Uncovering the stories behind historic buildings as they are dismantled and resurrected in new locations. This looks at aviation pioneer Claude Grahame-White's watchtower.
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Every year, countless thousands of ordinary buildings are demolished.
Smashed down to make way for the new.
For many, this fate is unavoidable.
But some are so special they are saved.
Carefully taken down piece by piece.
Stored away until a new home for them can be found
and they can be lovingly and painstakingly rebuilt.
These are not grand buildings
or always exceptional pieces of architecture.
But preserved within the fabric are extraordinary stories.
Stories about who we are as a nation and what we have achieved.
About the materials and the techniques we use.
It's not as easy as it looks.
And about why we build the way we do.
It just feels like you're making it the way it should be made.
In this series, I'm going to uncover the hidden history behind these seemingly humble buildings
to reveal it's not just houses of the great and rich that have remarkable stories to tell.
My grandfather was probably the first airman to die in the First World War.
While I'll be seeing how these huge, incredibly complex jigsaw puzzles
that were once buildings are actually put back together again.
At a site in Hendon on the outskirts of London,
getting on for 3,000 new homes are under construction.
But 100 years ago, this was the centre of one of the greatest revolutions in human transport.
It was here that the whole idea of modern air travel was born.
From 1911, this was where Britain's first air mail was despatched.
Where the first-ever airliners were built and tested.
And where some of the first fare paying passenger flights took off.
Three years later it became a home to a massive 50-acre aircraft production centre.
At the heart of this pioneering enterprise was this building.
Here were the offices
where the plans for Britain's first airliners and war planes were drawn.
And above them, a 360-degree aviation watchtower,
where the masterminds behind the operation
could see their new aircraft being tested and launched.
Forgotten and neglected for 20 years, this was all that remained
of one of Britain's first aviation buildings.
It was on the site of the new development but it was listed.
Recognising the building's importance,
English Heritage gave consent for it to be relocated.
So it was taken apart brick by brick,
and all the elements preserved until a new site could be found
when it could be pieced back together
and restored to its former glory.
And happily that day has come.
Thanks to the persistence of local people and planners,
the building is going to be brought back to life
at the Heart of Hendon where it belongs.
It's coming here to the RAF Museum
which occupies part of the original aerodrome.
And when here, the building will act as reminder of those days
when Britain led the world in the field of aviation.
'That iconic building has been dismantled
'and moved across the old aerodrome to the museum site
'and over the next nine months
'we'll see the enormous task involved in piecing it all back together.
'Property Developer Heston Atwell and Construction Engineer Derek Walsh
'can at last begin the job of reconstruction.'
-This is it. This is the entire building laid out.
These are the features we managed to keep from the salvage operations.
There doesn't seem to be a lot of them.
This was a big building, wasn't it?
About 15,000 square feet but the ends were the only bits of interest,
the North and South elevation, so this is all for those two ends.
Photographs taken before it was demolished reveal that it was
a long narrow industrial shed.
But at either end, in its heyday, were two grand entrances.
Facing onto the road, it was only single storey,
but at the airfield end was a much more elaborate two storey structure,
with a viewing balcony fronted by a balustrade
and on top, what became the model for the world's airport watchtowers.
So have you got a big instruction book?
We do. We have a big set of plans that the architects have prepared.
-Everything goes back together according to this.
That details the position of every single baluster,
every single piece of stone, every single pediment.
Well, it looks to me like you've got your work cut out
if this is going to be a building.
The job of cleaning all the pieces of this jigsaw is under way.
The foundations have been laid and the bricklayers have begun work.
Many of the old bricks were too damaged to be reused
so some new ones have been substituted.
In many ways, all buildings are like giant jigsaw puzzles
but where this one is special is that
half the pieces are missing or broken like this.
So what Heston, Derek and the team have got to do
is not only put together thousands of pieces in the right place,
they have to find the missing pieces, remake the moulds
to make the missing pieces.
Put that all together,
get the hundreds and thousands of pieces in the right place
and then make it look like a unified dignified whole.
It's an enormous challenge.
But an intriguing one.
To put this building back together,
you first have to enter the mind of the man who built it.
One of the great pioneers of air travel.
Airports seem commonplace today.
They're something we take for granted.
But 100 years ago, the idea that you could jump on an aeroplane
and fly to virtually anywhere in the world
had barely entered the realm of science fiction.
But for one visionary, flight opened up a world of possibilities.
The man with his eye on the future and an unbounded love of aircraft
was a flamboyant, wealthy car dealer called Claude Grahame-White.
He won a fortune in early flying competitions
but his sights were firmly fixed on something even more ambitious.
He was on a mission to inspire the nation
with his dream for the future of air travel.
People at that time regarded a flying machine as unlikely to
be in any way the future of transport.
I announced that I would take up seven passengers
in the Grahame-White flying Charabanc.
The flight was successfully made at Hendon,
not with seven but with nine passengers!
It's true that some passengers were simply perched on the wings.
There wasn't room for them all in the cockpit.
I believe that someday there will be airliners circling the globe.
Claude Grahame-White always envisaged that one day
there would be international airlines circling this very building.
