Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Varied History of Ouston Airfield (NZ081700)


The little patch of Northumberland to the south of Stamfordham has gone by a few names over the past half century or so. Since the start of World War II it has been almost exclusively a military affair, and remains so as modern-day Albemarle Barracks. But it began life in 1939 as one of many hastily-built aerodromes, and was commonly known as Ouston Airfield or RAF Ouston.

Though it has not seen an aeroplane for several decades, the rather odd arrangement of runways can still be clearly made out on modern day maps: three long strips criss-crossing one another, with an outer ring-road enclosing the site. Its aviation history is a standard affair: opened in 1941, hosting Hurricanes and Spitfires initially, to be followed by all sorts of warplanes, from Defiants to American Mustangs and Typhoons to Wellingtons. Post-war, it continued in use in a ‘reserve’ role into the late 1950s, and some aircraft maintenance work was carried out there into the 60s.

Just when its useful life seemed to be coming to an end, it suddenly burst back onto the scene as a car and motorcycle racetrack in the early to mid-60s. Racing may well have taken place there as early as 1961, but what is known for certain is that the Newcastle and District Motor Club organised meetings at Ouston Airfield in consecutive Junes in 1962, 1963 and 1964. Jackie Stewart is known to have blown the field away at one race at Ouston in his Jaguar E-type in one of his earliest wins (1962 or 1963, reports differ); and the great Jim Clark was paraded there in 1964 and presented the prizes. In 1965, apparently, a crowd on 20,000 watched a motorcycle race meet at Ouston.

Two years later, in 1967, the site was reopened as an airfield for a short duration, acting as the North-East Regional Airport for five months whilst Newcastle Airport’s runway was extended.

Then, in the early 1970s, it was handed over to the army and renamed Albemarle Barracks, and aeroplanes have never left its surface since (though Apache helicopters are still to be seen there). Recently it has found yet another use: as a secure compound for the transport of nuclear material and/or warheads – or so the rumours go…


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