Hooton Park airfield in Cheshire was built on a former race-course requisitioned by the Government at the start of WW1. In 1917 some of the buildings still visible today were built by the War Department, who according to Wikipedia: "built one single and three double aircraft hangars. These hangars had a unique latticed timber roof construction – Belfast Trusses - which were originally used in the Belfast shipyards to cover large working areas, and which provided strength at low cost".
Sadly, heavy snow fall a few years ago caused the collapse of one of these iconic roofs on one of the remaining three double hangars. In recent years, due to a successful charity bid, the roof has been re-built and looks great.
But these buildings are only part of the story. There is also a rare WW1 bomb aiming tower, a WW2 machine gun post, air raid shelters, a ghost sign, a museum and lots of ancilliary buildings.
ABOVE, ABOVE RIGHT & RIGHT: Three views of the 'WW1 bomb target training tower'. According to a member of the Hooton Park Trust, they think that the bomb aimer would lie on their stomach on the floor of the tower and look through a small hatch at a map being moved at the base of the tower below. They believe it is the only one remaining in this country. It is fortunately now Grade II (two star) listed along with the rest of the site.
If you look closely at the top of the tower there is a different style of brick to the rest of the building. This is a WW2 addition, a machine gun post to guard the front entrance and the main approach road. It is simply four walls (no roof) with no embrasures and we do not know if there are any fixing points up there. Access to both the bomb aiming floor and the machine gun post were via a rather long vertical ladder which is still visible (TOP RIGHT).
ABOVE & BELOW: The first double hangar with its impressive new roof of wooden Belfast Trusses.
This new roof was paid for after the Trust applied for money from the Libor Charity Funding Scheme.
"The Museum" / Exhibition
On Open Days, the Hooton Park Trust, has a guided tour and a Museum / Exhibition open to the public (SEE DETAILS HERE).
It is well worth attending as you get to see and learn a great deal: from the early days of the Hall, to its WW1, WW2 and Post-War history.
RIGHT TOP: Inside one of the hangars where items from aviation history are on display.
RIGHT: Inside a Fairey Gannet
Use during WW1 & WW2
ABOVE: Part of a Spitfire cockpit on display.
The site was originally the grounds of Hooton Hall. It then became a racecourse. During the First World War it was requisitioned for Army training. The Belfast hangars were built in 1917 according to Action Stations 3 by David J Smith "for the erection of American-built aircraft shipped to Liverpool. This scheme did not materialise, however, and the airfield was taken over by 4 Training Depot Station which moved from Tern Hill on September 12 1917 with a collection of Sopwith Scouts and Dolphins".
After World war One it was briefly a commercial airport before coming again under military control during World war Two, taken over by the RAF on October 9th 1939.
A measure of Britain's lack of military aircraft at the start of the war can be seen by the fact that Tiger Moths were flown from Hooton in early 1940 as surveillence patrols along the nearby coast looking out for U-boats. Their open cockpits must have made them an unpopular choice for the poor pilots.
During the Second World War the airport saw many different squadrons come and go, most usually only stayed for brief periods. All are documented in David J Smith's excellent book. The one mainstay was No. 7 Aircraft Assembly Unit (known as Martin Hearn Ltd pre war). They assembled Bostons, Harvards and Hampdens and maintained Halifaxes and Mosquitoes. They also assembled and maintained a number of different types of gliders during WW2.
ABOVE: Photos of some of the existing buildings. CLICK on a photo to view it in a larger window.
A WW2 Ghost Sign
We spotted a rare "ghost sign" from the airport's Second World War use. The yellow arrow (seen BELOW and RIGHT) indicated where the Emergency Water Supply would have been located. This would have been important as the airport received a few stray bombs during the war
Air Raid Shelters
At least two Air Raid Shelters still exist on site. BELOW: you can see one has been recently re-discovered.
While the other is fully intact and can be visited on Open Days
LEFT: The modern EWS sign on the side of Ellsmere Model Boat Club's site is a nice touch.