The year 2002 marked the 63rd anniversary of the 17th Balloon Centre, which was officially opened on Wednesday 28th June 1939, and went on to become Hull's own RAF Station - Sutton on Hull.
Although it was closed some forty-one years ago, the Station is remembered by many of those who served, trained and worked there during its existence, but only a few items of tangible evidence of it still remain to be seen to this day.
The most obvious is the housing on Sutton Garden and Sutton Close, which are both off Barnstable Road, Bransholme Estate. Built in the 1950s', by 1975 the Air Ministry had no further use for them so the Hull City Council acquired them. Today, some are privately owned. The original Married Quarters were adjacent to West Carr Lane, but today that thoroughfare is defunct. However, the route of it is still evident by the tarmac surface that bisects Sutton Gardens, and provides entry to Sutton Close from Barnstable Road (Right)
Regrettably, of the many 'Closes' built on the 83 Acres of land vacated by the Station, none had been named with an RAF connection, but that oversight was later corrected in developments north of Wawne Road. Sutton Gardens was in existence prior to the building of the Estate as it appeared on the 1965 Ordnance Survey map, and it is hoped that the use of 'Sutton' referred to the Station. Likewise, it was later used when Sutton Close was created.
To visit the present day “North Point” or the site of the old RAF Station from Wawne Road turn into Barnstable Road, note the first commercial building on your right, the end of it marks where the main gate of the RAF Station was, continue to traffic lights and turn right into Goodhart Road: you have arrived at the Centre, at rear of it - the Bransholme Library.
The tallest buildings at RAF Sutton-on-Hull, constructed in 1939, were four Balloon Hangars designed by the British Steel Corporation. Each had a width of 75 feet, a length of 100 feet, and a height of 50 feet. They were constructed of 22" x 7" RSJ type ribs, and hipped roof sections spaced at 25 feet. They were clad with corrugated iron sheeting with two tier-glazing panels in both sides, while the roofs consisted of asbestos sheeting. Both ends had six sliding doors hung from rails, enabling them to be opened the full width.
One of these Hangars can be seen today on Leads Road in Hull - possibly saved from the scrap yard. Local resident Lily Tether witnessed the rebuilding of it between 1961-5.
Viewed from Leads Road the hangar - although reduced to an approximately height of 42 feet, retains its distinctive Mansard roof and can be seen nestling between two later buildings. The modern cladding on the nearest end is attached to the frames of five of the original sliding doors welded together. Brickwork and asbestos sheeting can be viewed from Glebe Road block at the furthest end. The sides - hidden by the additional buildings, still have the original corrugated iron sheeting, the exterior of which has the same dark green paint that it had at the Station, and traces of wartime black-out paint can still be seen on the two tier glazing panels! The interior décor on the sheeting, vertical RSJ's and roof ribs, is of cream, which indicates that it was the original paint scheme used during reconstruction, though the replaced rivets were not painted.
Initially, a company that prefabricated concrete piles for use in rebuilding taking place locally used the building, though during 1972, a local well established stockholder of pipes and associated fittings relocated its business to the site, and the two adjoining buildings were added.
Although ownership and titles have changed, the same products are available at a 63-year-old hangar relocated a mile away from the Balloon Centre to finish up at yet another Centre on Hull's Leads Road - The Pipeline Centre.
Evidence of the work of the Balloon Squadrons that operated from the Station during WW2 on the creation and maintenance of the Hull Balloon Barrage can still be seen in some areas. Of the
remote sites, 45 or so land Sites operated on the North Bank two of which are still identifiable by single distinctive red brick air raid shelters with cambered roofs. One is on the east bank of Holderness Drain close to the entrance to Maternity Hospital on Hedon Road - another in the field of the BBC Transmitter at Paull. On land that was the Hull Municipal Airfield and east of the Saltend roundabout one standard and a further sleeping shelter can be seen from Hull Road. On this Site the balloon anchorages, and the concrete base for the winch are still in place: surprisingly all are in pristine condition.
A brick and cambered concrete roof store building are evidence of the Site that operated in the grounds of Hymers College, and can be seen from nearby Sunny Bank nestling under the trees. It appears that the wooden doors of it are original; graffiti on them is a later addition. (Photo Right.)
The smallest item of an anchorage can be seen at what it is still known by senior citizens of the Garden Village area as "The Balloon Field". Hidden by grass on the edge of it there is a single screwed picket, on which no doubt many have stubbed their toes on in the past sixty years.
Of the 15 known land Balloon Sites that operated in North Lincolnshire, seven have disappeared under industrial development but evidence of the remaining ones is abundant. The wooden buildings that were on all of them have perished but brick buildings can still be seen.
