A museum telling the story of one of London's most famous airfields is now open.
Biggin Hill Memorial Museum remembers the history of RAF Biggin Hill, an airfield founded in 1917 to be used by the Royal Flying Corps during the first world war, located on what is now the London-Kent border.
Biggin Hill Airfield was put to more use during the second world war, with Spitfires and Hurricanes based there during the Battle of Britain. It was part of a chain of airfields that protected the capital, described by Winston Churchill as ' the strongest link'. Because of its strategic importance, the airfield itself became a target for enemy attack, with 39 people killed on the ground.
After the war, with the closure of Croydon Airport, civilian air traffic began to use Biggin Hill, as it still does today.
The museum is built around the St. George’s RAF Chapel of Remembrance, very close to the modern day Biggin Hill Airport. The chapel, grade-II listed and built in 1951, is a memorial to the 454 pilots killed flying from RAF Biggin Hill during the second world war. The wooden floor — made from slats of sectioned propeller blades — and 12 stained glass windows, designed by the same studio responsible for the Battle of Britain window at Westminster Abbey, have been painstakingly restored to their original state.
The stories of those who lived and worked in the local area while Biggin Hill Airfield was at its most active are told. These include fighter pilots facing the realities of aerial combat, the local pub landlady creating a sense of normality, and children scavenging souvenirs from the wreckage. More than 80 items are on display included a 50kg bomb (not active, don't panic), a table from a local pub that had fighter pilots’ names carved into the wood, a child’s gas mask, an escape crowbar for a Spitfire, fragments of pilots’ maps, compasses, uniforms and flying jackets.
Historian Dan Snow provides the museum's audio commentary, along with veterans including the late Geoffrey Wellum (the youngest Spitfire pilot to fly in the Battle of Britain at just 19 years old).
Funding for the museum came from the National Lottery and Central Government, and the construction of the museum has taken 16 months.
Biggin Hill Memorial Museum Director, Jemma Davey, said:
There has long been an aspiration for a museum which remembers ‘the Few’ and honours ‘the Many’. The museum shares people’s experiences of war at RAF Biggin Hill ‘in their own words’. We hope their stories will inspire generations and continue to remind us of the very best of the human spirit.
Biggin Hill Memorial Museum, Main Road, Biggin Hill, Kent*, TN16 3EJ. Opening hours: closed on Monday, only open to prebooked groups on Tuesdays. Regular opening hours are Wednesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm. Admission is £7.50 adults/£4 children. See the website for more details, or follow the museum on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
*The museum gives its address as Kent, but by our calculations, it falls within the London Borough of Bromley, so we're claiming it. It's located incrementally further south than nearby Down House, which by our calculations makes it the most southerly museum in London — but we're happy to be corrected so if you know any better, let us know.