It might not look like it today
but it was here that he nurtured his great dream of civil aviation.
'In the off-site carpentry shop,
'work is under way on the mammoth job of restoring the woodwork.
'Much of which was badly water damaged through decades of neglect.'
-So is this a new window then?
-No, this is one of the originals.
'Master carpenter Ian Fortune and his team will have their work cut out
'patching up the existing pieces
'as well as replacing all those that have vanished or are beyond repair.'
So what's that? Is that the stairs?
That's part of the original staircase.
So that's all in oak?
That's all in oak and in a terrible state.
-So that's going to be a big job.
-It needs a lot of work.
And what's this?
That's part of the panelling that came out of Grahame-White's office.
Is it? Wow! So that was all panelled out?
It's something we've got to match at a later date.
And then this is quite a simple balustrade, isn't it?
It is quite a simple balustrade
when you consider the elaborateness of the staircase all in oak.
I suppose that shows its period, that Edwardian thing,
where they were starting to simplify.
The fancy work was disappearing.
At the end of the day, it was the work place, wasn't it?
What about this, talking of fancy work? Wow!
That's one of the feature windows off the balcony.
These are something else, aren't they?
There's quite a bit of work needed.
-So these would have looked out onto the airfield.
Suddenly you get a sense of what this building was about.
It's like Newbury Racecourse. It's like Henley Regatta.
It's almost like a sporting event, isn't it?
So you start to understand that this building's really all about the spectacle of flight.
In Claude Grahame-White's day
the spectacle of flight came to define Hendon.
In 1911, he transformed his airfield into a popular venue
for pioneering air races and aerial displays.
That legacy lives on today at The Shuttleworth Collection
in Old Warden.
Here daredevil pilots still loop the loop in fragile period planes
in the tradition of Grahame-White.
-I had 20 or 30 pilots whom I trained in my flying school.
Some of them were rather daring characters,
eager to show of all sorts of aerial stunts.
'To a world that had witnessed the Wright brothers' first flight only eight years earlier,
'these aerial antics were as awesome as space travel is today.
'My guide to the daredevil, topsy-turvy experience Grahame-White
'called the "Hendon Habit" is aviation historian Josh Levine.'
It's probably difficult now for us to imagine the spectacle
that this would have been in 1911.
Absolutely unheard of, the idea of going up and flying through the air.
Thousands and thousands of people would come along to watch it.
Yes, so Hendon at that time was really the greatest show on earth.
Biggest show on earth. It was a circus.
It was absolutely the place to be.
It was Lords, it was London Zoo, it was Ascot, it was Henley.
It was glamour.
-We also made the first parachute descent from an aeroplane in flight.
Mr Newell, the chap who dropped,
didn't have his parachute strapped on his back as they do nowadays,
but simply folded it up on his knee haphazard.
And at 3,000 feet, he was shoved off with a hefty kick from behind.
Very often people did crash and one pilot who flew for Grahame-White,
crashed at one of the displays.
He lost a leg. He fashioned a leg for himself.
He created his own false leg,
and three months later he was flying again.
That's the kind of people you had.
These were daredevils, you know. This was a new breed.
These airmen were great celebrities
and he himself, his waxwork was in Madame Tussauds.
-Incredible, yes, yes.
-That is real fame.
But it wasn't all thrills and spills.
He was also keen to demonstrate how powered flight could be deployed
for military operations.
In May 1911, he staged Britain's first military air display,
inviting Winston Churchill and members of the defence ministry
to this very site in Hendon.
Oh, look at this. Grahame-White.
This was the central insignia, the Claude Grahame-White insignia.
-1915. So this was the centrepiece, was it?
And was this what you saw when you first arrived?
Above the entrance door, yeah.
So I see wings obviously for a plane.
He already had global ambitions.
'It's July, the forth month of the rebuild,
'and while the badge of Grahame-White's global ambitions
'has scrubbed up well,
'many of the other elements of the building have not.
'This is an increasing problem for Heston
'whose employers are funding the operation.'
It was a real poorly built, jerry build kind of building in 1914-15.
A lot of them we've shot with sort of frost action on them
and you can see there's layers and layers of paint over them.
Is it going to be quite a difficult job to reconstruct it
if all of the constituent parts are so badly aged?
It will be, yeah.
There's a lot of detail particularly with these heavy stones here
and how they were originally supported quite poorly from the first floor that was put through
so we're going to have a lot of fun in getting those put up properly.
-So very badly made?
-Badly built, yeah.
No, this was put up rather quickly I think by an aviator not a builder.
But there was a good reason why this building had to be put up so quickly,
and the clue is in the date of completion - 1915.
The previous year had seen the outbreak of World War One.
The military thought this would be a war like any other.
But Grahame-White knew only too well
that new technologies were transforming the battlefield,
making it more brutal, more bloody and opening it up to the air.
Three years earlier he'd shown how planes could be used for reconnaissance and aerial bombing.
If Britain was to survive he would have to renew his campaign
to get the old guard to up to speed.
With great reluctance, he put his plans for civil aviation on hold,
handed his airfield over to the Admiralty
and set out to build a warplane factory.
