Worthy Down Airfield is located near Winchester in Hampshire. It was a grass strip built on undulating ground which would have made landing and taking off “interesting”. A certain celebrity status was bestowed on the airfield when Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier flew from here. Their acting skills were allegedly better than their piloting ones and they between them wrote off or damaged several aircraft.
The airfield had a long history and first came into existence in 1917 when the former Winchester Racecourse was developed into what was to become Worthy Down. Aeroplane sheds were erected and the airfield was used by The Wireless and Observers School who arrived in 1918. However, with the Armistice very little then happened at the airfield until 1924 when No 58 Squadron arrived with Vickers Vimy bombers. They were later joined by No 7 Squadron with Vickers Virginias.
In 1935 No 7 re-equipped with Handley Page Heyford bombers. Various squadron renumbering took place and the bombers all left for Upper Heyford and Finningley in 1936. A new type of aircraft appeared at the airfield after the bombers departure when single engined Hawker Hinds arrived.
Peacetime flying continued until 1938 when the airfield was transferred to Coastal Command. This brought in Avro Ansons of 206, 220 & 233 Squadrons. The airfield was earmarked to become a Fleet Air Arm shore base and No 800 Squadron duly arrived. No 803 formed at the airfield flying Ospreys and Nimrods. Skuas and Rocs brought a slightly more modern aircraft to the mix. Worthy Down was renamed HMS Kestrel in 1939. With war in Europe, Worthy Down sent Rocs and Skuas to cover the beach evacuation at Dunkirk where some were lost to enemy action.
Worthy Down was attacked during the Battle Of Britain on 15 August 1940 by Junkers 88’s of LG1 operating from Orleans and Bricy. Most of the bombs landed on open ground and little damage was caused. Oddly after this attack German radio broadcast that HMS Kestrel had been sunk. This was the only attack that the airfield suffered during the war. With the bombing of the Supermarine works at Woolston, Spitfire development and test flying located to Worthy Down. In 1941 a large aircraft storage area was built on the west side of the A34 road. 48 Dutch Barn Hangars were constructed which kept Worthy Down a very busy airfield.
The airfield continued in operation throughout the war with various types of aircraft and units including Proctors, Lysanders, Oxfords, Whitleys and Sea Mews. The airfield was also used as an emergency landing ground with at least one damaged Liberator landing there. Supermarine test flying continued until March 1944 when it then transferred to High Point.
Worthy Down sported a large defensive perimeter on all sides. Twenty five pillboxes still remain in place, two of which are of the rare Picket Hamilton counterbalance type.
HMS Kestrel paid off in November 1947 and went into Care & Maintenance. In 1952 the airfield reopened as HMS Aerial II and the Air Electrical School moved in until 1960 when the airfield closed. The Royal Army Pay Corps then moved in and now reside in part of the former station buildings. The shots were taken over the summer of 2010.
One of the remaining Dutch Barn Hangars
Fusing shed - this is a building within a building. An early brick built structure constructed in 1929 has had a
further outside wall added. It was obviously considered that the original structure could not withstand
bomb blast and needed further protection
The entrance to the fusing shed. Note the inner and outer walls.
Near here was a torpedo shed which very sadly has been demolished. I have a full set of 35mm shots which I cant find.
The 1929 dated stone built within the inner wall of the fusing shed
Original fitting on the inner wall of the fusing shed
View looking down the airfield perimeter track
The line of one of the runways would have followed the treeline
These houses remain from the operational days and are now used by the army
This water tower is probably from the wartime days but I will stand corrected if anyone knows for sure
This Quetta Hut stands near the former A34 road where there was a crossing to allow aircraft over
to the storage area on the airfields western side
This building stands in the former aircraft storage area
Roof detail of the above building
Evidence remains of structures in the storage area and this old enamel pot
This is another Quetta Hut situated on the northern edge of the aircraft storage area
The remains of a further Dutch Barn Hangar are located within the undergrowth near the landing ground
Detail of hangar structure
One of the remaining Type 22 Pillboxes
A very well hidden Pickett Hamilton Pillbox
A huge piece of unidentified concrete - any ideas ?
A general view of the landing area at twilight
The Winchester to Newbury Railway ran next to the airfield. During the war Worthy Down station was rebuilt with a
double platform and this building known as The Admiralty Store was constructed
The road overbridge leading to the airfield from the former railway trackbed
Some of the old signalling infrastruture remains by the trackbed
As a final thought - this shows the human dimension that once flew and sometimes died from Worthy Down.
This grave is for a pilot who was lost whilst flying a Proctor aircraft from the airfield. The aircraft broke up
following structural failure near Abingdon. (My thanks to Dave Smith from AiX for this info)
Thanks for looking.