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Site record MDR853 - Ashbourne Airfield and dispersal areas, Ashbourne, Bradley and Yeldersley

Type and Period (1)

  • (Second World War - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)

Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

Full Description

The area around Ashbourne was inspected during 1941 for a possible bomber airfield site. Whilst concerns were expressed then about its locality (close to a farm and a collection of cottages), in the end levelling of the ground went ahead and the farm, seen to be a hazard for aircraft taking off and landing, was demolished in the name of safety. Ashbourne was built to bomber airfield standards with three runways. The longest was 1700 yards long with the remaining two 1540 yards and 1340 yards respectively. Construction began in the spring of 1941 and the airfield opened during the summer of 1942. When finished, Ashbourne came under the wing of No 92 Group. However, it never became an operational bomber station, but rather a training airfield. It became fully operational in October 1942, with over 700 personnel on the base, its function being a training airfield within No. 38 Group with a mandate to prepare crews for glider towing duties. Flying training continued into early 1945, but the airfield closed down around the end of March 1945. Ashbourne airfield contributed greatly to the war effort, but today there is little left to remind one of its existence. (1) RAF Ashbourne was surveyed and built as a Class-A bomber airfield but was never to fill this role. It was equipped with three intersecting runways of 2000 yards (1828 mtrs) and two subsidiaries of 1400 yards (1280 mtrs) each, encircled by a 50 foot (15 mtrs) wide perimeter track. Off-shot from this were thirty, 125 foot (38 mtrs) diameter frying-pan dispersals. Four T2 hangars were built on the airfield and technical site, alongside the A52 off which was the main gate. Dispersed accommodation and amenities were supplied for 2555 personnel, RAF and WAAF's, all ranks to the south-west of the airfield. The station indentification was 'AS'. Weather conditions meant a lengthy opening period but eventually, 81 OUT was formed here, but did not receive any aircraft until it moved to RAF Whitchurch Heath in September 1942. Arriving from Andover in October 1942 was 42 OUT, who were to remain resident throughout the war. Operating a variety of types (Blenheims, Lysanders, Whitleys, Oxfords, Ansons and Albermarles), the station was a busy training airfield under 38 Group. In the latter stages of the war, many of the graduate crews saw action towing gliders and supply dropping on some of the most famous airborne operations of WW2, including D-Day and Arnhem. At the end of the war, 42 OUT disbanded and the runways and bomb dump were taken over by 28 Maintenance Unit for bomb and explosives storage. In the early 1970's parachuting took place until local opposition and a near fatal crash saw this practice stopped. Today, three hangars remain, although the technical site is now a busy industrial and trading estate, with little to give away its past life apart from the name (Airfield Industrial Estate) and the road names (Whitley Way and Blenheim Road). JCB own much of the northern area (and bomb dump) and it is used for excavator training. However, some private flying still takes place occasionally and the main runway is also used frequently by a local model aero club. Most of the dispersed site buildings have gone, with the exception of the main Communal Site, now the Peak Gateway Caravan Park. Here some buildings survive in immaculate condition, used by the Park, and include the Officer's Mess, Gym and Chancel, Squash Court and Stand-by Set House. (2) The runways were surrounded by an encircling perimeter track 15m wide to which connected 30, 38m diameter 'frying-pan' dispersals, so-called because of their appearance in plan view. The construction of the airfield caused at least three dwellings to be demolished. The site contained a total of 96 buildings, ranging from four T2 Hangars to Air Ministry Drawing Number 8254/40, to the workshops and technical support buildings, bomb stores and fusing points, squadron and flight offices, the Control or Watch Tower, latrines and a salt store. The dispersed communal, instructional and living sites were situated some distance away from the parent airfield, which had now, unlike pre-war airfields, been camouflaged to minimise the potential damage from air attack. The communal areas associated with RAF Ashbourne were built to the south and south west utilising natural features as cover. Construction work began in mid-1942 by contractors Monk's of Warrington, the principle sub-contractor being Bradshaw Brothers of Leicester, who undertook site levelling. Ashbourne airfield was officially handed over to the Air Ministry on 10th July 1942, although RAF personnel had been in residence some weeks prior. The site, at this point, was still in an unfinished state with many of the accommodation and Technical Site buildings still to be fully completed, though it still was usable as an airfield. Despite the airfield being designed and built as a Class-A heavy bomber station, it was unsuitable for this purpose, where it was then changed to train air crew for Bomber Command for the campaign in mainland Europe. After the cessation of hostilities in Europe, the airfield became disused for flying after having served its intended function. Still being retained by the RAF, the status of the airfield became that of 'care and maintenance', which consisted of the two sites being held to a minimum standard, to be reactivated again quickly should it be needed. Due to the rapid advance in aircraft designs and in particular the introduction of jet-powered front line military aircraft, this would mean that most of these 'duration only' airfields would never again be used for flying purposes by the RAF. (3) Disused World War II airfield south east of Ashbourne. Now being given over to industrial estate development. (4)

Sources/Archives (5)

  • --- Unpublished document: Nuth, G (ARS Ltd). 2020. Land off Derby Road, A52, Ashbourne, Derbyshire: Historic Building Appraisal of a Former WWII RAF Airfield Structure.
  • <1> Bibliographic reference: Brooks, R J. 2003. Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Airfields in the Second World War. pp 40-47.
  • <2> *Internet Web Site: Percy, C. Airfield Archaeology.
  • <3> Bibliographic reference: Ryan, N & Percy, C. 2007. A tale of two airfields, RAF Ashbourne and RAF Darley Moor.
  • <4> Personal Observation: Smith, K (PPJPB). K Smith (Peak Park Joint Planning Board) personal communication. 18/08/1987.



Grid reference Centred SK 197 453 (2046m by 1810m) Approximate

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (1)

  • EDR5163

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Record last edited

Nov 7 2023 10:34AM

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