Statement of Special Interest
Montrose is one of a very small group of air stations in the United Kingdom to have retained relatively unaltered hangars that pre-date the First World War, in this case 'Major Burke's sheds from 1913. These largely unaltered hangars are extremely rare, being among the earliest surviving examples of first generation aircraft hangars in the United Kingdom and potentially Europe.
Montrose (Broomfield) is the oldest military air station in Scotland and was one of the first to be established in the United Kingdom. As a major training centre for British, Commonwealth and American pilots during both the First and Second World Wars, the site is of great historical importance. Further historical significance can be attributed for its associations with Major Burke and No.2 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps, who were based at Montrose prior to the First World War and played a key role in developing the use of aircraft for military purposes during the conflict.
Unusually for an early air station Montrose (Broomfield) remains relatively unaltered, which is extremely rare in a European context. The site is an extremely important surviving group of military airfield buildings and displays the hangar architecture of several different periods, which spans the history of aviation for military purposes. Exceptionally rare, these hangars are of international importance as they date from the formative phase in the development of military aviation.
In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: The timber extension on the south of Building 48.
Age and Rarity
Following the world's first powered flight by the Wright brothers in 1903, by 1910 the key military powers had begun investigations into the potential of powered flight for military application (Historic England, First World War Airfields).
In 1912, the British government planned the construction of twelve Air Stations to protect the country from the growing threat of the German naval fleet in the North Sea. These were to be operated by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) which had been established in April that year (http://rafmontrose.org.uk/). Under the instructions of Winston Churchill, Montrose (Broomfield) was the first of these military air stations to be established. Ideally located, its early purpose was to protect the Royal Navy bases at Rosyth, Cromarty and Scapa Flow.
The initial site of the air station (or aerodrome) was at Upper Dysart, approximately 3 miles to the south of Montrose. However, this was deemed unsuitable and the current site at Broomfield, 1 mile north of Montrose, was selected, as the site's location next to a railway line allowed transportation of goods into the air station. The three aircraft sheds were constructed by Army Engineers in December 1913, replacing the temporary canvas and timber structures at Upper Dysart (http://rafmontrose.org.uk). No.2 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was relocated to the permanent base at Broomfield, Montrose in early 1914.
The sheds are shown on a 1918 plan of the site (Fife 2007: p.113) and on the 3rd Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1924. They have largely remained unaltered since this time. Built to a standard type, which became known as 'Major Burke's sheds' after the commanding officer of No.2 Squadron, they were a modified form of Indian Army pattern sheds, redesigned to accommodate aircraft (http://rafmontrose.org.uk). The word shed was the contemporary terminology for aircraft accommodation. At the time the word 'hangar', which derived from the French for 'a covered space for a carriage', was used to describe the tent-like Bassonneaux hangars which were made of wood and canvas (Fife 2007: 178).
No.2 Squadron left for France following the outbreak of the First World War in July 1914 and by 1915 the aerodrome had become largely vacant. However, as the aerodromes in the south of England were becoming increasingly crowded, it was decided to disperse pilot training across Great Britain and Montrose was selected as one of these training centres (Fife 2007: 112). Until 1916, Montrose was the only RFC aerodrome in Scotland and it expanded rapidly during the First World War, becoming a major training centre for pilots, including United States, Canadian and British squadrons (Fife 2007: p.119). Unusually for an air station, the plane workshops were located 2 miles away at Panmure Barracks, and the majority of the personnel were also housed there (Fife 2007: 113). Three further timber hangars, which had Belfast Roof Trusses, were built in 1916-17, to the north of 'Major Burke's Sheds'. These are also shown on the 1918 plan of the site (Fife 2007: 113) but two of them were destroyed in October 1940 during a Second World War bombing raid.
Following the end of the First World War in 1918, the Air Station closed in 1920 and all of its aircraft, equipment and stores were sent to the recently opened Leuchars aerodrome. The site was returned to the Army and in 1924 the sheds were used for the maintenance and refurbishment of Lewis machine guns (Fife 2007: 119).
Due to the growing threat from Germany, it was decided to expand the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1935 and a key requirement was for more trained military pilots (http://rafmontrose.org.uk). Largely unchanged from the First World War, Montrose was reopened in January 1936 and became a flying training school for Royal Air Force, Canadian Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Service squadrons. Between reopening and the end of the Battle of Britain in 1940, it is estimated that over 800 pilots trained at Montrose. The station continued to operate throughout the Second World War and additional buildings, facilities and defence measures were erected across the site, including the addition of Bellman hangars between 1937 and 1942, as well as a large number of blister hangars around the perimeter. By this time the design of hangars had been simplified and standardised, resulting in a range of factory-produced hangars which were steel-framed and sheet-clad (Brown et al. 1995: 113-114).
