Hooton Park Aerodrome – A Century of Aviation History Saved
The General Service Hangars and their surviving ancillary buildings at Hooton Park Aerodrome are a rare and important survival of First World War (WWI, WW1, World War I) aviation buildings. Built for the Royal Flying Corps in 1917, the three double hangars were used in both World Wars.
After the Second World War (WWII, World War II) the airfield remained in RAF use until 1957. The site was acquired by Vauxhall Motors in 1961, and used as part of their adjoining Ellesmere Port plant. The use of the hangars for industrial purposes ended in the late 1980s, by which time the historical significance of the site was becoming recognised. Initially listed at Grade II in 1988, a later review recognised their rarity and they were re-designated at Grade II* in 2003 and immediately included on the Heritage at Risk Register.
On the decline
By this time the hangars were in an advanced state of deterioration. They were never designed as long life structures and were built with the limited materials available in war time. The supporting walls are of thin brickwork with piers supporting the ‘Belfast’ trusses that form the primary roof structure. These trusses achieve a clear span in excess of 25 metres using short lengths of off-cut timber and a light-weight roof deck, but failure of the roof coverings was causing serious structural issues.
The size of the buildings, their lightweight construction and the advanced state of decay together with the resources required to stabilise them presented a major conservation challenge. These issues were exacerbated by the widespread presence of asbestos which had to be removed before any repairs could begin.
A new future in the new millennium
The site has been managed since 2000 by the Hooton Park Trust and its dedicated volunteers. The strategy adopted by the trust and Historic England was to initially focus on the central hangar, which was in better condition than the other two. Work to stabilise and weatherproof this building started in 2009, grant aided by Historic England and the landfill Communities Fund (WREN). With the central hangar stabilised, the focus moved to the southern hangar, and a programme of work in 2015-6 addressed major problems with its roof and brickwork. The two hangars now both bring in income as storage facilities.
The repair of the roofs, including the stunning Belfast trusses, is providing a safe home for vintage vehicles.
The northern hangar was then in a state of partial collapse, and was looking like a lost cause until a direct government grant in 2015 allowed the reinstatement of its masonry and roof trusses. While funds were not sufficient to complete the repairs, the work can now be completed as funds permit.
In 2018 Historic England committed further funds to assist with the repair of the annex buildings of the central and southern hangers. This work now underway and its completion will allow the two buildings to be removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.
Repair of the single storey annexes, supported by Historic England grant aid, will see the central and southern hangars removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.
While significant challenges remain at the aerodrome, much progress has been made in the last ten years, and the outlook is positive. At the centenary of the end of the First World War, it is fitting that these remarkable early 20th century structures are now being made fit for service for the 21st century.