Woodford is considered one of the most important sites in the history of British aviation, birthplace of numerous world-renowned aircraft.
Starting with the Avro 504, over 20,000 aeroplanes were built on the site. The Anson, the Vulcan and the legendary Lancaster bomber were al built on what would come to be known as the Woodford Aerodrome. Construction work is now complete on a new Heritage Museum built to house the tens of thousands of artefacts and pieces of memorabilia which celebrate the amazing work carried out in this part of Britain.
As part of the sale of the site to Avro Heritage Limited in December 2011, BAE Systems agreed to fund the development of this exciting new centre. Working jointly with the Avro Heritage Trust, BAE Systems real estate experts have been running the project to transform the aerodrome’s former Airfield Fire Section into a modern, first class visitor attraction.
The build is now entering its final stages with BAE Systems officially handing over the museum to the Trust, but remaining involved with the project as the Trust prepares for its public opening in the summer.
Aviation pioneer and the first Englishman to fly an all-British aeroplane, Sir Alliot Verdon Roe founded one of the world’s first aircraft manufacturers, A. V. Roe & Company (Avro) in Manchester in 1910.
Avro moved production to New Hall Farm at Woodford in Cheshire, which would later become Woodford Aerodrome, in 1924. During the Second World War over 3,000 Lancaster Bombers were assembled in Woodford, having been produced in Chadderton, near Manchester and shipped by road to Woodford.
In 1963 the Avro factories at Chadderton and Woodford became part of Hawker Siddeley Aviation before being amalgamated into British Aerospace in 1977 and then BAE Systems in 1999.
In its lifetime Woodford saw in excess of 20,000 aircraft being built at the facility including the Anson, Lancaster Bomber, Canberra, Vulcan, Nimrod and BAe146.
"We’ve got a proud history here in the North West with Woodford and Chadderton playing such an important part in Britain’s aviation heritage, it is important that this legacy was not lost." Said Harry Holmes of the Avro Heritage Trust.
Harry, a former RAF man who became a British Aerospace public relations manager at Woodford added: "Although we no longer have a working presence, many of our aircraft are still flying in various parts of the world as a tribute to the dedication of our workforce over many years."
"With the support and enthusiasm from BAE Systems and our new owners we are moving in to an exciting phase in the heritage centre’s life. I think it’s important that when we plan for the future we also appreciate and preserve our past."
Previously the Avro Heritage Trust been squashed into the site's old personnel block. Following the sale, the old aerodrome fire station was identified as a building that could be redeveloped and become a new home for the Trust.
However moving into the renovated fire station might seem like a strange twist of fate for some. Following a fire at Chadderton in 1959, a great deal of Avro’s heritage was lost including original drawings of the Lancaster bomber, Vulcan and Nimrod.
The Trust worked to recoup the lost heritage and build up a collection of historical documents and artefacts. The tiny heritage centre was staffed by volunteers and only open to the public by appointment. With the sale of the Woodford site and the commitment of funding from BAE Systems to build a museum, a new and exciting chapter in the Trust’s history began.
The majority of the now unused buildings on the aerodrome site are due to be demolished, with plans in place for 940 new homes to be built as part of a six year development. In recognition of the proud history of the aerodrome, the runway cross used by so many renowned aircraft will become a tree lined boulevard, reminding those who are fortunate enough to live in the new Woodford development of its legacy.
The main contractor, Conlon Construction Ltd., was selected due to their experience in building museums and their understanding of the aims and importance of the project. The new museum has been designed by planning and architectural consultancy Cassidy + Ashton to be distinct from the planned housing development, with materials chosen to reflect the environment that it sits in, whilst echoing its industrial heritage.
The project manager for BAE Systems is Tim Wallis. In addition to overseeing the construction of the facility, a major part of the former RAF man’s role involves working with the Trust on the design of the interior space in the museum as well as advising them on making the challenging transition from being a small heritage collection run by volunteers, to a commercial venture which houses significant archives, research rooms a shop and restaurant. Describing the project, Tim said:
"The AVRO Heritage Trust and BAE Systems have made a significant undertaking to recognise the historic contribution that A. V. Roe and his company made towards global aircraft development.”
"The renovations will enable the thousands of artefacts collected by the Trust to be displayed permanently on site, preserving Woodford’s historic links with British aviation history."
"The combined effort and experience of BAE Systems and Conlon Construction will soon provide the Trust with what will surely become an outstanding aviation attraction."
Once complete, the museum will be large enough to house the Trust’s entire collection of over 30,000 artefacts on the development of aircraft. As such the facility is likely to attract interest from aircraft enthusiasts from around the world and has already been profiled in numerous global aircraft publications.
Some 80% of the Trust’s collection will be on display at any one time, with the remaining 20% rotated throughout the year so there will always be something new for visitors to see.
The star of the show is likely to be the Vulcan B2 bomber, standing guard outside the new centre. Built at Woodford and formerly serving in the RAF, it weighs in at 30 tonnes and has a wingspan of 111ft.
Another main attraction at the museum will be a complete nose and cockpit section of a Vulcan. This will be housed in the specially designed glass frontage of the museum building and open to the public to sit in and experience what it was like to be inside one of these great machines .
Along with the aviation artefacts, models and displays, the iconic murals that previously adorned the walls of the employee restaurant in Woodford have been retained and will also be displayed on the walls of the museum's main exhibition hall.
Howard Mason, BAE Systems Heritage Manager concludes:
"BAE Systems is very proud of its long history of engineering innovation, which can be traced back through its predecessor companies to at least the year 1560."
"The new Avro Heritage Museum provides a great opportunity for the public to see the artefacts and information collected over many years at Woodford, and is a key part of our heritage collection which is distributed across the main archive at Farnborough, the heritage centres on current sites such as Warton, Brough, Rochester and Glascoed, and former sites such as Brooklands and Filton airfield.
"The collection is a key resource for the education of our staff, prospective employees and the general public on our history, and also for supporting our customers in their heritage activities.”
To find out more about AV Roe and his company, please visit our Heritage Pages