Purleigh: £1.5 million grant secures future of historic Stow Maries Aerodrome
PUBLISHED: 14:11 16 October 2013 | UPDATED: 14:11 16 October 2013
The future of an historic First World War aerodrome in north Essex has been secured thanks to a £1.5million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.
The money has enabled the Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome Trust to buy the Stow Maries site in Purleigh near Maldon and continue with its plans to restore the location to its former glory.
Built in 1916 as a direct response to increased attacks by German Zeppelin airships, Stow Maries is considered unique in terms of its historical importance.
Of the 250 aerodromes built during the First World War, just ten still exist and only Stow Maries has remained untouched since the war ended in 1918. The site is home to 24 Grade-II listed operation buildings including the original officers’ mess, the pilots’ ready room and the aircraft workshop.
The aerodrome, which has been partially restored by volunteers, also holds an important place in aviation folklore – being the place where the last Zeppelin of the Great War was shot down and the first British airfield to accept American squadrons after the USA entered the war in 1918.
But volunteers from the trust had feared much of the site might have been lost had it fallen into the hands of developers, according to the aerodrome manager Russell Savory.
He said: “The land belonged to a private owner who wanted to sell and there was always the chance it could fall into the wrong hands, so it is good to know that it now belongs to the public in perpetuity.
“When most people think of the Great War they think of the trenches but it was also the first war to be fought in the air. The pilots flying from places like Stow Maries were pioneers - people hadn’t had bombs dropped on them before and they were absolutely terrified.
“This was only 12 years after the Wright Brothers made their first flight and there were a lot of crashes in the early days as the pilots learnt by their mistakes.”
Mr Savory was instrumental in setting up the Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome Trust and also played a part in cleaning out some of the outbuildings after they were rediscovered in 2009.
He added: “All other airfields from the First World War have been built on since but apart from a few soldiers and farmers no-one had used the site since the gates were closed in 1919.
“When we came here in 2009, the pilot’s ready room was hidden under a great big bramble bush with only the chimney sticking out and the room we use for the museum today was filthy as it had last been used as a chicken shed.”
The purchase of the site, which was made possible with additional funding from Essex County Council, Maldon District Council and English Heritage, not only secures the long-term future of the aerodrome as it currently exists, but also paves the way towards the phased on-going restoration of the site.
Future plans include housing a working collection of First World War aircraft at the site and developing an apprenticeship scheme aimed at keeping heritage aviation skills alive and the planes in the air.