Norwich Airport can be traced back to the Second World War when it was known as St FAITH’S AIRFIELD, home of the 319th Bomber Group of the USAAF. Before the Airfield was built the Cromer Road used to diverge from the Holt Road at the FIRS pub in Hellesdon. This building recently reopened as a branch of TESCO EXPRESS. For many years you could trace the former route of the road through the allotments that surrounded the airfield. Then the allotments were removed, the Premier Inn sprang up in their place and all trace of the road was lost. At the other end of the airfield the Cromer Road used to run through St Faith’s village. What a minor road that seems today!
Until the 60s there wasn’t a proper replacement for the piece of the Cromer Road lost to runways. You had to stay on the Holt road almost into Horstead and then turn sharp right into a narrow country lane which brought you out into St Faiths village. It was so narrow that it was one way, and the return was via another narrow road.
After the war the airfield became an RAF station as a base for fighter jets. I can remember Hawker Hunters and English Electric Lightnings flying out of St Faiths, but the aircraft that I have the best memories of were the delta winged Gloster Javelins. If you think jet aircraft are noisy today, or were worse in the 1970s (and they were) you ought to have heard the Javelins of the 1950s. Boy, were they loud. I remember sitting in the car while a couple took off. The sound was deafening.
On one September Saturday the airfield was opened to the public for Battle of Britain Day. I was a bit disappointed to find there were no aircraft hanging up; they were kept in hangars, after all! You must remember I was very young. Battle of Britain open days were a regular feature of my school holidays, coming in mid September, just before the autumn term began. Once the day was over it was very soon back to school (the autumn terms now begins a week or more earlier.) I recall open days at RAF Marham as well. Marham is the sole remaining air base in Norfolk (for now – at one time it seemed possible that we would lose that as well) but Battle of Britain open days are long gone.
St Faiths was closed as an RAF base in the 60s and reopened as Norwich Airport. The first passenger terminal was a little wooden hut off Fifer’s Lane. The aircraft were Handley Page Heralds, Fokker Friendships and the occasional Douglas Dakota. There were no jet airliners flying in and out of Norwich for many years. The name I associate with those early days is Air Anglia, our very own local airline in a yellow livery. The basis of the service was then as now, scheduled flights to Aberdeen and Schiphol (Amsterdam) with summer flights to the Channel Islands. The rebranding of the airport as Norwich International Airport has changed nothing except giving a very minor provincial airfield a rather ridiculous air of pretension.
The Norwich Speedway used to be just opposite the St Faiths airfield, an area which is now a housing estate. It had gone by the time Norwich airport opened. When the County Cricket Club lost its ground in Lakenham it moved to a field about half a mile further along the road. This is just opposite the roundabout where the Cromer Road leaves the Holt Road.