Control tower and pilot block restored after 40 years to tell story of Weston-super-Mare’s aviation history

PUBLISHED: 08:00 23 April 2017

The control tower and pilot block at The Helicopter Museum.

The control tower and pilot block at The Helicopter Museum.

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In the 1930s, a wooden cabin on Weston-super-Mare’s seafront was pulled up, and driven down the road to the airfield in Locking, where it became part of an aircraft control tower.

Opening of the old airport control tower. Lee Mills general manager, Burma veteran Dennis Greenslade aged 92, event organiser Simon Parks-Lockett and  'Allo Allo' actor Richard Gibson.Opening of the old airport control tower. Lee Mills general manager, Burma veteran Dennis Greenslade aged 92, event organiser Simon Parks-Lockett and 'Allo Allo' actor Richard Gibson.

Close to 100 years later, it has been fully restored, thanks to hours of work by volunteers and a £134,000 grant.

The tower has become part of The Helicopter Museum, and it has now – along with the adjoining 1940s pilot block – been filled with artefacts and displays to show the history of aviation in Weston.

The cabin at the top of the tower was once a cab shelter, often used by tram drivers who took a break from their work.

Mark Service, collections officer at the museum, said: “They uprooted it in 1935, and it was brought to the airfield. Some of the timbers are 1910-1920s vintage.

Opening of the old airport control tower.Opening of the old airport control tower.

“It was in the 1930s when the airfield really started to take off. The main use was flying between Weston and Cardiff.

“It was very popular on Sundays when you couldn’t drink in Wales and people used to fly to and from Weston. It sounds very extravagant these days.”

More than 3,600 aeroplanes were built in and around Weston during World War Two.

The Beaufort aircraft was created at a factory in Banwell, and tractors would tow planes along the road to Locking.

Opening of the old airport control tower.Opening of the old airport control tower.

Mark said: “That’s why the road to Banwell is so wide, because it had to accommodate the Beaufort.

“The airfield was out of the way of most of the action during World War Two. Weston was bombed, but there are no records of the airfield being hit.

“But there was a German air map, from 1942, where we can see them charting the process of the runway being built. They knew where the factories were and that sort of thing.”

Aircraft-building continued after the war, culminating in helicopters being designed and created on the Oldmixon estate, but it all came to an end in 2002.

In that time, the control tower and pilots block had fallen into disrepair.

Mark said: “The tower was in a hell of a state. People had been in there and knocked the partition walls down, there were windows smashed, and holes in the roof.

“If you see it now, it’s amazing what has been done.”

Museum chairman Elfan Ap Rees said when the idea of a helicopter museum was first considered in the late 1970s, the plan was always to eventually explore more about the history of Weston aviation.

In January 2015, the museum was successful in a bid to the Coastal Communities Fund for a grant to restore it.

Weston College students and volunteers worked together on the project over the next two years – and their hard work has finally paid off.

Mr Ap Rees said: “It’s taken nearly 40 years to happen and we are very grateful to the volunteers and support from local companies which has enabled us to complete the project at a fraction of the cost which would normally be budgeted by most museums.

“We now hope the new exhibition will remind visitors and new residents to the town, of the part Weston played in the West Country’s aviation history.”


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