RAF Ibsley Watch Office once played a crucial part in Britain’s fight against the dark forces of Hitler’s planned invasion. It now stands derelict and in peril.
Our project aims to rescue and restore the Watch Office at the former Second World War airfield at Ibsley, near Ringwood in the New Forest. With your support, we have the chance to save this wartime monument to human courage. The Landmark Trust has identified 20th century military buildings as being at the very highest risk, and we have long been on the look-out for the right structure. We believe we have finally found it.
From its runways airmen flew out into hostile skies
From 1941 to 1944 both the RAF and USAAF saw active service at Ibsley. A series of fighter squadrons were stationed there, Hurricane and Spitfire aircraft fuelled and at the ready to fly out over the English Channel to protect ships, attack infrastructure and intercept hostile aircraft. It was here that during the punishing first years of the war, Lesley Howard and David Niven made the seminal war film The First of the Few or for its American release Spitfire – designed to inspire confidence that, thanks to the exceptional qualities of the Spitfire, Britain could prevail.
RAF Ibsley is considered one of the best surviving and most at-risk examples of a Second World War Watch Office by the Airfield Research Group. It is a rare surviving example of its type, with a Meteorological Section, large Crittall windows and a slender concrete viewing balcony.
80 years on, the roar of Spitfires and Thunderbolts has been replaced by birdsong, and the asphalt runways by the peace of a nature reserve.
The Watch Office could make a comfortable, thought-provoking Landmark for eight. The original large Control Room would become a shared space for living, cooking and eating, making the most of the panoramic views of sky and landscape. The cylinder store in the stair tower will be adapted to install a lift, ensuring that the whole building is accessible to all.
RAF Ibsley Watch Office’s survival is remarkable, but it is in a state of extreme dereliction. Badly vandalised, with its structure crumbling after many years of neglect, it will soon be too late to save it from decay or demolition.
Help us bring this fragment of wartime history back from the brink of collapse.
Donate to save this historic building
RAF Ibsley was one of twelve Second World War airfields in the New Forest.
The airfield was part of a network of defence structures across southern and eastern England hastily constructed in the early years of the war, as Europe fell to the Nazis with terrifying speed.
Ibsley began as a ‘satellite fighter station’, with just a small wooden building in a field serving for its air traffic control. Rubble from bombed-out buildings in Southampton was used as hardcore for the foundations of three runways, configured as a lop-sided ‘A’ positioned roughly south-north. Construction of the Watch Office was underway by August 1940, and it was still unfinished when it welcomed its first squadron in February 1941.
A series of squadrons were stationed at Ibsley throughout the war, their aircraft fuelled and ready to fly out over the Channel at a moment’s notice to protect ships, attack infrastructure and intercept hostile aircraft. Initially a fighter station for Spitfires, at its height in 1943 under the USAAF the airfield held over 150 P-47 Thunderbolt fighter bombers. They were supported by around 3,000 personnel living in requisitioned houses and purpose-built dispersed accommodation around the airfield’s perimeter.
The Ibsley Watch Office was a late evolution of standard Second World War designs, combining air traffic control with the collection of meteorological data. Hydrogen to fill the weather balloons was piped up from the ground floor to the roof.
“Although it had a very short life, what a life it has to tell, as both an RAF Fighter Station and United States Army Air Force Fighter base…what a magnificent contribution Ibsley made to the defence of England in those turbulent wartime days.”
Wing Commander Christopher ‘Bunny’ F Currant, DSO, DFC and Bar, Croix de Guerre (1911-2006), Station Commander at RAF Ibsley 1941-42 (Foreword, So Much Sadness, So Much Fun, 2002, RAF Ibsley Historical Group)
Hollywood came to Ibsley in 1941
RAF Ibsley played a key part in the campaign to sustain national morale as the location of Leslie Howard’s celebrated film about the invention of the Spitfire, The First of the Few. The film (released in the United States as Spitfire) was filmed at the airfield. First World War veteran and screen idol Leslie Howard both directed and starred as R J Mitchell, designer of the Spitfire. David Niven co-starred as Mitchell’s courageous test pilot. Serving personnel, including Squadron Leader Christopher ‘Bunny’ Currant and other RAF pilots appear in the film, flying aircraft and taking on minor speaking roles, with filming periodically interrupted when they were scrambled for action. The film premiered at Leicester Square on 10 August 1942 to widespread acclaim. Two years later, Leslie Howard was killed when his passenger flight was shot down by the Luftwaffe over the Bay of Biscay.
After the war, the airfield served as a USAAF flight school and then, from 1951 to 1955, as the circuit for the Ringwood Motor Cycle and Light Car Club. The runways and hardstanding were later removed for use as hardcore aggregate and the site was dug for gravel extraction. The disused gravel pits, long since filled with water, are now the scenic Blashford Lakes, designated as a protected nature reserve.
A chance to save this monument to human courage
With your support, the Landmark Trust could give RAF Ibsley Watch Office a new lease of life. Together, we can ensure that the building stands proud for many years to come, as a fitting memorial to those who fought, and in many cases died, in defence of their country and its values.
Donate to save this historic building
With your support, the Watch Office can be saved from dereliction to become a comfortable, thought-provoking place for eight people to stay.
The original, large Control Room on the first floor will become a shared space for living, cooking and eating – making the most of the panoramic views of sky and landscape, with access to the concrete balcony which once overlooked the busy airfield. The cylinder store in the stair tower, from which hydrogen to inflate weather balloons was piped up to the roof, will be adapted to install a lift to the first floor and the roof, ensuring that the whole building is accessible to all.
Built of concrete-rendered brickwork and with single-glazed windows, the Watch Office of the 1940s would have been cold by today’s standards. We plan to add external insulation to improve its energy efficiency, leaving the original ceiling heights unchanged and altering the window and door openings as little as possible. The internal walls will keep their wartime finish of painted brick and cement, with wall-mounted services, ducting and light-switches carefully chosen to match the details that survive from the war years.
Proposed floor plans