No.2 (Northern) Aircraft Repair Depot, RFC Greenhill, Sheffield

THIS FORMAT SHOWS TEXT taken from WARTIME IN NORTON published by NHG in 1995

Establishment of No.2 (Northern) Aircraft Repair Depot, RFC Greenhill, Sheffield


     Coal Aston was the only Landing Ground in the Sheffield area to continue to be in use after 1916, chiefly because the main function of the site changed.


     Workshops and hangars were erected, forming the No.2 (Northern) Aircraft Repair Depot (No.2 (N) ARD).  This was one of seven repair depots, No.1 being No.1 (Southern) Aircraft Repair Depot at Farnborough.   J.Ross states that his father, who then lived in Harbord Road, Woodseats, was among the local builders who were employed in this work and it is thought that R.E. soldiers based at Edmund Road were involved. As H.Tatton described in his notebook [see below], much of the labour was provided by the prisoners of war who were held there.


     The site eventually covered a wide area from Jordanthorpe House in the east to the present Greenhill Avenue in the west and from Little Norton in the north to the fields well down Dyche Lane towards Coal Aston in the south. 


     The establishment comprised three camps  housing the large number of personnel (two for accommodation of airmen and one for women), a Stores Depot, an Engine and Mechanical Transport Repair Depot and an Aeroplane Repair Depot, plus the original landing ground. 



Early memories of the site


     Henry Tatton's notebooks, compiled between 1920 and 1934, give a very graphic description of all the hustle and bustle involved in the building of the new airfield.  Next to a drawing of a garage on the corner at the south side of Norton Lane and Chesterfield Road, he wrote that during the war [WW1] all this land was covered with buildings belonging to the air force and army and he noted that a few of them were still standing in 1933.  On some of the buildings many German prisoners were employed.  They were lodged in buildings along Greenhill Road under armed soldiers.  Thousands of people went to watch them at work and to see the aeroplanes.


     Another entry by Tatton again describes the scene at the top of Meadowhead,  which was still very rural.  He stated that there was “a great difference in the war.” The fields at the corner of Greenhill Lane and Chesterfield Road were covered with huts, in which the German prisoners were kept and guarded by many sentries.  During the day they were marched onto the fields at the opposite corner where they were building for the air force. It was all surrounded by barbed wire, with soldiers about.  At the other side of Norton Lane were extensive hangars, flying machines and troops practising.  Great numbers of lorries were coming and going, and aircraft in the air, doing stunts for practice.  It was one of the busiest places round Sheffield.

THIS FORMAT SHOWS TEXT taken from WARTIME IN NORTON published by NHG in 1995

The Stores Depot


     The Stores Depot with its Stores HQ, Depot HQ and post office has been mentioned before.   Also in that area was a tailors' shop, shoemakers' shop, bread store, timber store and a much larger building for general storage purposes.



Engine and Mechanised Transport Repair


     In the area bounded by Chesterfield Road South, Norton Lane and Dyche Lane were the Engine Repair Depot and the Mechanised Transport Repair Depot.  Engines of aeroplanes and motor vehicles were repaired and overhauled, including those of the site locomotives.


     Sheffield Local Studies Library has copies of two aerial photographs (M8.5/2), taken in 1935, of the remains of the No.2 (N) ARD.  They show some of the layout of the buildings.  One shows the area which is now Norton College and the Graves Tennis and Sports Centre, with Dyche Lane in the foreground while the other is of the Engine Repair Depot area, now the site of Meadowhead School.


    The workshops here were well constructed, most of them having concrete floors and brick walls.  Some of the named workshops were the test bench buildings, smiths' shop, vulcan shop, receiving shed, loco shed, repair garage and engine packing shed.  Other facilities were the pump house, motor generating house, petrol store and boiler houses.

     As fuel was scarce in 1914, it was decided to run the aero engines being tested on coal gas, or town gas as it was called at that time.  A nine-inch gas main was run up from Chantrey Road to the Workshops.  Mr Bidgood, later Manager of the old Dronfield Gas Works, was foreman of this operation.  He told a Norton resident that, in spite of dry weather, the trench for the pipe constantly filled with water from the many natural springs in the Norton-Dyche Lane area, and eventually the completed pipeline had to be cleared with compressed air. 



Aeroplane Repair Section


     Several photographs of Coal Aston Workshops survive at the RAF Museum at Hendon.   Two photos (PO 16135, PO 16136) are of a DH9 aircraft, No.C 1322.  This stands near the two large double hangars, which have the basic 1915 design but with later improvements, being reinforced with brick arched door supports.  The side walls are made of brick with a row of windows set high in the wall.


