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Author Topic: RAF Gravesend  (Read 147946 times)

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dan.brenton

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #186 on: September 18, 2017, 15:05:59 »
Hi Roger,

I am writing a report on the Lower Thames Crossing Project which crosses the historical footprint of RAF Gravesend and I would really like to know the source of your information on the Essex Aero Aluminium Smelting Plant in particular. I am sure there are other references you may have that would be useful to us. Please get in touch. dan.brenton@ch2m.com

Kind Regards

Dan

Hi Mike.

This is were I really turn into an anorak I'm afraid by going into great detail about other stuff I remember about the former Gravesend Airport/RAF Gravesend, so please bear with me because its quite a lengthy post.

I really must get hold of a copy of the plan you have. I looked on the RAF Museum, Hendon's website yesterday & I've sent them an email regardng purchasing copies of maps & plans they may have, but they haven't got back to me yet.

The only hangers on the western side of the airfield might have been where the dispersals & blast pens were on the southwest and northwest corners of the airfield perimeter track. These (I'm guessing here) would possibly have been "blister" or "Besseneaux" ?? structures and must've been removed straight after the war, but I do recall a short concrete loop that encroached on the still open area of The Warren you've mentioned close to the southwest dispersal that had a series of steel hooks around the edge that were possibly used to secure parked aircraft or a canvas hanger.

There was also a flat roofed building (possiby a Squadron Office not dissimilar in design or construction to the one shown in a photograph on the West Malling thread on tis site), and  another white brick building the similar in design to the one off Thong Lane that you've photographed here. Both were situated on The Warren side of the perimeter track close to where the junior school field now is. In the same area, there was what we as kids suspected was a machine gun emplacement, surrounded by masses of barbed wire entanglements.

There was another of those white brick buildings you've described midway on the outside edge of the perimeter track which ran due east from the northwest dispersal to Thong Lane before turning south just short of reaching Thong Lane itself.

Where Thamesview School now stands (the northern wartime extension of the airfield), everything had obviously been removed at the end of the war, incuding the perimeter track and hardstandings which may have been made using summerfield metal tracking, as were I believe the 2 main wartime runways. The area covered by the northern airfeld extension, then just an open field was used by Thameside Youth Football Club. The 6' 0" high chestnut fence I've described earlier here basically followed the line of the present boundary of Rivervew Park & Thamesview School.

At the extreme northeast corner of the airfield about where the first pair of houses now stand on Riverview Park in Thong Lane, I can remember seeing a large windsock mounted on a high metal pole and a large T-shaped structure, perhaps 20' 0" high with lights along its upper edge that was obviously a form of visual wind-direction indicator for use at night or during foggy weather as it was capable of being rotated 360 degrees, depending on the prevailing wind direction at the time.

There were large metal gates on both sides of Thong Lane just north of the present junction with Leander Drive where the perimeter track branched and continued after crossing Thong Lane to the eastern wartime airfield extension, now occupied by the sports centre & golf course. As you probably are aware Mike, the approach road & car park to the sports centre is actually, (though now resurfaced), part of the perimeter track itself. On the western side of Thong Lane, the perimeter track continued roughly due south, becoming further away from Thong Lane itself the further south it went and continued in this direction until it reached roughly were Imperial Drive now stands. It then turned due east for a short stretch and just short of Thong Lane, it turned south again to almost the present boundary of Riverview Park, before turning west to meet up eventually with the perimeter track a the southwest dispersal site, thus completing a full circumference of the pre WW2 airfield, which must've been in excess of 2 miles long in all or even longer.

In the area east of the perimeter track between the current Leander Drive in the north and Imperial Drive in the south were the main bulk of the airport buildings starting with (N-S) if my memory is correct, a very large wooden building, perhaps 60' 0" long X 20' 0" wide, used after the war as a workshop by Essex Aero. Then there was the brick built control tower which had been modified considerably by the RAF in 1942 by the addition of a third storey. The control tower as I've said previously, stood approximately 25 - 30 yards west of Thong Lane itself.  Next to the control tower was the main entrance approach road onto the airfield from Thong Lane, now occupied by Whinfell Way. At the junction of Thong Lane stood the main gate and at the northern side of the gateway there was the guardroom, a single storey brick building with a flat concrete roof, later converted after the war into a nursery school for pre-school children of female workers employed by Essex Aero which I attended in the early 50's. On the opposite side of the road on the corner of Thong Lane stood a cottage which pre-dated the airport and on the eastern side of Thong Lane, directly opposite the main gate was a link road to the perimeter track on the eastern wartime extension of the airfield. On the northern side of this link road there was a very large nissan hut and roughly where the sports centre now stands, was sited Essex Aero's aluminium smelting plant where old aircraft were broken-up in the early 50's & melted down to be later made into various products such as lightweight beer crates etc. These buildings (apart from "your" standby generating house), were basically the only buildings which stood on the eastern wartme extension of the airfield.

