The remaining buildings of the WWI Royal Flying Corps airfield at Stow Maries, Essex, built 1914-1918, with some late-C20 alterations.
Reason for Listing
The 24 buildings at the former Royal Flying Corps WWI airfield at Stow Maries are designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Rarity: It is the largest known surviving group of RFC buildings on a WWI aerodrome which, being abandoned in 1918, was not adapted for further military use later in its history. The individual building types are rare survivors; only two other RFC Officers' Messes are listed and there are no designated examples of some of the other building types which remain at Stow Maries including the Pilots' Ready Room, Aircrew Mess, Reception Building and Squadron Headquarters.
* Architectural interest: The continued presence of a wide range of technical and domestic or 'regimental' buildings largely in their original form conveys architectural interest. The buildings display good craftsmanship in their construction; the roof structures, for example, are complex in their arrangement and well-made. Individual buildings retain many original fixtures and fittings.
* Group Value: With the exception of some of the Women's Hostels, the hangars and the temporary buildings which have been demolished, this group of technical and regimental buildings is a complete example of a 1914-1918 RFC aerodrome with the associated infrastructure, parade ground and flying field.
* Historical association: The base was part of the defence of London against airships and Gotha bombers. Aircraft from Stow Maries flew in defence of the capital during one of the first significant air raids on the capital in July 1917.
Work on developing an airfield at Stow Maries was begun after the outbreak of war in 1914. Located on a level plateau to the north of the river Crouch, the aerodrome comprised a main 'street' aligned north-south, with buildings on either side; the parade ground and reception building lay to the west, and the flying field and hangars to the east. Stow Maries was one of several airfields established in the south-east of England to provide home defence cover for London from the threat of German Zeppelin airships and, after June 1917, Gotha bombers. The airfields were part of a concerted system of home defence which included anti-aircraft batteries, barrage balloons, searchlights and observation posts. The first aircraft, part of the 37th Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps, arrived at Stow Maries in 1916. 37 Squadron was made up of three flights: A-Flight, based at Rochford (later developed as Southend Airport); B-Flight based at Stow Maries, and C-Flight based at Goldhangar (no longer extant). B-Flight were under the command of Lt. Claude Ridley, who took command at the age of 19, and they flew their first sortie in May 1917. The aircraft used were B.E.2s and B.E.12s, and later Sopwith Strutters and Sopwith Pups. A number of the pilot log books survive, providing a unique insight to these early days of military aviation and the difficulties experienced by pilot and maintenance crews alike. The RFC was an Empire-wide service, attracting pilots from Canada, South Africa and Australia amongst others and a number of nationalities were represented at Stow Maries. Entries in some log books are said to refer to experiments in wireless radio being conducted by Mr Marconi in building no. 5 on the site, but this has not been substantiated.
The aeroplane had evolved from an aid to reconnaissance at the eve of the war, to a sophisticated weapon of combat hitherto unseen by the general population. In May 1917, the first night air-raid by a single Gotha bomber on London took place and on 7 July 1917, aircraft from Stow Maries flew in defence of the capital during a focussed effort by the enemy to bomb London and Margate. 250 people were killed, mostly civilians; riots ensued, as the population feared that they could not be kept safe. In the same month, A-Flight transferred to Stow Maries from Rochford and in June 1918, two months after the RFC became the RAF, Stow Maries became the Station Headquarters. With the arrival of Sopwith Pups at around the same time, the squadron was officially classed as a night fighter unit. However, as no offensive sorties were flown, and although the complement of aircraft was further boosted by Sopwith Camels in October, the war ended without them seeing action.
When the RAF survey was carried out in October 1918, the station personnel totalled 219. Amongst that number were 3 members of the WRAF, who had separate lodgings on the station and 12 civilian women who came in on a daily basis to undertake the various domestic duties on the site. The complement of aircraft numbered 16 Camels, but the site was still not complete; the 'technical buildings' were described as 85% complete, but only 55% of 'regimental buildings' were finished. Elements of the site infrastructure were even less advanced. Completion was forecast for 15 December 1918, but hostilities ceased on 11 November and it is likely that some buildings were never completed.
