Woodford Aerodrome, some 6.9 miles north of Macclesfield, was purchased by A.V. Roe & Co Ltd in 1924.
The purchase followed after the company were told that the lease on their previous factory at Alexandra Park Aerodrome in South Manchester, was due to expire and it was not going to be renewed by the Air Ministry, owners of the site. The search for a new home ended when Avro identified a patch of land on the edge of Woodford Village known as New Hall Farm.
Creation of the new aircraft factory stumbled slightly when the first of the new hangars was destroyed in a storm but over the next few years the site was developed extensively creating assembly and test facilities. AV Roe invited the Lancashire Aero Club to move with them to Woodford after they too were ‘evicted’ from Alexandra Park.
One of the first aircraft to emerge from Woodford was the Avro Avian and between 1926 and 1928 some 405 examples of the Training and Touring biplane were produced.
Avro 581 Avian (G-EBVZ)
The concrete runways were laid in the early 1930s and saw extensions added over the next decades to accommodate increasingly larger aircraft.
In 1939, the new facility at Chadderton started producing the Avro 679 Manchester, a twin-engine medium bomber which first flew from Woodford on 25th July that year.
Avro Shackleton Manufacturing
As government backed military aircraft requirements switched to patrol and reconnaissance, Avro responded with the Shackleton, one of the RAF’s longest serving aircraft types. Chief Test Pilot J.H. ‘Jimmy’ Orrell took the Shackleton on its maiden flight from Woodford on 9th March 1949, the first in a line of 149 aircraft which served through until 1991.
The factory site at Woodford continued to expand as did the length of the main runway in order to accommodate the next iconic Avro type, the Avro Vulcan.
Much has been written about the Vulcan which recorded its maiden flight at Woodford on 30th August 1952 but by far one of the most popular was regarding the unconventional manoeuvres performed by Falk before opening the throttle to such a point that it shattered several factory windows. Vulcan served as part of Britain’s Nuclear Defence V Force and is one of the best regarded aircraft of the period.
Avro 698 Vulcan B.2 final production at Woodfood 1960
With a further downturn in military orders, Avro embarked on civilian projects with the design of the Avro 748 in 1958, a twin-engine short / medium-range airliner aircraft which eventually flew in 1960.
The 748 saw success around the world with 380 aircraft built which included 37 military variants know as the HS Andover.
Aerial view of Woodford in 1966
At the same time the industry was undergoing mammoth changes with the government led rationalisation resulting the amalgamation of Avro into Hawker Siddeley.
The name above the door at Woodford may have changed but the spirit remained. It played a major part in the development of the Commercial Aircraft Division. Through the production of the now HS748 and work on other commercial aircraft such as the HS146, Woodford remained an integral part of the UK aerospace industry.
In April 1977, and as part of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act, Hawker Siddeley was merged with British Aircraft Corporation to form British Aerospace.
Woodford Main Offices 1990s
Under British Aerospace, Woodford continued with its work on the now BAe146 which also saw the AVRO name re-emerge in the RJ Series. Additional work on the upgrade of the Nimrod Marine Reconnaissance Fleet continued with conversion MR2 airframe to MRA4 specification. Work commenced in the late 1990s and Woodford became part of BAE Systems in 1999.
The £7.7 billion merger of British Aerospace (BAe) and Marconi Electronic Systems (MES) in November 1999 saw the aerodrome and factory became known as BAE Systems Woodford.
In 2003, BAE started thinking about closing the site when it completed the final part of the Nimrod MRA4 and the site was subsequently scheduled to close in 2012, with the termination of 630 staff.
The MRA4 project fell foul of cost over-runs and delays due to the extensive modifications needed to accommodate new power units and the very latest ‘glass cockpit’ technology. A dramatic reduction in the procurement order (dropping from 21 to just 9 aircraft) placed further pressure on the survival of the site until the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review announced the cancellation of the entire program.
Aerial view of Woodford before closure
On 24th November 2010, 320 subcontractors were terminated, and the site had just 450 permanent staff. Finally, it was announced in December 2010 that the site would be closing in early 2011. Production ended in March 2011 and the site officially closed as an active airfield on 25th August 2011.
Avro Heritage Museum
Today, the 500-acre site is under redevelopment for mixed housing and several other facilities. One positive action however is the establishment of the Avro Heritage Centre which hosts a major collection of Avro related memorabilia as well as numerous aircraft exhibits including Vulcan XM603 and a Lancaster cockpit section alongside other aircraft.
It also houses an active and experienced archive section who work enthusiastically to preserve the records and memories of A.V. Roe and his wonderful aircraft company.