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The First UK Aerial Post Service Between Hendon and Windsor

The UK flights were planned to take place during September 1911 running between Hendon (north London) and Windsor. Special postal stationery postcards and envelopes in varying colours were produced pre-stamped with the new King George V 1/2d and 1d definitive postage stamps. The cost of the pre-stamped postcards was set 6 1/2d and the commemorative envelopes 1/1d (thirteen pre-decimal pennies), a little over 5p in current UK currency.

Special mail boxes were set up in London, Hendon and Windsor to post the commemorative items and six special postmarking handstamps were produced for the flights to Windsor - four were used on mail posted in London (Dies 1-4) and two were used in Hendon (5 & 6). Each postmark shows the die number at the foot of the design.

Collecting tip: The majority of mail for the flights postmarked London (going to Windsor) was posted in advance in central London and these display the special handstamp postmarks for London applied by dies 1-4. The London postmarks using dies 5 & 6 were used at Hendon - where advance posting didn't occur - meaning they are very much scarcer and more valuable.

Illustrations of the London & Windsor Postmarks used for the 1911 first UK aerial post
(not to scale)

The mail sent from Windsor was serviced with the Windsor postmark using either die 1 or 2. Collectors should note that considerably less mail was sent from Windsor than from London and Hendon. It is therefore more valuable.

On the London to Windsor route 1/2d rated postcards are known in a red-brown, dark-brown, olive and violet colour. The violet cards were deemed "privileged" and are the rarest and most valuable. On the return journey from Windsor it seems only olive-green and 'privileged' violet cards were used.

The 1d rated envelopes are known to exist in scarlet, purple-brown, deep green, deep brown and red brown in addition to the violet 'privilege' envelopes. Like the postcards only olive green or the violet 'privileged' envelopes appear to have been used from Windsor.

Four pilots were taken on to fly the scheduled service between Windsor Great Park and Hendon Aerodrome. They were Gustav Hamel, E F Driver, C H Greswell, and Claude Hubert. Hubert's involvement was curtailed when he crashed during a take-off breaking both his legs. It is reported that he received £500 compensation from the profits of the aerial service. The planes used for the service were 2 Bleriot monoplanes and one Farman biplane.

Greswell in plane at Hendon 1911 First UK Aerial Post
Pilot C H Greswell at Hendon Aerodrome in 1911

Gustav Hamel was the pilot of the very first flight which took off from Hendon at 5.13pm 9th September 1911. The 21 mile flight to Windsor Great Park took around 15 minutes.

The Aerial Post service was planned to run from 11 September to 15 September with only one return trip scheduled for 16th September from Windsor to Hendon. However plans were regularly changed due to weather conditions. Delays to the service meant that a large backlog of commemorative cards and envelopes built up and the service finally ended on 26th September 1911.

The most desirable items for collectors are the items postmarked on the dates of the first flights - 9th September to Windsor and 16th September from Windsor (the only date post was carried on the return leg). Of these it is the violet coloured privilege stationery that is the rarest and most prized items.

The centenary of this event in 2011 sparked heightened interest in the original postal history of the 1911 flights meaning these covers and postcards are seeing increased demand and realising higher prices. I suggest collectors keep an eye on this eBay search of the 1911 UK aerial post online auctions to try and spot bargains.

The violet privilege cards and envelopes flown in either direction can command prices well over £500 in good condition. Regular items flown on the first flights in either direction can command £50 or more according to condition and other dates should achieve £25 or more according to condition and colours. I wont be surprised to see these prices enjoy a marked increase in the next year or two because of the approaching centenary.

Extract from Daily Telegraph Article published 4th August 1911

An experiment in the utilisation of aeroplanes in the postal service of the country is likely to be undertaken in the very near future by the General Post Office. The proposal is to establish a regular aerial service for a limited period between London and Windsor.

At the General Post Office, yesterday, a Press representative was informed that officially nothing could be said about the scheme. Many details had still to be settled.

Negotiations were now proceeding with a well-known aviator for the supply of suitable machines. On the result of these negotiations depended whether the experiment was carried out or not.

The scheme owes its inception it is learned, to the enterprise of a few gentlemen in London interested in aviation. They had a threefold object in view: to demonstrate the utility of the aeroplane; and to benefit certain charities. The last-named object was to be achieved by issuing special postcards and envelopes for the aerial service at 6d. and 1s. each respectively. All takings in excess of working expenses could then be divided among the selected institutions. To carry this scheme into effect the authority of the Postmaster General had to be obtained. Mr. Herbert Samuel was approached, and he not only gave his consent, but also readily agreed to co-operate. Certain details were then determined upon. The aerodromes at Hendon and Windsor Park were selected as the points to be connected by the service.


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