A unique partnership between the RAF Burtonwood Association and Gulliver’s World has ensured memories, which could have ended up in landfill, have been kept alive.
The RAF Burtonwood Association was formed in 1987 at a reunion in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. The founders were Aldon Ferguson and Col Walter W ‘Dewey’ Ott (USAF
Ret’d) who was Chief, Flight Test in WWII and came back as Base Commander in 1949.
The purpose was to perpetuate the memory of those who served at Burtonwood and the work they undertook.
Initial publicity comprised information boards at local shows, talks in Westbrook Library and the production of the Burtonwood Times quarterly magazine. As the membership grew Marks & Spencer, through manager Mike Davies, kindly offered us surplus space in their brand new out-of-town superstore at Gemini.
Here was had the opportunity to display artifacts and photographs illustrating the story of the base.
The 47th Area Support Group of the US Army at Burtonwood supported us by providing information board in the main square of their Headquarters, Times Square and also hosted our UK reunions in 1988, 1990 and 1992.
Marks & Spencer needed to expand into the space loaned to us so we retreated back to the main site. Burtonwood Association member Ian Murphy suggested the empty Police control building at Gate 12 and obtained permission to occupy one half. It was a small building divided into two non-intercommunicating rooms. We moved a small number of exhibits into this area and it effectively became our first foothold into the main site (Site 8). Ian was ambitious and soon requested access to the second area which he gained. It was then necessary to partly remove the dividing wall
which was achieved and we now had exhibition space at the main entrance to the site.
RAF Burtonwood closed in June 1993 and the US Army soon had the entire building on Site 8 (also known as Header House) empty.
Warrington Borough Council saw the potential of the site to hold a major weeklong exhibition to promote Warrington and in particular the site of the airfield which was to be redeveloped. They used Header House to mount a substantial exhibition called the Business Connections Exhibition.
They invited every large business in the area to exhibit and did everything to attract American companies. This was to exploit the past use of the site by the American military and hoped to persuade them to open new sites here. (This was ultimately achieved with companies like Amazon, ASDA/Walmart, Domino Pizza now well established on the site). The RAF Burtonwood Association
was invited to participate and we were offered a large exhibition area to promote ourselves.
Another opportunity to publicise the Association was kindly offered by Warrington Museum. They suggested an exhibition in the Museum entitled ‘Keep ‘em Flying’.
This was one of the phrases coined during WWII to maintain the production rate of aircraft through the base. The exhibition occupied the entire upper floor and was professionally laid out and
developed by the Museum staff.
This exhibition was so successful that it ran for nine months and the Museum advised it was the most successful exhibition they had ever mounted.
When the time came to vacate the base due to the proposed new developments Ray Phillips, the owner of Gulliver’s World Theme Park located on part of the original airbase site, approached us with an offer to provide accommodation.
He and his organisation proposed building a purpose-built structure for us, help with new exhibits and even help in staffing it. Clearly, there had to be a two-way deal and the concept was it would become an attraction as part of the theme park, attract additional visitors as well as securing a way of keeping the Memory of RAF Burtonwood alive. The heritage centre includes the cockpit of a Skymaster which was one of the main planes to be serviced at the base.
Gulliver’s Julie Dalton said: “It has been a pleasure to support the Burtonwood Heritage Centre over the past fifteen years in their goal to keep the memory alive. The Airbase performed a critical role in both the world wars and beyond and its effect on Warrington and the people who lived here should not be forgotten. These memories would have been lost and the thousands of amazing artefact’s that tell the story would simply have been sent to landfill. Together with the association we welcome over 20,000 visitors through the doors per annum, including many local school children who are always wowed by the role their home town played in the wars.
We were delighted this year for the very first time, to receive a lottery grant to support us through the pandemic. This grant now means that we can start and rebuild the visitor numbers and look again to expanding the centre with even more exhibits.
Gulliver’s has been completely committed to keeping the memories alive for the last 15 years and looks forward to supporting for another 15 years and beyond. ”
Part 2 next month – Moving into Header House.