After the war, the airfield remained in use and in February 1919, C-Flight became the third to be based at Stow Maries. The complement totalled 300 personnel, including 11 pilots, and 24 aircraft. This brief state of affairs ended in March 1919 when the airfield closed and the squadron moved to Biggin Hill in Kent. The land was converted to agricultural use and many of the buildings were adapted to either domestic use for homeless families (until the 1960s) or agricultural purposes. During WWII, consideration was given to reopening the airfield, but no action was taken.
The site was surveyed by the RCHM (E) in 1997. At that time, the flying field was used by a model aeroplane club and continues to be so used today. Twenty-two of the buildings noted on the Ordnance Survey (OS) map of 1920, many of which were temporary wooden structures, were no longer surviving at the time of the survey, including the two hangars and some of the airmen's and women's accommodation blocks. Twenty-four remain, however, including the Officers' Mess and Reception Building. The site has been recently sold; the buildings are no longer used for agricultural storage and are gradually being restored, although some are in a dilapidated state. A museum has been established and the workshops have been converted to light engineering purposes. Natural England has grant aided wildlife conservation measures and some restoration of buildings. In 2010, a war memorial commemorating the ten pilots of 37 Squadron killed in action during WWI was erected on the former parade ground, the funding for which came from public subscription.
Twenty-four buildings on Stow Maries aerodrome are arranged on either side of the main, concrete-surfaced ‘street’, aligned north-south. It is unclear where the main entrance to the base was located, but it was probably to the north. An additional entrance to the airfield led from Strawberry Hill Lane to the west, its position marked by a line of original telegraph poles. In the centre of the site, the flying field lies to the east, and the parade ground to the west. The technical buildings (used for storage, maintenance and repair), essential for the running of the airfield, are concentrated at the north of the site. Two pairs of twin-shed hangars with ‘M’ profile roofs provided storage for the aircraft, but have since been demolished. The ‘regimental’ buildings (offices, accommodation etc) lie to the south of the site. The surviving buildings are simple, utilitarian, single storey structures, probably of standard design and construction and strengthened at intervals by piers which carry the roof trusses. They have gable roofs, covered with slate or corrugated asbestos sheeting, mostly supported with timber trusses, with some having metal tension-members.
The buildings are numbered in accordance with the on-site nomenclature; the numbers given by the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments of England (RCHME) survey of 1997 are shown in brackets.
MATERIALS: Red brick, with slate or corrugated asbestos coverings to the roofs.
BUILDING 2: WORKSHOPS (Building 3)
Plan: Rectangular, of 14 bays, divided into three rooms.
Exterior: Used for the repair and maintenance of the aircraft, this building is linked to the Dope shop to the south. The workshops have been restored, the original fabric being encased and the metal windows refurbished. There are double doors to each room.
Interior: The roof trusses have been refurbished, with some members replaced. Generally timber, each truss carries four ranks of timber purlins, the top pair forming the ridge and has a substantial timber tie with angled struts.
BUILDING 3: DOPE SHOP (Building 4)
Plan: A three bay rectangular structure.
Exterior: This small building, linked to the workshop, was probably used for the storage of dope, a compound based on nitrate cellulose applied to the canvas covering of aircraft wings and fuselages, tightening the fabric and rendering it splash-proof. It, too, has been restored by encasement. There is a door in the south elevation with a rebuilt chimney to its left.
Interior: Not inspected.
BUILDING 4: SUBTERRANEAN AMMUNITION STORE (Building 7)
Materials: Reinforced concrete.
Plan: A partially sunken structure, protected by an earth bund, aligned east-west and divided into three rooms.
