Duxford: Gymnasium, chapel and cinema


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Building 207, Imperial War Museum, Duxford Airfield, Duxford, Cambridge, CB22 4QR


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Statutory Address:
Building 207, Imperial War Museum, Duxford Airfield, Duxford, Cambridge, CB22 4QR

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Cambridgeshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Gymnasium and chapel, built between 1940 and 1941 to designs by Frank Hawbest of the Air Ministry (drawing nos. 14604/40 and 15424/41), with a cinema projection annex added to the south-west gable around 1955.

Reasons for Designation

The gymnasium, chapel and cinema (Building 207), built between 1940 and 1941 and extended around 1955, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * the building survives externally very well and the internal configuration has been sufficiently retained to illustrate its crucial war time function;

Historic interest: * as an integral component of Duxford Airfield one of the finest and best-preserved examples of a fighter base representative of the period up to 1945 in Britain; * for Duxford’s important association with the Battle of Britain and the American fighter support for the Eighth Air Force.

Group value: * for its strong group value with the uniquely complete group of First World War technical and domestic buildings typical of both inter-war Expansion Periods of the RAF; * for the surviving spatial and functional relationship between the building and the flying field which it served.


Duxford’s suitability as a landing field led to its use for military flying during the Military Manoeuvres of 1912. Construction of the Training Depot Station (TDS) started in October 1917, and the first units including Americans arriving in March 1918. It was one of 63 Training Depot Stations in existence in November 1918, and the group of hangars and other buildings on the technical site now constitute one of the best-preserved group of buildings surviving from a First World War airfield in Britain. Training Depot Stations, which comprised the main instructional flying unit for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Air Force (RAF), were built in pairs, Duxford and its sister station at nearby Fowlmere making one wing. Each TDS comprised three flying units, each having a coupled general service shed and one repair hangar (the Duxford example was demolished in 1968, leaving Old Sarum in Wiltshire and Leuchars in Scotland as the only examples which survive as part of hangar groups). Other specialist buildings, such as carpenters’ shops, dope and engine-repair shops, and technical and plane stores, characterised these sites.

Duxford was one of a core number of stations retained for the RAF after 1918, first as a flying training school and then (from 1 April 1923) as a fighter station with 19 Squadron. This was designated as a mobile (expeditionary) squadron, and they remained on the base until replacement by the Eagle Squadron of American volunteers in August 1941. 19 Squadron’s expertise resulted in the station introducing a number of aircraft into RAF service, such as the Gloster Gauntlet which it received in January 1935 and was displayed along with the prototype of the Gloster Gladiator at George V’s Silver Jubilee in July of that year. The first Spitfire to an RAF squadron was delivered to Duxford by Supermarine’s test pilot in August 1938, and 12,000 visitors caught their first sight of the Spitfire during Empire Day on 20 May 1939. With one exception, the wooden-framed barrack buildings were replaced in a rebuilding campaign that commenced in 1928. A major phase of modernisation was approved in 1931, resulting in the construction of the station headquarters and guardroom on the south camp, and the construction of domestic buildings in the north camp - the sergeants' mess being the first building ready for occupation. In an attempt to achieve parity with Germany’s increasing air strength, the British Government introduced a number of schemes for the expansion of the RAF, which followed in quick succession between 1934 and 1939. The Cabinet (National Government) passed five schemes: ‘A’, ‘C’, ‘F’, ‘L’ and ‘M’, which led to a large-scale re-building programme at existing RAF stations (including Duxford) and to the development of numerous new aerodromes.

During the Battle of Britain (10 Jul – 31 Oct 1940), Duxford was the most southerly airfield in 12 Group, responsible for the defence of the Midlands and East of England but also making it well-placed to reinforce and support 11 Group to the south, which bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe assault. Czech and Polish squadrons operated from Duxford during the battle, and on 15 September - the critical point in the battle - five Duxford squadrons led by Squadron Leader Douglas Bader claimed their highest score of 52 aircraft destroyed (plus 16 probably destroyed and 3 damaged). Bader - Commander of 242 Squadron initially based at Coltishall - was the instigator of what became known as the Duxford Wing, (a strategy whereby he led 3 and later 5 squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes into battle), which formed the focus of disagreement concerning fighter defence strategy which continued into the winter of 1940 Some of the pillboxes, air raid shelters and fighter pens installed by 1940 for the purposes of airfield defence and protection against attack have survived.

The arrival of the RAF’s Air Fighting Development Unit at Duxford, in December 1940, saw a wide variety of new aircraft for evaluation and testing, including the replacement of the Hurricane, Hawker Typhoon, Mosquito and Mustang (the most powerful fighter of the Second World War). The airfield was officially handed over to become base 357 of the United States Eighth Air Force on 1 April 1943, the first of 75 P47 Thunderbolts arriving on the same day.. The first of the new Merlin-powered P51 Mustangs, which were to play a critically important role in the European air war, arrived to replace the Thunderbolts after the completion of the steel matting runway in December 1944. The base in its fighter support role was responsible for the destruction of 338 aircraft in the air and a further 358 on the ground, with the loss of 167 aircraft and 113 pilots. Duxford’s post-war service as a jet fighter station, with Meteors, Hunters and then Javelins, was marked by the completion of a replacement runway in concrete (6000 feet long with Operational Readiness Platforms at both ends) in August 1951.

