Goodwood’s Spitfire years

Jarrod Cotter describes the fantastic way that Goodwood has revived the golden age of motor racing from years gone by at a former Spitfire airfield, while Martyn Chorlton gives an overview of the site’s wartime history.

Nowhere else in the world can you experience such an intoxicating blend of speed and nostalgia as that on offer at Goodwood’s annual major motor racing events, the Festival of Speed and the Revival. It is the latter of these which will be the focus of this feature, for reasons that will become clear.

Due to its ever-increasing appeal and popularity, this weekend extravaganza attracts huge crowds to the West Sussex venue, many of whom dress in period costumes and mix their time watching the racing action and taking in the charming ‘time capsule’ atmosphere on offer. But during World War Two, the site had a crucial role to play as a fighter airfield, and was once home to numerous squadrons flying Spitfires. It was also the airfield from which Douglas Bader made his last operational flight, before losing the tail of his Spitfire in a dogfight and baling out over enemy-occupied France.

Motor racing first came to Goodwood in 1936, when the Earl of March held a private hillclimb in the estate’s park. Five years earlier he had won the Brooklands Double 12 race and in 1948 – as the ninth Duke of Richmond – he opened the Goodwood motor circuit. These events from the golden age of British motor sport inspired his grandson Charles, the current Earl of March, to revive motor sport in the parkland surrounding Goodwood House and this resulted in the first Festival of Speed, which was held in 1993. This event, where racing cars and motorcycles famously tackle the hillclimb, has now become the world’s biggest celebration of the history of motor sport. The background to the Revival, though, has a very strong link with aviation.


During World War Two, Westhampnett (as it was known) in Sussex was one of the RAF’s most active airfields and a satellite station to Tangmere. The small grass airfield will always be associated with the Spitfire, which served there from August 1940 to September 1944 with a multitude of squadrons. The statue of the legendary Douglas Bader in Claypit Lane, Goodwood, also serves as a reminder of how important this classic fighter station was. It was on 9th of August 1941, while commanding 616 Squadron, that Bader famously collided with an enemy aircraft (or was shot down) to become one of the Germans’ most irritating POWs.

Starting life as an emergency landing ground for Tangmere, the airfield was constructed on land owned by the Duke of Richmond in late 1938. Following the British withdrawal from France in May 1940, it was upgraded and became the home for 145 Squadron’s Hawker Hurricanes. Once the Battle of Britain was raging above, the Hurricane squadron was replaced by 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron from Drem, Scotland, with Spitfire Is which arrived on 13 August 1940. What followed for 602 Squadron was probably the most intensive period of action the unit had seen, or would ever experience again. Now part of the Tangmere Wing, a change of tactics by the Luftwaffe to try.


The 2010 Festival of Speed is scheduled to take place on 2 to 4 July with the theme of ‘Viva Veloce! – The Passion for Speed’. This will celebrate Italy’s all-consuming fascination with motor racing. The Earl of March also announced the introduction of a dedicated ‘Aviation Show’ zone as an integral part of the Festival of Speed. For the very first time, the Goodwood Aviation Show will be held within the grounds of Goodwood Park as a significant addition to the annual Festival. This aviation exhibition area will enable manufacturers of both fixed wing and rotary aircraft, plus aviation service suppliers, to showcase their latest innovative aircraft designs at the event.

Commenting on this latest Goodwood initiative, Festival of Speed founder Lord March said: “I am very encouraged that our aviation team here has already received a huge amount of interest from the aviation industry, and I am confident that aviation will play a major part at the Festival for many years to come. The Goodwood Aviation Show is a direct response to the continued enthusiasm and demand from our Festival visitors and the aviation industry for a dedicated quality annual exhibition in Britain.

“My hope is that the Goodwood Aviation Show will become a ‘must attend’ annual event, enabling pilots, buyers and enthusiasts to see and even experience the latest models and technical developments in a stunning setting and a relaxed environment.” The 2010 Revival is scheduled for
the weekend of 17 to 19 September. Another record attendance was set at 2009’s event when more than 132,000 historic motor racing enthusiasts visited the celebrated motor circuit and the advanced tickets sold out earlier than they had ever done before. Early sales of advanced tickets to the 2010 event have reached the highest level ever. Due to this strong demand, plus the important aim to keep the Goodwood Revival as a comfortable and enjoyable experience for all visitors, with great viewing of all of the action on and off the track, the Earl of March has taken the exceptional step of marginally reducing the number of advance entry tickets to be sold for 2010’s meeting. This means that tickets are expected to sell out some time before the event itself. Revival tickets are available to advance order only on a first come, first served basis. The number of spectators will be restricted each day to avoid congestion and cramped conditions, maintaining the event’s relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere for everyone.


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