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North Weald

North Weald Bassett is a village community to the northeast of Epping and home to two of the district’s most important attractions – North Weald Airfield (also home to North Weald Market) and North Weald Station, centrepiece of the Epping Ongar Railway. To the east of the village lies accessible open countryside that once formed Ongar Great Park, criss-crossed with footpaths including the Essex Way stretching 81 miles between Epping Station and Harwich on the coast.

Although artifacts from the Roman and Saxon periods demonstrate that parts of the area have been inhabited over hundreds of years, the footprint of the village was established in the twentieth century with the railway and airfield playing a key role. Before their arrival, the area comprised of small groups of buildings, clustered around places like the church, strung out along the line of the present high street, or more isolated farmhouses. The earliest surviving buildings are two 16th century farms and the Kings Head in the high street, a 15th century hall house, now a pub. Housing built around the Second World War was linked to employment or service at the airfield with more recent housing for commuters.

Today the village offers visitors a number of great destinations including the Airfield Museum, Roughtallys Wood Nature Reserve, a network of footpaths including access to the Essex Way and Ashylns Farm Shop and Restaurant plus food outlets in the centre of village. North Weald Airfield hosts events throughout the year and offers food at Wings Café and Rosey Lea plus flights in Spitfires and other classic warbirds. Nearby at Hastingwood, you'll find the North Weald & District Miniature Railway.

 

Ongar Great Park

Ongar Park is the oldest recorded park in England, with its origins in the Late Saxon period. The park was part of the Ongar Hundred. Although the park is no longer in existence, its outline is preserved as hedgerow marking its original open aspect. The only boundary which crosses the former park is that of Ongar Park Wood, which survived until the early 20th century. Two small fragments of the wood remain, one of which preserves the original earthwork bank and ditch which supported the park pale (boundary). Mentioned in a will of 1045, the park was used for the containment and management of Red Deer to provide hunting and fresh meat for the Lord of the Manor. Within this area are the 16th century Ongar Park Hall and Ongar Park Lodge, plus 17th century Cold Hall Farm. In the 1865, the Great Eastern Railway built a line across the park to extend their Stratford route from Loughton out to Ongar. During the 1890s the North Weald Redoubt military ‘fort’ was constructed as part of a new defence line for London.

 

Ongar Radio Station

Ongar Radio Station was established in 1919, at the North Weald Redoubt. Operated by Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company, by 1922 it was one of the most advanced radio stations in the world regularly transmitting messages across the Atlantic and to Europe. There was a programme of continual upgrading at Ongar Radio Station with major advances during the Second World War when transmitters were installed connecting services to Bombay, Melbourne and Moscow plus an advanced transmitter communicating with Cairo and the Middle East. In 1971 Ongar Radio was refitted at a cost of £1million making it once again one of the most up-to-date radio stations in the world transmitting telephone, telegraph and facsimile services to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. Finally made redundant by satellite, cable and fibre-optic communication, the site was decommissioned in 1992 and largely demolished before 1999. Now all that remains is one mast at the top of the hill, with its associated buildings, being used by mobile phone companies.

 

Epping Ongar Railway

Starting out as a steam line taking fresh produce into a rapidly growing Victorian London, these services on the Great Eastern Line were responsible for residentual growth of the southern part of the district as commuters moved out from London to the countryside. Stations built along the line brought suburban living and an extension to Ongar included a stop at North Weald. The line became the eastern end of the Central Line running steam through tunnels in its earliest days before electrification. The section of the line between Epping and Ongar was closed in 1994, when it was felt was little justification in keeping the Ongar line with only 85 passengers a day. It was eventually taken over and opened as a tourist attraction by the Epping Ongar Railway, becoming the nearest steam heritage railway to London.

Find out more about Epping Ongar Railway here and check out the railway’s events here.

 

North Weald Redoubt

Built as part of the London defence ring of the 1890’s the Redoubt is a military complex sitting at the eastern end of a line of “mustering centres” that stretched all the way to Guilford. Designed using the Twydall Profile, this unique survivor was the only part of the ring built to mount guns, which would have faced towards Chelmsford.