Exterior: Located near to the flying field on the east side of the track, the segmental roof has collapsed. Access may have been by a flight of concrete steps on the southern side, but it has also been postulated that a hatch in the roof and a ladder stair may have been used.
Interior: The room partitions remain; the largest room to the west is lit by two small windows.
BUILDING 5: MOTOR TRANSPORT SHEDS (Building 9)
Plan: Open-fronted to the west and of 12 bays divided between the fourth and fifth bay to create two rooms. Extended to the north, shortly after the first phase was constructed.
Exterior: This building was used for housing vehicles and trailers used on the base. The exterior walls and interior cross wall are supported by buttresses
Interior: The roof has metal trusses, including queen struts and angled struts.
BUILDING 6: AMBULANCE SHED AND MORTUARY (Building 10)
Plan: A rectangular building, aligned east-west.
Exterior: The slate covered, gable roof has a louvred ridge vent, below which in the north and south walls, are long vents with iron grilles and concrete lintels, representing a simple ventilation system. The east and west walls originally had two pairs of double doors, one set of which has been removed and replaced with iron-sheeting.
Interior: The building was divided into two spaces; the rear formed the mortuary and the front, room was used for garaging the ambulance.
BUILDING 7: OFFICE/WIRELESS TESTING (Building 5)
Plan: Rectangular, of two rooms.
Exterior: The rendered structure has a later pebble-dash covering and corrugated asbestos sheeting to the roof. There is a brick stack in the east elevation, flanked by original metal casement windows with pivoting lights. There is a door in the south elevation, with a window to its right.
Interior: The southern room, accessed through a plank door painted green, is said to have been used by Marconi for the development of ground to air radio, documented in pilots’ logs. The roof truss has a king-post and four ranks of purlins.
BUILDING 9: BLACKSMITHS (Building 8)
Plan: Small, rectangular building with an enclosed courtyard to the east.
Exterior: The enclosing wall has been rebuilt and has replacement double timber doors to the centre of the east wall. The roof of the building has a full-length louvred ridge vent. The west elevation has a central stack and there are double doors in the east elevation.
Interior: The roof has a timber king-post truss and diagonal boarding; the struts for the vent have been replaced. There is a working field forge with leather bellows, transportable for use in the field for running repairs, but the original static forge has been replaced.
BUILDING 10: ROYAL ENGINEERS WORKSHOP (Building 6)
Plan: An eight-bay range with two three-bay outshots to the west enclosing a small yard
Exterior: The main elevation has a central full height, double timber door hung on metal pintles, flanked by six, timber casement windows. The outshots are covered with a slated, catslide roof; double doors lead into the outshots on the north and south elevation and there is a pedestrian entrance on the south elevation of the main range. To the rear, the yard formerly had a double-gated entrance, which was accessed by a east-west access road. The main rear entrance is blocked with fletton brick, with a later window inserted, but the stone steps to the door and lintel remain. The outshots have diagonal boarding.
Interior: The RCHME survey recorded two rooms in the main range, the north-eastern room secured and likely to have been the armoury, the southern room probably serving as an office. The roof is carried by king-post trusses with lattice braces, purlins and diagonal boarding.
BUILDING 11: GENERATOR HUT (Building 46)
Plan: Rectangular comprising a large engine room and two small rooms at the north end.
Exterior: Lying close to the western perimeter of the airfield, the generator supplied electricity for telephones and increasingly wireless telegraphy. Aligned north-south, of a tall single storey, this five by three bay structure has external buttresses and rendered walls. There is an entrance door in the north elevation and windows to the other bays and louvered vents in the apex of each gable.
Interior: A large engine room occupies the four southern bays; two small rooms occupy the northern bay, demarcated by a transverse brick wall, but neither have fixtures and fittings. The roof is carried by the transverse wall and three trusses constructed of plank-section timbers comprising a tie beam, king-post and lattice bracing.
BUILDING 13: RECEPTION/HEADQUARTERS BUILDING (Building 45)
Materials: The brick walls incorporate a slate damp course.
