Visiting the historic wind tunnels in Farnborough

Some readers may have heard of the wind tunnels in Farnborough. Even fewer will have seen them, as they were in the secret Royal Aircraft Establishment [RAE]. The UK has a proud history in the development of wind tunnels. Recently we visited two of the preserved historic wind tunnels in Farnborough.

A wind tunnel is used to help solve the aerodynamics issues of aircraft and aircraft components. A smooth and stable flow of air is passed over a scale model of an aircraft, or, a whole aircraft where the wind tunnel is large enough. A variety of measurements are then observed and recorded. Aircraft wing design has been and remains one of the important uses of wind tunnels.

Having covered what they are, we can get down to the historic wind tunnels. The RAE, and its predecessors at Farnborough, played a central role in the development of aviation in the UK, and its wind tunnels were a key part of that role. The RAE closed in 1993, with its research work being part privatised. The Farnborough Air Sciences Trust [FAST] was established to save the heritage of the RAE and its wind tunnels.

There are three wind tunnel buildings in Farnborough, known as R52, Q121, and R133. Only the first two can be visited with asbestos in R133 limiting access. The buildings remain as they were when last used over 20 years ago.

The R52 building dates from 1911 and is Grade 1 listed. It originally housed two 7-foot wind tunnels. Both are now gone, though one is now located at the University of Southampton, in their place is a ‘low turbulence’ 4 x 3 foot tunnel built in 1946.

Iconic is a much misused word, though can be applied to the Q121 building, which is recognisable to all who pass by. Again it’s Grade 1 listed. Never have I known what went on inside. Now I know. It houses the 24 foot wind tunnel. Actually, the whole building is the wind tunnel. It was opened in 1935 and remained in use until 1996.

The wind tunnels are not open to the general public. Tours of the wind tunnels are by pre-arrangement, last for around 2.5 hours, and a group of no more than 20.  Wind tunnels remain important for aeronautical research, as the March 2018 article The future role of wind tunnels in test and development in Aerospace Testing International magazine.

Here are a few photos of the buildings, and their wind tunnels.

FAST Museum houses historic aviation collection

I’ve got a touch behind in articles here. Last week we visited the FAST Museum in Farnborough – properly known as the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust Museum. There were two aspects to our visit, with the Camberley and District Probus Club, in the morning to the FAST Museum, and an afternoon visit to the historic Wind Tunnels.

Firstly about our museum visit. I’ll write about the wind tunnel visit later. If you haven’t visited the FAST Museum, you’re missing a treat. The museum is packed full of historic aviation material, be it photographs, aircraft engines, space rockets satellites, flight simulators, and historic military and civil aircraft, all available with accompanying knowledgeable museum volunteers.

The museum is open on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holiday Mondays from 10.0am till 4.0pm, with entry being free. I’m ashamed to admit not having previously visited the museum, though having frequently passed by it on the A325. Funny isn’t it, it’s the attractions nearest to you that don’t get visited.

The old-looking white building housing the Museum is historic itself. Known as Trenchard House, named in commemoration of Lord Trenchard’s work in the creation of the RAF. FAST say about the building that it,

…. is the earliest building on the historic Farnborough aviation site. It was built in 1907 by the Royal Engineers to be the headquarters of their Balloon School and it is one of the oldest aviation related buildings in the country.

The FAST Museum volunteers created the Cody Pavillion, containing a full-sized replica of the British Army’s Aeroplane No1A, alongside a gallery of photographs about Samuel F Cody’s colourful life, all marking his achievement in the first successful powered aeroplane flight in the UK.  Here are a few photos of our visit,

Much needed, National Trust plans to improve Runnymede & Ankerwycke

The unloved state of the National Trusts [NT] Runnymede paths and memorials was the subject of a complaining article by me – Comparing standard of stewardship between National Trust and Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Certainly unconnected with my words, the NT announce plans to transform the Magna Carta site at Runnymede. As almost always with these sort of announcements talking about plans to improve something, there’s no project start date, or information about specific actions.

Not wanting to be churlish, I welcome the news, but wish they’d begin work now, rather than wait to get all the funds.

Visiting the Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking

Many is the time looking out of a train window coming into Woking Station that I spotted the Shah Jahan Mosque.

I don’t know what the reason was that I chose this week for my first visit to the mosque, perhaps it was simply the good weather. Location determined having looked at a map, and off I went. I’d expected to find the mosque easily on Oriental Road in Woking. I drove past the narrow entrance road a couple of times, obviously not as observant as I should have been.

Arriving at the mosque you see the rear of the building and quickly realise how small it is. Sitting in ample peaceful and tranquil grounds away from the hubbub of the nearby trading estate, it’s possible to see almost the entirety of the mosque, due to its small size. It can only hold sixty worshippers, while the single storey building in the grounds can hold, I believe, up to a couple of thousand.

Having taken photos of the exterior, I spoke with a gentleman who’d just left the mosque, and in conversation with him learned that it would be fine to enter the mosque and to take photos. Before I present my photos and the brief history of the mosque, here are some websites about the mosque,

Here’s a brief history of the mosque from Historic England

The history of the Shah Jahan Mosque, thought to be the first purpose-built mosque in northern Europe and Britain, is entwined with the growth of Islam in late C19 and early C20 Britain. The mosque was commissioned by Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner (1840-1899), an Hungarian Jewish linguist, who spent most of his working life in British India. His ambition was to establish an educational Oriental Institute to enhance the study of culture and history of India and the Islamic world. In 1880 Leitner purchased the site of the Royal Dramatic College in Woking, a building of 1865 by TR Smith for John Anson set in large grounds, in which he established his Oriental Institute where scholars came to stay and study. The house is clearly shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1896, further east of the current Woking mosque complex, on the site of the existing retail park, and was standing at least until 1914. Leitner approached the Sultan Shah Jahan Begum, the female ruler of the Indian princely state of Bhopal, to contribute funding for the construction of a mosque west of the house, within its grounds. She provided £5,000 and construction started in 1888; the mosque was completed in the autumn of 1889. In addition to the mosque, the Sir Salar Jung Memorial Hall (named after the then Prime Minister of Hyderabad state) was built to the east to accommodate the Imam and hold community functions and meetings. Interestingly, neither the mosque or memorial hall is shown on historic Ordnance Survey maps until 1914.

The mosque was designed by William Isaac Chambers, an English architect based in Woking in the mid-1880s, known for his expressive architectural style, easily adapted to the mosque’s popular ‘Orientalist’ style of the late C19. The architecture of the mosque is generally late-Mughal, with flamboyant architectural elements such as the spherical dome and sculptural treatment of the entrance combined with more traditional devices such as the stepped battlements. The Buildings of England volume for Surrey (1987, 531-532) records that the orientation towards Mecca (Makkah) was set by a ship’s Captain who went to Woking and took the bearings. The Buildings of England also state that Chambers did not design the courtyard and some of the decoration as there was a dispute between him and Leitner. It is assumed that Chambers designed the memorial hall, but this has not been substantiated.