June 2017 marks the centenary of the establishment of Kenley as an aerodrome.
At the start of June 1917, a 230-strong Royal Flying Corps (RFC) detachment, including men from the Canadian Forestry Corps, arrived and immediately started felling trees, some nearly 100 years old, and clearing scrub on Kenley Common. For local people this was the first indication that an airfield was to be built. And, notwithstanding a public outcry and questions being asked in Parliament on 5 June, development of the aerodrome progressed at a rapid rate.
Prior to June 1917, the common land had formerly been used as a golf course and for grazing. In keeping with the priorities of the day, the acquisition of the 81 acres was uncompromising. Under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 neither farmers, the local council, nor even the Corporation of London were given any prior warning of what was about to happen.
The Government’s reasoning was that it was necessary to set up, as a matter of extreme urgency, an Aircraft Acceptance Park and an aerodrome to the south of London to help combat raids on the city by German Zeppelins and bombers. An Acceptance Park was where aircraft were delivered in wooden crates from manufacturers for assembly and flight testing, before being delivered to Royal Flying Corps (RFC) Squadrons in France and Belgium.
For the first few months the airfield workers lived in about 70 tents located roughly where the modem housing estate is now. In those days Old Hayes Lane, a public road, ran in a straight line across the site of the present-day aerodrome and through the housing estate on the southern border of the airfield.
Although by law the RFC was not able to close Old Hayes Lane, it was able to limit the use of the road to bona fide vehicle and pedestrian users under a special bye-law.
So, in a very short period of time, a quiet rural district was transformed into a noisy industrial site. Locals complained about the noise from the aeroplane engines, especially when they were on test, and also from lorries running a shuttle service from the local railway stations transporting aeroplane parts. To no avail – No. 7 Kenley Aircraft Acceptance Park was up and running, producing about 50 aircraft, of various types, monthly.
Pleasingly over the next few months a good relationship was built up between the RFC and the local people. Sports teams, concert parties and local charity works all played their part.
Written by website volunteer Mike Wicksteed on behalf of the Kenley Revival Project.