could carry three cars compared with the standard Freighter's
two. Silver City ordered six of the new aircraft at a cost of
£90,000 each for delivery in the spring of 1953.
Superfreighter in its Silver City delivery colours
Towards the end of 1953, it was clear that
the all-grass airfield at Lympne was unsuitable for future expansion
- particularly with the arrival of the larger Superfreighters.
A new home was needed but none of the existing airfields was deemed
suitable, so the obvious answer was to build a new one. For this
venture, additional capital would be needed and Silver City Chairman
Eoin Mekie persuaded the shipping company P&O to make a substantial
airport in 1953
reviewing a number of possible locations, a site near the town
of Lydd at the northern end of Dungeness point on the Kent coast
was selected. A contract for £400,000 (about £8.4
million today) was awarded to Richard Costain with completion
planned for the summer of 1954. Silver City's purpose-built
new home was to be called 'Ferryfield'.
Year of Change
operational in 1954
the injection of cash by P&O came another change of ownership
and in February 1954, General Steam Navigation (a P&O subsidiary)
took control of BAS, Britavia and Silver City.
in the construction of the new runways at Ferryfield meant that
it did not become operational until well into the summer season.
On 13 July 1954, the inaugural flight took off for Le Touquet
with a total of 70 flights being made that day.
3 October 1954, the Silver City house flag was hauled down at
Lympne for the last time as the final flight left with Chairman
Eoin Mekie on board. Lympne had seen nearly 55,000 vehicles
and 208,500 passengers carried since 1948 - all without incident.
Meanwhile, at Ferryfield, there were 222 Channel crossings during
one day in July and crews were now often flying six round trips
the end of the Berlin Airlift, Silver City now had a fleet of
five Bristol Freighter Mk 21s and six Mk 32 Superfreighters
available for its Air Ferry operations. With the concentration
of this fleet at Ferryfield, all maintenance activities were
being loaded onto Bristol Superfreighters at Lydd
With Silver City now firmly established at its new operating base,
business grew steadily and the company expanded its operations
in a number of directions. New Air Ferry routes were established
between Stranraer and Belfast, Southampton (Eastleigh) and Deauville
and between Southampton and Guernsey to add to the existing service
between Southampton and Cherbourg. Services subsequently moved
to Bournemouth (Hurn) in 1959 due to the poor condition of Southampton's
grass runways. During 1955, Silver City became the largest carrier
of air freight in the country with 70,190 tons being carried.
Kruise Douglas Dakota
Aviation Services (BAS) had already acquired two other companies
in March 1953 - Aquila Airways, which operated flying boats
out of Southampton, and Air Kruise, which flew de Havilland
Dragon Rapides and Douglas Dakotas on charter and pleasure flights
from Lympne, including regular charter services to Le Touquet.
They were to be the forerunner of Silver City's 'Passenger Division'.
Kruise Dragon Raipde
May 1955, BAS took over Manx Airlines - based in the Isle of
Man - and, in December of that year, the Lancashire Aircraft
Corporation based at Blackpool. Their final acquisition was
Dragon Airways of Newcastle in 1957. These three companies now
became Silver City's 'Northern Division'.
1957, the Air Ferry clocked-up one hundred-thousand crossings
since its inception in 1948. In October, Taffy Powell retired
and Air Kruise amalgamated with Silver City with its founder,
Wing Commander Hugh Kennard, becoming deputy Managing Director.
All the Air Kruise aircraft were now repainted into the silver,
Royal blue and white of Silver City, as were all the Northern
Superfreighter in final livery
Britavia had acquired a fleet of six ex-BOAC Handley Page Hermes
aircraft for use on long-range trooping flights and these were
later used for charter work - including the type's first-ever
trans-Atlantic flight on 14 November 1955. Later still, they
were transferred to Silver City ownership and took on the London
- Paris 'Silver Arrow' service, providing the air link between
Manston and Le Touquet - the aircraft being too large to operate
City Hermes G-ALDM at Manston
City had also become involved in supporting the oil industry
in Libya and in 1957, an 'out station' group was established
in Tripoli with a second, smaller group in Benghazi. Geologists
and seismic survey parties were carried all over the country
and drilling sites had to be supplied with food and other essentials.