Getting back to the main airport buildings on the western side of Thong Lane. It all gets somewhat confusing as many smaller buildings were added both during & after the war by the RAF & Essex Aero, but on the southern side of the main airport entrance road, opposite the control tower I remember there were some fuel pumps then the double smaller hanger, used by Essex Aero in the 50's as their main workshop & factory. Next stood the huge hanger built in the 1930's  by Law & Co Ltd, which as we know was dismantled in about 1961 during the constructon of Rivervew Park & moved to Baxter Fell's site in Northfleet were for many years it was used as a warehouse. To the south of that hangar stood another large wooden building used by Essex Aero in the 50's as a workshop and infront of this building was
a very large deep water tank almost the size of a swimming pool. This was rapidly filled-in during the construction of Rivervew Park after a young child fell into it & tragically drowned.

As I've said, behind the main hangars & Thong Lane, there was a plethora of buildings including a large corrugated iron building almost the same size & design as a T-Type hangar, and a old friend told me that in this area when he was a kid, he & his friends managed to break into a large underground workshop that still contained lathes etc that had been abandoned when Essex Aero went into receivership in the mid-1950's.

As you are probably already aware of Mike, the perimeter track on the eastern wartme extensions continued east  for maybe half-a-mile or more after passing what is now the sports centre, before looping first south and then west to Thong Lane. There were another pair of large gates on both sides of Thong Lane where the perimeter track continued westwards.

NB. The only surviving secton of perimeter track on the southern airfield extension did in-fact originally loop back in a roughly  north-easterly direction until it linked back to the perimeter track near to the spot that it crossed Thong Lane.

Finally, when I worked as a apprentice plumber on the site during the construction of Riverview Park, Dolphin Developments were instructed to remove all of the perimeter track, but were forbidden to use the materials removed for hardcore themselves.... that had to be sold for use elsewhere. The story goes that when the airfield was enlarged & upgraded by the RAF in 1942, the hardcore used for the foundations of the perimeter track etc consisted of 30" of brick rubble transported to Gravesend down the Thames by barges from bombsites in the East End of London. The largely flat main area of the airfield was developed by Dolphn Developments and the remainder by Messrs Billings (a locally based high-class builder) and at the time of its construction, Riverview Park was the largest private housing estate in the UK.

I'm sorry if you find this boring Mike (and other readers), but sadly so few detaled records or recollections seem to exist about this fascinating & historically important site in my view.

Offline cliveh

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #185 on: October 25, 2013, 11:48:08 »
Good luck with your group and hope you get a lot of interest.

cliveh

JohnT

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #184 on: October 24, 2013, 20:39:57 »
Apologies to anyone who feels that this post is not appropriate here; but I hope that the majority would think it is OK to mention a newly formed Facebook Group, for anyone interested in the fascinating, albeit short, life of Gravesend Airport/RAF Gravesend.

There is not a lot of content at the moment; but it will grow - and I would hope that by its very nature, the Facebook Group may raise more 'local' interest and information than necessarily happens with this forum. I see the two as complementary, not competitive.

Please come and have a look - and join and/or post - if you have even a passing interest in this relatively little-known piece of Gravesend's history.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/RAFGravesend/

Sirenetta

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #183 on: April 22, 2013, 17:25:24 »
I can remember an airfield at Thong Lane, Gravesend. Not sure if it was an RAF one but it would be unlikely to have been a civil one in the 1950s.  I don't remember ever seeing planes on it which again suggests that it had been an RAF site in the war.

mao10

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #182 on: April 22, 2013, 09:42:58 »
Hi Ray

A very warm welcome to the forum and your knowledge will be invaluable.

One aspect of the Airfield to which I would like to draw on your knowledge is the defences of the airfield during the Second World War.

From my reading of various sources, books etc, there seems to be little detail on this. Looking at all the other Kent Airfields, they all had Pickett Hamilton Forts, Battle Hqs, Pillboxes etc. to defend them but Gravesend seems to have had a lack of these. Are you able to shed some light on this? It seems to be almost unique in the lack of these defences and it would be extremely helpful to know why, bearing in mind Gravesend was a front line fighter station. I have reviewed the airfield plans and there is no mention of these although that doesn't overly surprise me as airfield plans can vary in detail and I guess the official secrets act may have played a part in that. But I have read there may have been pillboxes and Picket Hamilton forts although nothing concrete. Presumably, if these did exists they were obliterated during the building of the housing estate.

Hopefully you or any other member of the forum may be able to help.


JohnT

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #181 on: January 04, 2013, 18:51:12 »
Just a brief note to thank you for your post Ray and to welcome you to this board. It is indeed good that you have 'found' this group and as one of the co-authors of what really are THE reference books on RAF Gravesend - I would like to thank you for all the work that you and your colleagues put into them. As someone who had played on the airfield as a kid and had always had an interest in all things RAF Gravesend-related, discovering your books (a good few years ago now!) really put the 'flesh on the bones' - fantastic resources.

