How a book published in 1863 made life easier at RAF Fairlop

Fairlop aerodrome, Ilford.

Fairlop aerodrome, Ilford. - Credit: Archant

In this week’s column, Fairlop Historical Society’s David Martin takes a look at how the railway helped the RAF during the Second World War.

Every home should own an 1863 Bradshaw’s Descriptive Railway Handbook.

A snap shot of Britain for any traveller, railway enthusiast or historian, an original version is rare, but a facsimile is within the price range of most households.

Under the heading of Barking, (population 5076), the parish is given as divided into four wards, one of them Ilford, abounded by fertile lands where a fair is held annually round a famous oak, denominated Fairlop.

The book reads: “This oak has sustained its dignity in the forest for many years and though it suffered rough treatment from visitors, still maintains a majestic appearance peculiar to itself.”

Firstly, it is difficult to understand how it succeeded in maintaining a majestic appearance in 1863, when the oak was lost during a storm in 1820.

Secondly, and rather more importantly for a book claiming to describe the journeys one could take on a train, the railway did not come to Fairlop until 1903, when the Fairlop Loop branch line from Woodford to Ilford was opened as part of the Great Eastern Railway.

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Nevertheless, Bradshaw’s is a fascinating book.

There is also a connection between Bradshaw and the Royal Air Force.

The Air Transport Auxiliary whose motto was, Aetheris Avidi, which translates as“Eager for the Air” but was unofficially known as Anything to Anywhere, was a civilian organisation based at White Waltham Airfield, near Maidenhead in Berkshire, which made an enormous contribution to victory during the Second World War.

This organisation, which included women pilots, ferried new, repaired or damaged military aircraft between factories and assembly plants to active Squadrons and airfields - but not aircraft carriers.

A risky task, as they were always unarmed and likely to come under attack by the Luftwaffe and occasionally by over enthusiastic airfield protection gunners, and navigation was always difficult as airfield camouflage made them difficult to locate. However rivers and especially railway lines were useful tracks to follow.

This process was known as ‘Bradshawing’ and is how aircraft were delivered to RAF Station Fairlop.