The Flight Headquarters building at East Halton was described in 1939 as a derelict farmhouse, though now it is an immaculate family house. Behind it are the wartime brick structures, two sleeping and a standard air raid shelter. Although they have aged, they are still intact and one is used to store garden equipment. Of the 1939 wooden accommodation only a concrete base remains as evidence of its existence. The store building, similar to the one at Hymers is now capable of housing several dogs' in a Kennels and Cattery establishment on the wartime site.
The red brick shelters confirm the existence of the three remote Sites North of the village. One is heavily camouflaged in a Hawthorn hedge and it is not visible from Skitter Road, one of the two on Brickyard Lane is minus the blast wall that protected the entry, and gives the appearance that it was used to house a horse, while the remaining one in the same lane is intact. South of the village the shelter off Brick Lane minus its blast wall is very picturesque as it is almost hidden by Ivy the climbing evergreen shrub. This Site still has its balloon main anchorage in place.
Those Sites that were nearer to the Humber bank can also be confirmed. One off Haven Road with the 900-yard cart track to it ends at the Shelter, which is now used to store farming equipment. The one on Station Road still has the two Shelters that both have been modified as byres for cattle. The main and a lone secondary balloon anchorage are still in place.
The same site had been a depot by the Ministry of Agriculture where machines and equipment were stored during the draining of marshland to reclaim it to become arable farmland. On the defunct site there are a number of various sized concrete blocks, some with anchor rings within them. Those measuring a cubic yard have the appearance and size of Balloon main anchorages. They are thought to weigh nearly two tons and possibly came from the Sites on marshland to be used to form an unloading ramp at the depot.
Of those seven Sites that have disappeared, one at Chase Hill Farm is now hidden under the new gas fired electricity power station on Chase Hill Road while land south of the same road, where the second was is covered by storage tanks; there is no trace of the third off nearby Rosper Road while the fourth disappeared when the National Coal Board plant was built on Humber Road. There is no trace of the fifth within the estate of Immingham Dock or the sixth outside of it to the East. The seventh had been sited on the village football pitch at the end of Pelham Road, Immingham and was to protect the Locomotive Shed on the Dock.
That Site, No. 8, is now the headquarters of No. 866 (Immingham) Squadron Air Training Corp and surprisingly the main anchorage was unearthed, moved and deposited on open grass land, attempts to destroy it having proved to be unsuccessful, so it still can be seen.
Probably the most important items that survived from the Station are the original Main Gates and these - in the hands of the County Borough of Hull, were installed during the 1970's to provide security on the road entrance leading from James Reckitt Avenue into Hull's East Park.
Doreen Varey recalls that her late husband, Squadron Leader A. W. Varey DSM, had commanded the No. 152 (City of Hull) ATC Squadron during the existence of the ATC Centre on West Carr Lane. He witnessed the removal of the gates when the Centre closed, and also saw the eventual installation of them at the their present location.
During August 1998 the author saw the gates for the first time and because they were in such a dilapidated state, he felt the owners, Kingston upon Hull City Council, should be reminded of their history. After all, the 60th anniversary of the installation of them at the 17th Balloon Centre in 1939 was fast approaching!
The Author was delighted that his timely reminder was well received, and was honoured to become involved with Ray Norman, Head of Parks and Open Spaces, who directed the refurbishment of the gates. The Leisure Services Committee funded the project as part of its plans to revitalise the popular East Park.
The gates were removed for a full inspection, and though it was found that they were considerably corroded, luckily, repairs were possible. When completed they were galvanised, and to match the colour of new fencing being installed in the park, they were finished in Victorian Green, and were then relocated to the park entrance.
On Friday 30th April 1999, an audience numbering more than sixty, assembled to inspect the splendidly refurbished gates and to read the two commemorative plaques attached to them. Among those present was WAAF Olga Johnson, a former Fabric Worker who worked on Balloons from 1940 to 1942 at the 17th Balloon Centre. Some 24 ex-RAF personnel who had served or trained at post-war RAF Sutton on Hull accompanied her.
The Lord Mayor of Kingston upon Hull, Councilor Brian Petch, arrived at 3.00PM, and after inspecting a guard of honour of the No. 152 (City of Hull) Squadron Air Training Corps, he met Doreen Varey and some of those who had served at the Station.
The Lord Mayor then approached the gates, cut a ribbon of RAF blue stretched across them, formally declared them re-opened and by way of dedication said:
" I have very fond memories of the Sutton RAF base as a child during the Second World War, so I am delighted that the service men and women who served there will be remembered on these magnificently restored park gates."
The ceremony that took place is marked by one of the commemorative plaques on the gates that bears the Arms of the Local Authority, while the second provides a fitting memorial of: