An embryonic collaboration with the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway, and our flying with a member of the South Oxfordshire Archaeology Group has led the Finest Hour team to learn a little more about the fascinating world of railway history and the developments the railways brought, particularly the visible-from-the-air impact the pioneering Victorian railwaymen made to our countryside. Having flown over Moulsford bridge many times, it was only recently we learned of its significance as a Brunel-designed bridge over the River Thames in support of the Great Western Railway. Equally, our work with Chinnor Railway has alerted us to the existence of nearby Wolverton Works, which is now a key feature of our 'Railway Special - Back to the Future' tour.
Wolverton opened as a train repair depot in 1838 and has built and housed the Royal Train since 1869, so it was with some interest that we learned of this gem on our doorstep. Our interest grew even further when we learned that Wolverton repaired a number of military aeroplanes during the Second World War. Shortly after the outbreak of war, William Morris (Lord Nuffield) was appointed to run the Civilian Repair Organization (CRO), with headquarters in Oxford, to contract engineering companies to repair damaged aircraft and their sub-assemblies. Later, the CRO moved to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, under Lord Beaverbrook. Most companies involved in this work were established aircraft manufacturers or maintenance companies, but the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Ltd was one of the few non-aircraft concerns to be involved, presumably due to the established facilities and skills available at Wolverton Works.
A recent decision by the local council to demolish Wolverton Works suggests that the threat to this historic location is very real. For our part, we hope the decision to destroy rather than regenerate this historic facility can be reversed but, until then, we look forward to viewing it from the air during our flights from Bicester Heritage.