Plaque unveiled at Airport to mark historic Yuri Gagarin visit

Manchester Airport has today, 12th July 2011, unveiled a plaque at Terminal 3 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of a visit to Manchester by the first man in space, Russian Cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin.

It was Gagarin's first visit outside of the so-called ‘Soviet bloc’, and at the time he was still the only human to have orbited the earth. The flight was also Gagarin's first in a British plane, and he took over the controls of the plane for a short time on the way to Manchester.

He landed at Ringway - as the airport was then known - on a specially chartered Viscount 800 aircraft belonging to BEA, one of the airlines from which T3-based British Airways was formed. Rapturous crowds of thousands who had waited in the pouring rain greeted his arrival. A huge crowd of people had pushed through the airport gates to get on to the tarmac and, as Gagarin stepped from the plane, a surge from the crowd carried him away from the party of officials waiting to meet him. The police eventually managed to force a path for Gagarin back to the jostled city representatives. Gagarin then tried to make his way to a waiting car, but was again swept up by the crowd, which this time took him away in a sea of backslapping to the far end of a hangar, far from his car. Gagarin never lost his composure, smiling and waving as he was swept around and around, finally reaching his transport. Airport officials at the time stated it was the biggest and most enthusiastic welcome ever given to anyone there.

Using photographs and historic plans of the airport, Manchester Airport historians with the help of British Airways, have pinpointed the exact location where Gagarin’s plane stopped, which is now the location of the Terminal 3 arrivals hall at the airport.

Andrew Harrison, Managing Director, Manchester Airport, said: “The airport is itself intertwined in Manchester’s rich historical tapestry, so we felt that it was important to recognise this significant event. We believe that the location where the plaque will be situated is accurate to within a matter of metres of where Mr. Gagarin first stepped on to British soil, at Manchester Airport.”

Gagarin’s visit to Manchester was prompted by an invitation from the Amalgamated Union of Foundry Workers - one of the world's largest unions, with a strong presence in the then union-strong industrial north, and whose headquarters were in Moss Side. Before he became a pilot, Gagarin was a foundry worker and the Union decided to honour his out of this world achievement by offering him honorary membership of the Union, inviting him to Manchester to present him with a medal.

Rare footage of Gagarin’s arrival has also been unveiled by space-author Francis French, originally from Manchester and now a Director at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. The footage shows Yuri Gagarin being greeted at Ringway by Fred Hollingsworth, President of the Amalgamated Union of Foundry Workers who had invited him: 

The fragile film broke when it was being screened for Francis in 1987 and was restored digitally at the San Diego Air & Space Museum, as a free educational opportunity to learn more about a historic moment when East met West.

Commenting on the visit, Francis French, said: “The combination of Gagarin's unique achievement and the Soviets' clever publicity combined to create a welcome in Manchester that was like nothing ever seen there before. In this decade, when most people would not recognise even Neil Armstrong if they passed him by in the street, never mind any other space farer, it is hard to imagine the star quality that Gagarin carried – it had more in common with Beatlemania.

“This was about something that had never been achieved before in human history, and here was a chance to meet the man who did it. It is notable that Airport officials stated it was the biggest and most enthusiastic welcome ever given to anyone there.”

Amongst the crowds lining the streets for Gagarin's visit to Manchester back in 1961 was eight year old Jim Battle - now Councillor Jim Battle, Deputy Leader of the Council - who saw Gargarin pass by from his dad's shoulders. He said: "Yuri Gagarin was welcomed as a super hero. To see a real spaceman was breathtaking. It was really something."

An exhibition celebrating the Gagarin’s visit to the Manchester and Trafford area, with archive photography, fine art, video, Soviet space memorabilia and rarely seen artefacts from the extraordinary Cold War era in which he lived; runs until 27th August 2011 at the Waterside Arts Centre, Sale, Manchester, M33 7ZF.

The Lord Mayor of Manchester, Councillor Harry Lyons is also to host a commemorative civic event in the Banqueting Room of Manchester Town Hall at 13:00 on Tuesday 12th July.


The plaque will remain on permanent display for passengers and members of the public alike to see at Arrivals in Terminal 3.

-ENDS-

For more information please contact the Manchester Airports Group press office on 0161 489 2700 or press.office@manairport.co.uk

Published on: 12/07/2011 15:00:00