Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson was born in Hull on 1st July 1903, the daughter of John William Johnson, from the family firm of Andrew Johnson, Knudtzon and Company, fish merchants. She was also the grand-daughter of successful mill-owner William Hodge who was Mayor of Hull in 1860.

When she was eighteen she began a relationship with a Swiss businessman, Hans Arregger, who was living in Hull. Amy had hoped they would marry, but the relationship broke down and Hans married another woman, but he kept Amy’s letters for the rest of his life (they are now held at the Hull History Centre).

In 1925 after completing a B.A. degree at Sheffield University Amy returned to Hull to undertake a secretarial course at Wood's College. In the spring of 1926 she wrote to Hans: “...Mollie and I went up in the aeroplane. We both enjoyed it, but I would have liked to have done some stunts.” The following year she moved to London to pursue a career in advertising.

Amy Johnson

In September 1928, Amy began to take flying lessons at the London Aeroplane Club. After her first six lessons, she wrote home saying: "I have an immense belief in the future of flying", and from then on it became the most important thing in her life. After gaining her pilot's license, she left her job to work full-time as a mechanic. In December 1929 she became the first woman to qualify as a ground-engineer.

Solo flights
In May 1930 she flew solo to Australia in a Gipsy Moth plane nicknamed ‘Jason’ after her father’s business. Although she did not break the record she did attract considerable media attention and was awarded the CBE in the King’s birthday honours list. 

On 29th July 1932, Amy married fellow aviator Jim Mollison after a whirlwind romance. Neither marriage or her celebrity status could stop her flying and she broke her husband’s record of flying between the UK and Cape Town. The following year the couple flew together from the UK to the USA in a plane named Seafearer which Jim had adapted by installing huge fuel tanks to complete the journey without stopping. The trip nearly ended in disaster when just 55 miles short of their destination they ran out of fuel and crash landed. The couple were injured but they had achieved their goal and were rewarded with a ticker tape parade along Broadway in New York.

Amy never forgot her home town and in 1932 “The Amy Johnson Cup for Courage” was presented to the City of Hull. The cup was paid for with a purse of sovereigns Amy received from school children in Sydney and was to be awarded each year to a Hull child (under the age of 17) for a deed of courage.
Despite of the celebrity and record breaking achievements, Amy found it difficult to earn a living as a commercial pilot. Only two jobs had materialised in the 1930s, one for a few weeks in 1934, as a pilot for the daily London to Paris trips of Hillman Airways, the other for nine months in 1939 on the Solent air ferry service. The outbreak of war gave Amy the opportunity to become a pilot in the women's section of the Air Transport Auxiliary, flying machines and men to wherever they were needed.

Tragic accident
On 5th January 1941, she drowned when the plane she was flying crashed into the Thames Estuary during rough weather. A rescue boat did reach Amy, but it is believed the current from its propeller sucked her under water and she drowned.

Rumours at the time of Amy's death suggested that she was involved in some sort of undercover operation or that she had not been alone in the plane. She was not officially presumed dead until December 1943, when the Probate Court heard evidence from eye-witnesses of the crash. In 1961, the bones of a woman washed up at Herne Bay were thought for a while to be hers, but this was proved to be untrue, and no trace of her body has ever been found.

Her connection with Hull has been marked by the city in several ways including the Amy Johnson Cup and a commemorative bust at her old school Kingston High School (formerly the Boulevard Secondary School). Her personal collection of books, which includes childhood reading, and copies of works presented to her by their authors, is in the History Centre.

For many visitors to Hull, the most visible memorial is the statue in Prospect Street. This was erected after a group of Hull people launched a public campaign to raise £3000 and a local sculptor, Harry Ibbetson, was commissioned to design a statue. The money was quickly rasied with contributions coming from local business and from individuals across the country. A site was agreed in front of the new shopping complex then under construction. The statue, carved from Portland Stone shows Amy Johnson in her flying gear, was unveiled in June 1974 with Amy's sister Mollie in attendance. Amy's trophies and souvenirs were given by her family to the Bridlington Corporation, and are now permanently on display at Sewerby Hall (the house Amy had opened in 1936).

Details of Amy Johnson related collections held at the History Centre and a further reading list are also available.