Archive concerning Heston Aerodrome

Item date: 1928-1931
Grant Value: £1,500
Item cost: £5,500
Item date acquired: 2016
Item institution: RIBA Architectural Library
Town/City: London
London borough: LB Camden

This important archive of Heston Aerodrome, Middlesex, documents the construction and early operating of Britain’s first private airport. It consists of approximately 160 letters, 20 photographs, 65 drawings, 2 brochures and press cuttings.

Heston Air Park was conceived by fellow pilots and aircraft co-owners Nigel Norman and Alan Muntz in 1928, and constructed by their new company, Airwork Ltd. However it was all designed by Leslie Magnus Austin ARIBA (1896-1975). The Archive contains the correspondence between Norman and Muntz at Airwork and Austin from the initial stages in 1928 to 1931. It covers the purchase of land, construction, architecture and everything needed to build an airport, as well as recording a major disagreement regarding who should get the credit for the design of the new airport. Austin, the professional architect, pulled together Norman and Muntz’s ideas into a realisable complex. Importantly he kept all of Norman and Muntz’s letters with copies of his own letters, together with those to and from the various contractors as the airport took shape and in addition details the problems caused by the Hounslow Borough Surveyor. Additional extensive correspondence from 1934 to 1936 includes further civic airport projects and Austin’s participation in the RIBA exhibition of International Architecture 1924-1934 and his role on the RIBA Aerodrome Committee.

The surviving hangar at Heston airfield is listed Grade II. This structure, dating from 1929,is the first all-concrete hangar built in Britain and therefore is significant nationally for technological innovation.

The archive greatly complements existing material in the RIBA Archive. The RIBA showed a keen interest in transport in the 1930s, particularly in the new form of flight. This interest led to the formation of an RIBA Aerodromes Committee, for which we hold three files from 1931. The committee included representatives of the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Health, Imperial Airways, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and aircraft manufacturers as well as architects. This in turn led to the holding of an Aerodromes Exhibition at the RIBA in 1932, demonstrating the RIBA’ early interest in this new form of public transport. The RIBA’s inaugural exhibition at the opening of its new headquarters at Portland Place, International Architecture 1924-1934, included photographs of Heston, something which Austin was very proud of.  We have almost no information as to how the pioneering series of exhibitions shown by the RIBA in the 1930s were organised and the Heston archive sheds completely new light on how they were done. So in addition to recording the building of a completely new type of transport facility, Austin’s manuscripts shed light on the RIBA’s own archive and areas of past activity. Leslie Magnus Austin became an Associate RIBA member in 1922 and the only document within our archive which we have for him is a brief biographical file.  It is therefore of great benefit to the collection to be able to add further details and personal correspondence regarding this former member.

The collection will primarily be for research, given how much of it is in the form of letters, although the drawings are very interesting, attractive and suitable for exhibition. The early use of concrete will also arouse interest.