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This officers'mess of 1923 is the most impressive building to have survived at Northolt, important for its historical associations with the Battle of Britain and its later history as a key fighter station.
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01-DEC-05 RAF Northolt
Officers' Mess (Building 70)
Officers' mess. By the Air Ministry's Directorate of Works and Buildings, to drawing no. 45/23. Red brick with slate roofs and brick stacks.
PLAN: A complex group, symmetrical to the front. Hipped single-storey central block with ante-room and card and writing rooms connected to the main mess and a billiard rooms behind, sited next to which are the kitchen and service ranges. Set back to each side a lower connecting corridor to 2-storey wings containing single rooms to central corridors; the whole forming a wide extended 'H'.
EXTERIOR: Windows originally timber sash set to brick soldier arches and stooled concrete sills. Single-storey 9-bay central range with gablets to outer hips. The main entrance porch has Tuscan columns to double-leaf inner doors; large multi-paned dormer above, with cupola set to clock tower on central axis behind. 4 windows to each side of porch. Accommodation blocks have 3-bay outer ends and multi-bay returns, with central doors to end walls and dormers to mansard roofs with stacks set either side of ridge. INTERIOR: original doors and joinery throughout. Dog-leg staircases. Classical chimneypieces. The dining room has a segmental plaster panelled ceiling above a continuous horizontal moulded architrave; bolection-moulded panelling to walls; panelled doors in moulded architraves and high-level windows set in eared architraves. Above the doors to the servery is a bowed balcony with metal balustrade. Bedroom wings were not inspected, but a high level of detailing was maintained throughout the building.
HISTORY: This mess building was one of the first buildings completed for Trenchard's Home Defence Expansion Scheme, underway from late 1923 and which included the rebuilding of bases in a 'fighter belt' stretching from Duxford near Cambridge to Wiltshire. The use of mansard roofs is based on the design of the officers' married quarters at Uxbridge, worked by Lt J.G.N. Clifts, one of the first Air Ministry architects on his appointment in 1918. It is loosely designed to a Domestic Revival style, with a classical porch and central clock tower and fine interior treatment to the mess rooms, and was one of the first buildings built for the RAF planned on the principles of dispersal against aerial attack. It is the most impressive building to have survived at Northolt, important for its historical associations with the Battle of Britain, the Polish airmen who fought for the RAF and the liberation of their country and its later history as a key fighter station.
No buildings remain from the Home Defence station which was opened in March 1915 and which played an important part in defending London from the Gotha bomber raids of 1917. After 1920 it housed a communications flight and also shared with civil operators, including the Central Aircraft Company, its own flying school. It was one of the fighter bases retained as part of Trenchard's Home Defence Expansion Scheme, the field being improved in 1925 when work was begun on new permanent buildings including the barracks, operations block and station headquarters. The Air Estimates of March 1928 stated that o92, 500 had been spent on accommodation, hangarage, a watch office and operations block at Northolt. These replaced earlier hutted structures, and other hangars of the First World War period were demolished in 1930 for the A-type hangar and in 1939 for the C-type hangar. The site's position close to Western Avenue (the A40) facilitated frequent visits by dignitaries to inspect the aerodrome, including Churchill, George VI and high-ranking officers taken to see Dowding's fighter defence network in operation in the operations block. It became the first station, in January 1938, to receive the Hawker Hurricane. With the onset of the Second Worlds War the site and its buildings were subjected to an extensive and successful camouflage programme which including the painting of houses on the hangars and hedgerows on the ground.
Northolt was one of the fighter bases around London which received runways and fighter pens as part of the infrastructure put in place by Fighter Command before the Battle of Britain. Although this part of the site has been subject to much post-war redevelopment, Northolt is - after Biggin Hill and Debden - the 11 Group sector station to have retained most of its original built fabric, including the Officers' Mess and the original four barracks blocks, and the two hangars, the station workshops and operations room which played a significant maintenance and operational role in the Battle. The site's position close to Western Avenue (the A40) facilitated frequent visits by dignitaries to inspect the aerodrome, including Churchill, George VI and high-ranking officers taken to see Dowding's fighter defence network in operation in the operations block. It became the first station, in January 1938, to receive the Hawker Hurricane. On account of its proximity to London, Northolt was used during the war for flying prominent individuals on their way to international conferences and meetings, including Churchill and Sikorski. Northolt's importance, however, resides in the fact that it was one of the fighter sector stations in 11 Group, which by virtue of its location in England's south-east corner took the brunt of the Luftwaffe assault in the Battle of Britain, and for its well-known associations with those Polish airmen who fought and died under the RAF. 15% of Fighter Command's strength in the Battle of Britain came from overseas pilots, Czechs and Poles making up the largest European element. In August 1940 No 303 (Kosciusko) Squadron was formed at Northolt, and this was the first Polish squadron to see action. During September claims were made for 148 enemy aircraft destroyed, with nearly 60 others 'probables' or damaged. The first bombs dropped on Northolt in late September 1940, in the following month a bomb which dropped between the two hangars caused damage and casualties.
The airfields associated with the Battle of Britain of 1940 - when Britain had become the first nation in history to retain its freedom and independence through air power - relate to historic sites and fabric stretching from those used by the RAF to those used by or built especially for the Luftwaffe, including the now-protected sites at Paris Le Bourget and Deelen in the Netherlands. Of all the sites which became involved in The Battle of Britain, none have greater resonance in the popular imagination than those of the sector airfields within these Groups which bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe onslaught and, in Churchill's words, 'on whose organisation and combination the whole fighting power of our Air Force at this moment depended'. It was 11 Group, commanded by Air Vice Marshall Keith Park from his underground headquarters at RAF Uxbridge, which occupied the front line in this battle, with its 'nerve centre' sector stations at Northolt, North Weald, Biggin Hill, Tangmere, Debden and Hornchurch taking some of the most sustained attacks of the battle, especially between 24 August and 6 September when these airfields and later aircraft factories became the Luftwaffe's prime targets.
Peter Norris, 'Northolt', in W.G. Ramsey (ed), The Battle of Britain Then and Now, (5th edition, London, 1989), pp. 236-249; Adam Zamoyski, The Forgotten Few: The Polish Air Force in the Second World War (London, 1995), pp. 94-7, 118-22, 210-12; Operations Record Books, PRO AIR 28/ 1260 and 601; Churchill, W. The Second World War. Volume II: Their Finest Hour (London, 1949); Lake, J. and Schofield, J., 'Conservation and the Battle of Britain'. In The Burning Blue. A New History of the Battle of Britain, Addison, P. and Crang, J. (eds), 229-242 (London, 2000).
Listing NGR: TQ1041485423