Hatfield beacon lights up sky for first time in decades

PUBLISHED: 10:56 05 October 2013 | UPDATED: 10:59 05 October 2013

MP Grant Shapps, pictured L-R with Professor Quintin McKellar and university governors chairman Richard Beazley, switched on the historic beacon.

MP Grant Shapps, pictured L-R with Professor Quintin McKellar and university governors chairman Richard Beazley, switched on the historic beacon.

© Pete Stevens 2013 UK mobile tel: 07770616121 www.CreativeEmpathy.com

A BEACON which for many years guided pilots back to Hatfield has been relit.

The beacon, which in its heyday in the 1930s was visible to aircraft 38 miles away, was an essential navigation aid when pilots had only rudimentary instruments.

From 1934 it flashed a beam of light in a unique pattern which identified the airfield at the de Havilland factory.

The beacon was removed in 1988, but has been restored by the University of Hertfordshire, and installed near the Law Courts Building on the de Havilland campus as the start of a heritage trail.

At a ceremony on Thursday marking 10 years of the campus, Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps, a keen amateur pilot, turned the beacon back on for half an hour from 8pm, although its power has been much reduced.

He said: “It is fantastic that this beacon has come back to Hatfield to commemorate its heritage, and its part in aviation history.”

Jon Brindle, who was brought up very close to the factory, told the WHT: “I can remember it very well, as it kept me awake at night. It used to illuminate my whole bedroom.”

Desmond Penrose, a former test pilot who flew de Havilland aircraft including the famous Comet jet airliner from the airfield in the late 1950s, told the WHT: “I did not really use the beacon to actually locate the airfield, as we had an instrument landing system.

“But it was useful for identifying the airfield.”

Local historian Terry Pankhurst, who has studied the history of the airfield and factory, said: “The beacon probably wasn’t used much in the Second World War, as it obviously wasn’t a good idea to advertise where the factory was to German bombers.

“Its heyday was really in the 1930s, when there were virtually no instruments for pilots.”

Owen Davies, professor in social history at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “As far as we know, it is the last remaining pre-war beacon in existence.”

The university says the beacon will keep shining low level light, but there are no plans to switch it to full power again.


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