Cavalry Ground to City Housing Estate
The Changing Boundaries and Land Usage
This area of Mousehold that was once part of Sprowston is now known as the Heartsease Estate. Prior to the development this area for housing it had seen both military and commercial use over the years as airfield and before that as a Cavalry Training Ground.
Development as a Cavalry Training Area
After the building of the Cavalry Barracks in 1791 later to become Nelson Barracks in honour of Admiral Nelson, the cavalry units based there were in need of a training area, Mousehold Heath provided an answer. It would seem that to reach the heath the Dragoon and Hussar units would leave their barracks then onto a road that passed to the rear of what is now Heathgate past the area where the Rangers House now stands to near the junction of Gurney Road and Britannia Road down a road that is still visible and then on to the heath itself. Leading up to the Napoleonic Wars 1803-1815 the training ground saw many different cavalry units based at the barracks at various times prior to and after the hostilities. Britannia Barracks was built during 1885-1887 giving its name to the road that ran alongside the barracks main gate, this became the home of the Norfolk Regiment formed in 1881 from the regiment previously known as The 9th Of Foot they were also to use the heath as a training area. By the late 1800`s there was a rifle range to be found alongside of the road previously mentioned. On 25 April 1909, there was an inspection of the troops by King Edward VII on the Heath drawing vast crowds on the route over Mousehold as it had throughout his earlier visit that day in the city of Norwich. During 1912 on 3rd August the first aircraft to fly over Norwich was seen, this being a Bleriot monoplane piloted by Mr. Bentfield C Hucks on a promotional tour around the country sponsored by the Daily Mail newspaper. With the advancement of flight and the coming of WW1 this was to lead the way to another chapter in the story of Mousehold Heath.
Horses replaced by Aircraft
Mousehold Heath was taken over by the Royal Flying Corps at the beginning of WW1. First of the units to take up residence was No 9 Training Squadron, one of its pupil pilots was the well known fighter ace Albert Ball V.C. at the time of his death in 1917 he was the highest scoring ace in the RFC with 44 victories. Other squadrons namely 51, 65 and 85 came and stayed for short periods and at some time the airfield also had in residence a night flying training squadron, the airfield being listed as a Home Defence Night Landing Ground. This aside the main purpose of the airfields existence is that it became an important acceptance park for the Royal Flying Corps. This involved receiving aircraft from local manufacturers and preparing them for service use, they would then be flown to various units as required the airfield was designated as No 3 Acceptance Park in 1917. By the end of the war the airfield`s growth can been seen in that there were 15 hangars and 21 sheds in use around the airfield at that time. There were several local factories that produced aircraft parts or complete aircraft for the RFC, the two main manufacturers being Mann Egerton and Boulton and Paul.
Mann Egerton was asked by the Admiralty in 1915 to build seaplanes for them and provided £30,000 which the company used to purchase 60 acres of land on Cromer Road. By April 1916 production had started at these new works. Apart from Short S184 Seaplanes the company went on to build other types including Short Bombers, Sopwith IV Strutters, DH 9`s, Spad Scouts and De Havilland long range bombers. There was a triangular shaped grass airfield at the factory that was used to ferry suitable completed aircraft to Mousehold Heath, the seaplanes and larger bombers would probably have been delivered by road and assembled on site at their destination. Boulton and Paul in 1915 at their premises in Rose Lane Norwich started to build aircraft under a contract for the Royal Aircraft Factory, with the cooperation of coach builders Howes and Son of Chaplefield, the first type being FE 2b used as both a fighter and bomber by the RFC. Then as in the future aircraft were transported to Mousehold Heath for final assembly and flight testing. By 1916 production had moved to a brand new factory with greater capacity on Riverside. At the end of the war the company had built over 2500 aircraft of various types including FE2b`s, Sopwith Camel and Snipes, plus building hulls for Felixstowe F3 and F5 flying boats. Boulton and Paul had their own hangars on Mousehold Heath to use for the assembly of the transported components from the Riverside Works. After the war the company were to build several experimental aircraft as well as two engine bombers namely the Sidestrand followed by the Overstrand. These were the last production aircraft to be built solely by Boulton and Paul in Norwich as in 1934 the aircraft division was sold to John Dudley North whom was employed by the company as Chief Designer. Production was then relocated to Wolverhampton although still retaining the name of Boulton and Paul. By 1936 the premises had been taken over by Barnards Ltd. they had previously acquired a nearby property during 1921 as extra storage for their works in Coslany Street.
