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Transformation of former RAF base into home for historic vehicles

  • Posted on 20th April 2017
  • Category: Case study

This article appeared in Refurb – The Journal of Repair, Replacement and Maintenance

The next phase of restoration work is starting on a £3m project to continue the magnificent transformation of a former WW2 RAF Bomber Station into a national centre for historic automotive engineering excellence.

Bicester Heritage, located in Oxfordshire, is working with expert heritage engineers Patrick Parsons, to deliver a sensitive restoration programme which has significantly contributed to the removal of the conservation area of the former RAF Bicester from Historic England’s At Risk Register. The unique site is the best preserved of its type in the UK and is now upheld by Historic England as a national exemplar of constructive conservation.

The airfield was first occupied in 1916 by the Royal Flying Corps, which then became part of the newly-formed Royal Air Force in 1918, becoming a key training location. In the mid-1920s the airfield was transformed into a state-of-the-art Bomber Station and then expanded in 1936, later becoming home to famous Second World War planes such as the prototype Halifax and numerous Bristol Blenheim bombers.

The derelict 348-acre site, left to decay after the RAF moved out in 1976, was acquired by Bicester Heritage from the Ministry of Defence in 2013. The site includes fifty wartime buildings, a 200-acre grass airfield, numerous bunkers and defensive installations – most of which are listed or Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

Restoration works began almost immediately and well over 70 per cent of the historic buildings and structures have been reactivated and made suitable for modern commercial purposes with many being reused for their original purposes; Bentley specialist Kingsbury Racing fit engines to Bentleys in the RAF’s old Engine Fitting Shop and Classic Oils store and sell heritage oils from the former Lubricant Store.

Now home to over thirty industry specialists, the location is the first in the world to become a sector-specific, one-stop-shop for the historic motoring market.

Multi-disciplinary consulting engineers, Patrick Parsons, have been working on the site for the last four years. The firm, who specialise in the conservation and restoration of historic buildings, are involved in the ongoing restoration and inspection of all the buildings across the site, which includes thorough investigations and reports on the condition and suitability for future restoration.

Leon Walsh, Senior Structural Engineer at Patrick Parsons, commented: “This is an incredibly unique site which came with a lot of challenges. A number of the buildings across the site are Grade II listed which require sensitive restoration. After the former occupiers of the site vacated some buildings became significantly degraded due to fire, water ingress or vandalism and roped access inspections were required to overcome the difficult access conditions.

“It’s a very special project to be involved in and sites like these are incredibly important to the preservation of British history, with Bicester Heritage also future proofing the historic motoring industry.”

The next phase of works will see the site benefit from an extra 30,000 square feet across ten buildings and plans for wider development include the possibility of a hotel and motoring lodges, just in time to celebrate the centenary of powered military flight at Bicester’s airfield in 2017.

Daniel Geoghegan, Managing Director a Bicester Heritage, commented: “Patrick Parsons came highly recommended and have been with the project since its inception in 2013.  Their support, adaptability and clear enthusiasm for Bicester Heritage has contributed to our ability to move forward confidently and with the minimum of obstacles.  A partnership-orientated firm with a ‘can-do’ attitude and realistic perspective.”

Find out more about Bicester Heritage here