Airfield Buildings at Warner Brother Studios
Now home to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, the 80 hectare site of Leavesden studios was once occupied by an aircraft factory and airfield.
When the de Havilland company entered into a contract with the Ministry of Defence, a new site was required in which to produce the planes they were commissioned to build. There was not enough space at de Havilland’s base in Hatfield for the large hangers needed for the production of huge numbers of Mosquito fighter crafts and Halifax bombers, so Leavesden was settled on as the location for the new factory.
Construction of Leavesden Aerodrome began in 1939 at the start of the war, and it was to become an important centre of aircraft production during World War II.
The Mosquito began production in 1941. It was one of the fastest operational aircraft in the world, which is perhaps surprising when you learn that it was made almost entirely of wood.
The Mosquito was a high-speed, high-altitude photo-reconnaissance aircraft. It also intercepted Luftwaffe raids on the United Kingdom, notably defeating Operation Steinbock, a night-time strategic bombing campaign against southern England, in 1944.
Both the Mosquito and the Halifax bomber were critical successes for Britain during the conflict.
By the end of the war, Leavesden Aerodrome was the largest factory in the world.
One story from the Aerodrome tells of a particularly stormy night, when the site was battered by gale force winds. An RAF Corporal tried to open the door of one of the hangers, which was operated by a chain attached to a ratchet. A strong gust of wind blew the door on top of him, and he died instantly. Years later his ghost was seen haunting the site, and the rattling of chains could still be heard.
After the war, the aerodrome was acquired by Rolls Royce. They used it as a factory producing engines for airplanes and helicopters.
The site was later used by Leavesden Flight Centre, a private flying club, for flying practice.
However, by 1994 the Aerodrome was unable to find a new owner, and it was left disused.
Then, in 1995, the James Bond film GoldenEye was to be the next film in the series after a six year break. The traditional home of the series, Pinewood Studios, was fully booked with other productions. With little time to find an appropriate space in which they could build the large scale sets required, the production discovered Leavesden Aerodrome.
The aircraft hangers were well-suited to conversion into a studio space. The factory was gutted, and turned into a working film studio.
In 2000, the site was acquired on behalf of Warner Bros. for use in what would be the first in a series of hugely successful films, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Over the following ten years, every Harry Potter film was based at the studios.
Warner Bros. announced in 2010 that they were going to purchase the studio as a permanent European base. They were the first studio to do so since Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer in the 1940s. They set about redeveloping the studios, converting stages A through H into soundstages and equipping all the facilities with the latest fittings.
As part of this redevelopment, two new soundstages were built to house a permanent public exhibition called The Warner Bros. Studio Tour, London. The whole attraction is currently dedicated to the making of Harry Potter and is home to many of the series’ iconic sets, props and costumes. The tour may be expanded in the future to accommodate other Warner Bros. franchises.
The tour was officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in April, 2013. Two years later, the tour’s first expansion was announced: a brand new Platform 9 ¾ section, where visitors can board the Hogwarts Express steam engine used in the films.
In June, 2014, Warner Bros. announced the expansion of the studio, building three new stages and adding a further 100,000 square feet of office space.
A succession of major feature films have made use of the site, including The Dark Knight, Inception, Sherlock Holmes and Sleepy Hollow.
Article taken from the Watford Observer Nostalgia Series by Kelly Pells
Reproduced courtesy of The Watford Observer