The nine-acre Aerospace Bristol site on Filton Airfield, Bristol includes two WWI Grade II listed hangars (16S and 16M), providing over 5,000 m² of public exhibition space, 1,700m² of indoor learning spaces and workshops, plus over 5,000m² of outdoor learning and testing space. These two buildings are the earliest surviving buildings at Filton, which in turn is the oldest site in the world with a history of continuous design and manufacture. English Heritage describe the three-span Belfast hangar (16S) as ‘the most complete on any of these types of sites in existence’ and the other building (16M) as ‘a rare surviving example of the earliest standard type of hangar’.
Aircraft production began at Filton in 1910, in two sheds owned by the Bristol Tramway Company. Aeroplanes were initially sent to Brooklands in Surrey and Larkhill near Stonehenge in Wiltshire for flight testing, but a small flying ground was established next to the factory in 1911. By the start of the First World War, the factory had expanded at such a rate that the flying ground was built over, and flying moved a mile or so north, to a large patch of level ground. At the same time the Royal Flying Corps set up a camp to train new pilots and to receive new aeroplanes from the factory and others in the area. From here, squadrons would build up strength before heading to war, and newly-built aircraft would be dispatched to the front line.
Filton Airfield, on the northern fringe of Bristol, will be the home of a new museum celebrating the achievements of the aerospace industry in the Bristol area. Aerospace Bristol will be located on the northern part of the airfield, which closed at the end of 2012 after a century of operation. The site includes a number of buildings from the former RAF base at Filton, including two Grade-II listed First World War hangars. These buildings are among the best preserved examples of their type in the UK, and will be fully refurbished before exhibits can be moved in. In addition, a new building will be erected on the site to house Bristol's Concorde.
The larger of the two listed buildings is a three-bay Belfast Truss general service hangar, built for the Royal Flying Corps in 1917. This was occupied by No. 501 (City of Bristol) Squadron of the Special Reserve Air Force in 1929. At the start of the Second World War this squadron moved to France, and later took part in the Battle of Britain, defending London from attack. The hangars were used by the RAF up to 1992 when the Bristol University Air Squadron moved out. This hangar will comprise the aviation heritage and social history exhibitions, catering and shop.
The smaller listed structure is a rare surviving example of one of the earliest types of flight shed designs. Built around 1916, it comprises a timber frame with corrugated iron cladding, and a single gable opening on the side. This will become a workshop for the centre, allowing in-depth restoration and conservation to take place.
Both of these hangars give over 5,000m² floor space. This is a marvellous opportunity to save two historically important aeronautical buildings, at the same time as providing a home for our museum.
A new building with be erected between the two hangars to house Concorde and related exhibits, including a viewing gallery. Its floorspace will be around 3,200m², and will include a technology learning centre, conference facilities and a lecture room.
The remainder of the nine-acre Aerospace Bristol site will encompass children's play areas, picnic facilities, space for outdoor events and parking.