Conservation charity the Landmark Trust unveils plans to restore New Forest wartime RAF watch office at Ibsley
A crumbling former Second World War RAF site in the New Forest could be restored and turned into holiday lets.
The derelict watch office near Ringwood, one of 12 WWII airfields in the Forest, was a fighter station for Spitfires. At its height in 1943 it hosted more than 150 P-47 Thurnderbolt bombers, with 3,000 personnel.
It was also a location for the 1942 film The First of the Few, starring Leslie Howard and David Niven.
It has fallen into disrepair over the years, but now building conservation charity Landmark Trust wants to restore it for holiday accommodation for up to eight people, rescuing the building from “its current state of near total dereliction”.
Landmark Trust has taken over the lease of the building, which has 84 years left, from the RAF Ibsley Airfield Heritage Trust. Somerley Estate owns the site.
The project is estimated to cost £3.1 million, and fundraising efforts have seen more than 70% of that total achieved.
Two drop-in events have been organised, as well as an online webinar, to share the vision and gauge public opinion on the plans.
A trust spokesperson said: “The watch office was once a vital link in Britain’s Second World War air defences, yet now stands decayed, crumbling and inaccessible.
“Landmark plans to restore this resonant building, honour its remarkable legacy, and sensitively enable access through self-catering holidays and online and physical information about its history. We also want to host regular, free public open days and events.”
RAF Ibsley was part of the hastily built defence structures in south and east England in the early years of the war. Construction started in August 1940, and it was still unfinished when the first squadron arrived in February 1941.
Described by the trust as a “unique survivor of its 518/40 design”, the watch office featured innovative use of structural concrete and has retained vestiges of its slender concrete viewing balcony.
But its large Crittall windows rusted and fell in long ago, and its ceilings are rapidly collapsing.
Public access has been barred for years, with a catalogue of risks leaving the building standing locked and unsafe.
Following previous failed local salvation efforts, the trust believes it is now the watch tower’s only hope for rescue.
An initial public meeting was held in Ringwood this week, and a second is set to be held in Ibsley Village Hall 7pm-9pm on Tuesday 30th January.
The online Zoom webinar will be held at 7pm on Thursday 1st February, featuring a presentation on the site’s history and the restoration plans. This will also include a chance to ask questions.
The trust spokesperson added: “Landmark’s restoration will see the watch office sensitively adapted for up to eight holidaying guests.
“The income will pay for its future maintenance, so preserving the building and the memories it holds for future generations.”
Landmark promised to combine full accessibility with environmental sustainability, respecting the 1940s layout and wartime decorative schemes, and vowed to carefully manage bat habitats with independent expert ecologists’ guidance.
Plans for the the scheme are currently being considered by New Forest District Council.
For more information visit landmarktrust.org.uk/raf-ibsley and landmarktrust.org.uk/get-involved/events/ibsley-events