NOSTALGIA: End of an era as Wilmington’s aerodrome is knocked down

The surviving strongpoint in what is known locally as Pillbox Field
The surviving strongpoint in what is known locally as Pillbox Field

After the end of the Second World War, the next news item regarding Wilmington Aerodrome appeared in the rear classified advert columns of the Eastbourne Herald of April 12 1947, writes Peter Longstaff-Tyrrell.

The aerodrome premises had been used as an REME depot during the war and men were quartered in the clubhouse.

The Ministry of Supply had a catalogue of considerable assemblage stock and equipment to auction at the aerodrome via Edgar Horn of Cornfield Road in April 1947.

David Visick recalls going to the auction with his grandfather. Among their acquisitions were a number of components used in the aircraft industry and David recalls letting off some gas-filled rivets in his school playgrounds and being lightly castigated by a tutor.

Michael Laker recalls delivering goods to occupants of the former clubhouse around the mid 1960s when part of the property was occupied by Ray West, his wife and daughter.

Ray was a jockey and looked after the horses of John Hooton, a vet at Wilmington. Ray rode one of the horses in the Grand National.

The redundant Wilmington Aerodrome clubhouse was converted into a spacious pair of homes with grounds and first floors each.

Living in one half of the property for about 10 years from 1950 was Phil Burgess with his family. Phil recalls he later kept cows outside in the old hangar building.

Eventually, Wealden District Council issued a demolition order on the property.

Salvage work concentrated on the iron girder work frame of the mid 1930s construction – the infill had been simple - four by two inch wood frames around wire netting covered in plaster.

The interior had been gutted and radicalised when it was converted from its original role as a clubhouse for those 1930s fliers.

The lush pastures of Wilmington Aerodrome have subsequently reverted to farming priorities.

A fresh influx of interest flared up in 1987 when the Tiger Club at Redhill Aerodrome were forced to find new premises for their activities and took measures to reactivate Wilmington Aerodrome.

This caused quite a concern locally fuelled by news reports and concerns of extra highway traffic and the aircraft becoming a dangerous distraction to motorists.

One beneficial outcome was the formation of the Friends of Cuckmere Valley social group which considered an option to raise funds to buy the land from its owners, the Gwynne family trustees.

Wealden District Council stated the club’s application would be looked at purely on planning permits although realistically other authorities could apply pressures to hinder the Tiger Club proposals.

Eventually their club officials found more realistic facilities at Headcorn Aerodrome in Kent that is little used.

Over the winter of 1996-97 a private home was built near the site of the former clubhouse close to the A27.

The residence occupies roughly the footprint of the former clubhouse but was created further away from the highway and angled some 80 degrees facing inland, as opposed to the previous aspect south over the Cuckmere River.

Construction of the nearly completed abode was terminated when the Ministry of Transport stepped in and acquired the site and property with the view to road widening options.

The unfinished shell of the detached home stands empty and is a curiosity to passers-by.

Vestiges of its original clubhouse ghosting those 1930s fliers and any traces of its Art Deco interior had been radicalised when the property was properly converted to private accommodation.

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