Southend Airport/Rochford Airfield

The Current Southend Airport

Copyright Southend Airport

Today, the airport is an expanding hub however the airport has quite a history. In the 1960’s it was the third busiest airport in the UK and remained so until the 1970’s when Stansted Airport took over the title. Located between Rochford and Southend, it has a six thousand foot runway (1.2 miles) and can take the weight of a Boeing 757.

In 1914 the airfield was established by the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and was the largest flying ground in Essex, also with the greatest number of units. It was taken over by the Royal Naval Air Service in May 1915 and remained so until 1916 when it became RFC Rochford. It was designed as a night fighter station and many sorties were flown against Zeppelin airship raiders. It was closed in 1920 and was reverted to farmland for a while however it was officially opened on September 18th 1935 by Philip Sassoon the Under-Secretary of State for Air. On the west boundary there used to be an aviation museum.

In 1939 the Air Ministry requisitioned the airfoil and was formally known at RAF Rochford in the World War II. (However it was known as RAF Southend between October 1940 and August 1944.) It because a satellite base and a base for fighter aircraft including Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes as well as Bristol Blenheim (bomber). There were 50 pillboxes built to protect the airport from paratroop landings (military parachutists) with just under half remaining today. The underground defence control room near to the current Southend Flying Club still remains today. Roughly 20 or so pillboxes remain in the surrounding area. In Canewdon, 2 miles north-east of the airport, a World War II Chain Home radar station was built. Chain Home, or CH for short, was the codename for the ring of costal early warning radar stations which were built before and during the Second World War by the British. A 110m tower at Canewdon was relocated to the Marconi works at Great Baddlow during the 1950’s.

Southend Airport 1961 (Curtsy of Wikipedia)

In 1946, after the Second World War, the airfield was decommissioned from military use and returned to public use in 1947. The name ‘Southend Municipal Airport’ name also returned. The airport is often remembered for the car ferry flights. A Carvair ATL-98 was a product of Aviation Traders and subsequently there was one at the airport. Annual passenger numbers peaked in 1967 at 692,000. The airport continued to handle more traffic than Stansted until well into the 1970’s. It took 45 years to beat the previous annual passenger traffic recording, ending in February 2013 with 721,661 passengers. In May 1972 an aircraft museum was officially opened however, it closed in May the following year and the majority of their entire exhibits was sold in 1983. The Museum had been open quite a long time earlier than its official opening on 26th May 1972; many of the exhibited aircraft were placed there as early as May 1967.

As well as this new record, the airport also holds a UK record for having the first airliner flight flown by an all female crew on October 31st 1979. Since 1986, the airport has been home to the Avro Vulcan XL426, one of just 3 in working condition. It is owned by the Vulcan Restoration Trust, a registered charity, which keeps the systems and engines of it serviceable, allowing it to be occasionally taxied although it is not airworthy.

The Big Vulcan! (Not Curtsy of BTP)

Southend is also known for the annual airshow, which is currently at threat. The very first show was on May 26th 1986 and was the first of 27 successive annual shows with the last being in 2012. Many of the aircraft featured were held temporary at the airport whilst they were not flying.

1990 to Present

In 1993, the airport had been making losses for a number of years and the decision was made by the council to sell the airport. It was purchased and re-branded to the current ‘London Southend Airport’, dropping the term ‘Municipal’. The largest ever aircraft to land was a Lockheed L-1011 Tristar which landed at the airport in 1998 to be scrapped. A debate was started in 2001 over the possible relocation of the Grade 1 listed church next to the runway with the council rejecting the plans in 2003. The airport was put up for sale again in January 2008 and was bought by the current owners Stobart Group for £21 million. EasyJet signed a ten-year contract with Stobart Group in June 2011 and the following year, around 70 flights a week were taking place. The destinations also increased including places such as Alicante and Malaga. A new terminal was built and opened in February 2012, being opened officially by the Secretary of State for Transport. That year also saw more flights, destinations and an increase in the runway length.

Here is a video filmed and edited by some college friends on the airport currently. Liam and myself will filming a documentary over the summer.

The following exclusive photos show the airport currently, taken from some great angles. Courtesy & copyright of Southend Airport.

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Information from Wikipedia and Peter Brown. With thanks to Peter Brown and London Southend Airport.

The Original Rochford Airfield

The two BTP boys, and occasional accomplice Jack Swestun, set off at McDonalds in Southend Airport, to investigate pillboxes once defending Rochford airfield, established in August 1914. Although it became an airport in 1935, it wasn’t designated for civilian use until late 1946, after the war. Using sources such as the Defence of Britain Project, coupled with Google Earth, we were able to mark out the locations of 8 pillboxes on a map we printed out of the area.


The first pillbox we saw was bare concrete and of Type 24 design (guide to pillbox variants here: It was hidden behind the McDonalds car park, facing out onto Rochford Road. It was accessible but featured a fair degree of graffiti inside.

After this we crossed the railway line via the bridge that the road continued onto. There was some old signage to be seen. We passed the current airfield control tower, the Avro Vulcan bomber (an impressive model of plane used by the RAF from 1956 up to 1984) that the airport holds there, and another Type 24 pillbox similar to the one we saw first.

Still heading along the Rochford Road-side, we made an impressive discovery. Jack spotted what appeared to be an Anderson shelter from the Second World War. it looked old enough, and has been confirmed to likely have been one, although possibly lifted (originally sunk into the ground for extra strength against bombing). It appeared to have been used as a general shed, as various tools and a couple of chairs were hidden in it, although even these appeared to be rather old. Being in such a hard to reach, overgrown location, it is probable it had been left to ruin.


After a few directions from the locals, and a walk through a public park, we ended up at another type of pillbox – this time, of ‘Cantilever’ design, which we would see two more of later on. Cantilever pillboxes were designed and built by F C Construction for airfield defence, and ’53 examples are still extant’. The roof was disconnected from the sides of the pillbox, supported only by a large central pillar, meaning a 360 degree firing slit was possible. They featured a rail around the sides of the slit for the mounting of weapons. The slit was only slightly higher than ground level, as the main pillbox body was sunken, enabling what appeared to be an effective defense. This one was against the railway fence, although a way from the actual track. Its door and firing slit was bricked up.


We next passed a hut which looked as if it was likely to have been from the days of the Rochford airfield, underground some kind of conversion or restoration work which seemed to be fairly vacant. The three of us then joined up with Rochford Hundred Golf Course, finding a pillbox on the outskirts with a fresh puddle inside. We looked out at the golfers, all over 50, wondering which bad-boy could’ve been responsible. It was rendered in brick from the casting process, although much of this had crumbled away to reveal the concrete underneath.

Next we passed a few derelict planes within the airport site, and a small stream. This lead us out onto a field where we would see the last four pillboxes together. One of the bunkers was infact a possible ammo store (‘magazine’) and not used for firing upon enemies. It was basically a covered brick pit sunken far into the ground, with steps going down into it. Although beyond the airport fence, these fields would originally have been part of the site of the airfield. Finally, we checked out two more cantilever pillboxes in that field, along with another Type 24. One of the cantilevers had an aircraft tyre in, which looked rather old too!




  1. September 9,1971 my husband Captain “Ike” Eisenhauer landed a Boeing 707 in 2,300 feet to certify the airport for ATEL. This opened Southend up for larger aircraft.

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