In doing so, Claude Grahame-White faced another problem,
because the government had imposed wartime restrictions on the supply of building materials.
Not a man to be beaten, he got in his car
and travelled the country buying up timber and brick yards.
You can see here from the old brick created by hand around 1900
and what they would have done is they would have made it up wet
and their fingerprints would be left in the brick from lifting it
so it would have been lifted and put into the oven.
The oven would have cooked the fingerprints in place
so it's marvellous to see something like that now.
You don't see that nowadays
cos machines have taken over, basically.
In the choice of bricks for this building
you get a sense of Claude, the great hustler.
Now, I would imagine a building like this, in this part of the world,
to be built of local materials which would mean London Stocks.
Hard wearing yellow bricks made from London clay.
But it wasn't. It was made of these soft reds.
Now these are made from Wealden Clay.
That's not a local clay, which means that Claude got all these bricks
from over 130 miles away during war time.
He had a tougher problem sourcing steel
because most of that was on its way to munitions factories.
So he purchased a fleet of lorries and by providing his own transport,
he swayed the northern ironmasters into parting with the steel I-beams
he needed to create this very modern steel structure.
The I-beam is a very clever piece of design and of structure.
This is the principles of why it works and why it's so clever.
If you take a ruler like this and imagine it's a beam and load it up,
it flexes quite easily.
But if you turn it on its edge like this it's incredibly stiff
and a lot stronger and that's the principle of the I-beam.
So an I-beam is a shape like this.
And what the thinking is,
is that all the work of the beam is done in the top and the bottom.
If you imagine this is a slice through a long beam like that.
If you imagine the amount of material to make a metre section of that,
is the same as to make a square beam, a square section like that.
So imagine these two are a metre long.
This one is 7.9 times stronger
and over 29 times stiffer.
So you're making the least amount of material possible
do the most amount of work.
You're optimising the structure.
I can imagine this would have really appealed to Grahame-White,
the engineer and aviator, because that is what planes are about.
it's about making them as light as possible and as strong as possible.
And the implications of optimisation of structure and the I-beam
has been as revolutionary for architecture
as powered flight has been for humanity.
'But having gone to such trouble to scavenge I-beams often used
'to build the latest skyscrapers, it seems odd that Grahame-White
'then created a building rooted in the past, not the future.'
It seems to me it's quite a mishmash.
It's so classical, it's so backward looking.
You'd imagine, aircraft, flights, modernity,
and this is Roman stuff.
'And alongside classical architraves and window surrounds
'we have Elizabethan-style bottle balustrades.'
To find out what was going on,
I'm visiting the architects who drew up the plans for the rebuild.
Their offices were designed around the same time.
Now this is a proper architects building, Voysey 1904.
'With its modern styling this more the kind of thing
'I would have expected Grahame-White to go for.
'Hopefully, Anna and Wyndham will be able to tell me
'how he ended up with a retro building.'
What really I find fascinating and also slightly frustrating is
we're standing in a building here that's 1904,
that's 10 to 12 years earlier than this building,
yet this building is so much more modern and contemporary so we've gone backwards.
Well, as we approached the First World War
there seemed to be a sort of loss of nerve amongst architects
and they sort of reverted back to old styles.
Maybe Claude Grahame-White had the vision when it came to aeroplanes
but didn't know how to put it in terms of architectural styling.
Maybe people who were guiding him with the initial ideas
for the building weren't necessarily forward thinking either at the time.
It had the grandeur of historical context.
It demonstrated elegance and class, without actually screaming out
that he was trying to be controversial in any way.
Grahame-White was clearly a complex and interesting man.
I wanted to find out more from someone who knew him first hand.
I had hoped he might have a surviving relative
but it turns out he had no children, despite having had three wives.
-Very nice to meet you.
-And you too.
'But the person I've come to meet at the British Library
is the next best thing.
Richard Gates, the grandson of Richard Thomas Gates.
Grandfather was the manager
and I think Claude Grahame-White was the entrepreneur.
And one of the small photographs I've got here,
that's Claude Grahame-White and my grandfather
in an aeroplane they bought.
They, both of them, and particularly Claude Grahame-White, as you see,
it's got "Wake Up England".
That was the big slogan, wasn't it?
They wanted people to realise that flying had a proper future.
Oh wow, a blueprint, a drawing, oh my goodness!
-Oh lord, look at that.
So they are thinking in military terms.
Well, as you can see on the photo there.
But when the war starts late 1914 what happens then?
Your grandfather should be up there in the front, but what happens?
Well, both of them joined the Royal Naval Air Service.
And, of course, the Navy was slightly more go ahead than the army
because the army were still thinking in terms of cavalry
and what they then started to do out of Hendon Aerodrome,
was defend London.
They went up together because there was a Zeppelin warning
and landed safely at night
and about three or four days later there was another Zeppelin warning,
but Claude Grahame-White wasn't at the aerodrome at that time,
so grandfather went up on his own.
The aeroplane crashed.
I think my grandfather was the first airman to die in the First World War.
'Grahame-White was devastated.
'He'd lost his co-pilot and company manager
'but it didn't deflect him from his mission to convince the military
'that aircraft could play a vital role in the war.'
