Air Radio Pioneer - Frederick Stanley Mockford
Selmeston is the birth and final resting place of Air Radio Pioneer and originator of the “Mayday” international distress call.
Frederick Stanley Mockford was the eldest of nine children of Sarah and Alfred Mockford who lived at Alciston House on the Lewes Rd at the head of The Street, Selmeston. His father farmed the 140 acres of Green House farm (then adjacent to St Mary’s church) and New Barn farm at Alciston, these farms meeting across Common Lane.
After his schooling, Frederick’s first job was as a Telegraphist for the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway. In 1915 he joined the Royal Flying Corps, becoming a ‘Wireless Officer’ and serving in Britain and France overseeing the installation in aircraft of two-way wireless sets and training aircrew in their use. After WW1 he joined the newly-formed Air Ministry helping in the development of wireless services for civil aviation including examining candidates for the ‘Air Operators (Radio) Licence’ and inventing an early phonetic alphabet code, commonly used today by the emergency services.
Moving to London’s first airport at Croydon, he became ‘Officer-in-Charge of Radio’ leading the team responsible for air traffic control communication with pilots. Whilst there he pioneered several innovative means of using wireless technology to assist pilots navigate and land in poor visibility.
In 1923 he was tasked with devising an easily-recognisable ‘distress’ call-sign. Mindful that much of Croydon’s air traffic of that time was with Paris, he chose the phonetic equivalent of the French phrase “m’aidez” = help me. In 1927 the International Radiotelegraph Convention adopted “Mayday” as the radio-telephone voice distress call and to this day, aviators and mariners worldwide use it when seeking urgent assistance.
His grave with memorial tablet is to the right of St Mary’s Church door, Selmeston.
Written by Geoff Gwynne and shared with his kind permission.
Geoff is the son of Kathleen Gwynne (nee Mockford) whose family lived at Alciston House on the A27, her father was Alfred Mockford.
William Douglas Parish (1833-1904) was vicar of Selmeston and Alciston for more than forty years and from 1877 to 1900 he was also chancellor of Chichester Cathedral.
He graduated from Trinity College, Oxford (1858). Curate of Beddingham (1861); Vicar of Selmeston with Alciston, Sussex (1865-1904); Chancellor of Chichester Cathedral, Sussex (1877-1900).
Author of A Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect (1875) and School Attendances Secured without Compulsion (1875).
In letter of 22 January 1872 the Rev Parish mentions that his father was a friend of A W Franks.
One of Parish’s friends was ‘Lewis Carroll’ (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) and it is said that parts of the Alice books were written in the Summer House of what is now The Old Vicarage.
There is no contemporary record of Carroll’s visits but he is known to have gone to Eastbourne regularly and there is a strong oral tradition regarding his visits to Selmeston. We are all familiar with Lewis Carroll’s awe-inspiring picture of the Jabberwock; but it may be news to some that this creature of his imagination was actually constructed of papier-mâché in the dining-room of Selmeston Vicarage, Sussex, where he frequently stayed with the then vicar.
Edward I stayed at the Priory in Lewes. Thirty-eight years earlier, his father had suffered a crushing defeat there at the hands of Simon de Montfort. With his court entourage, it is believed that he then progressed past Firle and through Alciston and Selmeston on his way to Michelham Priory. There have been no subsequent royal visits!
The Economist described Keynes as "Britain's most famous 20th-century economist." In addition to being an economist, Keynes was also a civil servant, a director of the Bank of England, founder of the Arts Council, and member of the Bloomsbury Group of intellectuals.
John lived at Tilton House, Selmeston, a short walk from Charleston Farmhouse. He died there in 1946.
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