Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome wins the English Heritage Angel Award
The English Heritage (now Historic England) Angel Awards celebrates the ordinary men and women who fight to rescue the historic buildings around Britain in danger of falling down. Launched last year with the Daily Telegraph the ‘Oscars of the heritage world’ aims to recognise the hard work of volunteers highlighted recently by the Keep the Flame Alive campaign after the Olympics.
This year the judging panel, including presenter Melvyn Bragg and historian Bettany Hughes, said it was ‘almost impossible’ to choose winners from the short list of extraordinary restoration projects around the country. Volunteers were praised for restoring a shell grotto found under a garden in Margate and bringing a sumptuous Art Deco cinema back to life.
But readers of the Daily Telegraph and followers of English Heritage were most impressed by the story of Stow Marie Aerodrome in Essex. The 100 acre site was built in 1916 – around a decade after the first aeroplanes were built – to house the as a base for the 37 (Home Defence) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps.
In 1919 it was abandoned, leaving the world’s only complete WW1 aerodrome in original form. For almost 100 years it was used to store agricultural equipment and five years ago the aerodrome the collection of tumbledown buildings on farmland near Maldon was about to be sold for redevelopment as a caravan park.
Fortunately the local people and a businessman Russell Savory realised the significance of the world’s only aerodrome kept almost entirely intact. The Friends of Stow Maries Aerodrome managed to raise millions of pounds to buy the site and restore the buildings.
Vintage aircraft have flown onto the grass strip once more, the officer’s buildings have been restored to show how the world’s first pilots worked and a museum set up. Lord Lloyd Webber, who chaired the judging panel, said volunteers should be on television more so that people are inspired to get involved in their own local community.
“I think it is hugely important to publicly recognise the efforts of those rescuing heritage sites in order to show our appreciation for their work and encourage even more people across the country to do the same,” he said.