Heritage walk reveals fascinating glimpse into Alconbury Weald’s past

  • 15.02.2024
Heritage Walk

For over 70 years, Alconbury Airfield played a central part in military operations over Europe - falling under the control of both the British and American Air Forces - its complex and fascinating history intertwined with the surrounding communities. On Saturday 10 February 2024, residents and history enthusiasts gathered for a heritage walking tour to delve into the rich military legacy of Alconbury Weald.

Led by Jeff Hawley, Vice Chairman of the Airfield Research Group, the tour around the residential area provided a captivating journey through the past, highlighting the location of significant landmarks. This included one of the site’s historic control towers, which served as the nerve centre for airfield activities, coordinating aircraft movements and ensuring the safe departure and return of flights throughout World War II and the Cold War era.

Other highlights of the heritage walk were the iconic aircraft hangars of the 2nd Strategic Air Depot, which once housed formidable Second World War aircraft and served as vital maintenance and repair facilities for the 8th Air Force, 1st Air Division. As well as information about the architectural structure, those on the tour learned about the skilled technicians who kept the aircraft in peak condition for combat and reconnaissance missions during the Second World War and Cold War.

The tour concluded with an in-depth discussion of the aircraft Hush House, a noise suppressing facility for testing and maintaining aircraft engines, and the vital contributions its personnel made to the success of the airfield’s military aviation operations.

Natalie Leigh-Brown, Community Development Lead for Alconbury Weald, said: “Jeff has a vast knowledge of the development’s military history and we’ve had such great feedback from his Cold War avionics building tours during Heritage Open Days, that we wanted to provide other opportunities for him to share his enthusiasm and insights with the local community.”

The extraordinary history of the site is being woven into the fabric of Alconbury Weald, with heritage reflected in a variety of ways including careful conservation, re-use and interpretation of the site’s listed buildings, as well as the preservation and archiving of artefacts, records and drawings related to other buildings and uses. Alconbury Weald also contains a number of features that reflect the historic uses and layout of the area including Garland Park, which follows the line of one of the historic taxiways.

The main military Heritage Area coming forward as part of Phase 3 will focus on the historic alignments of the main runway and a neighbouring cluster of the site’s Cold War intelligence role – including two listed reinforced hangars for the TR1 spy plane (the follow-on version of the U2 high altitude plane) and the Avionics Building, which is the only one of its kind in Europe.

The heritage is also reflected in the street names, which in the first phase include historic names from families who owned or farmed the land before the airfield was developed, drawing on the rich history of people who have made this area their home over hundreds of years. The Enterprise Campus street names reflect the designers and chief engineers of the aircraft that flew from here: to inspire the next generation of manufacturers, engineers and innovators, who will be the future leaders and workforce of the businesses on site.

The Airfield Research Group is a nationally recognised aviation heritage and research charity based at Alconbury Weald. 

To find out more about Alconbury Weald’s fascinating history.

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