RAF Duxford was closed in 1961, and subsequently chosen as one of the locations for filming of the Battle of Britain in 1968, (when the 1918 repair section hangar was destroyed). In 1969, the Ministry of Defence declared its intention to dispose of Duxford, and the Imperial War Museum duly requested permission to use part of one of the airfield’s hangars as temporary storage. The Imperial War Museum was founded in 1917, and opened to the public at Crystal Palace in Sydenham Hill in 1920, before moving to the Imperial Institute in South Kensington in 1924, and finally the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Southwark in 1936. The museum was originally intended to record the civil and military war effort and sacrifice of Britain and its empire during the First World War. The museum's remit has since expanded to include all conflicts in which British or Commonwealth forces have been involved since 1914. As of 2012, the museum aims to provide for, and to encourage, the study and understanding of the history of modern war and wartime experience. Duxford became the first outstation of the Imperial War Museum in 1976, and Cambridgeshire County Council joined with the Imperial War Museum and the Duxford Aviation Society to purchase the runway in 1977. The construction of the M11 along the east boundary of the site in 1977 shortened the runway by about 1,200ft (366m). The final aircraft to land at Duxford before the runway was shortened was Concorde test aircraft G-AXDN, now on display in the Airspace hangar. In October 2008, an agreement was reached between Cambridgeshire County Council and the Imperial War Museum, under which the runways and 146 acres of surrounding grassland were acquired by the museum.

The gymnasium and attached chapel were constructed between 1940 and 1941 to designs by Frank Hawbest, Air Ministry architect (drawing nos. 14604/40 and 15424/41). These facilities were built at nearly all operational and Officer Training Unit stations. A projection room annex was added to the west gable of the gymnasium in 1955, and the gymnasium block subdivided to include a cinema auditorium in the south-west end, and a gymnasium in the north-east end (with folding partition doors to the chapel). The chapel annex was sub-divided into a chancel (which uses the gymnasium to accommodate the congregation), Roman Catholic chapel and vestry. The gymnasium and chapel are now in use as storage rooms.


Gymnasium and chapel, built between 1940 and 1941 to designs by Frank Hawbest of the Air Ministry (drawing nos. 14604/40 and 15424/41), with a cinema projection annex added to the south-west gable around 1955.

MATERIALS: rendered brick walls, steel-framed windows, and corrugated asbestos roof covering.

PLAN: range of rectangular-plan blocks laid out on a north-east – south-west axis: gymnasium block with an attached chapel to the north-east end, and a projector room annex added to the south-west end. A toilet block is attached to the north-west elevation of the gymnasium (now cinema and gymnasium), and a changing / storage block attached to the south-east elevation.

EXTERIOR: the gymnasium block (now cinema and gymnasium) and chapel are double-height single-storey structures, the roof of the cinema and gymnasium block being higher than that of the chapel. The pitched roofs have a corrugated asbestos covering, with vents to the slopes (relocated from the ridge in the late C20 or early C21). The two-storey projection room annex, and single-storey toilet block and changing / storage block have flat roofs. The walls are constructed of red brick and rendered; the front (south-east) and rear elevations of the cinema and gymnasium block have buttresses to each of the nine bays. The cinema and gymnasium block has a band of steel-framed clerestory windows to the front and rear elevations. The chapel is five bays in length with slender steel-framed casement windows to the front and rear elevations, and one central window to the north-east end. The single-storey changing / storage block and toilet block each have double-leaf doors, those to the front elevation having a sign reading ‘ASTRA’ over. An additional set of double doors and steps provide emergency access from the north-west corner of the cinema auditorium. The projection room annex has a flight of steps along the south-west elevation rising to the projector room at first floor, over a ground-floor store. INTERIOR: the interior of the cinema has a steel-framed fink truss roof supported on buttresses on the north-west and south-east walls. The auditorium has tiered seating (replaced in the late C20 or early C21), and a sloped floor descending to a stage and screen at the north-east end. A partition wall to the rear of the screen divides the cinema from a gymnasium at the north-east end. The former changing room and storage room of the gymnasium now provide an office and storage room for the cinema. The wall between the gymnasium and chapel has folding partition doors, most likely introduced around 1955 when the projection room annex was added and gymnasium divided. The chapel was divided in the C20 into a chancel (the congregation of which would sit in the gymnasium), a Roman Catholic chapel (at the north-east end) and a vestry. The gymnasium and chapel are now in use as store rooms.


Books and journals
Dobinson, C S, Twentieth Century Fortifications in England Volume IX.1 and IX.2: Airfield Themes, (1997)
Francis, P, British Military Airfield Architecture From Airships To The Jet Age, (1996)
Freeman, Roger A, Airfields of the Eighth: Then and Now (After the Battle), (1978), 72-76
Ramsey, W G (ed), The Battle of Britain Then and Now, (1989), 198-211
Imperial War Museum, ‘History’, accessed 2 October 2018 from http://www.imperialwarmuseumduxford.colindaylinks.com/history1.html
Airfield Research Group Ltd, ‘ARG Research Note No.35: Duxford Historic Appraisal, Part 1’, March 2010
Airfield Research Group Ltd, ‘ARG Research Note No.36: Duxford Historic Appraisal, Part 2’, March 2010
Raby, A, Duxford Airfield: the Story of a Famous Fighter Station (unpublished)
WYG and Bidwells on behalf of Imperial War Museums, ‘Significance Assessment: IWM Duxford, Cambridge – Volume 2: North Side’, July 2016


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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