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Lancashire At

Exploring the hidden history of War sites in Lancashire



Barrage Balloon Centre No. 10 Manchester at Middleton and RAF Heywood 35MU

This page is about two little known World War Two sites: Manchester's Barrage Balloon Centre (which was Number Ten) at Bowlee in Middleton and RAF Heywood 35MU - a huge storage and maintenance depot.

There is very little to see of these sites today - but a few remnants are still there if you take the time.

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RAF Bowlee
Bowlee Police photo
Bowlee MEN
Bowlee balloon aerial

Right: A barrage balloon at Middleton Balloon Centre (is that the Jolly Butcher pub on the left of the photo?).

Top Left: A photo of the RAF camp at Middleton (The Jolly Butcher pub is next door).

Bottom Left: The same scene today.

Bottom Right: The Jolly Butcher today - different name and now a restaurant.

In amongst all this wasteland and adjacent to the park area there is a nice modern reference to what was once here.

A landscaped area of grass (photo BELOW) when viewed from the air is actually in the shape of a barrage balloon.

See the Google Earth image: ABOVE. A nice touch.


The site of the balloon centre is partly now the area where Car Boot Sales take place. It is a patchwork of different eras of concrete and tarmac. See photo BELOW LEFT

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RAF Heywood - 35MU (Maintenance Unit)

During World War Two (and for for some time after - it closed in 1967) Heywood had a huge RAF site. But this site was mostly civilian - it was a Maintenance Unit and much of what it did was storage and repair.


Today it is Heywood Distribution Park, a massive industrial estate. But it gives you an idea of how big the original site was. According to a thread on the Airfield Information Exchange some original buildings still exist, though they have been modified and adapted.


One area of the site is still under government ownership - the Department for Work and Pensions, and is known as Heywood Stores. The entrance is on Manchester Road near the junction with Hares Hill Road and this could have been an original entrance to the site

(see photos Right and Below).


Bottom Right: You can just about see some of the huge warehouses on the site - We wondered, what on earth do they store in them now?

Well, Gordon Monks contacted us and told us: "The answer is.. documents. If you have made a claim for benefits from the Government, your completed claim form will have been stored there - for a while. at least."


A nice touch - just to the North of the entrance a new estate has a 'Bader Drive' and a 'Wings Grove' - surely a tribute to the former site's use?

For more on RAF Heywood MU try the following threads:


The Aviation Forum - World War Two Airfields in Manchester thread


Airfield Information Exchange - 35 MU Heywood thread

In their book 'Bury and the Second World War', Ken Inman and Michael H. Helm have the following to say about 35 M.U. : "A major part of the total war effort was played by the R.A.F. Maintenance Unit at Pilsworth. One of its main purposes was to provide replacement parts for aircraft, not only for use on R.A.F. aerodromes throughout Britain, but also for units based abroad.


This involved a massive transport operation, both to home stations and to London, Liverpool and Bristol docks for transfer to all parts of the world. Regular convoys of lorries travelled overnight to minimise as far as possible detection by the enemy. The drivers, many of them women, generally returned to base the following day.


Driving through the night during the 'black-out', along unfamiliar roads, and often alone, must have been very difficult, but as one woman driver later said, "I enjoyed it - it was all part of the war effort". 35 M.U. was situated fairly centrally in Britain, on the safer, western side of the Pennines, and it played a vital role in keeping the R.A.F. an efficient fighting force throughout the world."

Attacked by the Luftwaffe

No. 10 Barrage Balloon Centre, set up in October 1939 was the headquarters and maintenance depot for three barrage balloon squadrons – 925, 926 and 931. These were Manchester’s main balloon defences.


On 7th March 1941 they were attacked during a daylight raid when a Junkers 88 plane, of the elite Luftwaffe aircrew called ‘Experten’ sought them out as a specific target. This was no accident or improvised attack. This aircrew had been given one of several simultaneous RAF targets – most of the others being

in the Midlands.


Passing over the Barrage Balloon Headquarters just the once the Junkers 88 dropped nine 50 Kilo HE bombs and at least 12 incendiary bombs. At an estimated height of just 800 feet it also machine gunned the site.


One airman and one airwoman were killed, while four site personnel were seriously injured and a further eight slightly injured.


The raid could have been a lot worse had all the HE bombs and incendiaries actually gone off. The Motor Transport shed suffered two direct hits – killing the airman. The Squadron Headquarters was also hit – killing the airwoman. Two balloon repair shops were also damaged.


This information has all come from Peter J C Smith’s ‘Luftwaffe over Manchester the Blitz Years 1940 – 1944’. An extremely detailed and highly recommended book.

The book 'Heywood - The Archive Photographs Series' compiled by Hannah Haynes (Chalford Publishing) has two photos: ABOVE LEFT: "The RAF Maintenance Unit at Broadfield during the Wings for Victory week in 1942. The 162 acre site was developed from 1938 with its own railway sidings. It closed in 1967" The book also says that a railway spur went off into 35 M.U. And that the tower in the ABOVE LEFT photo above was the "landmark tower for 35M.U.".

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These pages, all text and photographs, unless stated, are the copyright of The Brothers B. No reproduction is allowed in any form without prior written permission

For more information about BARRAGE BALLOONS, you cannot do much better than this page:


The Balloon Barrage Reunion Club Website


For more about ERP signs see our

Ghost Signs Page HERE

The Manchester Evening News on line has the following to say about the area in World War Two:


PLEASE NOTE: What it says about the ERP sign is incorrect.


This building (Right) has often been mistaken for a Control Tower. It isn't a Control Tower.

It sits in the fields opposite the area where the Balloon Centre was. Was it anything to do with the things going on in the area in World War Two? Or is it something completely unconnected? We have heard various ideas as to what it MIGHT be but no-one yet knows for sure.

Any ideas? If so, PLEASE in Contact with us!


More photos on THIS PAGE HERE

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