THE unique partnership between the RAF Burtonwood Association and Gulliver’s World, would never have happened if it hadn’t been for dedicated volunteers who worked tirelessly to keep memories of the base alive.
Following all the work in the early years to create a heritage centre, things took off when the whole Header House site came up for sale.
The Association approached the Ministry of Defence property arm to seek a site for a permanent Heritage Centre.
Volunteer Ian Murphy saw the potential and approached site manager George Dodd who eventually agreed to let us have the area which was originally the Base Commanders office and conference area.
“This was a huge increase in space and it allowed us to substantially increase the number of exhibits that we were collecting. The US Army had gifted the very last jeep on the base to the Association together with models of the site and Site 8, large aerial photographs and hundreds of plans and building drawings.
Ian was our first manager and he was aided by a joint scheme agreed between the Association and Warrington Museum whereby a museum professional would be brought in to establish museum procedures, management and display skills. Graduate Karen Selby joined us for just over a year and provided this vital skill with great success.
This space was rapidly filled and we then sought to expand. Permission was granted and we moved into several more rooms which included a bar, stage and dance floor. This was a perfect location for us to spread our wings and become firmly established. We could hold meetings here and soon were hosting dances and entertainment. A café was formed for visitors and members to meet in at weekends. We had secure, rent-free environment with free heat and light. Obviously, this was too good to last. After several very successful years in this accommodation, we had to leave as the site was being sold and would be demolished. The site was sold and has since become Chapelford Village. Our future was now very uncertain and we faced the total loss of a heritage centre and social space.
“We cast around for a site and fortune smiled on us. 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.
Thanks to the incredibly generous offer, our current building was designed and built and opened as the RAF Burtonwood Heritage Centre in August 2005. It immediately attracted huge interest and succeeded in promoting both the Association and Gulliver’s World.
The building was fully updated and the front, imitation, Nissen hut added in 2011 and reopened on 28 May 2011. At the same time additional land to the rear of the building was provided and several individual exhibits built including a chapel and areas devoted to specific units that served at Burtonwood.
Long term Association member, John Cotterill had joined the team some years previously and in 2016 took became manager of the Heritage Centre. Together with other members of the Burtonwood Association, they master-minded the additional rear buildings, new internal layouts and exhibits. In 2015, together with Bob Foster and Roy Thorp Apps, they negotiated the acquisition of the nose of a C-54/DC-4 airliner as an exhibit. This type of aircraft was the back-bone of the Berlin Air Lift in 1948 – 49 and over 1,100 major checks were undertaken on C-54s at Burtonwood during the Air Lift. This is now mounted on a frame alongside the Heritage Centre and used as a major memorial for the Air Lift being fitted out internally as a museum in itself.
Thanks to Gulliver’s World, we now operate the magnificent RAF Burtonwood Heritage Centre which, prior to the pandemic emergency, attracted thousands of visitors, school parties, aviation groups, women’s Institutes and similar organisations. Special exhibitions and action weekends are held annually drawing large numbers of visitors. Hopefully, once the current lock-downs are eased, we will be able to get back to normal and Keep the Memory Alive!
John added: “Special mention must be given to the efforts and work of former U.K. Association Presidents, Dave Goulden and Pete Boardman, who were integral to the expansion and development of the Centre on the Header House site.
Their dedication and drive helped secure the move to our current site at Gulliver’s World and with it the longevity of the RAF Burtonwood Heritage Centre.”
Next month – Preparing to open up after lockdown! (Fingers crossed).