     Very few other photographs of the outside of the buildings are still extant.   Mr. Paul Francis of the Airfield Research Society has two of a very large wooden building at Coal Aston, shown in the course of construction.  It appears to be about the same size as one of the double hangars but has an angled roof.


     Aeromilitaria No.3 (1976) lists four hangars 160ft x 75ft, two erection sheds 210ft x 75ft. and one salvage shed 150ft x 150ft.  These measurements correspond fairly well with those of buildings listed in the 1922 Sale Plan.  The plan lists various workshops, for example, a dope shop, fitters' shop, fuselage shop, fuselage house and flight sheds.  Smaller buildings included gas meter, petrol pump and boiler houses, coffee stalls, cinema, motor ambulance shed and conveniences for men and women.


     A photograph at Sheffield Local Studies Library (N3.2/3) shows the hangars in the right hand background and workshops beside Norton Lane.  The view is taken looking up Norton Lane from its junction with Dyche Lane.  A signpost on the corner indicates Aston 1 mile and Unston(e) 4 miles.  



The Light Railway


     A light railway ran across Dyche Lane near the junction with Norton Lane.  It was used to convey heavy materials and aircraft engines from the Engine Repair workshops  across the lane to the Aeroplane Repair Section.  In the photograph (N3.2/3) referred to above, a short length of track raised on a slight bank parallel to Norton Lane is just visible through a gap in the hedge.  This bank is now beneath Bochum Parkway and no traces remain.  The date of laying the track may possibly be found in the Highways records of the Norton Rural District or the Derbyshire County Council.


     The following information has been generously supplied by Mr.K.P.Plant from his research material.


KERR, STUART & CO. LTD., Locomotive Builders, California Works, Stoke-on-Trent.  No original correspondence survives but their records show that they built and supplied four steam locomotives to the Northern Aircraft Repair Depot, Greenhill, Sheffield, these being of their standard ‘WREN’ Class, rated at 28 h.p.


These were all small 0-4-0 saddle tank locomotives with a track gauge of 2ft 0in.  They had 1ft. 8in diameter wheels and two outside cylinders, 6in diameter x 9in stroke; boiler pressure was 140 lbs per square inch; the wheelbase (i.e.distance between the axles) was 3ft 0in; the engines weighed empty (no coal in the bunker, no water in the boiler)  3 tons 7 cwts 2 qrs.  Very occasionally ‘WREN’s had the more costly copper fireboxes and brass tubes but not the  ones sent to Greenhill, which had steel fireboxes and steel tubes.  The locomotives were painted grey,  the standard wartime livery!


     Twelve locomotives, Nos. 4013-4024, were ordered on 24th August 1918 by the Ministry of Munitions for use by the Air Ministry.  Nos. 4017-4020 were marked down for Greenhill but the camp received the first three of the batch, perhaps indicating the urgency of the work being undertaken there.



Craftsmen and craftswomen at work


     The workshops at Norton must have been kept very busy repairing aircraft which crashed in Britain.  The numbers of crash fatalities at training establishments were horrifying. Letters quoted in Peter Liddle's book, The Airman's War 1914-1918, speak of “sixth fatal accident in three days”;  “six flying boats crashed in training in one week”; “eleven crashes in one day” (one fatal).  These were in 1916 and 1917 so it would seem that there was an urgent need for the No.2 Repair Depot in 1916.  Men who were trained as fitters, riggers, sailmakers, blacksmiths, coppersmiths, welders and armourers would all be in demand.


     One of these craftsmen was Air Mechanic Fred Ellis.  His daughter and grandson still possess his Mess spoon with his number, 64496, on the handle.  He made a model aircraft for his daughter which has wheels which originally were brass pulley wheels.  Many of the little scraps in the Salvage Shed were fashioned by the men in their spare time into models and objects such as picture frames.  Mr Ellis could well have been one of the airmen responsible for the fine work on the altar and cross now in Southwell Minster and the brass bowls in Nottingham Cathedral.  [See below]


     P.Allonby's article (1977) includes the fact that two of the first three women volunteers in Sheffield came to work at Coal Aston.  Private Crees was an Engine Fitter.  Although 79 years old in 1977, she could still remember details of the engines on which she had worked.  She said the CO in 1917/1918 was 2nd Lt Thomas Pike, later Sir Thomas Pike.


