A crumbling 100-year-old watchtower which was the centrepiece of an aircraft factory built by aviation hero Claude Grahame-White has reopened in Hendon.
The building has been relocated to stand in the adjacent RAF Museum, featuring displays on the life of Grahame-White, who was the first pilot to make a night flight in 1910, and recreations of his original office.
Military representatives were handed the keys to the new-look site in a ceremony today (December 13 2010), marking the resurrection of a structure which had fallen into disrepair since Hendon stopped being an airbase in the late 1960s.
Formerly a yachtsman, motoring enthusiast and automobile dealer, Grahame-White became obsessed with planes after attending an aviation meeting in 1909.
He went on to become the first pilot to fly mail and earn hero status for a narrow defeat in the inaugural 24-hour London to Manchester air race of 1910 before investing his fortune in the 220-acre plot at Hendon, which he turned into London’s first Flying School aerodrome.
During the First World War he took part in attacks on German ports as part of the Royal Naval Air Service, but he resigned to manage the business, which was employing 1,000 staff to deal with wartime contracts for aircraft. At the end of the war he sold the land to the Air Ministry and emigrated to California.
“This building provides a fitting tribute to Claude Grahame-White and the history of aviation in the local area,” said Peter Dye, the Director General of the RAF Museum.
“We hope the building will provide a new focal point for the local community and reinforce its importance in the history of British aviation.”