JOHNSON, Amy (1903-1941)
Plaque erected in 1987 by English Heritage at Vernon Court, Hendon Way, Cricklewood, London, NW2 2PE, London Borough of Barnet
AMY JOHNSON 1903-1941 Aviator lived here
In 1930, pioneering aviator Amy Johnson became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia. Apart from her record-breaking flights, she was the first British woman to qualify as a ground engineer.
Amy Johnson is commemorated with a blue plaque in Cricklewood at Vernon Court, a sprawling half-timbered building that stands close to the junction of Hendon Way with Finchley Road. By the time she moved into Flat 15 of the newly built mansion block in November 1930, Johnson – dubbed ‘Queen of the Air’ – was at the height of her fame.
Born in Hull and educated at Sheffield University, Johnson moved to London in 1927, where she worked as an assistant in a legal firm. In her spare time she developed her passion for flying. In 1928, she joined the London Aeroplane Club at Stag Lane, Edgware – within easy reach of Vernon Court – and by the end of 1929 she had qualified as a ground engineer. She received her pilot’s licence in the same year and soon turned her sights to record-breaking.
ENGLAND TO AUSTRALIA
On 5 May 1930, when she set off from Croydon in a second-hand De Havilland Gipsy Moth, Jason, Johnson was virtually unknown. Nineteen days later, on arriving at Port Darwin, she became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia, and was hailed as an international celebrity and a model of courage and determination.
Johnson had originally set out to break Bert Hinkler’s speed record of 15½ days, and she was two days ahead by the time she reached Karachi, India – despite being forced to land in the desert by poor conditions. However, continued bad weather, fuel shortages and aircraft damage meant she was delayed in Rangoon and Java, and missed the record by four days. Before long, however, she began to set speed records.
Throughout the 1930s, Johnson continued to make pioneering flights. In 1931 she flew from Britain to Japan in record time and in 1932 she piloted a Puss Moth from Kent to Cape Town in four days, six hours and 54 minutes, beating the record set by her husband, fellow aviator and record-breaker Jim Mollison. Their marriage in the summer of 1932 signalled the end of Johnson’s residence at Vernon Court, but the couple continued to stay in London, though nomadically, moving first to the Dorchester Hotel and then to the Grosvenor Hotel.
In 1934 they became the first husband-and-wife team to cross the Atlantic westbound and in 1936 Amy broke the Cape Town speed record once more. Her marriage was already foundering by this point, and she was granted a divorce in 1938 on the grounds of Mollison’s adultery.
Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War, Johnson became a pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary. On a routine flight in January 1941, she encountered difficulties in poor weather conditions, and is presumed to have drowned after bailing out over the Thames estuary. Her body was never recovered.