Beagle Aircraft: Enthusiasts keen to find original staff from Shoreham Airport design plant

Aircraft enthusiasts who treasure a piece of Shoreham history are on the lookout for the people who worked on their beloved Beagle planes.

Beagle Aircraft was set up by Peter Masefield in 1960 and had its main manufacturing and design plant at Shoreham Airport.

Members of The Beagle Pup and Bulldog Club will be meeting up at the Hummingbird Restaurant there next week and the visit has prompted a search for people who used to work at the original plant.

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Eric Spencer, membership secretary, said: “Peter Masefield set up Beagle Aircraft with an objective of building light aircraft in the UK that were at least as good and generally much better than the American designs that dominated the world at the time.

A Beagle Bulldog landing at Shoreham Airport. Picture: Stephen Goodger S34224H10

“Beagle produced a range of superb light aircraft, mainly the twin engine B206 (Basset), the single engine trainer B121 (Pup) and a prototype military trainer, the B125 (Bulldog).

“The club is keen to make contact with any employees of the old Beagle Aircraft company with a view to maintaining an ongoing social environment for the mutual benefit of all.

“For a variety of reasons, the company ceased trading in 1970. The production of the Bulldog was eventually transferred to Scottish Aviation at Prestwick, which went on to provide aircraft for a great many air forces around the globe.

“Around 1983, a group of enthusiastic owners and pilots of the now much-admired Beagle Pup formed a club with the intention of preserving the aircraft in flying condition for as long as possible.

Beagle's order book was growing every day through orders from home and overseas, so the factory at Shoreham Airport was working in combination with a team at Rearsby

“This club was originally called The Beagle Pup Club but later, when the RAF sold its Bulldogs, the club was renamed The Beagle Pup and Bulldog Club, to include owners and pilots of the marque, and retains this name to the present day. The club has members as far afield as Cyprus, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and America, as well as most of Europe.

“The club has sought to expand its membership to include as many as possible of the original employees of the Beagle company, so as to provide an ongoing social club for both old and new members of the Beagle fraternity.

“This element of the club is known as the Originals and in addition to receiving all of the information about the activities of the pilots and aircraft they built, members also meet from time to time for a social get together.”

The next meeting is to be held on Wednesday, June 23, at the Hummingbird Restaurant in Shoreham Airport, billed as Beagle Heritage Afternoon Tea. Due to Covid restrictions, numbers are limited and places have to be pre-booked.

Derick Poulter studying one of the photos in the exhibition at Marlipins Museum in Shoreham in October 2016. Picture: Derek Martin DM16145408a

Membership of the club is free for any of the Originals. More information and membership applications can be obtained by contacting Mr Eric Spencer via email [email protected]

The history of Beagle, which stands for British Executive And General Aviation Limited, actually dates back further than 1960, as an exhibition at Marlipins Museum in Shoreham five years ago explained.

British engineer Frederick George Miles, whose father owned the Star Model Laundry in Portslade, was bitten by the aviation bug in the 1900s. He designed and built a biplane in the back room of the laundry but it never flew.

Undeterred, he learned to fly with pioneer Cecil Pashley at Shoreham Airport before setting up a flying school with him.

Liza McKinney, who carried out much of the research for the 2016 exhibition at Marlipins Museum in Shoreham. Picture: Derek Martin DM16145389a

Frederick started a plane manufacturing factory, which collapsed in 1948, before setting up another called F. G. Miles Limited at Shoreham.

When Beagle arrived in Shoreham, an aircraft design office was set up and the company took over F.G Miles Limited in February 1961.

By 1963, orders for 357 aircraft were received, with more than 60 per cent being exported.

The Beagle 206X aircraft, developed by F. G. Miles, was the foundation of the company’s reputation but it developed many other models, including an experimental autogyro that appeared in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice.

Governments in Sweden, Zambia and Kenya placed orders and production rose to one aircraft per working day, with around 1,080 people on the company’s payroll.

The company was dissolved in 1969 after being nationalised by the government for £1million in December 1966.

A Beagle reunion at Shoreham Airport in February 2010. Picture: John Periam

Liza McKinney, who carried out research for the museum exhibition, including reading the Hansard notes from the House of Commons and House of Lords, believed the government was too hasty.

She said: “The British government of the day decided we couldn’t compete with the Americans and closed it down with orders still on its books. To be honest it was a tragic ending really - so many people felt it shouldn’t have been closed down.”