Coal Aston (Royal Flying Corps.) Landing Ground

THIS FORMAT SHOWS TEXT taken from WARTIME IN NORTON published by NHG in 1995

The confusingly named Coal Aston Aerodrome was neither at Coal Aston nor was an aerodrome in the accepted sense of the term. Only for the few months in 1916 was it used by operational aircraft of the RFC.

The name of the establishment is a matter for conjecture only. “Norton” may have been rejected because there are three villages of this name in the wider Sheffield area and they are confused even in the present day.

It is possible that the Landing Ground was given the name of the nearest high land which could be used as a landmark. Coal Aston is a village on a prominent area of high ground to the south of Norton.

Landing Ground for 33 Squadron, A Flight

Approximately three years after the founding of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) on 13th April 1912, from the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers, work began in 1915 to prepare a landing area to the south of Norton Lane, west of Jordanthorpe House.

This airfield, confusingly known as Coal Aston Aerodrome, was planned as one of several Landing Grounds needed for the defence of Sheffield and its munitions factories. The other Grounds, listed by B.J.Rapier in his book White Rose Base, were Redmires, Ecclesfield, Wombwell, Thorne and Brancroft, near Doncaster.

Each Ground had refuelling facilities and flare paths and all were used by B.E.2c aircraft of A Flight, 33 Sqn, between March and October 1916, mostly for Night Patrol duties.

J.Ross in his book RFC Boy Service describes much of the activity at Meadowhead and in Woodseats due to the arrival of the RFC. He tells of looking over the hedge at the canvas hangars, which were of the temporary Bessoneau type, and hoping to see a B.E.2c take off.

Mr Rapier gives an interesting account of the development of aerial defences of Yorkshire. Home Defence Units of the RFC were set up to combat the attacks by Zeppelins, which had started over Britain in January 1915.

Zeppelins crossed the English coast 202 times in World War One and dropped 205 tons of bombs, killing 556 people and injuring 1,358. York blacked out its lights completely on 30 occasions but, in spite of this, the city was attacked and deaths occurred. The first raid over Sheffield was on 25th September 1916 and J.Ross's book has a full and gripping account of this. Another witness, Mr Chapman, then living at Myrtle Road, says he saw “a kind of shadow, like a cloud, move across. As I looked out of my box-bedroom window I saw bombs burst - one, two, three, four, five bombs burst. I waited a bit then went and woke my father up and said, Zeppelins are here, Dad!”

J.Ross states that no aircraft took off from Coal Aston to intercept the Zeppelin. It is recorded that a pilot was flying on the previous evening. His Coal Aston Log entry states, “24/25 Sept 1916 Night Patrol B.E.2c Captain E.N.Clifton was in the air for approx. 30 minutes then crash-landed in poor visibility on high ground. He was slightly injured.”

This and another log entry made a few days later indicate that the area was not particularly suitable for aircraft. “Captain E.N.Clifton was in the air approx. 30 minutes. Returned because of fog.” Norton residents know that fog is very thick in that area even now, in the 1990s, and the ground is wet and heavy in spite of drainage of the land and all the housing on the site.

Other recorded hazards were three ditches and boggy ground at the Jordanthorpe House side. A local resident, Mr N.Gibbs, recently supplied useful information of the area and mentioned that the airfield land near Dyche Lane Farm was always a very soggy bog, covered with long reed grasses. He was astounded when the houses of the Jordanthorpe Estate were built there.

Establishment of No.2 (Northern) Aircraft Repair Depot, RFC Greenhill, Sheffield

Coal Aston was the only Landing Ground in the Sheffield area to continue to be in use after 1916, chiefly because the main function of the site changed.