Yeadon - the home of Leeds-Bradford, Yorkshire’s Airport
PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 January 2019
Look no further than this West Yorkshire town to get you moving in more ways than you expect
Yeadon sits high on a hill above the Aire Valley to the south, and with its eponymous moor to the east. Not the place, perhaps, where you’d expect to find a sailing lake or an airport. But Yeadon has both.
Leeds-Bradford Airport, situated on Yeadon’s doorstep, served four million users in a year for the first time in 2017, and it has plans to grow further. ‘We’ve, over the last year, greatly improved the food and beverage facilities, with new shops, restaurants, bars and three new lounges for leisure, business and first-class travellers,’ says Phil Forster, the airport’s aviation development and corporate affairs manager, ‘and recently announced plans for a multi-million pound investment in extending the terminal, which we hope to have completed by summer 2020. We also aim to improve access, with a new link road and the creation of the Parkway station near Horsforth, and are working hard on route development, attracting more airlines to the airport and the region.’
The airport is not just for holidaymakers and business people heading abroad, but for visitors coming to the White Rose County, an important factor in increasing tourism throughout the region, hence its recent rebranding as Leeds-Bradford, Yorkshire’s Airport. ‘We see ourselves as the international gateway for Yorkshire, and want to create an airport Yorkshire will be proud of,’ says Phil.
The airport has come a long way from its beginnings: ‘In the late 1920s it was felt there was a need for an airfield in the area, with leisure flying becoming popular,’ says Christine Lovedale of Aireborough Historical Society, ‘and in 1929 Yeadon, Bradford and Leeds councils decided they’d develop the site – at 681ft above sea level and with the Chevin escarpment nearby, not the most obvious place.’ The author, pilot and airplane engineer Nevil Shute was closely involved, bringing in the colourful WWI RNAS pilot Henry Vernon Worrall to run it for a time. It opened officially as Yeadon Aerodrome in 1931, and was requisitioned by the Air Ministry in 1939, to serve the Avro airplane factory – in which Worrall also played a part - they located next to it. The plant produced more than 5,000 aircraft for the war effort, employing up to 17,000 people. ‘They camouflaged the low building by painting it like green fields, and put dummy wooden cows and sheep on the roof - and apparently paid young lads to go up every day and move them around to fox enemy aircraft,’ she adds.
They also, for a period, drained Yeadon Tarn to remove a landmark that German bombers could use, though happily after the war the lake, a major leisure centre then and now, was restored to its former glory. ‘It was bought from mill owners in the 1920s, and the council tidied it up, put paths round it, and stocked it with fish,’ says Christine, ‘but controversially they called it Yeadon Tarn – for older Yeadoners even today it’s “the dam”. It has always been a focal point of entertainment here, with an annual carnival to raise money for the hospital before the NHS, water pageants, and mock battles. In hard winters it froze solid and they’d skate on it - if there’d been fresh snow falls and the surface became rough the fire brigade sprayed water over the ice to smooth it. In holiday times it was thronged, with paddle boats and rowing boats. People still flock to it even in winter now, for the walks.’
Nowadays the tarn – or dam - within what’s now called Tarnfield Park - remains a hive of activity, indeed with the Leeds Sailing and Activity Centre located on its shores. ‘We are part of Active Leeds within the city council, a multi-activity centre offering a wide range of pursuits from beginners to higher levels, adults and juniors, and support all abilities,’ says operations manager Gillian Newman. Multi-activity is no idle boast: they cover sailing, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, raft building, windsurfing, rowing, climbing, abseiling, orienteering, off-road biking, bush-craft, soft-archery and power boating, and more besides including corporate team-building events: ‘We’re open year-round, welcome any age from eight upwards, and any ability – everyone’s welcome to come and have a try to see if they like something,’ she says.
Established in 1928, and operating from a shore-side clubhouse built by its founders and rebuilt in the 1950s, Yeadon Sailing Club has a similar outlook: ‘Some sailing clubs can be a bit elitist, but our ethos is to want to get everyone on the water, who’d like to do it,’ says club commodore Sarah Cooke. ‘People come past us on walks, or watching the planes - we get great footfall from that - they see us and get talking and end up doing one of our booked taster sessions.’ Their 120 or so members sail a range of single-hander and double-hander boats from mid-March to an honestly-named frostbite session in December, with a New Year’s Day event for good measure.
If you don’t fancy getting out on the water you can still enjoy sailing at Yeadon, courtesy of the Leeds and Bradford Model Boat Club, based on the tarn since 2006 but with its roots in Victoria’s reign. ‘We have both sailing and powered boats,’ says club secretary Margaret Barnes, ‘and get together to race them every Wednesday and Sunday morning all year round. The yachts are raced exactly to RHA rules and regulations.
‘We get lots of people viewing the airplanes take off, and members of the public walking by who stop to watch us – we’ll often let children who are interested have a little go, we want to encourage younger people especially to take up the hobby.’
Nevil Shute the aeronautical engineer, pilot and a founding father of the airport would surely have been delighted to watch its progress. And Nevil Shute the sailor and model engineering hobbyist would have loved to observe activities on the tarn. Like the walkers in Tarnfield Park he would have been spoiled for choice. u