Engine running pens and VTO blast grid at Dunsfold Airfield, Cranleigh, Surrey – Awarded Listed Building Status
The latest news from Historic England is published here:
Following the application to add the above building to the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, we have now considered all the representations made and completed our assessment of the building. Having considered our recommendation, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has decided to add the Engine running pens and VTO blast grid at Dunsfold Airfield to the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. They are now listed at Grade II.
Please click on the link below to download a copy of Historic England’s advice report, which gives the principal reasons for this decision. The List entry for this building, together with a map, has now been published on the National Heritage List for England, and will be available for public access from tomorrow. This List can be accessed through the Historic England website.
The local planning authority will now be preparing the statutory notices required under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.
DAHS Editor’s note: This brings the total of Listed Structures on the Airfield site to 5:
Primemeads Farm – Grade II
VTO Blast Pads – Grade II
Engine Running Pens – Grade II
Royal Observer Corps Monitoring Post – Grade II
Canadian War Memorial – Grade II
Duncan Simpson 23rd December 1927 – 7th December 2017
We very much regret to announce the death on 7th December of Duncan Simpson OBE CEng FRAes FIMechE
Duncan was at the forefront of UK military aviation for many years. He played a key role in the development of the Hunter fighter, the Harrier and Sea Harrier, and led development of the Hawk advanced trainer also flown by the Red Arrows.
His link with Dunsfold is inextricable – Simpson joined Hawker in 1954 and became Hawker’s Chief Test Pilot in 1970, notable that he flew the P.1127 as well as making the first flight in a Hawk. He was Master of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators in 2002, and in 2011 received the Guild’s Award of Honour in recognition of his outstanding lifetime contribution to aviation. He was also a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
Latterly he served with distinction as the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum’s Honorary President from 2007 until 2013.
His son John contacted the Heritage Society to inform us of his father’s passing: “He died peacefully at his home on Thursday 7th December 2017 having endured severe ill health since early 2015. We are aware of the highly valued relationship he had with all those at Dunsfold. We would very much appreciate it if you could please pass on this message to others who remember him. Any former colleagues or close friends we would very much like to hear from. Messages can be sent to email@example.com . A Memorial Service is being held at St Clement Danes WC2R 1DH on Tuesday 24th April at 11am and after at the RAF Club W1J 7PY. Any donations please to the RAF Benevolent Fund.
A Memorial Service to celebrate his life will take place at St Clements Dane’s on Tuesday, 24th April 2018″
WWII veteran Reg Day, who served at Dunsfold Aerodrome, celebrated his 95th birthday at the aerodrome earlier this month. Reg was stationed with the RAF 98 Squadron at Dunsfold between 1943 and 1944. He now has collated a huge wealth of artefacts and memorabilia to form the Reg Day Memorial Museum, based at Dunsfold Airfield.
Reg Day Museum Website (currently down)
On Saturday 15th July we will be holding an Open Day at Dunsfold Aerodrome for our VC10 ZA150, which lives there. This was the very last VC10 of 54 built at Brooklands in the 1960s and was one of the last two to fly with the RAF from Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. On its retirement in September 2013 it was acquired by Brooklands Museum and flew in to Dunsfold, where a team of dedicated volunteers maintain it in running order.
Entry is by pre-purchased ticket only and the timetable is as follows:
- 12.00-14.00 Pre-booked visitors will arrive via Stovolds Hill
- 13.00-13.15 Taxi run
- 13.45-15.30 Visits on board in small groups
- Last entry to Dunsfold will be 14.00
Waverley Borough Council’s Executive decided at its meeting on Tuesday 6th June that it was ‘not suitable’ to establish a Conservation Area at the historic Dunsfold WW2 Airfield site, the birthplace of the Harrier Jump Jet, and now used among other things for filming TV’s Top Gear.
The proposal to consider the site for conservation on the basis of its heritage value and the history associated with it, had come from local residents in late 2016 and the Council carried out a public consultation which ended in April this year.
87 responses were received, including support from 3 Parish Councils, and a letter from Historic England. The report presented to the Council on Tuesday explained that 84 were in favour and only 1 response was against the proposal, but went on to summarise that objection and agreed with several of its assertions.
One of the key supporters of the idea of a Conservation Area is the Dunsfold Airfield History Society (DAHS). A spokesperson for DAHS said; ‘This decision by Waverley is hugely disappointing and clearly flies against the overwhelming views of the local population, and people interested in the proper conservation and celebration of the heritage of this unique site’.
While the Council pointed out that there are no set criteria for assessing the merits of a Conservation Area, they did cite the extensive guidance provided by Historic England. In their report, Council Officers agreed that the site is of historic importance and that it is already an Undesignated Heritage Asset. ‘The problem with that’, said the DAHS spokesperson, ‘ is that it adds absolutely no level of protection.
We asked that question of the Executive in writing but our question was not read out and no answer given at the meeting’. Council Officers had visited the site for one day to assess the heritage assets, and concluded that the condition of the majority of them was ‘poor’.
Historic England has recently listed Primemeads Farm within the site and is still separately assessing several other structures for potential listing. According to Historic England ‘another mechanism by which the significance of an airfield can be highlighted, as a historic landscape, is through conservation area status’.
