Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome, near Maldon in Essex, has won £4.3m of National Lottery funding that will enable it to be transformed into a major visitor attraction.
The near-complete example of a First World War aerodrome, untouched and largely forgotten for 60 years, was built in September 1916 as the main base for No 37 (Home Defence) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps (RFC), and played a pivotal role in defending London and the British mainland from German zeppelins and Gotha bombers.
The squadron transitioned from the RFC to the newly independent RAF on 1 April 1918 and remained on station until March 1919 when it transferred to Biggin Hill.
Thereafter the aerodrome reverted to agricultural use, leaving behind a unique collection of historic buildings in their original form. Some of the timber structures were removed or collapsed but the 24 surviving structures – including an RFC Officers’ Mess, Pilots’ Ready Room, Airmen’s Mess, Reception Building and Squadron Headquarters – plus the airfield and its parade ground remained relatively unaltered and forgotten until local historians and military aviation enthusiasts began to recognise its importance, which was then confirmed after a survey in 1997 by the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments.
Since 2015 some of the buildings have started to be restored and opened up to the public, with basic facilities such as a shop and café attracting more than 12,000 visitors a year. Now, a major conservation project, backed by National Lottery funding, will…
- Restore and bring back into use five buildings, four of which are on the Heritage at Risk register
- Create a purpose-built welcome centre with visitor orientation, a café and shop
- Fully restore an officers’ accommodation block and use it to house a major new permanent exhibition – exploring what life was like to live as an RFC officer
- Fully restore two more accommodation buildings to enable them to host temporary exhibitions, as well as being flexible spaces for school use and income-generating private hire
- Upgrade the historic toilet block and infrastructure works, including paths, power supplies and drainage
- Deliver activities and learning including a community archaeology project, wildlife trail and oral history project
- Train volunteers, apprentices and interns and recruit for two full-time posts
Lord Ashton of Hyde, First World War Minister said: “This grant will go towards preserving a rare example of a First World War aerodrome that was pivotal in protecting Britain. As we approach the final year of our centenary commemorations, it is fitting that we are making efforts to protect our First World War heritage for future generations.”
No other near complete First World War aerodrome remains in England. So the restoration of Stow Maries Aerodrome comes at a significant moment, with the 100th anniversary of the RAF in April 2019.