I am pretty sure that there will be a good-few questions coming your way, once people realise you are on here:-)

John

cY1930

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #180 on: January 03, 2013, 23:22:15 »
I have found this site by accident and did not know of it`s existence before.   However for nearly 40 years I have researched and written about Gravesend Airport and RAF Gravesend.   In October 1960 I bought a new house at 42 Cimba Wood Riverview Park for £2400. The back garden had not been fenced when we moved in and shortly after moving in I roamed around the old airfield site and at that time several gun emplacement were still in situ.   Sadly I had no money left over to buy film.   The tarmac perimeter track was in situ until comparatively recent years but the PSP pierced steel runways had mostly been lifted.   The control tower was in use as offices by Dolphin Development Co.  In the early spring of 1961 I joined Riverview Park Horticultural Society who held their meetings on the top floor of the tower until stopped by fire regulations as there was only one staircase to get down.   I understood that the control tower was to be left standing but in a typical act of vandalism the contractors knocked the tower down one Sunday.   My late father bought a one bedroom bungalow in Challenge Close almost on the site of the tower.
I have been involved in publishing a book with two other men called Gravesend Airport in Old photographs also a chapter in The Battle of Britain Then and Now and other publications over the years.   I notice that the photos on this site are amongst those that I have collected over the years.   I have also tape recordings of interviews of folk now long dead.   Should any interested member have any questions I will do my best to answer them.  Ray Munday

Offline mmitch

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #179 on: December 30, 2012, 12:06:51 »
For all straining their memories, there are locally published booklets on Gravesend.
Among these is 'Gravesend Airport in Photographs'available at the Town Centric Centre. We recently spotted an old neighbour of ours that worked at Essex Aero. Remember them?
mmitch.

Robbo1

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #178 on: December 29, 2012, 13:39:14 »
I too, like others I suspect, have been asked to complete a "Grandad History" which has brought me to the Kent History Forum.
I read with great recollection the stories of Gravesend airport and the surrounding places.

I lived in Barr Road which backed on to Freeman Road, (where the "Tin Houses were built"). The roads at the time had not been made up and Forge Lane was a track leading up to Black House Farm, with the Forge at the lower half of Forge Lane still working. (Joe Gargeries Forge from Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations). The new roads and houses had not started. ie. St Gregory`s, St Adain`s.
I recall the farm having steam engines and thrashing machines and once a fire in the straw stacks which was put out by the fire brigade. Although I did not recall who lived there.

As a young lad with a dog the now disused airport provided a fantastic place to play as well. I might add the dumping ground behind the Westcourt School now where St Gregory's houses stand.
Like others I visited most of the bunkers and sites all over the place. Thong Lane pit/quarry, the hangers and the control tower buildings and houses. I recall stopping at the houses with my father, who was a mobile greengrocer, to serve customers at the site.

I would like to thank some of the contributors to this site for the valuable information on where to locate some photos etc of the airport.

Offline peterchall

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #177 on: May 29, 2012, 16:45:40 »
I am at this moment recording my life in print for the benefit of my two grandsons.
There is a lot more to relate really but I will not bore you with my life growing up in Gravesend.
It's a mistake to assume that your memories are boring - the more that each of us can relate the less likely it will be that following generations will make the same mistakes. So please keep your posts coming. Those who find them boring don't have to read them
It's no use getting old if you don't get artful

Bill Kent

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #176 on: May 29, 2012, 16:13:18 »
Brilliant site.
I'm born, bred in Gravesend, 90 Hampton Crescent in 1936 to be exact. Although my user name is Bill Kent, my name is Del Sowter.
I am at this moment recording my life in print for the benefit of my two grandsons.
Will try to keep this short.

We had two bombs and a slipper tank dropped in our small crescent. One bomb blew the back out a house 4 doors away. I remember Steve Pay rescuing a girl from back bedroom (Recorded in the local paper at the time). The other bomb dropped right alongside the 5th house from us, but without exploding. As kids we watched the army excavate and remove it. The slipper tank crashed down in the road adjacent to the same house spilling remains of aviation fuel.
Another bomb demolished a house in Jubilee Crescent (Silver Road end) close to Westcourt School gates. The house was rebuilt shortly afterwards.

Westcourt School grounds had a huge crater, this was apparently a land mine.

When about 4 years old my mother used to have a seat on the back of her bike for me. I do remember going up Thong Lane on the back of the bike, and being stopped by a man in khaki at a barrier as a flight of aircraft took off across Thong Lane.
When the airfield became redundant we made our way to one of the blister hangers and cut a large section of canvas away. My dad then built us a canoe which we took down to the canal then on the river at the town pier steps. One other thing we dragged home was a Mustang slipper tank. We cut the top out and took out the baffles and made a canoe of a type from it. This time we took it down to the Queens Farm sandpits (Probably still there under the landfill).

