Taking control: Couple’s extraordinary vision will turn RAF West Raynham control tower into their dream home
PUBLISHED: 18:20 13 September 2017 | UPDATED: 19:06 13 September 2017
Copyright: Archant 2017
If you felt in a bit of a rut, that life was getting too comfortable and routine, what would you do?
You could sell your house and effectively make yourself homeless, in order to buy a derelict former RAF control tower.
Sound a bit extreme? Well, that is exactly what Jon and Shelly Booty did and they don’t regret their decision for a second.
The couple, who used to live in East Winch, took a chance on a renovation project with a difference when they bought the crumbling control tower at RAF West Raynham.
Sat between a runway and a field of solar panels the building was constructed at the end of the Second World War as a very heavy bomber control tower and is thought to be one of only five of its design remaining in the country, and the best preserved.
“We didn’t go out looking for a control tower,” said Mr Booty. “We spotted it online being sold as a commercial property and came and had a look.”
That was in the summer of 2015 but it was not until November last year that they finally got the keys to the door.
“As it is Grade II listed we started with the complex planning process before we even bought it so it was a bit of a risk, together with the fact we sold our house quite quickly so were also homeless for nine months,” he added. “We had a lot of help from the Airfield Research Group to put together a heritage statement before we were given planning permission.”
What really attracted Mr Booty, a fork lift truck engineer, to the control tower was the fact his parents were in the RAF and he lived on the base when he was a child. Mrs Booty is a fan of the art deco period and the control tower has many features from the era she is keen to restore.
But their first job was to reglaze and paint all 93 of the tower’s windows and fix the leaky roof to try and make it watertight. Then it is onto the warren of rooms.
Built over three floors with a panoramic glazed visual control room on the roof there is at least two years and about £250,000 worth of work ahead but the couple, and their three dogs, are happy to take their time and make it their dream home, for life.
Supermarket worker Mrs Booty said: “This journey is the most amazing thing I have ever done in my life.
“It is an incredible privilege to be given the opportunity to do this place up.”
The challenge of a lifetime
It looks a daunting proposition, but if enthusiasm alone can turn a derelict control tower into a welcoming home, then Jon and Shelly Booty are already halfway there.
Walls painted with gloss are peeling around them, the dry lining on the walls is rotten and there are puddles on the floors where the rain has found its way through, again.
But the scale of the project does not seem to daunt them, in fact they are relishing the challenge.
Their aim is to leave the ground floor fairly untouched with its interesting remnants of radio and signalling equipment as a reminder of its military past.
The first floor will become accommodation for visiting family and friends and they will convert the second floor, with its amazing glass fronted vista and balcony around three sides, into their main living areas and master bedroom.
The views are simply incredible - you can see acres of north Norfolk countryside across to Great Massingham, Weasenham, and almost to Fakenham - but equally anyone who sets foot inside can’t fail to be won over by its historic charm.
Flying into history
RAF West Raynham was built in 1938 and became home to a squadron of Blenheims in May 1939.
It was also home to French-manned Bostons during the war and in December 1943 was taken over by No.100 Group bringing in two Mosquito equipped night fighter squadrons.
Between May and November 1943 the grass landing area was replaced with two concrete runways as well as additional accommodation to raise the station’s facilities to 2,456 for males and 658 for females.
After the war it was the Central Fighter Establishment of the RAF. It still had at least two operational Gloster Meteor jet fighters, a squadron of twin tail-boomed de Havilland Venoms and de Havilland Vampire trainer jets. The latest arrival in 1957 was a flight of Gloster Javelins.
From August 1960 the station also hosted fighter squadrons with Javelins and then Hunters. In 1969 Canberras appeared and remained until the end of 1975 when West Raynham was finally closed for flying.