Ellesmere Port hangars history (with audio)

PUBLISHED: 12:27 10 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:41 20 February 2013

Before he started his aircraft maintenance company, Martin Hearn was a wing walker with Sir Alan Cobham's flying circus. Here the only thing that is securing him is his grip on a rope attached to the top wing

Before he started his aircraft maintenance company, Martin Hearn was a wing walker with Sir Alan Cobham's flying circus. Here the only thing that is securing him is his grip on a rope attached to the top wing

These hangars at Ellesmere Port played important roles in World Wars One and Two. Now a group of volunteers is fighting for their future. Photographs by John Cocks. Narrated by Sandbach and District Talking Newspaper

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There is no shortage of stately homes and historic halls in Cheshire, but not all our wonderful buildings come with black and white frontages or centuries of tradition - these were designed in a Belfast shipyard less than 100 years ago.

Aircraft hangars like these at Ellesmere Port were built around the country during World War One, but this collection of three is now just about the only example left. And a group of determined volunteers is now fighting to ensure that these buildings, which have a fascinating past, have a future as well.

The huge hangars were built in 1917 by the RAF and even Graham Sparkes, one of six volunteer members of the board of directors who want to preserve the hangars, admits they're not attractive buildings but, he said: 'For the volunteers involved in this, it's a passion. The buildings just get to you, it's hard to explain.

'They're not particularly pretty but when you're in there on a nice day and the sun comes through the roof and glints off the trusses the place has a magic about it.'

The intricate latticed roof trusses were designed in the Belfast shipyards and after World War One the Hooton Park site became Liverpool's first airport. The hangars were used by the RAF during World War Two when they were home to 610 Squadron who flew Spitfires from here to take part in the Battle of Britain.

Former wing-walker and aerial trapeze artist Martin Hearn based his wartime aircraft construction company here and assembled about 10,000 aircraft on this site in the early 1940s and the first helicopters used by the Allies were built and tested at the Hooton Park airfield. The current chairman of the Hooton Park Trust volunteer group, Bernard Hearn, is related to wing-walking Martin.

After the war the site was used by the RAF until 1957 and was bought by Vauxhall Motors in 1962. In the 1990s they applied for permission to demolish the hangars to create parking space for Astras. 'That caused something of an outcry,' Graham said. 'The trust was formed by local enthusiasts and bought the site for a nominal 1. It came cheap but with enormous liabilities which have only grown since then.

'Basically the buildings need re-roofing but if that sounds easy, it's not. It would entail stripping off asbestos and more than 80 years of felt and protection, replacing and repairing of trusses and sky lights, some brick work the list goes on and there's the cost of the scaffolding. It's a massive and expensive job and the work needs doing 10 metres up in a 90-year-old building designed to last five years.'

The trust aim not only to preserve the Grade Two* listed buildings, but to breathe new life into them by creating a visitor centre and museum, housing, if possible, one of the Meteors that was among the last aircraft to roar along the Hooton Park runway.

They have had two applications for Heritage Lottery Fund grants turned down but have received constant support from English Heritage and are now exploring other ways of fundraising.

Graham became involved in the trust though his membership of the Aeroplane Collection, an aircraft preservation society, and he added: 'Re-roofing alone would cost 24,000 and that's without the cost of scaffolding, glazing, electrics and all the rest.

'If we had all the money, the work would take about two years. In that time what we'd like to do is open a museum of the site's aircraft heritage but we realise that wouldn't pay for itself so we'd find a commercial use for one of the buildings.'

Parts of the site are open to the public and the trust offers guided tours to groups and individuals by appointment. For more information, to volunteer, or donate money, go to www.hootonparktrust.co.uk

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