Barnet Post

Barnet Post

Colindale’s ‘Ghost’ Aircraft Factory

Just over one hundred years ago Colindale was home to the World’s largest aircraft factory complex

Hero for Colindale’s ‘Ghost’ Aircraft Factory
The Airco factory building as it was in 1917, with workers queuing up to catch trams Credit London Borough of Barnet Archives
By Mark Amies 23 August 2021

At the corner of Annesley Avenue and the A5 Edgware Road stands a rather anonymous-looking double shed that, for more than forty years, has been the home of Kwik Fit, the car servicing and repair company. This building is, in fact, the last remaining factory building of The Aircraft Manufacturing Company, otherwise known as ‘Airco’, and it would have been just one of several buildings that made up a huge complex, that at the height of its production in the First World War, was completing a finished military aeroplane every 45 minutes. There are few surviving buildings that stand as testament to this history.

Airco was established in 1912 by the enterprising Mr George Holt Thomas, a man who had made his money in newspapers and magazines. Holt Thomas had built upon an early interest in aviation and foresaw the importance of aircraft, particularly within the military, and enlisting the skills of the genius designer, Geoffrey de Havilland, his company became a major player in aircraft production.

Once WW1 was over Airco ran into difficulty and was bought by the Birmingham Small Arms company, (BSA). They then promptly sold the factory spaces, and over the years these buildings were used for many different purposes, the biggest one going to General Motors, who first assembled trucks there, but from 1928 through to the late 1970s used it to make their Frigidaire products. That space is now home to Asda and the TNQ residential complex.

Going back to the factory building now used by Kwik Fit, this had numerous occupiers over the years, including Bristow, who made soap and beauty products. It has watched its fellow Airco buildings go, one by one, over the last forty years. The former space that became the home to Phoenix Telephones was replaced by the Yaohan Plaza Oriental shopping centre, and that is now Morrisons, mixed retail and apartments. To its right were some of the earlier Airco buildings which were replaced by what is now KFC and Boots opticians. The only other Airco buildings left are the former offices now used by a Jewish school, and a charming electricity sub-station on the corner of Grove Park.

I think the Kwik Fit building is worthy of a protected listed status, what do you think?

Read Mark’s book, ‘London’s Industrial Past’, published by Amberley