This World War Two aircraft hangar dates back to a 1936 Air Ministry 'Bellman' design for a ‘transportable aeroplane shed’. Bellmans were supplied to the RAF and the Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP) between 1938 and 1940 by manufacturers Head Wrightson & Co. Ltd of Thornaby on Tees.
Some 450 Bellmans were built for the RAF and MAP in the late 1930s and these were the only large hangars of their type available until 1941, but the rapid development of military aircraft by the early 1940s meant that Bellmans soon became too narrow for new aircraft and the larger T.2 hangar type was introduced.
Brooklands Museum’s Bellman was built by the MAP on the Track’s Finishing Straight in late 1940 as one of four identical dispersal hangars for Vickers-Armstrongs. All had a clear internal height of 25ft to accommodate Vickers Wellington and Warwick aircraft. Records state that construction of all four hangars began at the height of the Battle of Britain on 16/9/40, they cost £5,513 each and Vickers took possession of the Finishing Straight hangar around 12/12/40.
Initially the Finishing Straight hangar was used for dispersed final assembly work on the Wellington Mk II bomber and later the Warwick. Access to the aerodrome was along a new taxi-way north of the Paddock connecting the Finishing Straight via the ‘North Bridge’ across the river Wey. This route required removal of the pitched roof of the Paddock’s Shell Pagoda to allow clearance for Wellingtons’ wings when towed from the hangar.
Identified on site plans as building ‘T202’ since 1946, the hangar was used for associated production/repair work on Warwick, Viking and other post-war Vickers aircraft types in the later 1940s and from the early 1950s it also housed a new Vickers Guided Weapons Department.
From the late 1950s it was chiefly used as the ‘mock-up’ hangar where precise replica wooden fuselages of Vanguard, VC10, and BAC One Eleven (variants) airliners were built. The last mock-up was for the ill-fated BAC Three Eleven project cancelled in 1970.
From 1970 until 1987, T202 became a store for the British Aircraft Corporation and then British Aerospace but in 1988 it was used once again as an aircraft hangar with Brooklands Museum’s Roe 1 Biplane and Vickers Wellington exhibits being among the first occupants. It was Listed (Grade 2) in 1999 as a rare surviving example of the taller type of Bellman and notably it retains its original form of corrugated iron sheet cladding.
The Grade II listed Bellman Hangar was in a poor and deteriorating state and urgent action was needed. In February 2015 the Museum received a confirmed grant of £4.681million from the Heritage Lottery Fund for its ‘Brooklands Aircraft Factory & Race Track Revival Project’. The project included moving the Hangar off the Finishing Straight and restoring it nearby. The Hangar has been re-clad to prevent leaks and thermal protection for collections and their environment has been installed.
The new interior of the Bellman Hangar has been designed as an ‘Aircraft Factory’, harking back to the Hangar’s original use as a manufacturing building. Exhibitions explore the history of aircraft manufacture - from the pioneering early planes of wood and fabric, to the supersonic airliner and the technologies of the future.
The Factory Floor draws on an authentic factory atmosphere and is full of activities, enabling visitors to try out aircraft-building skills for themselves, drawing on the Brooklands spirit of experimentation and creating a learning experience that will be unique in the UK. The centrepiece is the Loch Ness Wellington, with areas focussing on the factory floor in early and later years, life for the factory employees away from work and displays on the development of Wings, Fuselages and Propulsion.
A new mezzanine level will explore the design of aircraft at Brooklands and the P1127 will look down from here onto the rest of the Factory.