     Two RAF Museum photographs are taken inside the Repair Workshops.  One (PO 16168) shows clearly a row of six aircraft fuselages.  On the floor nearby, a water carrier with an up and down pump can be seen.  The second (PO 16169) is of a group of RFC Fitters at Norton; two of them might just possibly be Fred Ellis and Sidney Gray.  Mr Gray made copper propeller bosses.


     Aircraft wings were covered with strong Irish linen, doped and varnished, then the roundels were painted on.  This was a job undertaken by the women, who included Lily Gorman and Lucy Smalley, a day worker and Team Leader at the No.2 (N) ARD.  They wore long sleeved overalls of the type common  at that period, revers at the neck, buttons down the front and the skirt below calf length.


     Lucy used to tell her daughter that one day a Naval pilot came in wanting his aircraft to be repaired the same day but she told him that he would have to wait.


     Some of the types of aircraft rebuilt were:  R.E.8;  B.E.12; Sopwith Ship Strutter; Sopwith Pup;  Armstrong-Whitworth F.K.8;  F.E.2b;  Sopwith 1½ Strutter, Fleet Camel and Snipe aircraft.


      B.J.Rapier also lists the following aircraft at Coal Aston: in 1917, F.K.8, R.E.8 and B.E.12;  in 1918, Sopwith Pup, F.E.2b, Camel and Snipe. He also includes a photograph of the Armstrong-Whitworth F.K.8 aeroplane Number B4145 rebuilt at Coal Aston.


     At least 200 aircraft of varying types were rebuilt at the Depot. When the aircraft were completed they were pushed out on to the airfield and a pilot flew them to their new airfield.


      Lt Sydney Lawrence, aged 22, was one of these pilots. In a letter dated October 1917, now in the possession of his family, he tells of staying in an overnight billet then being driven in an RFC vehicle “to Norton aerodrome“(No.2 (N) ARD).  He had a good look over the new machine, signed for it and took over the log books.  He took off in a fairly thick mist and flew the aircraft, by compass at 9000ft, to Catterick.  He noted that the engine and aeroplane were splendid.


     Another pilot was Captain H.E.Dixon whose aircraft, en  route to an operational aerodrome, crashed shortly after take-off on 10th Aug 1917.  He suffered broken legs, collar-bone and jaw and unfortunately succumbed to his injuries a week later.  His grandfathers were both well known Sheffield men.


     Two other men, whose names are remembered by the family of a Norton Air Mechanic, were “Flying Fish” Herring and Sgt Thornton Wills.   Sgt Wills, of the W.D. & H.O. Wills family, would not accept a commission.  They were at Coal Aston from the early days, living in tents while the huts were being built.


     A report in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 20th January 1919, headed “Sheffield Flying Man Killed”, is an account of the funeral of Sergeant Pilot A.W.Ellis, who had joined the RFC in September 1916 as a Mechanic. He had been killed in a disastrous aeroplane collision at Collinstown, Dublin, and brought home to Sheffield. His funeral was carried out with full military honours, his coffin being taken to City Road Cemetery by a group of men from Coal Aston and an escort from Collinstown.


Administration : Norton Hall used by Officers


     The Sheffield Daily Independent, Thursday, 20 November 1919, states, “The Hall itself stands in a park of about 200 acres.  Col. Firth resided there until the early days of the war and it was subsequently used as quarters for the officers from the aerodrome.”


   A gentleman visiting Norton Church in 1992 said he remembered the RFC sentry, dressed in a “maternity jacket” uniform, standing outside the Hall Lodge on Norton Church Road.


     The Audit Board met at Norton Hall on 3rd April 1918 in order to audit the Regimental Accounts so it seems that offices were located in the Hall, presumably the main administrative offices for the entire establishment.


     The Orders, referred to previously, were issued on  28th March 1918, three days before the change from the RFC to the RAF. They state that Lt Col R.H.Collier had ceased command on 27th March and that Major S.S.Kennedy, RFC, had assumed command.


     The Stores Section and the Aeroplane Repair Section were to come under the command of Capt A.M.Lester and Capt W.G.Cleghorn.  Each Section had its own HQ building.


     The Norton Hotel has been suggested as the main HQ but there is no building on that site on the 1924 map.  In 1933 Henry Tatton drew a diagram of the cross-roads at the top of Meadowhead naming the Norton Hotel as New Hotel so it was probably built between 1929 and 1932.