When ace pilots gave Norfolk residents a show to remember – more than 100 years ago

PUBLISHED: 11:38 06 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:10 10 August 2020

Bentfield Charles 'Benny' Hucks. Picture: Hethersett Archives

Bentfield Charles 'Benny' Hucks. Picture: Hethersett Archives


More than a century ago, a couple of air aces combined over a now defunct racecourse in South Norfolk to give onlookers a unique display of daredevil flying.

Marcus Dyce Manton. Picture: Hethersett ArchivesMarcus Dyce Manton. Picture: Hethersett Archives

On Thursday, May 14, 1914, residents of Hethersett were treated to a thrilling air display in glorious weather by two of Britain’s most celebrated aviation pioneers – Bentfield Charles Hucks and Marcus Dyce Manton.

‘Benny’ Hucks flew his Bleriot Monoplane in a series of spectacular manoeuvres above race-goers on Hethersett Racecourse. He performed steeple-chasing and vertical banking, gave passenger flights and carried out many of his trademark loops which included flying upside down.

Hucks was joined in the show by his young protégé, 19-year-old Marcus Manton who was known as “The Wonderful Boy Aviator”. At 7pm the new looping machine was brought out, and Manton was strapped in.

He rose to 3,000ft before doing an amazing “S” dive followed by a loop. He landed after completing several more loops.

Bookies at Hethersett Races. Picture: Hethersett ArchivesBookies at Hethersett Races. Picture: Hethersett Archives

The pair performed the same programme on Friday and Saturday giving a combined demonstration of trick flying which was met with huge enthusiasm from the crowd. They also had a cross-country race to Trowse Viaduct which Manton won by a few yards.

The couple had interesting histories. In August 1914, Hucks joined the Royal Flying Corps and was posted to the Western Front. He flew a number of raids over enemy lines but was soon struck by an attack of pleurisy which made him unfit for aerial fighting.

He was sent home where he became a test pilot for an aircraft manufacturer at Hendon in North West London. Sadly, on November, 7. 1918, just four days before the end of the Great War, he died of double pneumonia aged 34.

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During the First World War, Marcus Manton continued working as a test pilot and flying instructor. After the war Manton worked with a number of commercial companies including English Electric. He subsequently became their chief inspector at Lytham.

During the Second World War he was a service liaison officer with Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Company and post-war he worked with Hawker Siddeley Aircraft Company. He died on April 15, 1968, aged 75.

Hethersett racecourse was situated on land between Thickthorn Hall and the former Hethersett Railway Station which no longer exists. The inaugural meeting was held there on Friday, March 23, 1888, and was organised by the local Hussars.

The 19th and 20th Hussars Regiment enjoyed racing and regularly held meetings while they were in the area. Racing returned to Hethersett in 1904 when the Norwich Hunt took over the administration. They held meetings for the next 10 years until the start of the First World War.

In 1927, the land – around 120 acres – upon which the course was based was sold to Mr R J Read. His plan was to run meetings called ‘Hethersett Races’.

The first meeting organised by the new Hethersett Race Committee was held on Thursday, March 8, 1928. The meetings continued and were always well supported by the locals. The races were very competitive and often had large fields.

The last races held under rules were on Thursday, May 4, 1939, when the Second World War put a stop to them. At the height of the races’ popularity large crowds were attracted with special trains running from Norwich and Fakenham and the London train also stopping at Hethersett.

Racing didn’t start again immediately after the war and the course was taken over by the Norwich Staghounds. They held point to point races for the ten years between 1953 and 1963. The final meeting took place in 1970.

The course is no longer visible and is now covered by a number of fields, although a close examination of the area has shown signs of where some of the fences once were.

It is likely that part of the A11 dual carriageway is on land that would have been part of the racecourse.

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