His new headquarters at Hendon became a showcase for that ambition.
'Now the period features are going back in,
'I can at last understand what Grahame-White was up to
'with this the design of this building.
'It's a traditional facade disguising a modern internal structure.'
At last we're starting to see the shape of this building.
You can start to understand what makes it so important.
It's built in three sections.
The middle is a steel shed and at the back and at the front
you've got brick bits that make it look posh,
that make it seem much more important than it really is, much more special.
As you approached from the road you'd see this typical Georgian exterior
with its porthole windows and classical architrave.
On entry you'd find yourself in this smart brick-built vestibule.
But beyond that, the working body of the building
consisted of a modern, unadorned and highly versatile steel structure.
But this was always hidden.
At the airfield end of the building, was a two-storey brick-built section.
Its facade laden with architectural details
straight out of the style book of old England.
It's an all fur coat and no knickers approach to building
which is so ubiquitous today.
It's in all those out of town shopping centres, those office buildings, those call centres.
But in 1915, this was revolutionary.
Grahame-White's architectural facades were, I suspect,
part of his strategy to get the old school military authorities
on board with the new technology.
By 1916, they'd finally woken up to the fact
that aircraft had changed the rules of warfare forever.
Each side was now engaged in a technological race
to produce, better and ever more deadly fighting machines.
Many followed Grahame-White's example
and Hendon became an important centre
for the manufacture of aircraft and aircraft components.
95 years on, it's little wonder the RAF Museum is pleased
to have the great man's headquarters and watchtower
rebuilt on the Hendon site alongside his one remaining factory building.
The museum's gearing up to take over the reconstructed watchtower.
What will you do with it?
'I'm meeting the Director General of the museum,
'Air Vice Marshall Peter Dye.'
Well, it will allow us, together with this building,
the Grahame-White factory, to tell the story of Grahame-White
and his efforts here in the First World War.
We intend to punch through the wall where the watchtower is
and then we'll have a much larger space which will be focused on
the early history of aviation here and Grahame-White himself.
This means that Claude Grahame-White will at last get his due.
He is of course one of the world's greatest pioneers of aviation
but he's not very well known, why?
No, he isn't, and that's something that we intend to put right.
He was a leading figure in British aviation before the First World War.
He was seen as a hero.
He was as well known as Yuri Gagarin in his day
but he was also a great propagandist.
He was a bit like Richard Branson.
He was seen as pushing the boundaries,
and then he was also a great persuader, a great lobbyist.
He was the Jamie Oliver of aviation.
He was determined to make people change their mind.
He was determined to influence politicians to ensure that they saw the value of aviation.
This building we're in, this wonderful building,
dates from Claude Grahame-White's time as part of his factory.
-But what actually happened here?
-Yes, this was built in war time.
This is where aircraft were build and in the watchtower alongside us
was a drawing office where a lot of the plans were produced.
During the course of the war some 2,000 aircraft were built here
to help win the war.
'Grahame-White was meticulous in the way he built aircraft.
'He was equally scrupulous in his treatment of his employees.
'Unlike so many wartime factories, his were clean, efficient,
'well ventilated and well lit.
'He made a point of welcoming women to the factory floor
'and boasted that he could rely on them to perform well
'in the male preserves of welding and woodwork.'
Sleeping cubicles were provided for those who had transport problems.
The work was hard and times were tough
but he but made sure there were regular outings and sports events.
And here we have another Grahame White architectural innovation.
His dual purpose aircraft hangar cum staff tennis court.
At the start of the war he employed just 70 people.
By 1915 that number had swelled to over 1,000
and by the time this photograph was taken in 1917,
he had over 3,000 fully trained up, happy factory workers.
And where are they standing? In front of our building.
'It's October, eight months into the reconstruction of the building,
'and things have come on a long way since my last visit.'
-Hello, Charlie. How are you?
-How are you?
-Not a bother now, not a bother.
-That is a building.
-It is indeed.
-It's finally come together.
-Shall we have a look around then?
Go on, show me your handy work.
-Wow, it's really coming on.
-We have our original steel trusses here.
That's amazing, all this original steelwork is more than 100 years old
and it feels as though it could have been made last week.
'At last the moment has come when the iconic part of the building
'is flown back into position.
'The Crowning pinnacle of Grahame-White's HQ,
'the great man's watchtower.'
So do you think it's going to fit?
-Well, it's an extremely nervous moment for me.
-I bet it is!
-I have my fingers crossed.
-How many times have you measured it?
The reason Derek is nervous is that the watchtower's corner posts
must fit exactly into four supporting steel shoes
which have already been concreted into the building.
It's a very big moment for us, Charlie.
It's going to be a very significant part of the building now.
From a distance you're going to see it from the north elevation.
You're going to see it when you're walking up.
It's sort of the pinnacle of the external structure.
'The watchtower is now firmly in place, but what was its purpose?'
So what do you think the watchtower was for?
We just think it was there for show really.
There's no actual functionality to it whatsoever.
We guessed that from looking at the original building. No use to it.
Just a folly, really, I think.
'But was it just a folly
'or did Grahame-White have something else in mind for his watchtower?
