Philip Mighell and Croydon Airport

Today’s post is written by one of our dedicated Volunteers, Colin, who was researching the history of Manor Farm in Hilliers Lane, Beddington. It had been occupied by the Mighell family (pronounced “Myall”) and two residents, both called Philip Mighell, had remarkable stories – tragic and heroic – that illustrate much about the development of  Croydon Airport and the Beddington area.

Their story starts on 18th January 1867, when the first Philip was born to William (known as “Cob”) and Mary Mighell. They lived at Waddon Marsh Farm on Mitcham Road – farming 300 acres and employing 21 people according to the 1871 census. This was a time when farming in this area would have been very profitable. Wallington station (originally named Carshalton) opened in 1847, Waddon station in 1863 and the current Carshalton station in 1868, allowing locally slaughtered meat to be swiftly transported and sold. The London population was expanding rapidly and a new meat market was opened at Smithfield in 1855. Cob’s pony and chaise was a familiar sight on Surrey market days.

In 1892 Philip married Martha Sadler – also from a farming background in Sussex – and they lived at the Manor Farm. Philip specialised in cattle breeding, and became a farmer of some note – often featuring on judging panels at country shows and the like. Martha and he had six children between 1893 and 1900. When Cob died in 1907, Philip also took over the management of Waddon Marsh Farm and purchased Manor Farm.

Their eldest child, born on August 7th 1893, was the second Philip Mighell. Philip and Martha were ambitious for their children and they endeavoured to educate them well with a view to the opportunities that the twentieth century promised to offer. Young Philip was sent to Miss Ackerman’s school in Eastbourne and attended Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex between 1908 and 1910.

At the age of seventeen he took a room in a boarding house in Crewe, where he had secured a job as a Premium Apprentice for the London and North Western Railway. This was a prestigious scheme as only 30 were admitted each year. In 1913, though, Philip left the scheme, with good references, to study Theology at Durham University.

However, in 1914 the war intervened and Philip was commissioned as a Signalling Officer in the 9th East Surrey Regiment. He saw action at Hooge in Flanders, and later transferred to 5th Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. It is likely that he learnt to fly at Beddington Aerodrome, established in 1915 and specialising in training. His father was also farming land at New Barn Farm, which was literally across the road (Plough Lane).  In March 1917 he was made a temporary Second Lieutenant.

On 11 October 1917, Philip was the observer in an artillery reconnaissance patrol near Arras in France when their two-seater biplane was surprised by three enemy aircraft. Outnumbered and unable to escape, they were shot down by German fighter ace Julius Buckler. The pilot died soon after impact and Philip died of wounds the following day. On Friday 19 October 1917 the Surrey Mirror, describing a fundraising drive for the Red Cross, reported that “Philip Mighell, of Wallington, sent a horse on behalf of the fund, and a sad feature connected with his gift is the fact that on the morning of the sale news came that his son had fallen in action in the war”. Philip was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and is honoured at Universities at War.

In 1917 the Air Ministry acquired some of the New Barn Farm land to create Waddon Aerodrome . In 1920 this was merged with Beddington to create Croydon Airport. In 1923 the livestock of New Barn Farm was sold at auction. In this photo the Waddon aerodrome part is in the foreground, Beddington aerodrome is on the other side of Plough lane, but the New Barn Farm buildings are still standing to the top right.

Croydon airport c1924

Croydon Aerodrome c.1924/25. Photo SBAR629 courtesy of Sutton Archives

The 1930s was a period of significant urbanisation in the area. In 1931 Waddon Marsh Farm was sold, and in 1936, Philip and Martha moved out of Manor Farm and bought property in Wend Road, Coulsdon and went into retirement. They lived there with their youngest daughter Martha and made many new friends in the area.

In 1940 they were joined at Wend House by apprentice housekeeper Mary Notley. Later the same year the Battle of Britain began and Croydon Airport was a focus for early German bombing attacks. By September, German losses had led to a reduction in accuracy due to less experienced air crews and resorting to higher-level bombing. Also, to cause more disruption, delayed-action fuses started to be used.

On September 25th, during another raid on Croydon Airport, a bomb hit the Mighell house. It did not explode and the house was evacuated with the help of local policeman Sgt Paisley. Everyone else in the house was saved but Philip and the police officer were both killed in the delayed action explosion. Sgt Paisley is included on the National Police Officers Roll of Honour.

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