Grahame Park

Grahame Park, Barnet

A residential estate in north-east Colindale, named after Claude Grahame-White, who established Hendon airfield here

Blériot XI at the RAF Museum - Oren Rozen

Claude Gra­hame-White was a motor engi­neer who became obsessed by air­craft and their pos­si­bil­i­ties when Bléri­ot made his tri­umphant cross­ing of the Eng­lish Chan­nel in 1909, in a plane like the one shown above.* Gra­hame-White imme­di­ate­ly trav­elled to France and taught him­self to fly, and soon became a fre­quent air-race con­tes­tant, win­ning many chal­lenge races and fly­ing by night.

He estab­lished an air­craft fac­to­ry that would ulti­mate­ly employ 3,000 peo­ple, found­ed the first British fly­ing club and – in 1910 – cre­at­ed Hen­don air­field on what had been sev­er­al hun­dred acres of scrub­by farm­land. On top of all this he wrote tech­ni­cal man­u­als and co-authored works of aero­nau­ti­cal fact and fic­tion with Har­ry Harp­er, a Dai­ly Mail jour­nal­ist.

“The air will be our future highway, affording the fastest transit to passengers and goods; and, ere twenty-five years have passed; a fleet of sea-planes – devouring distance at tremendous speed – should fly from England to America in less than twenty hours. Not for nothing, after centuries of effort, have we conquered the air. Lives have been lost, the victory dearly won; but mankind, in the end, will benefit. First Europe will be linked by airway; then, by degrees, the world.”

Preface to The Air King’s Treasure, Claude Grahame-White and Harry Harper (1913)

In 1914 Hen­don aero­drome was req­ui­si­tioned by the gov­ern­ment and by 1925 it was declared to be the prop­er­ty of the Roy­al Air Force – much to the aggra­va­tion of Gra­hame-White, who felt the gov­ern­ment had treat­ed him appalling­ly. A lengthy com­pen­sa­tion dis­pute ensued and he even­tu­al­ly sued the gov­ern­ment, win­ning the law­suit but with lit­tle sat­is­fac­tion at hav­ing done so. Gra­hame-White grew dis­il­lu­sioned with British fly­ing activ­i­ties and – turn­ing to prop­er­ty invest­ment and devel­op­ment – became a wealthy man and spent the remain­der of his life in Amer­i­ca and France.

Mean­while, in the local­i­ty now named Gra­hame Park, air­craft were man­u­fac­tured and flown from Hen­don aero­drome until 1937, after which its enclo­sure by sub­ur­ban hous­ing made avi­a­tion imprac­ti­cal, although it oper­at­ed briefly as a fight­er sta­tion dur­ing the Bat­tle of Britain. From 1940 RAF Hen­don became a com­mu­ni­ca­tions and train­ing base, final­ly ceas­ing oper­a­tions in 1957. The Greater Lon­don Coun­cil began con­struc­tion of the Gra­hame Park estate on part of the for­mer air­field in 1969.

Gra­hame Park was planned as a minia­ture new town, with munic­i­pal flats and hous­es at its core and pri­vate and Min­istry of Defence hous­ing on the perime­ter. Com­mu­ni­ty facil­i­ties includ­ed a library, church, day cen­tre and health cen­tre, all with angu­lar designs.

Plans con­tin­ued to evolve through­out the project’s imple­men­ta­tion, gen­er­al­ly in the direc­tion of down­scal­ing. Bar­net coun­cil made some worth­while efforts to pret­ti­fy the estate in the ear­ly 1990s.

How­ev­er, prob­lems of crime and depri­va­tion per­sist­ed and a renew­al pro­gramme is present­ly trans­form­ing much of Gra­hame Park. Inevitably in such a scheme nowa­days, most of the new accom­mo­da­tion is for pri­vate sale but homes will also be pro­vid­ed for exist­ing Gra­hame Park res­i­dents, by the hous­ing asso­ci­a­tion Not­ting Hill Gen­e­sis.

The pho­to below (by Mor­ley von Stern­berg) shows Pega­sus Court, designed by Peter Bar­ber Archi­tects and form­ing the east­ern side of the new south­ern gate­way square, part of the first phase of the Gra­hame Park rede­vel­op­ment.

Hidden London: Pegasus Court by Morley von Sternberg for Peter Barber Architects

The project, which is one of the largest of its kind in Lon­don, was due for com­ple­tion in 2020 but this tar­get is unlike­ly to be met because the may­or of Lon­don reject­ed pro­pos­als for the the next renew­al phase in Decem­ber 2017, on the grounds that too many social homes would be lost. He called the plan a “clas­sic exam­ple of how not to do estate regen­er­a­tion.” Richard Cor­nelius, leader of Bar­net coun­cil, was quot­ed as say­ing, “May­or Khan … seems to want to cre­ate the sink estates of tomor­row by con­tin­u­ing to con­cen­trate social ten­ants in one place. This is the wrong approach and we will be con­sid­er­ing how to respond.”

Else­where on the site of the for­mer aero­drome, Lon­don’s Roy­al Air Force Muse­um dis­plays more than 100 planes from around the world, from some very ear­ly designs to mod­ern jets and mil­i­tary air­craft. Sev­er­al spe­cial exhi­bi­tions are usu­al­ly in progress too. Admis­sion is free, though you have to pay to ride in one of the two flight sim­u­la­tors and to expe­ri­ence “all the thrills and exhil­a­ra­tion of pow­ered flight” in the so-called 4D the­atre.

Postal district: NW9
Further reading: The In-Betweeners, an excellent article about the regeneration of Grahame Park in the RIBA Journal (September 2015)


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* The picture of a Blériot XI at the RAF Museum on this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Oren Rozen, at Wikimedia Commons, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.
The biography of Claude Grahame-White is based on an article by Brian Willey, first published in Best of British magazine in July 2013.