Plan: Rectangular with a six-by-three bay plan, the building formerly had a porch to the front (north), now removed.
Exterior: The Reception Station, itemised in the 1918 RAF Survey, seems also to have functioned as the squadron headquarters building and formed the principal building on the south side of the parade ground. The north elevation has a late-C20 central double door, flanked on either side by tall, metal casement windows. There are further windows to the left. Each bay on the south elevation has a 16-light, metal casement window. To the west is a buttressed chimney stack and the east has a central door.
Interior: The RCHME survey avers that this room had a central axial corridor terminating in a large, heated room at the west end. There is evidence for a high standard finish and wainscoting, suggesting that the commanding officer would have had an office here. Each bay has internal buttresses, denoting a number of rooms accessed from the corridor, with an opening in each for a tortoise stove, all of which have been removed. The heavily engineered roof comprises plank-section timbers comprising a tie beam, king-post and lattice bracing with ten pairs of cleated purlins and close-set boards.
BUILDING 14: WRAF ACCOMMODATION (Buildings 28 and 29)
Plan: Two rectangular buildings, in line.
Exterior: The surviving women’s hostel buildings (two others have been demolished) are located south of the headquarters building, some distance from the officers and men’s accommodation. The complex was originally linked by sections of wall and a small, central yard. Building 28 is a small, single-storey building with modesty windows, some blocked, and a small stack on the north elevation: it may have been an ablutions block. Building 29 has five bays and is aligned east-west with a gabled roof and was probably for accommodation. It has a large double door of later date in the west end and 16-light windows to most bays. Two stacks on the south elevation mark the position of stove provision internally, the apertures of which remain.
Interior: Part of the roof of building 28 has collapsed. The lattice trusses to both are similar to that in the reception building and comprise king-posts and tie beams supporting six pairs of cleated purlins. The roof has diagonal boarding.
BUILDING 15: OFFICERS QUARTERS (Buildings 31-33)
Plan: A group of three parallel ranges with gable roofs, aligned north-south, linked by ablutions blocks at the south end.
Exterior: The west and central blocks are six bays long, each with stacks on the west elevations marking the position of stoves, and both with doorways on the east elevations.
The easternmost block has an external render and its entrance on the west elevation and stacks were on the east. Entrances at the south end lead into corridors to the ablutions blocks, which has partially collapsed. All of the ranges have 16-light metal casements.
Interior: The likely internal arrangement is a corridor from which rooms, each with a stove, are accessed. The RCHME survey records that the roof structures comprise king-post trusses with planked tie beams and four ranks of purlins.
BUILDING 16: NCO ACCOMODATION (Building 30)
Plan: A six bay building, aligned north-south with a gable roof
Exterior: A rendered building with stacks removed at the west, north and south elevations. There are 16-light windows and doors to the north and south, said to have been used for domestic purposes after the war.
Interior: No interior inspection.
BUILDING 17: FUEL STORE (Building 18)
Exterior: A rectangular enclosure with tall, cemented and buttressed brick walls, largely unroofed except the westernmost bay, with an entrance to the east
Interior: Not inspected.
BUILDING 18: PILOTS READY ROOMS (Building 17)
Plan: Rectangular brick, three-room building with an open verandah, supported on slender posts facing the flying field.
Exterior: Partially rendered and fully restored in the early C21 with a gabled roof, refurbished windows and four doors on the east elevation.
Interior: The original ceilings, doors, dado rails and two fireplaces remain. The roof has ‘A’ frame trusses resting on piers.
BUILDING 19: SQUADRON OFFICES/MUSEUM (Building 15)
Materials: The brick walls have been encased as part of the refurbishment.
Plan: The single-storey offices, next to the airmen’s mess on the west side of the ‘street’ opposite the parade ground, restored in the C21 for use as a museum.