The Law Hanger referred to in an earlier post was dismantled and re-erected for Baxter-Fell at Northfleet minus the works shops on either side.

One other thing that may be of interest. When working with the PLA I worked with an ex RAF aircraft engine fitter who was stationed at Gravesend during the war years (Dave Finlayson. No longer with us I'm afraid, and I didn't pay to much attention of his story). He related to me that while there, they were expected to receive Mustangs. Spare engines and tools arrived but because of the rapid advance after D-Day the aircraft never arrived. Dave maintained that the spares were buried on the outskirts of the airfield because it would cause to many admin problems to return them. How true this is we may never know. If they build more houses they may accidently come to light

There is a lot more to relate really but I will not bore you with my life growing up in Gravesend.
Best Regards Del Sowter.



RogerGunkel

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #175 on: May 04, 2012, 12:14:41 »
I don't recall any bunkers with staircases to the roof, only ones which were surface level and earthed over. It could be that by the time I first started playing there around 1955, that many of the bunkers had been demolished or bricked up for safety. I never approached any buildings near the control tower as I was well aware that we shouldn't be on the airfield at all.

I do remember that at the start of the house building on the airfield, there seemed to be more emphasis on levelling everything to ground level then putting topsoil on, rather than removing the lower structures, so I am sure that much would remain under gardens and houses. No doubt future generations will find out when the present housing is eventually demolished.

I don't get much chance to visit open days as we live north of Cambridge and much of my business is conducted at weekends. It is interesting though as my Father was Deputy Borough Librarian at Gravesend for 20 years and a regular member and contributor to the Gravesend Historical Society.

I was also hoping that Roger Humphries that you mentioned would still be posting, as I believe that I knew him pretty well when I was a young Musician in Gravesend and he was the vocalist with one or two local bands.

It's a funny old world,

Roger

mao10

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #174 on: May 04, 2012, 10:23:36 »
Hi Rogergunkel

It's still very much alive. Meant to reply sooner, many apologies.

I've spent a great deal a time over the last couple of years walking across the old airfield where you can trying to discover any remains and as you will see from this thread there are some but the trail has run dry at the moment.  But through quite of lot of reading a few nuggets appear. For instance,  the first  largish house just past the sports centre when driving up Thong Lane in the direction of the Thames was requisitioned as the Station HQ during the war. I read recently that the house was two semis but the RAF knocked them through. I wonder what the original owners felt about that. I presume the RAF made good after they left.

When I was trying to pinpoint where buildings, defences etc were lcoated, my father in law gave me a run down of the airfield when he use to play over there in the 50's and pleasingly it mirrors your memories. I was always puzzled by a structure that he remembers as being able to enter by the side. Once inside there was a small stairway that went up to the roof. He presumed it was a gun emplacement although looking through books relating to airfield structures I could identify it. Perhaps this is one of the bunkers you mentioned. Certainly there were a number of structures in what is the school playing field along which the alley of St Margarets runs. He also mentioned a tunnel under Thong Lane linking the two sides of the airfield.

A local historian told me one that of the three Picket Hamilton Forts that were established on the site, presumably around the North/South runway, one is unaccounted for. What a find that would be. Probably under the grass in someone's back garden. An earlier entry by Roger Humphries mentions that a number of structures including shelters were simply earthed and grassed over as they were too difficult to dig up when building the housing estate. I'm sure there is much to find several inches under the ground.

The Stand By Set House is still standing next to the aforementioned house. I'd love to have a look inside. I wonder if there is any original signage/RAF writing to be found. If it has been a farm building since the end of the war it is possible.

Anyway, I can all but dream.

Did you go to any of the open days for the local airfield project? They are holding another exhibition at Gravesend Library at the end of the month and also publishing a book about people's memories of the place. Could be fascinating.

RogerGunkel

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #173 on: May 04, 2012, 00:11:22 »
Hi Mao and thanks for the welcome and reply, I was beginning to think that this thread had perhaps run it's course as it was back in February that I posted.

I don't remember any pillboxes, but if I do remember any other details at all I will certainly post them here.

Roger

mao10

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Re: RAF Gravesend
« Reply #172 on: May 03, 2012, 22:55:07 »
Just on another note, you may recall last year news of a local research project called The Games and Planes Oral History Project in which a number of interesting open days were run exhibiting a number of never before seen photos of the airfield and also accounts of those that lived and worked around the airfield. I found it extremely interesting and informative.

The organisers have now produced a book recording these interviews and they are again holding a small exhibition at Gravesend Library
between 21st May until Saturday 9th June. Full deatils can be found on the Events section

 

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