View Full Version : Leavesden Aerodrome: From Halifaxes to Hogwarts - Grant Peerless & Richard Riding

Richard Flagg
06-02-2012, 16:25

Leavesden Aerodrome – From Halifaxes to Hogwarts by Grant Peerless and Richard Riding
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (7 Sep 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445604183
ISBN-13: 978-1445604183

Reviewed by Peter Howarth in AR133

This book follows on from the same authors’ tome on Elstree and is in a similar style, being mainly photographic but with good captions and enough text to tell the story, from initial planning through to its current use as a film studio. The various Harry Potter films were shot here, hence the book title.

Pre-war planning battles for a municipal aerodrome for Watford are covered, including interestingly one proposal to use the land for a film studio. However these plans all came to nothing and it was only following the outbreak of the Second World War that the de Havilland company were contracted by the Ministry of Aircraft Production to build an aircraft factory on the site as part of a shadow factory scheme for the London area. The factory was split into two sites with a single 3,033 ft runway, fairly short even for that time. Although no plan is provided in the book, the site construction is well illustrated, along with many aerial photographs that show the airfield development. Before aircraft production started, control of the factory was transferred to the new London Aircraft Production Group, comprising of various coachwork companies in the area.

Wartime production initially concentrated on the Handley Page Halifax and, after a slow start, 710 of these bombers were built by the end of the war. However de Havilland were also looking for spare capacity for Mosquito production, and so from late 1941 No.2 Factory was dedicated to the ‘Wooden Wonder’, with 1,390 being built by war-end and carrying on to 1947. There are plenty of shots of Halifaxes and Mosquitos on the airfield and in the factory. However the role of the ATA and the factory’s own test pilots isn’t forgotten in the book.

Following the end of the war aircraft production wound down and de Havilland took over the whole site as the headquarters of its Engine Division, although repair and overhaul of civil types such as the Dove and Heron continued until the 1960s. Initial engine production concentrated on the Gypsy in its many variants, as well as the new jet engines such as Goblin and Ghost. From the late 1950s de Havilland started to concentrate on helicopter engines, initially with the Gnome which was based on a US design and powered the Wessex and Sea King amongst others. In 1961 DH Engines were taken over by Bristol Siddeley which in turn became part of Rolls Royce. Leavesden became the centre for small gas turbine work within the company, covering further types such as the Gem and RTM322.

Given the reduction in aircraft activities at the airfield, it was decided to develop it as a general aviation facility from 1959, with business traffic also encouraged. This part of its history is particularly well illustrated, showing the wide range of types that flew from Leavesden and including a couple of airframes that the reviewer became intimately familiar with in later years. The book also covers a number of general events that took place at the airfield, particularly on open days, whilst crashes and incidents are also covered.

Sadly the helicopter engine work declined and Rolls Royce decided to close the site in 1992, the last flight actually taking place in 1994. No.1 Factory became a film studio, whilst No.2 Factory was demolished to make way for new developments and only half the runway remains.

This book provides a good overview of Leavesden’s interesting and varied history and can be recommended for those with an interest in the airfield or Britain’s industrial history.