Pengam Moors: From Pasture to Planes

British European Airways Sikorsky S-51 helicopter used on the 1950 service from Pengham Moors to Liverpool Speke Airport. ( By RuthAS - Own work, CC BY 3.0,  LINK )

British European Airways Sikorsky S-51 helicopter used on the 1950 service from Pengham Moors to Liverpool Speke Airport.
By RuthAS - Own work, CC BY 3.0, LINK)

In the late 1920s the possibilities of air travel were beginning to develop, and Cardiff did not wish to be left out of the race.

A level site close to the city was required for an aerodrome, and the undeveloped moorland between the Eastern boundary of the city and the Rhymney river seemed the ideal location. This was mainly pastureland belonging to Splott and Pengam farms and, as the local farmers were no doubt aware, prone in parts to flooding.

The airport officially opened in 1931 with a spectacular air pageant featuring an air race from London to Cardiff, ‘crazy flying’ and joy rides among other attractions. Unfortunately, the site was declared unsafe by the Air Ministry due to poor drainage, and a commercial licence could not be issued. Costly remedial works delayed the commencement of commercial flights until 1932, when a Western Airways service to Weston-Super-Mare began. This was a popular route both for businessmen and holidaymakers, in particular Welsh miners on their annual break. Other destinations were soon on offer, including Birmingham, Bristol, Teignmouth and Plymouth. By 1937, there were services to Le Touquet and Paris, and passenger numbers had increased to around 20,000 per year. 

In 1936, the site was requisitioned by the Air Ministry for 614 (Glamorgan) Auxiliary Air Squadron. This caused tremendous pressure on the site for space, as not only were there commercial flights operating from the airfield, but Cardiff Aeroplane Club also had an active presence, providing a facility for private pilots and pilot training. The adjacent allotments were the casualty of the required expansion. Military aircraft were now taking off and landing very close to residential areas, and many complaints of noise were received. There was also a problem with children trespassing on the site, particularly during the school holidays. One boy had a lucky escape when the pilot of an incoming plane swerved to avoid him!

Commercial flights were suspended in 1940, not resuming until the end of the war. The inadequacy of the site was all too apparent. Problems included limited scope for expansion, continued drainage issues and proximity to housing. It was considered that a million-pound upgrade would be required, but due to the austerity of the post war years the money was not forthcoming. Instead, it was proposed to relocate the airport to a new site, with both Llandow and Rhoose under consideration.

In 1954 all commercial flights from Pengam Moors ceased; and in 1957, the aircraft hangars and outbuildings were auctioned by Hern and Crabtree. Some of the outbuildings were later put to industrial use. Although helicopters continued to use part of the site for a time (during which the Duke of Edinburgh was reportedly mobbed by 500 women and children who broke through a police cordon), the glory days of Cardiff Pengam Moors Airport were well and truly over.

Watch a Pathé news film from 1950 featuring Pengam Moors Airport:

Article and photographs kindly supplied by Marion Sweeney.