Airfield, aircraft factory, mental hospital, film studios, country park....
Now home to the Warner Brothers Studios, the 80
hectare site of Leavesden airfield was once occupied by an aircraft
factory and airfield.
You can read more about it here.
A short summary taken from the Watford Observer Nostalgia Series by
Kelly Pells, reproduced courtesy of The Watford Observer and available
here http://www.watfordobserver.co.uk/news/nostalgia/memories/is below.
When the de Havilland company entered into a contract with the Ministry of Defence, a new site was required in which to produce the planes they were commissioned to build. There was not enough space at de Havilland’s base in Hatfield for the large hangers needed for the production of huge numbers of Mosquito fighter aircraft and Halifax bombers, so Leavesden was settled on as the location for the new factory.
Construction of Leavesden Aerodrome began in 1939 at the start of the war, and it was to become an important centre of aircraft production during World War II.
The Mosquito began production in 1941. It was one of the fastest operational aircraft in the world, which is perhaps surprising when you learn that it was made almost entirely of wood.
The Mosquito was a high-speed, high-altitude photo-reconnaissance aircraft. It also intercepted Luftwaffe raids on the United Kingdom, notably defeating Operation Steinbock, a night-time strategic bombing campaign against southern England, in 1944. Both the Mosquito and the Halifax bomber were critical successes for Britain during the conflict.
By the end of the war, Leavesden Aerodrome was said to be 'the largest factory in the world'.
One story from the Aerodrome tells of a particularly stormy night, when the site was being battered by gale force winds. An RAF Corporal tried to open the door of one of the hangers, which was operated by a chain attached to a ratchet. A strong gust of wind blew the door on top of him, and he died instantly. Years later his ghost was seen haunting the site, and the rattling of chains could still be heard.
After the war, the aerodrome was acquired by Rolls Royce. They used it as a factory producing engines for airplanes and helicopters. The site was later used by Leavesden Flight Centre, a private flying club, for flying practice. You can hear memories of the late Richard Ridings, author of the book 'Halifaxes to Hogwarts', of the airfield here.
However, by 1994 the Aerodrome was unable to find a new owner, and it was left disused. Then, in 1995, the James Bond film GoldenEye was to be the next film in the series after a six year break, but the traditional home of the series, Pinewood Studios, was fully booked with other productions. With little time to find an appropriate space in which they could build the large scale sets required, the production discovered Leavesden Aerodrome.
The aircraft hangers were well-suited to conversion into a studio space. The factory was gutted, and turned into a working film studio. Then, in 2000, the site was acquired on behalf of Warner Bros. for use in what would be the first in a series of hugely successful films, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Over the following ten years, every Harry Potter film was based at the studios, and it has been strongly developed since then.
But there is more to Leavesden than the film studios, great as they are. Between 1868 and 1870 the Leavesden Asylum was built by the Metropolitan Asylums Board, and its history can be found in full here. The site now encompasses the Leavesden Country Park, run by Three Rivers District Council.
Further information will be added to this site in due course.