Military and Civil Aviation Facilities
Although remaining a military establishment the airfield was to take on more of a civil aviation role in the years following the war. On 25 February 1927 the Norfolk and Norwich Aero Club was founded and remained at the airfield until the start of WW2 when private flying was curtailed for the duration. Air shows were held at various times and the airfield was also used as a staging post for the King`s Cup Air Race in 1928. On the occasion of the Aero Club`s annual dinner on 17 March 1931 Amy Johnson flew in to attend the function along with other notable visiting guests including Lt. Col. Shelmerdine at that time the Director of Civil Aviation, this indicating that the Club had high standing in the world of aviation. In 1932 a decision was made to make to make Mousehold Norwich`s airport. The official opening on 21 June 1933 was performed by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), who arrived in his De Havilland Dragon G-ACGG. Boulton and Paul Sidestrand bombers of 101squadron RAF were in attendance having flown over from Bircham Newton for the occasion. Crilly Airways were the first and only company to start regular scheduled flights from Mousehold, starting in 1935. Based at their Leicester hub they operated D.H.Dragon aircraft linking Norwich, Liverpool, Bristol, London, Nottingham and Northampton. There was also a Sunday service to Ramsgate via Ipswich and Southend for those that could afford the £5 to use it. Over ambition in a European venture caused the company into receivership in Sept 1936 ending their short association with the airport. Other individual flights came in and out on a daily basis but there was to be no more known regular passenger services.
The Site in WW2
During WW2 although the airfield was still under control of the RAF but in a non-operational role it was still used however for a variety of other purposes. It was used as a K-Site decoy airfield for nearby Horsham St. Faiths with dummy aircraft on site to confuse the Luftwaffe into thinking that is was an operational airfield. In 1940 it appears that over produced DH Tiger Moth training aircraft were stowed away in hangars on the site, there are no records found of what happened to them after that. On 9 July 1940 two German bombers raided Norwich firstly bombing Boulton and Paul at Riverside and Thorpe Station. Bombs from the second of the bombers when either Barnard`s or the airfield was the intended target resulted in considerable damage to Barnard`s Iron Works with two workers being killed. At the same time the Aero Club was to lose its club house it being destroyed along with other buildings nearby suffering the same fate or damage. An Anti-Aircraft battery was found to be sited on the aerodrome with intention of the defence of Norwich against air raids on during WW2 although in view of the outcome of further raids its effectiveness was questionable. There was also a radio beacon listed as being situated on the airfield, this may well have been purely a navigational air for overflying aircraft and not for the airfield itself. With large areas of the airfield being available and its location near to local farms where they could be put to work made it an ideal location for use as a prisoner of war camp. With regard to the location of the camp one source indicates that is was in the Northwest corner of the airfield. No record has been found stating the number of prisoners encamped there or when the camp was first and last used.
With the return to peacetime after WW2 Mousehold Airfield had all but finished regarding flying, the only activity found were experimental trials by B.E.A. using Sikorsky S51 helicopters in carrying mail to Norwich using the now defunct airfield as its dropping off point. These trials started during 1948 but were proved to be uneconomical and were finished in 1950.
Land Acquired by Norwich City Council
In 1950 the area was to enter another and probably final chapter when the land was acquired by Norwich City Council for housing development. This involved it being taking away as a part of Sprowston and merging it into the city of Norwich. At first services had to put in place and with a project of this scale the groundwork for this was to take a considerable amount of time. In 1954 work started on the actual construction of the housing which although most of it was completed in a relatively short period of time other smaller additions were made over a period of several years. Whilst most of the multi garage blocks have been demolished and the land turned over to housing it is likely that this will continue in the future until all other possible sites have been exhausted. The latest development was the building of four blocks of semi-detached houses on the site of the old Small Pox Isolation Hospital on Salhouse Road opposite Nigel Farrow`s Garage. Over the years the old hangars and technical sites were used by various companies such as Barnards, Florida / Val Dal shoes, Tom Smith Crackers etc. As these companies ceased trading most of the buildings were to disappear with them. With the development of Rowntree Way as an Industrial Estate the remainder of the site has progressively been turned over to creation of the current Sprowston Retail Park.