A Permanent Airfield on Kenley Common

A 1920 map of the area.

On 17th November, 1921, an agreement was finally reached between the Air Council and the City of London, allowing the RAF to acquire part of the Common Land that constituted the aerodrome. The agreement became an Act in August 1922.

After WW1, when many airfields were scaling down their operations, local residents noted with dismay that activity was only increasing at Kenley. They organised a petition and pressed for questions to be asked in the House. Their worst fears were realised when Winston Churchill rebuffed their concerns, saying that Kenley’s position made it important for the future air defence of London, and it would be desirable to retain it as a permanent RAF Station.

It took two and a half years for an agreement to be thrashed out. The RAF wished to acquire an area of Common Land that made up part of the airfield. About one fifth of this was returned to public use, and the Air Council also purchased land overlooking Whyteleafe on the North-east boundary of the airfield, in compensation for the Common land they purchased. Importantly, it was enshrined in the Act that no buildings could be erected on the land that had formerly been the Common and that it would be returned to the City of London if the RAF no longer needed the airfield.

Awkwardly, one of the conditions of the Agreement was that Hayes Lane had to stay open for public use. The Handley-Page sheds were on the other side of Hayes Lane and aircraft had to cross the road in order to make their way onto the airfield – an unsatisfactory arrangement that continued until the sheds were demolished in 1936. Hayes Lane was finally diverted in 1939, just prior to the outbreak of War. During 1920/21 the Air Council also bought other parcels of land privately, including Flintfield House, which they had first acquired in 1918.

Source: RAF Kenley by Peter Flint.

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