'Did it have a function or was it simply for him to cast an eye over
'the aviation empire he'd created?'
Evidence of this empire can still be found all around Hendon today.
And it's not just the street names, parts of the factory still remain.
I'm standing on Aerodrome Road
which ran right through the centre of the factory.
Indeed standing here during the war looking in that direction,
there would be factory buildings on either side of the road
as far as the eye could see.
I know over there,
just to my left was the work's canteen,
which had a welfare facility
organised by Winston Churchill's wife - very impressive!
Few of the buildings survive, though there in front of me on the left,
is a building that appears to date from the time of Grahame White.
'According to my plan, this charming building was once the site of a garage
'with workers' sleeping cubicles on the floor above.'
Golly, it is one of the original factory buildings. There it is.
Two stories, mansard roof and the wide opening now bricked up.
And beyond it stood what was originally the wood store.
Look at the charming double pitched Georgian-style mansard roof,
the chimney stacks, the cupola, the lovely brickwork.
A wonderful piece of vernacular classical architecture.
But originally it didn't stand alone as now,
but formed the front to a whole range of factory buildings.
If you look at this picture, you can see -
rather like Grahame White HQ - the brick part was
a disguise for the modern industrial buildings behind.
What I love about Grahame White is that at the time
when the world was in turmoil, he created a modern factory that
was not monstrous and industrial in feel, but in it's forms
and details as comfortable and cosy as an English country village.
A walk up Aerodrome Road to what was the heart of his factory
brings us to another charming outpost of Grahame White's vision of England.
Where I'm standing now was the site of the tea room
and the starting point of the famous aerial races...
but during the First World this happened -
the tea room was rebuilt in a splendid neo Tudor Manor dated 1917.
Wonderful building, very well preserved.
The interior is also in neo Tudor/Jacobean style,
I love this staircase, wonderful thing.
I suppose this historical style does appear to be
in strange contrast to Grahame White's business
as a designer of futuristic aeroplane, very much cutting edge technology.
But this was the fashion of the time and more to the point I think,
he would have felt this architecture offered a sense of solidity.
This was important at a time when the world was changing fast
and people needed something quintessentially British to hold on to.
None more so than the young pilots, some just 17,
who'd left home to come to Grahame White's flying school at Hendon
to face the perils of aerial training...
It was a risky undertaking...
Of the 14,000 pilot casualties of World War One,
a large percentage occurred while they were still at flying school.
Many would have known this building because it became the Officers' Mess.
There are 6 weeks to go before Grahame White's HQ
and watchtower have to be handed over to the RAF Museum,
and there's still a lot to do...
Replicating all the original "quirks"
or dare I say "faults" has been a hugely time consuming process...
Though I have to admire the loving care and attention with which it's being done.
-So your brickwork's looking good, isn't it?
-Yeah, it's coming on very well.
We're delighted with it, how it's turned out.
This is normal Flemish bond isn't it? So, long-short,
long, and here it goes short-short-short.
-You've got real clusters of shorts, haven't you?
-It's quite unusual.
Yep, it adds a nice bit of quirkiness to this terrace level.
-And that was like that on the original building.
-It was and we've created it brick from brick.
Nice. Why do you think they did that?
It's very, very hard to know, Charlie.
Possibly they had a load of half bricks instead of full bricks
and they just decided to integrate it into the building.
Who knows, maybe there was a shortage of supplies during the war.
-Either that or a very artistic bricklayer.
-Well, yes. Who knows?
We'll never know...
But it's not only the brickwork that's beginning to reveal its quirks.
Everywhere the builders turn they discover puzzling irregularities.
Wow! 'The old grandstand windows I saw back at the beginning
'have now been fully restored
'and are ready to go back in place.'
So these are the ones that we saw in a terrible state.
-How much have you managed to salvage from them?
-Nearly all of it.
A good 80% of the frame remains.
'But there's a bit of strangeness here - one doesn't match the others.'
-So this is leaded lights going in? But they're not, are they?
-So what happened there?
-I don't know.
'And now it's the turn of the original oak staircase.
'It, too, has had the benefit of months of painstaking restoration.
'But here we have a serious problem.'
-The housing's too tight.
-I wonder if the bottom of the housing here...
-We'll take a bit more out there.
-And a bit off here.
Put simply, Ian's stairs don't fit.
The old building wasn't as straight as it should have been.
There was a lot of hand work done,
it could have been made on-site to the shape of the building.
We've had trouble fitting it in the new building,
because the new building's square and plum.
So the entire staircase was made on the wonk
because the original building was on the wonk,
so you had to sort of shufty it over to get it fitting in.
A round plug in a square hole, really, that's the only way to explain it.
We could have replaced the whole staircase,
state, but I think the job was really to retain the history of the building,
so that you can see the staircase is old, see the wear on it.
The fact the stairs are on the skew has revealed something I really hadn't expected -
The watchtower, the crowning pinnacle of this building,
is actually way off centre.
You could blame the war. It wasn't a good time for building.
Most of the nation's architects had been drafted
into the engineering services, and the youngest and best
of Britain's labour force were fighting on the Western front.
But in my efforts to establish who was responsible
for the idiosyncrasies of Grahame-White's building,
I've made a rather interesting discovery.
And it comes from a magazine called Flight,
and it's the edition from August, 1917.
And there is a headline here that says,
"Alien Enemies At Aerodrome" and it's by a Mr George Faber,
and he asks the Undersecretary for War whether German prisoners
had been used at the Hendon aerodrome, and he replied that
"The employment of German prisoners in the construction of aerodromes
"and sheds and the enlargement of existing establishments
"had been found necessary in order not to delay the completion of urgent services."
I think, in a very roundabout way, he's saying yes,
that German prisoners of war are here at Hendon building stuff.
Now, I think we can't assume from that that POWs worked on our watchtower,
because the date on the front of the building is earlier,
but I think it shows you how much pressure Grahame-White
must have been under to expand his operation, to build more planes.
And what a disorientating experience for him,
because he was building things to kill Germans all day, basically,
and then coming outside and seeing groups of them
building his roads and expanding his empire, building his buildings.
As our building nears completion,
I finally managed to track down someone who has a direct link to it.
Ken Pattinson grew up in Hendon.
-Ah, Mr Pattinson, how very nice to meet you in the flesh.
'He remembers having not one but two close relatives
'working in the Grahame-White factory during World War I.'
So, there's this wonderful family album of all sorts of bits and pieces here.
Your father, pride of place in the front.
His sister, May.
-Very strong, characterful face.
-She worked as a fabricker.
She stitched the fabric around the fuselages of the plane,
because they were wood with fabric.
But I believe the effect of the doping,
which went on afterwards, made her ill.
'Dope was a varnish applied to the aircraft's fabric
'to make its stiff and waterproof, but it was dangerous stuff.
'Fumes from the solvent were known to be highly toxic.'
So, the dope, the varnish affected her health.
And she never really recovered, then?
She did, more or less, but she could never have children.
Now, whether that was any result of that, I don't know,
but they never had any children.
Hang on, I feel I've seen her before because she's so...
strong-armed as you, partly, but, no, honestly...
Hang on, see what you think. Look at this - where is it?
Ah, here we are.
Um... Look, what about that?
Is that not your...? Surely that's your aunt?
You haven't seen this picture before?
I haven't seen that picture before, no.
-And do you think that's your aunt?
-That's most peculiar, isn't it?
-They're the same, aren't they?
-They are, they are the same.
-And, indeed, the hair, to a degree.
But she's here, apparently in the drawing office.
'There she is, sitting in the very drawing office
'in Grahame-White's HQ that we are rebuilding.
'But she's not the only one of Ken Pattinson's relatives
'who was busy working in the factory during the First World War.'
So what else do we have? Ah.
That was my dad, who used to work for a Grahame-White.
There he is, looking very dapper.
He left school and he went as an apprentice
to the Grahame-White Company as an engine fitter-cum-door maker.
What did your father think of Claude Grahame-White as an employer?
I think he respected him,
and what he respected most was that he wanted perfection.
My father was like that,
and he learned that from Grahame-White, I'm sure of that.
'In the light of what I'd just been told,
'I was saddened to read a letter he then showed me
'in which Pattinson Senior was clearly being laid off.'
"Owing to the approaching termination of the existing contract
"placed by the Ministry of Munitions with us, the management regret
"that it is necessary to reduce the hands in some of the departments.
"We therefore regret having to dispense with your services."
So, he's being made redundant.
'It's clear from the letter that Grahame-White
'was forced to lay off staff because of government miscalculations.'
Initially having taken too long to engage with the war in the air,
the Ministry of Supply then ordered more planes than it needed.
But orders were now being cancelled
and manufacturers instructed to destroy existing stock.
Compensation was not always forthcoming.
It was a bad time to be in aviation.
And now that work has finally started
on the interior of Grahame-White's HQ,
I can begin to imagine the great man
anxiously pacing around this building.
There's now only a month before the handover.
The windows are in and the building is waterproof,
and, at last, master carpenter Ian
can get to work on Grahame-White's office.
I mean, all the panelling here looks totally new.
Yeah, there's none of the old retained.
There was one door that was plastered into the wall, which
is probably where they got all these details from, the moulding details.
'Restoring the oak panelling with nothing more to go on than
'one hidden door and this photo has clearly been a challenge.'
I mean, if you look at the wall,
it looks like it hasn't been set out properly,
cos the modules the panels are different sizes,
under the windows are larger than here.
That says to me that the panelling is a total afterthought.
-Maybe, maybe it is.
-It's kind of weird,
and you've obviously replicated all of these mistakes.
Yes, as much as we can, yeah.
Does that slightly go against the grain?
Oh, no, we find that bit easy!
As virtually nothing remained of the original grand interior,
the architects have had to reconstruct every aspect of it from scratch.
Not an easy task when nothing about this building quite adds up.
'While the final touches are being applied to the building,
'I've just made an unexpected find.
'These papers originally came from Grahame-White's office,
'and I have to say, they have a rather shocking tale to tell.'
When I started this research I expected to find,
amongst other things, I suppose, a list of the honours awarded
to Grahame-White, but a rather different, sadder story has emerged.
While he offered advice, informed advice, to the government about
how to conduct the war in the air, how to manufacture aeroplanes,
he was met, increasingly and consistently, by a kind of wall,
I suppose, of incompetence and bureaucratic muddling.
The chap was clearly driven mad by these people,
forced in the end to resign his commission.
Even before the war ended, Grahame-White was not only compelled
to leave the military, but asked to expand his factory.
He'd been promised orders for more aircraft,
but they were then repeatedly withdrawn.
After the war, Grahame-White not only faced ruin,
but was shown no gratitude for everything he'd contributed to the war effort.
He tells us, "I could hardly believe that our British government
"could treat me - a pioneer - in such a harsh, unsporting and unappreciative manner."
So, why on earth was he treated so badly?
To find out, I've asked historian Josh Levine.
So, what went wrong?
The British military, whether you're looking at the Army or the Navy,
the British military is a very conservative institution,
and they don't trust a certain type of person.
Here was a man who was irreverent, who was freethinking,
I think it was a definite challenge to the way they viewed things,
and you get a sense of this, actually.
When he was given his commission into the Royal Naval Air Service,
he showed up at Admiralty Arch
and he met a man called Lord Edward Grosvenor.
And he was wearing spats and he was dressed up beautifully,
and he showed up and presented himself in front of Lord Edward Grosvenor
and said to him, "Look at me, how is this, will it do?"
And Lord Edward Grosvenor looked at him and said,
"My dear fellow, you've forgotten just one thing - the earrings."
And that gives you a sense of, you know,
"This man is a dandy, this man is not quite one of us.
Claude Grahame-White, even though he was from a good family, he was a mechanic,
he was a man who liked getting his hands dirty,
who didn't mind showing up at a factory at 6am,
working through to 8pm, and coming away with oil on his face.
Not only was he incredibly technically advanced
and pioneering with aeroplanes, but he was a very brave man.
He was an extraordinarily brave man,
and the fact is that they pushed him away.
They repeatedly pushed him away when they should have relied on him more.
They actually showed him no respect and no thanks,
no gratitude for what he'd been doing for so many years.
The time has come to write a great wrong, then,
and put his name back on the national map of heroes.
It was shabby treatment of a man who'd led the country in the field of aerial combat.
Who'd flown many perilous missions,
and trained many of the nation's famous fighter pilots.
Who'd put his life's blood, his aerodrome,
at the service of his country,
and fought to maintain the highest standards
in wartime manufacture and employment.
But, for all that he suffered at the hands of the government,
he never stopped looking to the future.
Towards the end of the war in 1918, Grahame-White -
then recovering from a nervous breakdown -
was asked what sort of war memorial
there should be for airmen who'd perished in the fighting.
His response was poignant and it was wise.
He said, "The finest war memorial we can devise
"would be to pledge ourselves
"to a vigorous development of aeronautics."
"Thus, on the foundations of their heroism,
"can be built a great peace movement
"which will break down the barriers between nations
"and stimulate all that is best in the relations of mankind."
Grahame-White's building is also a memorial to the fallen pilots.
He never wavered in his conviction
that the true role of aviation should be civil and peaceful.
He published proposals for a chain of civil aerodromes
with aids for night flying and direction finding,
demonstrated that airlines could be reliable, safe and profitable.
With all his brooding over his bold idea,
I picture him in this building, bent over plans late into the night.
So here it is, the relocated
and rebuilt Claude Grahame-White headquarters and watchtower.
'There it was, looking as it would have done when first constructed -
'the building that should have been the nerve centre
'of Britain's first international airport.'
Very English, I mean, it's quintessentially English,
and quite playful, I can imagine it on a race course
or by the Thames at Henley, sort of grandstand meets pavilion.
Absolutely. It's very calculated to impress,
making a sort of heavy point
about the importance of him and his company.
And the balustrade is like it's from St Paul's Cathedral.
'I can already see the building
'as a striking testimony to Claude Grahame-White.'
When people landed on the airfield or came from the airfield,
they would have been received here, so the posh front of the building
sits here next to the airfield, but come with me.
'From the reception,
'the world of Grahame-White the entrepreneur and campaigner,
'we move to the world of Grahame-White the innovator.'
This is the business end of the building.
This is the heart and soul of the whole operation in many ways.
This was the drawing office.
This is where he would have drawn up his plans
for Britain's first airliners and airports.
And in those days, as you approached through the reception area,
your eye would have been drawn to this.
-It's a fuse box isn't it, glorified fuse box.
-It is a fuse box.
You can see the draw of various circuits.
It sums up Claude Grahame-White to me in so many ways in his attitude.
You know, he's fetishising technology.
You've got the latest 20th-century technology
surrounded by a piece of furniture
which is looking back to the Romans to try and give it gravitas.
You can trust this, this is trustable, dependable technology.
It's in a way very modern, isn't it?
It's an honest expression of power,
of the practical aspect of the factory,
make a virtue, make an ornament of it.
He's got notice boards right next to them.
I mean, it really is a conscious act, he wants people to see it.
"This is the future, this is MY future. Welcome to it."
That's exactly what it's about, isn't it?
A display of the future for his visitors.
These are the stairs to mission control.
'You can imagine Grahame-White leading government officials
'and politicians, maybe even Churchill himself,
'up here to try and persuade them
'of the advantages of powered flight.'
This is the inner sanctum if you like,
this is his office.
Good heavens, this is absolutely astonishing.
Uncanny. It's all familiar, I feel I've seen it before
and, of course, in a way I have. In the early photographs.
Although impressive at first sight, I found it surprisingly dark
and old fashioned, almost oppressively so.
They've really gone into detail.
Not only is it convincing in its detail based on photographs,
Everything about this office speaks of man straining to impress,
a man who would go to any lengths to win over the old guard.
You can imagine him rolling out his plans for airports,
aids for night-flying and his grand vision for the people's airlines.
It's such an insight into the man, this, isn't it?
This way this chap's running an utterly futuristic factory,
looking to the future of aviation.
But yet to make that acceptable, he found it necessary
to be surrounded by history in this way gave him the right gravitas,
the right status.
But there was one important bit of this building
that was neither status-seeking nor dripping in historical detail -
the room at the top - the great man's watchtower.
What do we think this watchtower was really used for?
We now know that it wasn't actually built at the same time
as the head office here.
It was built some time afterwards, around about 1919.
You look around and it's got a tremendous perspective
over the entire site.
It as a vantage point, a viewing platform.
But then without realising it, it sort of creates
the prototype for the control tower without even meaning to do it.
We'd rather like to think
that it was very much a part of that ambitious Grahame-White,
he was finding his feet again after the war,
he was looking to the future and the watchtower symbolises that ambition.
Grahame-White, the man of vision,
never got the recognition in his lifetime he so richly deserved.
But almost 100 years to the day
since he first arrived in Hendon, the local people have turned out
to celebrate the return of a local hero.
A hero immortalised in this wonderful, resurrected building.
And it's even being given the royal seal of approval.
Your Royal Highness, may I on behalf of the trustees
of the Royal Air Force Museum, welcome you here today
to this formal unveiling of the Grahame-White Watch Office
and indeed, this whole complex including the factory.
Ah, guys, there you are!
How's it going, Charlie?
What can I say? It looks fantastic!
It must be the best built, Jerry-built building in history.
It certainly is and it will last, unlike the original construction.
It's given us an unbelievable feeling of pride
in constructing this building.
it's turned out well. We're so happy with it.
And we hope that the great man, if he did come back, would love it.
I think if he was with us today, Claude Grahame-White,
he would really be really stunned I think, and very proud.
It's a practical building but it's got that edge,
that flamboyance that the man quite clearly had.
She was a very kind person, she would help anybody.
I was very fond of her, yes.
She made a fuss of me, I must admit.
I'm very proud of her being a part of all this.
I can't help thinking Grahame-White would be delighted
to see what was happening in his building today.
Grahame-White the employer, the educator,
the visionary, always looking to the future.
And here we have the future - the young people of Hendon getting
excited by and drawing inspiration from his building and his vision.
For all his drive, for all his dedication,
Grahame-White never realised his dream
of putting Hendon at the centre
of the development of global air travel.
When the war ended,
the government refused to return his airfield to him.
As if that wasn't enough,
they later took possession of his entire factory.
He took proceedings against the Treasury
and was eventually awarded compensation.
But by then he was too disheartened
to return to the business of aviation.
A tragedy for Hendon and for Britain.
When I first saw the jigsaw puzzle, the fragments of this building,
I never really imagined that in putting it back together,
we would build up such a rich and complex picture of a man.
But then again, buildings are all about people.
And no matter how grand or humble,
they all have stories to tell.
Claude Grahame-White came close to being airbrushed out of history,
he was almost a forgotten man,
but in saving and reconstructing this building,
all that he did is now enshrined in bricks and mortar.
Surely there could be no better,
no more inspirational monument to Grahame-White than this building,
because it embodies the man himself and his vision of aviation.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Dan Cruickshank and Charlie Luxton uncover the incredible hidden stories behind historic buildings as they are dismantled brick by brick, and meticulously resurrected in new locations.
Every year thousands of ordinary buildings are demolished, smashed down to make way for the new, but some are so special they are snatched from the bulldozers and carefully dismantled. When a new home can be found for them, they are lovingly and painstakingly rebuilt. These are not grand buildings, but everyday buildings that give an extraordinary insight into the lives of the people who lived and worked in them. Deep within their fabric are preserved astonishing stories about how we lived and worked.
Architectural designer Charlie Luxton explores how these vast and hugely complex jigsaw puzzles are pieced back together, trying his hand at the array of ancient crafts required. Meanwhile, architectural historian Dan Cruickshank investigates the buildings' history, proving that even seemingly humble buildings have incredible stories to tell.
In this episode Dan and Charlie follow the reconstruction of one of Britain's earliest aviation buildings: Claude Grahame-White's watchtower. Graham-White was a heroic pioneer of early aviation and his watchtower was the nerve centre of the vast aircraft factory he built to supply warplanes for World War I.