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Harlow's History and Geography

Second World War Airfields near Harlow

During the Second World War, the countryside of England was carpeted with airfields. Essex was no exception. There were Royal Air Force (RAF) airfields at Hunsdon, Sawbridgeworth, North Weald and Stansted, and United States Army Air Force (USAAF)bases at Matching Green and Fyfield. The Air Ministry Department of Works had a large depot in the Netteswell Road west of Harlow. One of the buildings is identified as a laundry, on the1948 Ordnance Survey map as well as the 1875 edition. In the 1860s this was the laundry for the Mark Hall estate, but it subsequently became a commercial enterprise. The Air Ministry depot, the lodge, Netteswell Road and the track leading south through Mark Hall Park can all be clearly seen in the aerial photo of Old Harlow taken from the west around 1948.

Harlow from the west, ca. 1940. Air Ministry Depot in foreground. Air Ministry Depot, 1948 (Ordnance Survey)

RAF Hunsdon

Site of Hunsdon Airfield.  Google Earth Image taken 4 March, 2005During 1944 and 1945 RAF Hunsdon was home to six Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons. 406 (Lynx), 409 (Nighthawk), 410 (Cougar) and 418 (City of Edmonton) were equipped with the twin-engine wooden deHavilland Mosquito, and flew night-fighter and then daylight intruder missions. Numbers 441 and 442 flew the North American Mustang III. The first Commanding Officer of the base was Squadron Leader Peter Townsend of 85 Squadron who became better known to the world after the war when he became a suitor of the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret.

At first glance, it may seem that nothing survives of this airfield except a few segments of perimiter track and a runway now used by ultra-light aircraft. However quite a few buildings survive in the surrounding hedgerows and woods, although there is no right of way to any of the surviving buildings and anyone wishing to see them must seek the permission of the landowner. The airfield was defended by 12 pillboxes and the same number of gunpits and FC type 'mushrooms'. Six of the pillboxes survive in Tuck Spring Wood, Blackhut Wood, at the rear of Hunsdon Lodge Farm, in the private drive at Drury Lane and two along the perimeter track. The underground battle headquarters with its above-ground observation room is still there, but is flooded and unsafe. A rare 20 mm ammunition storage building can still be found in Blackhut Wood, along with a small arms store, and a searchlight crew latrine and clothes drying shelter survives in Tuck Spring Wood.

Memorial, RAF Hunsdon Memorial Plaque, RAF Hunsdon Squadron Listing, RAF Hunsdon

RAF Sawbridgeworth

There is no sign of the runways here because none were hard-surfaced. But Site of Sawbridgeworth airfield_December 1999much of the perimeter track has survived, especially the section running through Mathams Wood. Here you can also see exceptionally well-preserved aircraft dispersal pens of the 'Blenheim' type, complete with blast walls and air raid shelter. A type 24 pillbox still stands ready to defend the road along the Hadham-Sawbridgeworth road that ran through the centre of the airfield. Many of the original buildings on the Technical Site survive as parts of the Woodside Industrial Estate, due to the care and maintenance performed by the owner of Shingle Hall Farm. They include a 10-bed sick ward and attached dental unit, the mortuary and ambulance hut, and the Maycrete guardhouse. The underground battle headquarters has also survived, but as at Hunsdon, it is flooded and unsafe to enter. A memorial to those who served on this airfield was built at the entrance to the farm in 2007.

RAF Sawbridgeworth Memorial   RAF Sawbridgworth Memorial and Maycrete Guard House
Entrance to blast shelter at dispersal point, Sawbridgeworth airfield Interior of a dispersal shelter Type 24 pillbox on the Hadham-Sawbridgeworth road near Allen's Green.

Matching Airfield

The United States Army Air Force (USAAF) airfield at Matching (Station 166) was Site of Matching airfield, 2008 (Google Earth Image)completed by October, 1943 and was home to the four squadrons of Martin B-26 Marauder aircraft of the 391st Bombardment Group (M), 9th Air Force between February and September 1944. Nearly all of the perimeter track remains, although it has been reduced in width to about 10 feet. There is also a very rare piece of full-width runway, west of the road that bisects the airfield site. The control tower is intact, as is the main aviation fuel storage facility near Stock Hall. The Braithwaite water tank on the site of the Officer's camp is still standing, surrounded by the Quonset huts of the Watertower Site Industrial Estate which formerly housed the C.O.'s quarters and the Sergeant's (Orderly) mess, showers and latrine.

Control Tower, Matching Airfield Memorial Plaque, Matching Airfield Control Tower, Matching Airfield
Quonset Hut on the Water Tower site. Braithwaite Water Tower, Matching Airfield Quonset Huts at Anchor Lane Farm, Matching Airfield
Perimeter Track, Matching Airfield   The surviving stretch of full-width runway at Matching Airfield.  Cyclist for scale.


Table of Contents
Harlow's History and Geography
Introduction & The Origins of Harlow The Structure of Harlow Industry

Second World War Airfields
Walks Around Harlow
Market Street & St. John's Walk Fore Street, Park Hill, London & Station Roads High Street
Churchgate Street
Harlow New Town
The Origins of the New Town Programme Important Developments in Harlow New Town
References & Acknowledgements
Photo Gallery