81 years on from the Battle of Britain, Hornchurch marked its role in the fight by opening a new RAF Hornchurch Heritage Centre on the anniversary of that critical World War II victory. A lasting legacy to the courageous pilots and personnel who served at RAF Hornchurch, the new Heritage Centre is the life’s work of volunteers from the Hornchurch Aerodrome Historical Trust.
Member of Parliament for Hornchurch & Upminster, Julia Lopez, attended the Formal Opening Ceremony along with Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, whose father, Wilfred, served at the base, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon GCB CBE.
Julia first visited the old Suttons House, part of the former St George’s Hospital site in Hornchurch, in 2018. At that time, the building had been earmarked by local volunteers and history enthusiasts from the Hornchurch Aerodrome Historical Trust as a potential site for a new RAF Hornchurch Heritage Centre to mark the incredible contribution the area’s airbase made to Britain’s war effort. The building was gifted to the Trust by Bellway Homes and since then, volunteers led by Tony Philpot, have worked tirelessly to transform the building into a treasure trove of local artefacts and stories about Hornchurch’s time as a critical RAF base. During the war, the RAF Hornchurch was equipped with Spitfires and designated as a fighter station, protecting London from attack.
The special occasion was marked by a flypast of a Hurricane and Spitfire Mk 11a P7350, the only Spitfire still airworthy that took part in the Battle of Britain and which had been based at RAF Hornchurch with 603 Squadron during the Battle from 17 October 1940. Residents from across the Hornchurch & Upminster constituency gathered on the surrounding roads and in Hornchurch Country Park to enjoy the flypast. Several defences from the war can still be found in the Country Park, including pill boxes and Tett Turrets. Other residents took to social media to remark that the historical aircraft had also been seen across Harold Hill and Fairlop Waters.
The event also marked the formal opening of the Ted Exall Education Centre, a tribute to the man who founded the Hornchurch Aerodrome Historical Trust and who originally conceived the idea for a dedicated museum.
The opening of the new museum came in the same week that Mrs Lopez was appointed Minister of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), which promotes and protects Britain’s cultural heritage.
Following the visit, Julia said ‘When I visited Suttons House in September 2018 with the Trust, you could still see the old medical rooms and the building clearly needed a lot of work. I cannot believe the transformation that has taken place since because of local volunteers’ hard work, passion and dedication to memorialising RAF Hornchurch. They have created the most tremendous local treasure trove, which will forever be a tribute to all who served here. The Hurricane and Spitfire flypast was an incredibly moving sight, and I would encourage local residents to visit the museum itself as it is packed full of beautifully told stories about the role that people from Hornchurch & Upminster played in the Second World War. What the Trust have created is not only a local gem but a national asset’.
Four pictures of the opening ceremony, 19 Sept 2021
One picture of Julia Lopez with the Hornchurch Aerodrome Historical Trust at Suttons House, Sept 2018
Link to video of flypast with Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP