Discovering Heritage Armstrong Whitworth Factory

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Duke’s Moor

The Armstrong-Whitworth aircraft factory was established at Duke’s Moor by Armstrong-Whitworth and Sir W G Armstrong in 1913. They received contracts to build aircraft under license from the war office. RAF BE.2a machines (biplanes), followed by BE.2b and later BE.2c machines were built. The factory was established by taking over the building which had served as the grandstand at the old Newcastle racecourse. The two-story building, built of stone in 1827 at the western edge of the moor, had been left behind when the town race meeting was moved from the Newcastle Town Moor to nearby Gosforth Park in 1882. 

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The Duke’s moor was a long, narrow strip of land measuring 600 x 150 yards. It was lined by both trees and houses which made it unsuitable as an aerodrome but was chosen as the factory location nevertheless. At the outbreak of War in August 1914, the war office instructed Armstrong-Whitworth to extend their works and placed an order for 250 BE.2c biplanes. An erecting shop, three-bay hangar, a wood store and engine testing shed were built. A concrete platform led to the Aerodrome on Duke’s Moor.

Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft Factory Newcastle Libraries B.E.2c Aircraft 1915 Gosforth
B.E.2c aircraft Gosforth 1915

When flying activities started from Town Moor, they appear to have been initially conducted from the west end of Duke’s moor, which itself is part of Newcastle Town Moor, but the site was not considered to be “sufficiently safe”.

Samuel Frank Cody

The well-known pioneer aviator Col. Samuel Franklin Cody had earlier experimented with aircraft at Newcastle Town Moor. A flamboyant showman, Samuel Franklin Cody, was often confused with Buffalo Bill Cody whose surname he took when young claiming (quite wrongly) that he was related. Samuel Franklin Cody was killed in an air crash at Fleet in August. 

Newcastle Evening Chronicle 07 August 1913
Newcastle Evening Chronicle 07 August 1913

New Activity Reported In Gosforth

In early 1914, the Newcastle Evening Chronicle captured activity at the new factory by reporting the following in their 4th February edition –

“People passing the large building near the Town Moor edge at Gosforth formerly used as a skating rink have remarked on the activity going on within the premises and have been curious to know the nature of the industry for which the rink has afforded accommodation. As is generally known, the building was secured by Messrs Armstrong, Whitworth & Co a little while ago for the development of their aeroplane business and now the interior of the place has a very busy appearance. It is stated that the firm is, at the present time building eight aeroplanes for the British Government”.

The Chief Designer of the factory was a Dutchman, Frederick Koolhoven. His first plane for Armstrong-Whitworth was the FK.1 which made its maiden flight in September 1914. However, the aircraft was never produced. 

Between November 1914 and March 1915, 1 Squadron RNAS C Flight was based here, equipped with four Bristol TB.8s. 

Koolhoven’s next plane was the FK.2. A modified version of this, the FK.3 was produced from April 1916 and upgraded with a powerful 120 horsepower Bearmore engine from June 1914. Armstrong-Whitworth’s more successful plane design was the FK.8, a two-seater Corps reconnaissance aircraft. 

On October 23rd 1914 1Sqn ‘C’ Flight of Royal Naval Air Service with four Bristol TB.8’s moved to Duke’s Moor with the personnel billeted in the adjacent Kenton Lodge. The flight’s task was to fly coastal patrols, scouting for any incursion by enemy vessels, though there is little record of its activities. The flight moved to Whitley Bay in January 1915. 

The aerodrome remained in use until June 1916 when it was declared unsafe. Though the factory remained, a new aerodrome was established on the Newcastle Town Moor with Armstrong Whitworth bearing half the cost (approx. £600). Flight testing was transferred to the new aerodrome. 

Koolhoven left the company in 1917 and was replaced by F. Murphy, who designed two aircraft – the Armadillo and the Ara but, neither made it into production. The Armstrong-Whitworth Air Department closed in October 1919, having made 1075 aircraft. 

Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft Factory

New Aerodrome on Town Moor

A new aerodrome was set up in the North-East corner of Town Moor, (suitably convenient to the factory in Gosforth), in June 1916 and this was later used or taken over as the RFC No.9 AAP (Aircraft Acceptance Park)

The Armstrong Whitworth Aero plant at Gosforth, near Newcastle, was known as No 9 Aircraft Acceptance Park. Often, new aircraft were transported by rail to an Acceptance Park in sections, where they were assembled. Aircraft Acceptance Parks were also used to store the flight-tested machines until they were required in the field. 

Newcastle 9 AAP opened on August 1st 1917 to handle Armstrong Whitworth and later, Sanderson-built FK8s and B.F.s. It was classed as 1 Section Park (the smallest category – total Newcastle output was only about 2500 machines). It was re-designated 9 (Newcastle) AAP on October 12th. Towards the end of the war, it also handled Sopwith Cuckoos from Blackburn and Pegler. The Town Moor aerodrome measured some 750×750 yards, not all of which was suitable for take-off/landing. 

Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft Factory Bristol F2B fighter Gosforth Newcastle libraries
Bristol F2B fighter produced towards the end of WW1

There was a 1916 pattern G.S. shed plus 3 Bessonneau hangars. Bessonneau hangars were used by the French Aéronautique Militaire and adopted by the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. They were portable aircraft hangars constructed of timber and canvas. The H.Q. for 9 AAP was situated at 2 Osborne Terrace.

Gala Sports Meeting

An advertisement in the Newcastle Journal in July 1917 heralded a Charity Gala Sports Meeting at Little Moor Aerodrome in aid of the Royal Flying Corps Widows and Orphans fund. A grand military event with a military band, flying exhibition and a host of entertainment.

Newcastle Journal 07 July 1917

Newcastle Aircraft Exhibition

The Newcastle Daily Chronicle on 15th February 1919 reported on the Royal Airforce Aircraft Exhibition at no.9 (Newcastle) Aircraft Acceptance Park at Gosforth with visitor numbers reaching some 1800 people. RAF personnel had been happy to explain the aircraft intricacies in fine detail.

Newcastle Daily Chronicle 15 February 1919

Hebburn Colliery Prize Silver Band provided music, and two of the largest dirigibles (airships), namely N.S.7 and N.S.8 scheduled a visit. These airships provided some flights and some displays of parachute jumping. The dirigibles flew in from East Fortune on the Firth of Forth.

Flying Circus

Following on from Armstrong Whitworth the Berkshire Aviation Company used the aerodrome as a ‘Flying Circus’ venue from December 1st until December 21st 1919. The venture must have been a great success to stay here for such a long period – or perhaps they were desperate to drum up enough custom to afford to move on!! Their later ‘Flying Tours’ rarely stayed more than two days with just one day being the usual time spent at most locations. 

The Newcastle Evening Chronicle (via its Illustrated Chronicle) offered readers a chance of free flights by submitting a coupon printed in the paper. Details were entered into a draw. Twelve lucky winners were awarded free flights. 

Newcastle Daily Chronicle December 11th 1919
Evening Chronicle December 8th 1919

A limited number of flights were made available for sale costing from one guinea. Flights could be booked at Windows in the Central Arcade in Newcastle or at the aerodrome itself. An advertisement for this stated that ‘it was warmer in the air than down below’. Flights took place from 10.30 in the morning until darkness descended.

Newcastle Evening Chronicle December 08th 1919 Newcastle Daily Chronicle November 28th 1919 pic

Town Moor Aerodrome Sold

The aerodrome on the Town Moor side of Grandstand Road was sold at auction in March 1920. The General Service pattern hangar sold for £2,100.


(from a newspaper report)

On Friday, April 08th 1921 the large shed used for the assembly of aircraft and formerly the roller skating rink, was attacked by Sinn Fein and was set ablaze, burnt down and entirely gutted. The flames could be seen for miles, and spectators flocked to the Town Moor and Grandstand Road to witness the blaze. It was one of a series of attacks in and around the city at that time.

The buildings and land still belonged to the Roman Catholic Church in Newcastle. It was adjacent to the old racecourse grandstand and was a long shed with a curved roof used for assembling planes. It was first built as a roller skating rink. The Roman Catholic Community had intended to use the shed at another school in Newcastle as a covered playground. The shed was 100 feet x 60 feet and about 65 feet high. It was entirely made of timber and tarpaulin, was well creosoted and had also been used as a paint store. Inside it was well soaked with oil and petrol from the aircraft. It was thus highly flammable. It had been dismantled towards the end of 1920 with some aircraft parts remaining on site. 

copyright David Wardell

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  1. Pamela Crewe says:

    A very interesting account of the aircraft industry in Newcastle. I never knew before the exact postion of the building where the aeroplanes were built.

  2. David Wardell says:

    That’s an interesting point Peter. I assume this was for the later Town Moor aerodrome. For Dukesmoor take offs they would , I expect, have just turned to the East from the factory. Nevertheless quite a short runway.. Thank you for that bit of added interest. David

  3. Peter ridley says:

    My dad spoke of a gap in the trees along grandstand road made so that aircraft could be taken through.?

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