Historic First & Second World War airfields granted listed status

By David Prudames | 02 December 2005
Shows an aerial photo of Bicester airfield comprised of a series of large buildings, roads and glider aircraft.

Bicester in Oxfordshire was built as a bomber station in 1924 and is among the listed airfields. © English Heritage.

Hangars from the earliest days of British military aviation and operations rooms from the Battle of Britain are among 255 historic airfield buildings in England given listed status by Culture Minister David Lammy.

The announcement recognises the national and international significance of number of sites all over the country.

Among them is Larkhill in Wiltshire, the country’s first military airfield, Scampton in Lincolnshire, host of the famous Dambuster squadron in 1943, and the Battle of Britain fighter station at Biggin Hill.

"As we saw with the Remembrance Day celebrations in November it is important for younger generations to remember and learn from the past, and the courage of our veterans," said the culture minister.

Shows a photo of some ruined buildings at Bicester airfield.

Bicester has a range of buildings still intact. © English Heritage.

"I hope the protection of these historic sites will help to ensure that," he added. "These sites and the buildings on them are testimony to generations of heroes."

Listing a building affords it statutory protection so that if for any reason part or complete demolition is mooted, it can be prevented. Buildings are given one of a number of grades from Grade I - the highest - to Grade II.

Of the airfield buildings just one, the underground bunker containing the Group Operations Room from where the vital 11 Fighter Group was commanded in the Battle of Britain at Uxbridge, was given Grade I status. Three, including the hangars at Larkhill in Wiltshire, were made Grade II*.

Dating back to 1910, these buildings were used by the pioneers of the Royal Flying Corps and are considered to be of similar historic significance as the remains of the Wright Brothers’ workshops in the USA.

Shows an aerial photo of North Weald airfield in Essex.

North Weald Airfield in Essex is among the listed sites. Courtesy Arthur Moreton, North Weald Airfield Museum.

Operations blocks at Debden, Essex, and Duxford, Cambridgeshire (both vital fighter stations during the Battle of Britain), were also made Grade II*, while eight buildings were upgraded to Grade II* and 160 made Grade II.

This raft of listings has come about following a comprehensive survey of England’s military aviation sites by English Heritage.

A process of evaluation and consultation was undertaken with the Ministry Of Defence, which owns 19 of the 31 sites, military historians and the private owners of some of the sites.

It concluded with the recognition of the importance of protecting airfields for their international historical importance.

Shows a black and white photo of some men seemingly pushing a Spitfire aircraft by its wing.

The RAF and its iconic Spitfire fighters played a major role in winning the Second World War. © Science and Society Picture Library.

"Powered flight transformed modern warfare," explained Roger Bowdler, head of designation at English Heritage. "Britain's aviation structures form powerful witnesses to the world wars and to the role of the Royal Air Force in securing victory. The aeroplanes have - generally - departed, but the aerodromes remain."

He added: "The hangars, officers' messes, technical buildings and defensive structures form moving ensembles that provoke remembrance and demand respect. Our recommendations are underpinned by considerable research, and we are proud to be recommending these special places for protection and appropriate re-use."

The strategy for protecting these military sites has focused on the identification of the most complete, historically important and strongly representative sites.

Criteria used included identification of the most complete sites and those most strongly representative of functionally distinct airbase types.

Shows a photo of some white, black-beamed, chalets at Netheravon airfield in Wiltshire.

A set of chalets built to accommodate officers at Netheravon airfield in Wiltshire. © English Heritage.

Also a factor was identification of buildings and sites strongly associated with key historical episodes, as well as individual and well-preserved buildings and groups of intrinsic architectural and/or historic merit and international context.

"These iconic historic aviation sites, along with those who served, played a crucial part in achieving the successes of the two world wars," said Don Touhig, Under Secretary of State for Defence and Minister for Veterans.

"Air power had an increasingly important role in armed conflict throughout the last century and is an aspect of our heritage that should not be forgotten."

Touhig added that listing these sites demonstrated a commitment to protecting the UK’s defence heritage: "I hope that many of the sites and building will be enjoyed by generations to come," he said.

For full details of listed airfields, click here.

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