With a modernised French navy suddenly a match for the Royal Navy, and the new steam-powered warships no longer reliant on capturing ports to disembark their troops, it was feared that one invasion route could be via the Norfolk or Suffolk coast. The speed with which steam ships could mount an attack meant little time to prepare a strong defence at the point of landing. So the main line to protect London would be built inland between the new mustering centres, set in positions of natural advantage. Here troops and volunteers would find stores, entrenching tools, barbed wire etc to be able to create defensive positions in depth before the invading forces had fought their way that far. By the time construction on the line had begun in earnest, the Royal Navy had regained the upper hand and the French were no longer considered a threat. The Redoubt at North Weald was one of the only sites fully completed before the whole project was abandoned.

Find out more about the North Weald Redoubt here.

 

North Weald Airfield

North Weald Bassett aerodrome was established by the Royal Flying Corps in the summer of 1916 during the First World War. Zeppelin airships were bombing London having come across the North Sea. As they were spotted crossing the coast, aircraft taking off at North Weald had enough time to attain the height they needed to attack the Zeppelins. By 1918 the Germans had switched to bomber aircraft which were met by more powerful fighters from North Weald now being flown by the newly formed Royal Air Force.

After the war, whilst many airfields were being decommissioned, North Weald was retained and expanded to continue its important role of protecting the Capital. At the outbreak of the Second World War North Weald was ready and became one of the key airfields during the Battle of Britain flying Hawker Hurricanes – commemorated by the airfield’s ‘gate guardian’. It was subject to Luftwaffe attacks. On the afternoon of 24th August, more than 200 bombs fell on North Weald hitting the western part of the village as well as the airfield itself. A cluster of round ponds in Roughtallys Wood, where bombs fell, mark the event. On the 3rd September, just as the fighters were taking off, the Luftwaffe again bombed North Weald and bombed again on the 29th October. In spite of the raids and the damage they caused, the airfield was never put out of action. As the war progressed, the airfield became home to squadrons of airmen from Norway, America, New Zealand, Canada, Czechoslovakia and Poland, commemorated by the flags of the nations flown at the airfield on special occassions.

During the Cold War, the Spitfires gave way to the age of the fighter jets when Vampires arrived in 1950. In 1951 the runway was lengthened and a new control tower was built in 1952. In 1953 the more powerful Meteors arrived to be followed by Hawker Hunters including those of 111 Squadron which formed the famous Black Arrows display team. 1958 marked the end of RAF North Weald as an operational airfield. It became home to the 614 Volunteer Gliding School of the Air Cadets.

In 1979, Epping Forest District Council bought the airfield from the MOD since when flying has continued and the airfield has been used for a range of activities including air shows, leisure activities and filming. Major films such as The Battle of Britain, Band of Brothers and The Crystal Maze were all filmed at North Weald. In more recent memory, the airfield was also home to the famous Fighter Meet air shows and drag racing.

In 2018 the airfield celebrated 100 years of the RAF and presented 56 Squadron, who had been stationed at North Weald during the Battle of Britain, with the Freedom of the District.

Today is home to the Essex Air Ambulance and Metropolitan Police Helicopters plus private flying including classic warbirds and jets. These are joined by a range of interesting military and privately owned aircraft that visit on a regular basis. Businesses on the airfield are specialists in restoring and maintaining piston and jet military aircraft. Food is served at Wings Cafe and Rosey Lea The airfield also hosts fast-car driving events and a large weekly open-air market. Latest arrival is Aero Legends offering flights in Spitfires and other classic warbirds, based at The Squadron. On the edge of the airfield, accessed off Epping Road in North Weald, is the Airfield Museum, run by volunteers and open at selected weekends. 

Find out more about North Weald Airfield Museum here.

Find out more about North Weald Airfield here.

Find out more about North Weald Market here.

Find out more about Aero Legends here.

Map & Directions

North Weald

Type:Village

North Weald, Essex

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