The group was disbanded in 1961 when the Belgian airline Sabena
outbid Silver City for the Libyan contract.
End of the Adventure
170 Mk 21 G-AHJI at work for Shell in the desert
By 1960, Silver City had become a household name and taking their
car on the Air Ferry was often a family's first experience of
air travel. Stars of stage and screen, politicians and members
of Royal families all used the Air Ferry as the best way to cross
the Channel. That year, around 90,000 vehicles and 220,000 passengers
had been carried and 40,000 Channel crossings had been made.
Niven and his wife
1960, freight movements totalled 135,000 tons - an increase
of 35% on the previous year. Silver City had carried a huge
variety of freight loads over the years, including: import and
export cars; carpets; helicopters; two 60ft racing yacht hulls;
yacht masts; printing presses; tractors; sheep; pigeons; a midget
submarine; race horses; and a stuffed pink elephant!
in February 1949, Silver City had registered a new company in
Paris to 'legalise' the French end of their operations. This
was Société Commerciale Aérienne du Littoral
(SCAL) and a number of aircraft were registered in their name.
In the summer of 1961, Silver City had reached an agreement
with Compagnie Air Transport (CAT) for them to build a two-mile
rail spur into Le Touquet Airport from the nearby main line.
In return, Silver City transferred three of their Superfreighters
to CAT to operate on the Ferryfield - Le Touquet and Hurn -
Cherbourg routes. The aircraft livery was identical to Silver
City's except for the change of name and the appearance of the
French Tricolour on the tail fin.
the end of the year, Silver City applied to fly a number of
scheduled passenger services between various airports served
by its Northern Division. The application included provision
for the routes to be operated by 49-seat Vickers Viscount aircraft
as well as Dakotas and so three ex-Air France Viscount 708s
were leased from Maitland Drewery Aviation. These were sent
to Fields Aircraft Services at Wymeswold to be refurbished and
repainted in Silver City colours, although they were destined
never to fly for the company due to an impending change of ownership.
1961 traffic figures looked good but the company's policy of
consistently cutting fares to boost demand had meant that Silver
City Airways had actually made a loss of £250,000 in 1960
and £200,000 in 1961. In those days, these were considerable
sums and there were rumours that a merger with Freddie Laker's
Channel Air Bridge (another air ferry operation based at Southend)
was likely. In January 1962, British Aviation Services (Silver
City's parent company) decided to sell its shares to P&O.
This enabled P&O to set up a new company - Air Holdings
Ltd - which took over BAS, Channel Air Bridge and the newly
formed British United Airways. Silver City's thirteen-year adventure
The Air Ferry service continued at Ferryfield with other operators
- British United Air Ferries and then British Air Ferries - for
another nine years. The last Bristol 170 flight from there was
in October 1970 and the last Air Ferry flight - by an Aviation
Traders ATL-98 'Carvair' - took place in January 1971. Wing Commander
Hugh Kennard and his wife, Audrey, went on to form Air Ferry and
later Invicta Airways at Manston.
number of reasons contributed to Silver City's demise - an important
factor being that short routes such as Ferryfield to Le Touquet
were heavy on aircraft wear and thus increased their maintenance
costs. The answer was to operate on longer routes but suitable
aircraft could not be found when they were needed. Improvements
to cross-Channel ferries - with their more convenient 'Roll
On - Roll Off' facilities reduced the attractiveness of the
Air Ferry. The policy of consistent price cutting also has to
its thirteen years of operation, Silver City had provided a
unique service that had developed into a huge operation, the
like of which will probably never be seen again. Friendly, personal
and efficient service plus an excellent safety record has ensured
that their passengers still look back on them with fondness
Engineering staff at Manston
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