Making former military airfields into conservation areas does not stop development and change but adds a level of protection and control for the local authority when changes happen. There are 9 other former military airfields across the country that do have conservation area status, and DAHS said ‘It seems a no brainer that Dunsfold, now under threat of complete demolition, should be afforded at least the same level of protection that these other airfields have’.
Dunsfold Aerodrome was built in 1942 by the First Canadian Army as a temporary airfield for use by the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII. The site was completed in just 20 weeks. The layout of the airfield consisted of three standard runways (one 2,000 yards and the other two 1,400 yards), laid out in a triangular pattern with a perimeter track surrounding it. Dispersal sites clustered off to the south and east and a main technical area was located to the north. The airfield was opened on 16 October 1942 by Lieutenant General A.G.L McNaughton of the First Canadian Army with a commemorative stone placed in front of the control tower that still exists. The first arrivals were three Mustang squadrons from the RCAF in December 1942. They mainly carried out reconnaissance as part of the army cooperation.In June 1943, Army Co-operation command was disbanded and the airfield became a fighter station allocated to the new 2nd Tactical Air Force.
Dunsfold was one of five airfields used by No.2 group and was home to three Mitchell II squadrons. These squadrons were part of bombing missions aimed at the Germans’ long range weapons sites, and, in the months prior to D-Day, aimed at sites which could reinforce German positions after the invasion. By the end of October 1944, the Mitchell squadrons had left and Dunsfold was placed on care and maintenance.
After the war when the airfield was used as a landing ground for DC3 Dakotas bringing back over 47,000 prisoners of war. In August 1946, the Aerodrome was declared inactive and the airfield was leased to Skyways Ltd, a charter airline. Skyways used the airfield to refurbish, test fly and deliver Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft for the Portuguese Air Force, it also played a Major part in the Berlin Airlift between 1948 and 1949, making 2,730 of the total 21,785 flights to Berlin.
Following the liquidation of Skyways in 1950, the lease was acquired by the Hawker Siddeley Group. The company used the airfield for final assembly work and flight testing of its Sea Hawks, Hunters, Sea Furies, Gnats, Harriers and Hawks. From the 1960s, the company became involved in developing Vertical/Short Take-off and Landing (VSTOL) planes (Harriers). Much of the work was carried out at Dunsfold and some of the engine testing bays still survive. It is around this time that the runways were lengthened/widened to allow for testing. On 21 October 1960, the first P1127 (the forerunner of the Harrier Jump jet) made its first tethered flight at Dunsfold, which led to its first conventional flight in November of the same year.
In 1969, the Harrier was introduced into the RAF Service with the ground training phase taking place at Dunsfold. Until 2000, when BAe Systems ceased activity at the aerodrome, all derivatives of the Harrier family of aircraft evolved from Dunsfold. The airfield was also used by the Royal Observer Corps (ROC). A monitoring post was constructed in 1961, in the south western corner of the airfield for nuclear reporting during the Cold War. The post was closed in 1991 following the break-up of the Communist Bloc.
The National Post newspaper in Toronto Canada has run an article about Dunsfold Aerodrome, entitled Local legend of Canadian entombed at WWII airfield.
Their story stems from local legend and anecdote – but without documented evidence.
For decades, staff at the Dunsfold Aerodrome in southern England talked of the dead Canadian beneath the runway. Clifford Davies heard the story when he started working there in the 1960s, 20 years after the Royal Canadian Engineers built the airfield during the Second World War.
The story, as Davies recalled, was about a Canadian accidentally killed by a machine during construction of one of the runways. Under war-time pressure to finish the aerodrome on schedule, the Canadian serviceman’s comrades kept working, leaving him entombed in the cement.
“It was just general knowledge, really,” Davies said, adding that he had never seen any evidence of the claim. “It was a very strong rumour.”
Now the historic aerodrome, 60 kilometres southwest of London, is facing the prospect of being replaced by an 1,800-unit residential development. And Davies — a long-time opponent of the proposal — has raised concerns that construction on the site might amount to the desecration of a grave.
But after conducting an investigation this month, an official with the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) said the story is just folklore.
So it begs the question – does anyone know more? Who lived or worked at Dunsfold in 1942 and would have direct memory of any incident?
The real history of the Top Gear Track
The BBC Top Gear track has been laid out on the main runway of the former WWII RAF and RCAF air base. The perimeter roads used for Gambon and the finish line were laid over the route of original B-Roads that were ripped up when the airfield was constructed in 1941. One cottage, Broadmead, was situated where the TopGear FollowThrough is now, but the cottage was lifted whole and winched half a mile on rollers to the otherside of the airfield.
P R E S S R E L E A S E : Launch of Dunsfold Airfield History Society
Formed by a group of people with a love of local history, today marks the launch of a new community group in Waverley, Surrey.
Its name describes its focus; the Dunsfold Airfield History Society (DAHS) will be concerned with every aspect of the historic events that are associated with the former military aerodrome as well as its still-existing physical assets. This includes:
- Its origins as a Canadian-built WW2 bomber airfield
- Association with the Berlin Air Lift
- Early post-war civil aviation (‘Skyways’)
- The development of some iconic British fighter jets (the Hawk, Hunter, and perhaps most importantly the Harrier jump jet)
- The modern-day use of the aerodrome for major events such as ‘Wings and Wheels’
Top Gear Track and Studio Continue reading