This hugely evocative place is the only surviving First World War aerodrome in Europe.
Tucked away in a corner of rural Essex, not far from Maldon, you will be transported back 100 years.
This place was operational from 1916 before being decommissioned in March 1919. As attacks by Zeppelins and bombers increased alarmingly, the Government acted quickly and Stow Maries was one of several aerodromes built in Essex. Its purpose was to protect the eastern side of London and intercept anything coming along the River Crouch.
However, it was a bit of a Heath Robinson affair at first, and only really started looking like a proper aerodrome in 1918. The bravery of those involved cannot be understated. At first the planes they had to work with were hugely inadequate to the task. Reading some of the reports in the museum, the guns would regularly jam as well, just as they had finally caught up with the enemy.
Wandering around these building fills you with a real sense of history.
The reason the site is so complete is a simple one. The land was originally requisitioned from farmers to create the aerodrome, and once it was no longer needed, they just gave it back. The family didn't destroy all the buildings, which happened on other sites, but simply used them for storage and as workers' cottages.
When it was bought in 2009, the potential for this amazing project became apparent. This really was an opportunity to preserve a truly unique place. Since then 9 of the surviving 22 structures have already been fully restored. They also have replica WW1 planes, some of which actually fly. Interest has been huge, with features in national newspapers, magazines and television, proving the historical worth of the site. Only last week they were on BBC's Antiques Roadshow Detectives!
There is also a brilliant conservation project to protect and enhance the local wildlife. As it's such a rural place there, they get a fabulous array of birds and animals. Specifically all five species of British owls and European Hares.
Yesterday was enhanced further as the Musical Box Society of Great Britain were there. Dotted around the place were amazing original musical boxes, street organs and pianolas, giving even more of an historical feel to the place. We were also treated to a fabulous magic lantern show, which had Victorian, Edwardian and Great War slides.
So go along and visit this important and unique place, it's so good to see such an enthusiastic and professionally run restoration project.
|Entrance sign, featuring the badge of the Royal Flying Corps.|
|Some of the already restored buildings of Stow Maries.|
|One of their replica WW1 fighter planes.|
|Some of the unrestored buildings on site, these were originally the Officers' Accommodation.|
|Another evocative building, showing how this is very much a work in progress museum.|
|Memorial to all who died serving at Stow Maries and nearby Goldhanger and Rochford.|
|Fascinating attention to detail was given to restoring everything. The right type of windows used in 1918 were extensively researched and fitted here.|
|The impressive water tower!|
|Incredibly evocative Pilots' Ready Room, where they would wait until an attack was reported then run to their planes. We always think this just happened at the Battle of Britain in 1940.|
|Inside the Ready Room, which is filled with original artefacts, including the blackboard, which has been filled in with the day's details from 24/8/18.|
|Royal Flying Corps uniforms.|
|Gorgeous vintage Underwood typewriter.|
|Inside the temporary hangar, which thanks to a £1.5m grant will be replaced with authentic 1918 hangars.|
|Just to give you an idea of how flimsy these aeroplanes were, here is a reproduction of a wing made of wood.|
|Restored Royal Flying Corps truck, used for transporting people around the vast aerodrome.|
|Inside the museum are some fascinating things found on site. Bullets, pennies, old toys, cutlery and bottles.|
|Map putting Stow Maries into context, showing the network of others aerodromes in the area.|
|Recreation of the Squadron Office, with the commanding officer Captain Claude Ridley standing. Incredibly, he was only 19 when put in charge of Stow Maries in 1917.|
|One of the amazing musical contraptions on show.|
|The Musical Box Society of Great Britain brought along an impressive array of machines.|
|This chap is playing this grand machine.|
|Fitting finale, this is the Aircrew Wall 1916-1919.|