The RAF vacated the site after the Second World War and the airfield was used only occasionally by light aircraft and for some training purposes (Brown et al. 1995: 156). It was officially closed on 4 June 1952. In the late 20th century the site was converted into an industrial centre, when almost all of the hangars were removed (http://rafmontrose.org.uk).
Montrose (Broomfield) is the oldest military airfield in Scotland and was one of the first military air stations to be established in the United Kingdom (Smith 1983: 152, Fife 2007: p.7, 18). It was part of the formative phase of flying, of which little built evidence now remains in a reasonably unaltered state (Brown et al 1995). Although it was subject to alterations and expansion, particularly during the Second World War, Montrose (Broomfield) did not experience the substantial redevelopment and demolition that occurred at many other early air stations (Fife 2007: 113). It therefore remains relatively intact, displaying the hangar architecture of several different periods, from the late 1913 sheds, to the Bellman hangars of the late-1930s and early 1940s (Smith 1983: p.152). This degree of retention is of great rarity in a European context (Historic England, Catterick).
Dating from 1913, the three hangars which are known as 'Major Burke's sheds', were the first to be built as part of Montrose Air Station. They are among the earliest surviving examples of first generation aircraft hangars in the United Kingdom (Fife 2007: 221). Other early examples of aircraft hangars that pre-date the First World War do survive in England but Montrose is the only example in Scotland.
Similar sheds were built at other military air stations, including Filton in Bristol and Netheravon in Wiltshire (Fife 2007: 180) but these are now demolished, while those at Catterick in the north of England are later, dating from 1917 (Historic England, Catterick). A single hangar of this type survives at Farnborough, known as the Black Shed and thought to be the earliest surviving example, which is designated as a Grade II listed building (List entry Number: 1339694). The Historic England list entry for the building also specifically describes the Montrose group as 'remarkable' (Historic England, Farnborough), further highlighting the significance of the group. Pre-First World War aircraft sheds do survive at Eastchurch airfield in Kent (1912) and at Larkhill in Wiltshire (1910) but these were both initially civilian training schools that became used for military aviation purposes. The two end-opening sheds at Larkhill date from June 1910 and are the earliest surviving aircraft hangars in Europe (Historic England, Larkhill). Other buildings which are associated with military aviation and date from 1913-14, also survive at Netheravon and Upavon near Salisbury Plain.
In conjunction with these other examples, the three 1913 hangars at Montrose are amongst the earliest and most historically significant structures associated with the pioneering phase of powered flight surviving in the United Kingdom, and potentially internationally (Fife 2007: p.221; Historic England, Eastchurch). Exceptionally rare, they are of international importance in the context of the development of military aviation prior to the First World War (Historic Military Aviation Sites: p.6).
Architectural or Historic Interest
Part of the interior of shed No.48 was seen in 2017. The later division of the hangar by a brick wall meant that only the southern half of the interior could be seen during the visit. It was indicated to us by the staff of the Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre that the rest of shed no. 48 and the interiors of nos. 46 and 47 are similar, which is to be expected with the standardised design of the sheds. The internal finishes are functional and plain in character, which is typical for an aircraft hangar of this early date. The roof trusses remain exposed, and although functional in their design, they survive in the same form as originally designed, to remove the need for large numbers of interior support pillars. This was necessary to provide the large, open space required for aircraft storage and maintenance, and so contributes to the original character and architectural interest of the building in listing terms.
The rectangular open-plan nature of the hangar is a typical characteristic of this building type, which allowed for the storage and maintenance of a variety of early aircraft.
The later red brick wall which subdivides shed No. 48 in two, and other insertions of low-level late-20th century partitions and ceilings, which appear to have been added to facilitate later industrial use, have only a minor impact on the overall character of the buildings, and the large, open character of the interior space can still be appreciated.
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
Early aircraft were built of light-weight and perishable materials such as timber and canvas, which would quickly deteriorate if left exposed to the elements for any length of time (Fife 2007: p.178). Tent-like canvas structures were often used to provide protection but these were not intended to be permanent.
Built from timber and galvanised iron the three sheds were constructed in a factory in Glasgow, and were provided to the site in kit form. Originally intended to be erected at Upper Dysart, as a replacement for the temporary tents already in place, the sheds were redirected when the new site at Montrose (Broomfield) was selected. Army Engineers had begun to assemble them at Broomfield by the winter of 1913 (Fife 2007: p.21). Arranged in a crescent layout, each shed measured 210ft by 65ft (64m x 19.8m) and had technical buildings located to the rear (Fife 2007: p.113, 180). 'Major Burke's sheds' became the standard design for Royal Flying Corps hangars until 1916, with further examples being constructed at Turnhouse and Stirling. After 1916 they were replaced by larger general service sheds which had doors at the end of the building and characteristic curved roofs with bowed trusses (Fife 2007: p.178, 180). By the Second World War, technological advancements meant that the design of aircraft hangars was simplified, resulting in a range of pre-fabricated, steel-framed sheet-clad designs. These hangars included the T1, T2, Over Blister, BL, B2, Bellman and Teeside types (Brown et al. 1995: p.113-114).
