A Brief History of Lasham
Lasham village and airfield are now usually known as “Lash-am” but until recent times most locals called it “Lass-ham”. The village dates back to the eleventh century when it was “Esseham”, becoming “Lessham” shortly after. The airfield was built by Irish labourers and Italian prisoners of war. Its construction destroyed much of the avenue of beech trees that had been planted by George Purefoy Jervoise of Herriard Park in 1809, to commemorate the Jubilee of George III (in 1810). A painting was made of The Avenue by Thomas Hennell in 1940. It is one of about 1500 paintings made by a large number of artists early in the war as part of Recording Britain project that was funded by the Pilgrim Trust. The painting of the avenue is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
The airfield was completed in 1942. Several different types of aircraft were based at Lasham during World War Two. The squadrons based at Lasham during the period 1942-44 were:
- 33 Spitfire
- 107 Boston/Mosquito
- 175 Hurricane/Typhoon
- 181 Typhoon
- 182 Typhoon
- 183 Typhoon (Gold Coast)
- 239 Mustang
- 305 Mitchell/Mosquito PAF
- 320 Mitchell RDNA
- 412 Spitfire RCAF
- 453 Spitfire
- 602 Spitfire (City of Glasgow)
- 609 Typhoon (West Riding)
- 613 Tiger Moth/Mosquito (City of Manchester)
One of the most famous operations was by 613 Squadron. On 14 April 1944 six Mosquitos led by Wing Commander Bateson bombed the Central Records Registry of the Gestapo in The Hague from a height of 50 feet. The accuracy was such that there were few civilian casualties nearby.
The club originally occupied one of the hangars now used by ATC. In the meantime the Surrey Gliding Club and Imperial College Gliding Club were both seeking a new home because Redhill airfield had many other users. Other places were considered but Lasham was chosen on the basis of where members lived. Lasham was chosen by a majority of one. The other locations in Windsor Great Park and Chipping Ongar would, in retrospect, have been disasters.
The Surrey club and Imperial College moved to Lasham in August 1951. Auto-tows and winches were initially used. Aero-towing began in February 1954 with a Tiger Moth. Eventually all wire launches were done by auto-tow, until 1988 when winching was reintroduced and replaced auto-towing.
Lasham Gliding Society was established in 1959 and later signed a long lease on the airfield from the Ministry of Defence. The Defence Research Establishment later maintained a satellite station at Lasham but the dishes, one enclosed in a large white dome, have now been removed. Most the buildings from the World War Two have now also been demolished, except for the large hangars.
Lasham Gliding Society is now one of the largest gliding clubs in the world. Over 220 gliders are based at the airfield. The airfield is in constant use throughout the year and regularly hosts national and regional gliding championships.
In 1999 Lasham Gliding Society (LGS) completed the purchase from the Ministry of Defence of the freehold to the airfield, making the final payment in 2001. It now owns all of the land within the fenced and gated area as well as the fields that form the undershoot area at each end of the main runway.
In August 2013 Lasham Airfield became home to The Gliding Heritage Centre, the largest collection of vintage gliders in England and the only museum in the United Kingdom solely devoted to gliding.
The Society lets part of the land to an aircraft maintenance company (2excel). This company uses the main runway several times a week to bring in airliners for overhauls and is the largest employer in the area.
Surplus land and buildings are let to local farmers and businesses.