Monday, 20 November 2017

Fighting for Air: Visit to RAF Museum, Colindale

On Saturday (18 November), some of the Fighting for Air team of volunteers went to the other side of London to visit the RAF Museum at Colindale or Hendon. We were there specifically to visit First World War in the Air galleries, which opened in 2014. The museum is on the site of a former aerodrome, that had itself been used as one of the ten defensive aerodrome bases encircling London in early 1916. Hendon itself had been used for years before the war and we heard about its early history, the history of the Grahame White factory and the general role of aviation in the war from the RAF Museum’s fantastic volunteer Sandra.

In the Foyer of the RAF Museum
Before we set off, one of the museum staff shared with us pictures of his dad’s cousin who fought in the Battle of Britain in 1940 and had been stationed at Croydon. I wrote down the name as Henry Michael Ferris so hope that is right!

It was a very drizzly November day so this photograph does not do the exterior of the original Grahame White offices and factory justice. Sandra explained about the almost forgotten figure of Claude Grahame White, who pioneered civil aviation before the war, holding flying weekends known as the ‘Hendon Habit’ that attracted enormous crowds and were on a par with Henley Regatta or the Grand National. Grahame also warned about the dangers of the ‘war in the air’ in an article Wake Up Britain! But the government did very little.

Grahame White Factory and Offices
When war broke out, the factory and airfield at Hendon were taken into the control of the government. The factory continued to make Grahame White’ signature aircraft, the Avro 504K, which was a good training plane, from 1913 to 1918, but made many more parts of other planes or put aircraft together. The factory expanded to have a workforce of 6,000 and had a welfare scheme, days out etc and was in many ways comparable to the later (and short lived) National Aircraft Factory at Croydon. Sandra explained how the Factory was moved brick by brick from its original location, just behind to the land of the RAF Museum. The link above also takes you to a virtual tour of the recreated offices.

In the hangar itself, real and replica aircraft tell the story of the ‘War in the Air’ alongside exhibits of training equipment, uniforms, aviation gear, a hut for leisure and various maps. This was all incredibly useful to help us understand how the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) used Croydon / Beddington Aerodrome as air defences in 1916-17 and training from 1917 to the end of the war. The Gosport system and tools of training, such as a speaking tube so an instructor could speak to a pilot, developed by Major Robert Smith Barry enabled me to understand the significance of the photographs our project has just had digitised. These photographs show training at Gosport and are part of our Lansdowne Albums (more on that in future posts, but a sneak preview of a page below).

It was a fascinating trip and I urge people to visit. Various parts are closed, though the main hangar and the WW1 galleries are open. The new hangar for Battle of Britain and other areas is finished in 2018 to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force’s existence. Staff thought the opening would be July / August.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Aerodrome not Airport!

Strictly speaking this blog will not be about Croydon Airport for the next 10 months or so. We'll be sharing research from our Heritage Lottery Funded project Fighting for Air about the origins of the airport in the aerodromes - Waddon and Wallington or Beddington - in Sutton and Croydon and the impact of the war locally.

In order to start this blog off on that theme, I thought we'd share some photographs of
Wellington or Beddington Aerodrome 1918
Wallington, also known as Beddington, aerodrome that Historic Croydon Airport Trust have copies. These belonged to a Royal Flying Corp (then Royal Air Force) officer Herbert Montgomery Martin. These photographs were scanned in by Cross and Cockade from a descendant of Martin some years ago.

This is just a short post to wet your appetite for the research and information to come from our project. . .
Waddon Camp
Bristol M1C crash landed in field at Beddington gasworks

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Volunteers needed for assistance with ‘Fighting for Air’ World War One Project
Just over one hundred years ago, two small airfields at the edge of Croydon became a focus for fighting German zeppelins and planes in World War One. Historic Croydon Airport Trust (HCAT) has received a National Lottery grant of £9,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to explore the ‘war in the air’ and how it impacted on the local area.  The Historic Croydon Airport Trust are the volunteer run charity that operates the popular Croydon Airport Visitor Centre and we are looking for volunteers to research and interpret information for this project.

Topics to be researched include Zeppelin raids on Croydon and London 1915-16, the development of air defences, the opening and function of the National Aircraft Factory, the female workforce at this factory, the airmen – many of whom became ‘celebrity’ pilots – and the impact on the local area. We are also looking to catalogue the relevant collections held in HCAT archives. The underlying aim is to share the research with a wider audience through the stories you uncover.
33 Leslie Rd, Croydon, Air Raid Damage, 1915 (c) IWM (HO26)

The information on the airport’s involvement in the First World War will inform a new display case and interpretation at Croydon Airport Visitor Centre micro-museum. The impact of the war and the fledgling aviation industry on the local area will be mapped on the History Pin website and a free heritage map produced.

We Need You!

We are looking for volunteers to help us with this project. We will provide training on research techniques, reading material around the subject area and using archives as well as time to share knowledge. There will be a visit to the War in the Air exhibition at the RAF Museum in Colindale (on Saturday 4 or 18 November), as well as presentations from experts.

We need people who can use email and basic Word and Excel programmes

Travel expenses to the RAF Museum Colindale and locations external to Croydon & Sutton will be paid.

The sessions will take place on monthly evening meetings from October 2017 to March 2018. Dates are 17 October, 14 November, 12 December, 9 January, 6 February and 6 March 6-8pm. The first one will be in the Croydon Airport Visitor Centre at Airport House.

Please send an email as an expression of interest with a paragraph of information about why you want to take part. We ask for a commitment to attend 3 of the evening sessions.

Contact: Debbie Challis on