RAF Bishopbriggs was a World War II barrage balloon depot, No 18 Balloon Centre, and the site of a large accommodation camp, located midway off the road between Bishopbriggs and Kirkintilloch to the north of Glasgow.
Established as early as 1939, the depot is reported as being visible on Luftwaffe aerial photographs taken at the time.
RAF Bishopbriggs was also used as a transit camp, with a number of personal accounts referring to overnight stays at the camp when being posted between the south of England and the north of Scotland.
Postwar use of the site has led to most of the remains being removed, however some evidence of the depot still remains visible on the ground, and on mapping of the area. Three mooring areas are still visible in aerial views, and OS maps, while various ground features can still be found, such as the tracks for the hangar doors.
Bishopbriggs was No 18 Balloon Centre, with sub-site No 15 Maintenance Unit, and had the following units posted:
|929||24 balloons (7 waterborne)||South Queensferry|
|968||40 balloons (8 waterborne)||Formed at Bishopbriggs, moved to Belfast September 12, 1940|
We are grateful to Frank Warden, whose father, Flight Lieutenant George Alexander Warden, was stationed at Bishopbriggs, for the staff photograph to the right, and appears in the top row, fifth from the left. Probably taken about 1946, following his return to Britain from Egypt. At that time, he was Adjutant at Bishopbriggs.
A site visit was carried out during 2012. The site consisted of two large areas of concrete where the hangers once stood, together with four balloon mooring pads, a perimeter and other roads, a revetted building (almost certainly the gas store), evidence of several demolished small buildings in the central area, a pair of supports for a large cylindrical tank, and a small tower.
Most of the site has been used for agricultural purposes, and much of the infrastructure has been covered with grass and mud. Part of the site the north has been lost to a golf driving range.
All of the depot roads could be seen to have been constructed with poured concrete, edged with concrete kerb stones.
The four balloon mooring pads are roughly circular, paved with concrete, also edged with concrete kerb stones. On Pad 3, one steel fence post was found within the kerb stone perimeter, but appears to be modern rather than original.
At the centre of each mooring pad there would have been a concrete mooring block fitted with they eyes. None of these were found on the pads, although several mooring blocks were found lying in various corners of the site. Outside the concrete pads would have been a ring of smaller concrete blocks, each with a single ring. Pad 1 still had some of these blocks in place, including one at the side of the golf range. Many of these smaller blocks were also found scattered around the site.
A small fenced off compound was found in the north east corner of the site, and contained a building constructed of reinforced concrete, heavily revetted with earth. Since the concrete road system ran into the compound and past all four entrances, this building is unlikely to have been an air raid shelter, but more likely the depot's gas store. Two pairs of rooms were found within the structure, and each pair ran across the building between two opposing entrances, with each rooms were joined by a low (about 5 ft 6 in) gap in the wall. Three of the rooms still had their light fittings in place, and one original steel door fitted with a small window was still present.
On the west side of the site were two large areas of concrete. Both had sets of rails embedded for hangar doors. At the southern end of the site, two level building bases were found. A second entrance to the site was discovered, fitted with a set of fancy iron gates and leading to a very steeply sloped roadway. The gates are something of a mystery as examination of old OS maps showed that before the RAF built on the site, the area was open fields, so the gates may have relate to some use of the site prior to arrival of the RAF. Other than several sets of embedded rails, the northern area of concrete was unremarkable.
On the eastern edge of the northern concrete area was a small tower constructed from badly weathered concrete blocks. There were no internal or external features, other than a doorway, to indicate its purpose, which may have been to support a water tank. Nearby, a pair of support piers for a cylindrical tank were evident.
North of the small tower were two curved brick built retaining walls carrying a roadway into an area where several demolished buildings lay. Two were seen to be two-storey, as the debris contained the remains of two sets of concrete stairs. Another had several concrete pillars or beams lying in the remains, while had an 8 foot square alongside. These buildings were originally heavily built of brick with reinforced concrete roofs, and the bending seen in the substantial steel reinforcing bars used seems to suggest they were demolished using explosives. The purpose of these buildings is not clear, although they may have been used to manage test flights of the repaired balloons from the pads.
The accommodation camp lay to the west of the depot. After the war, it was used as the basis for HM PrisonLow Moss, which was demolished in 2007, to make way for a new prison on the same site.
Postwar site use
After the war, the depot was used as a training school for military police for a period, before being converted to serve as a prison for low-category prisoners with sentences of 36 month or less. HM Prison Low Moss reused the surviving building of the old balloon station. Accommodation was provided in 11 Nissen hut dormitory-style units linked by internal corridors which were narrow and did not permit good access. Further accommodation was provided in Davidson House, a prefabricated, single storey, temporary building. Some investment took place in the old prison, with partial refurbishment of seven dormitories in the mid 1980s.
The old prison closed May 28, 2007, although East Dunbartonshire Council had rejected plans for a £100 millon, 700-cell replacement, but was overruled when the Scottish Executive approved the scheme provided certain conditions were met.
Other parts of the site have been used to provide a driver testing centre, a vehicle testing centre, and a golf range, which was constructed on the northeastern corner.
The new prison building have extended to eradicate some of the earlier site features described.
- norwichpaul RAF Bishopbriggs 18 BD
- Barrage balloon information
- Len Bacon's balloon station book lists Bishopbriggs
- RAF Bishopbriggs
- Mooring pad 1
- Mooring pad 2
- Mooring pad 3
- Mooring pad 4
- Gas Store
- Golf range
- HMP Low Moss - closed
- Vehicle testing centre
- Former driver testing centre
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