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Control Tower at North Weald Airfield, Epping Forest

Description: Control Tower at North Weald Airfield

Grade: II
Date Listed: 19 April 2013
Building ID: 1413519

OS Grid Reference: TL4927904361
OS Grid Coordinates: 549279, 204361
Latitude/Longitude: 51.7181, 0.1596

Locality: Epping Forest
Local Authority: Epping Forest District Council
County: Essex
Postcode: CM16 6FQ

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Listing Text


Control tower. Built in 1952.

Reason for Listing

The control tower at North Weald airfield, a Type 5223a/51 control tower built in 1952, is designated at Grade II for the following reasons:
* Architectural interest: one of only seven of this type of post-war control tower to be constructed, the tower, which is larger than its predecessors, has an imposing presence and is illustrative of the development of the design of control towers in the face of increased reliance on electronic navigational aids in the post-war period;
* Degree of survival: an intact plan, with sympathetic replacement windows, it is the best surviving example of its type on a fighter station, and amongst the best surviving overall;
* Historic interest: a rare physical reminder of the role of RAF Fighter Command in the early years of the Cold War and its re-equipment with jet interceptors;
* Group value: sited on a fighter station with an illustrious record during World War II, it has group value with the Grade II listed former Officers’ Mess.


North Weald opened as a Royal Flying Corps aerodrome in 1916 defending London against German air raids in World War I. During the Battle of Britain in 1940, North Weald was a front line airfield and home to 56 and 151 Squadrons equipped with Hawker Hurricanes and 601 Squadron flying Bristol Blenheims. On 24 August 1940 the airfield was heavily bombed, incurring damage to the officers' mess, married quarters and the power house and nine soldiers were killed in a direct hit on an air raid shelter. Due to heavy losses, 56 and 151 Squadrons were withdrawn and replaced by 25, 46 and 249 Squadrons. The airfield was again bombed on 3 September with severe damage to hangars, the motor transport yard and the old Operations Room. During the Battle of Britain (10 July – 31 October 1940) a total of 41 aircrew from North Weald and 17 staff were killed in air raids. Following the battle, squadrons from North Weald provided bomber escort and supported offensive operations such as the raid on Dieppe in 1942. Squadrons from many nationalities were based at North Weald during the course of the war, including Norwegians, Czechs, Poles, Canadians, New Zealanders and American volunteers.

After World War II the airfield remained operational. Following the intensification of the Cold War after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, with the resultant fear of a possible Soviet nuclear attack, a large-scale rearmament programme was undertaken. This included the modernisation of several former World War II airfields to enable the service of Meteor jet fighters. At North Weald this entailed the construction of a new 5223a/51 type control Tower in 1952, as well as additional hangars and ancillary buildings. The last operational RAF squadrons left North Weald in 1958 and the RAF vacated the airfield in 1964. Subsequently the airfield was used by both the army and navy until it was disposed of by the Ministry of Defence in 1979 when it was acquired by Epping Forest District Council. It remains in use for light aircraft and is home to various private vintage aircraft collections.

During the period of rearmament in the early 1950s, many airfields were provided with new control towers, reflecting improvements in local air traffic control, and the increased reliance on electronic navigation aids. The control tower at North Weald was one of seven produced c.1950-3 to drawing 5223a/51. Five were at the Very Heavy Bomber bases of Upper Heyford, Brize Norton, Fairford, Mildenhall, and Greenham Common; two were at the upgraded Biggin Hill and North Weald fighter stations. Six are believed to survive, Mildenhall having been demolished in 2004. Upper Heyford and Greenham Common are listed at Grade II.


EXTERIOR: the Type 5223a/51 control towers were all built to a standard design comprising a central, two-storey tower built around a steel frame and surmounted by an octagonal steel-framed glazed visual control room which gives a 360 degree view. The tower is flanked by single-storey wings to the north and south (with an additional, slightly lower wing to the north) and has an entrance block adjoining the east of the tower. The building is built of light brown brick, with a plinth of dark red brick, laid in stretcher bond with concrete floors and roofs; that to the central tower having overhanging eaves.

The central tower is of three bays on the east and west elevations, the latter facing the runway. The east elevation has a projecting central bay housing the stairwell which is lit by a large window. The flanking bays have windows in the upper floor and a ground floor window in the southern bay. On the western elevation the fenestration is regular with three windows to each floor. The north and south elevations of the tower have a pair of windows flanking glazed doors giving access to the flat roofs of the adjoining wings. The principal wings also have three window bays. All the original Crittall windows were replaced with sympathetic metal replacements in the early 2000s. The glazing to the observation platform is original. Surrounding the flat roofs of the tower and principal wings are the original metal railings. The main entrance, located to the rear of the northern wing, has a porch with a concrete canopy and piers and retains the original three-panel double doors and glazed internal doors.

INTERIOR: the control tower largely retains its original layout although; apart from the corridors, suspended ceilings have been introduced throughout. The main entrance at the rear of the northern wing gives on to a corridor which runs the length of the building. The northern wing contains two front rooms, one which housed GPO equipment and one the monitor room. At the rear of the wing was a rest room and female lavatory. The front half of the main tower was the radio equipment room, with officers' lavatory, signals workshop and staircase to the rear. The left wing contained ancillary rooms accessed from an external entrance. The rear of the wing contained the main medium voltage switchgear room, accessed via a steel door, and a roofless transformer enclosure with steel gates containing switchgear and transformer. The small wing to the south housed a ventilating plant room and pyro store.

In the tower, concrete stairs with metal banisters and a brass handrail lead to the first floor, originally largely occupied by the radar control room. Double doors give access onto the flat roofs of the east and west wings. The other first-floor rooms comprised a rest room and the Senior Air Traffic Control Officer’s (SATCO) office. A stairwell at the rear contains a steep steel ladder leading up to the rear of the visual control room. This retains its sound-proof tiles and under window wood-clad heating ducts.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.