While the three sheds at Montrose are plain and functional in character, this is typical of the building type and date. The standardised nature of the materials, components and overall design was particularly suited to military use. It enabled the sheds to be prefabricated in a factory, delivered to the site in kit form and assembled quickly by Army Engineers. The triangular timber roof-frame is conventional for its time, except that it uses iron rods as vertical tension members to support the structure (SCRAN). The position of the doors to the side of the building, is a characteristic feature of this early type of hangar. This was soon superseded by later generation hangars, which had the door located at the end of the building (Fife 2007: p.180).
Nos.46 and 47 have been externally remodelled through the addition of steel cladding and the alteration of the access doors in the 1980s. However, the original timber-frame is retained and the original corrugated-iron cladding may be concealed beneath the later coverings (Listed Building Record, 1988). These changes do not significantly impact upon the architectural interest of the sheds in listing terms. The sheds are early examples of first generation aircraft sheds, a type which were active for only a short period of time (roughly two years). Relatively few were built in the United Kingdom and their survival is unique within Scotland. Representing the early pioneering phase in aviation and its development for military purposes, they were the first standardised design from which later aviation sheds evolved.
The former air station is situated on the northeast edge of the town of Montrose in Angus, on an area of flat grassland adjacent to the coast. Facing seaward (east) and arranged in a crescent shape, the sheds are located to the south west corner of the site. They are shown on a plan of the air station dating from 1918 (Fife 2007: p.113), along with three further sheds to the north (built 1917). A railway line directly to the rear formed part of the western boundary of the air station and the seashore formed the eastern boundary. The base originally extended across nearly 190 acres (Fife 2007: p.113). The railway line and these later sheds are now gone and the western edge of the site was partially redeveloped as an industrial estate in the 1980s. The large open space used for the airfield flight operations is still identifiable, including surviving sections of the Second World War runways and taxiways, and other air station buildings remain nearby. These include two Bellman type hangars from the late 1930s and early 1940s (LB38230, LB38232), a guard room dating from 1915 (LB38231) and another First World War building which functioned as the station's headquarters in the Second World War (LB38229) but is now a heritage centre for the air station.
Although the original setting has undergone phased alterations throughout the 20th century, changes on a site of this nature and scale are to be expected and the lay-out of the air station remains legible. In comparison with other First and Second World War air stations, the setting is well-retained and the survival of associated buildings and fragments relating to its former use are of particular interest.
There are no known regional variations.
Close Historical Associations
The hangars have close historical associations with both a nationally important person, Major Charles Burke, and the development of military aviation during the First World War (1914-1918).
The type of sheds initially built at Montrose were named after Major Charles Burke, who was the commander of No.2 Squadron. Founded in May 1912 No.2 Squadron was one of the first three squadrons of the newly formed Royal Flying Corps (RFC). It is the oldest fixed-wing flying squadron in the world (The Aerodrome). The Squadron is also notable for producing the first airman to be awarded the Victoria Cross and it was the first to land in France following the outbreak of the First World War (The Aerodrome).
Burke was one of the first to understand the potential military value of aircraft and the importance of training. His training advice to pilots (known as 'Burke's Maxims') is thought to be the earliest known manual of flying training (Montrose Heritage Centre). Under Burke's command No.2 Squadron made great progress in long distance flying. They made the first aerial crossing of the Irish Sea and one of their pilots set a new world record for flying 500 miles non-stop from Montrose to Farnborough (War in the Air, p.8). The Squadron also helped in the development of techniques in aerial photography and aerial reconnaissance (Montrose Heritage Centre; War in the Air, p.8). Such pioneering efforts made it clear that aircraft could play an important role in warfare and these techniques soon became common place during the First World War (War in the Air, p.8) and remain important aspects of warfare in the 21st century.
The air station was witness to huge advances in aviation, as summarised above, and made a significant contribution to the training of pilots (Montrose Heritage Centre). As pilot training was a highly dangerous activity, there were many casualties. Some of the pilots and personnel who died, either in training accidents or as a result of air raids, are buried in the Rosehill and Sleepyhillock cemeteries within the town (www.cwgc.org).
Statutory address, category of listing (of Buildings 46 and 47) changed from B to A and listed building record revised in 2018. Previously listed separately as 'Montrose Air Station, Buildings 46 and 47 (LB38227)' and 'Montrose Air Station, Building 48 (LB38228)'.
Canmore: http://canmore.org.uk/ CANMORE ID: 276376, 252022, 252023
Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1923, published 1924) Forfarshire XXVIII.14 (Dun; Montrose). 25 inches to the mile. 2nd and later Editions. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey (published 1957) NO65 & Parts of NO75 (includes: Montrose). 1:25,000. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
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Montrose Heritage Centre
Listed Building Record (1988)
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Printed: 27/09/2021 12:05