Exterior: The west elevation has a central door with a brass knob, flanked by six-light, replacement timber casement windows. There are timber casement windows to the south and east elevations and a central stack at the east. The north elevation is blind but has a door to the west and a stack to the east.
Interior: The internal layout remains and comprises wooden axial partitions dividing the southernmost rooms into two. There is a further small office at the south end. Each of the rooms was heated and there is a cast-iron fireplace in the northernmost room. Doors, electrical switch gear, some wainscoting and joinery remain.
BUILDING 20: WATER TOWER AND RESERVOIR (Building 22 and 23)
Plan: A square plan comprising a tank mounted on four brick piers, the lower parts of which are linked by brick walls to form a ground-floor room.
Exterior: The tank is formed from welded steel or iron panels and is supported on six, I-section north-south steel joists resting on two larger east-west joists, which in turn, are seated on reinforced concrete pads at the top of each pier. The ground-floor room has walls laid to Flemish bond, recessed on both faces of the piers. There are metal casement windows to the north and south with segmental brick heads. In the west wall is an entrance with concrete lintels.
Interior: Not inspected.
Subsidiary feature: The reservoir cannot be observed at ground floor level.
BUILDING 21: OTHER RANKS MESS HALL AND RECREATION HUT (Building 16)
Plan: ‘J’-shaped plan formed from three principal ranges enclosing a small central yard.
Exterior: The north range, of seven bays aligned east-west, formed the dining hall. Internally buttressed, it has 16-light casement windows with upper pivotal lights and a simple king-post roof with raking shores and five pairs of purlins. The main entrance is at the west end. The east end the hall is adjoined by a four bay range aligned north-south which housed the kitchens, it has the same roof structure and a louvred opening in the roof. Attached at the south end of the kitchens is a three bay range heading westwards comprising stores, perhaps a sitting room and WC’s. Further lean-tos to the west have additional W.C’s and storage facilities.
Interior: A number of doors and much joinery remains. The furniture of one earth closet survives.
BUILDING 22: MENS ACCOMMODATION BLOCK (Building 35)
Plan: A six bay rectangular building, aligned north and south with a gabled, slated roof. It is one of eight original mens’ blocks, the others (which were probably timber) are no longer remaining.
Exterior: The building has collapsed at its southern end. Each bay that remains has 16-light metal casement windows.
Interior: Not inspected.
BUILDING 23: OFFICERS MESS (Building 34)
Materials: Rendered brick.
Plan: A broadly ‘E’–shaped complex, comprising three parallel ranges aligned east-west, joined at the east by one cross range aligned north-south.
Exterior: All of the ranges have gabled roofs and timber casement windows. The principal entrance was off-centre at the south elevation of the southern range, the largest and tallest of the three; unfortunately three large tractor openings have been inserted into the south elevation and the windows removed, but the interior arrangement remains (see below). The west elevation has a central stack and two windows and there is a door at the centre of the second range to the north. The northernmost range housed the kitchens and is smaller. The east elevation of the cross range has a door to the north and two windows to the left of it which probably represent the commanding officers private entrance into the mess from the flying field.
Interior: Despite the alterations to the south elevation, much of the internal arrangement remains. The southern range had three rooms, all heated; the west, quiet room has a brick fireplace, dado and picture rails. The central games room had a bar, and retains its fireplace, and the dining room was to the east. All the original doors are in situ or have been kept. To the rear, in the second range, a corridor links the ablutions block which has in situ plumbing for four baths and a second external entrance leading to a wash room at the west end. At the east end of this range is the mess orderly’s office with a counter served by a sash window opening and original shelving. Beyond, in the cross range, are store rooms and the commanding officer’ quarters and squadron silver rooms. The northernmost range housed the kitchen, where the position of the cooking range is apparent; the pantry lies to the east and store rooms with shelving to the west. An external door at the west leads to a yard area, where the boiler room, WCs and a bike shed are located, and provides easy access from the officers quarters on the west side of the track.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.