Masters of the Air in Norwich & Norfolk

A Masters of the Air Inspired Itinerary

Norwich, Norfolk. A medieval English city, the capital of Norfolk, just 100 miles north of London at a 2hr 30-minute drive or 1hr 50-minute train ride. And now, the backdrop of Apple TV’s $250m mini-series, Masters of the Air.

In fact, during World War II there were up to 50,000 US Air Force personnel of the US Eighth Air Force (or The Bloody 100th as they came to be known) stationed within a 30-mile radius of Norwich, in airfields such as Thorpe Abbotts, Old Buckenham, Rackheath, Hethel, Shipdham, and many more. There were even more across the whole of the East of England, with over 350,000 throughout Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Cambridgeshire combined.

East Anglia was host to a huge amount of airfields during World War II!

Unravel the story at the real locations behind Masters of the Air with our suggested itineraries

There’s plenty of history to uncover about the US Eighth Air Force throughout Norwich & Norfolk. Wherever you choose to start, you’re bound to find heaps of fascinating history behind the servicemen that were really stationed here in the county. Here’s where to visit for your history fill, and where to head afterwards to make the most of your visit!

In summary:

Day One

The City of Norwich Aviation Museum (admission from £7)

Just 2.5 miles from Norwich City centre and neighbouring Norwich Airport, you’ll find the official museum of the 100th Group. It’s the perfect place to start. Offering a large collection of memorabilia, personal accounts, and photographs, its aircrafts and operations are dedicated to all Royal Air Force 100 Group Operations.

In fact, the 458th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force was even based here during World War II when it was known as Horsham St Faith.

The Assembly House

After a good few hours of browsing at The City of Norwich Aviation Museum, we’d recommend following your visit with traditional afternoon tea at The Assembly House. Held in a Georgian, Grade-I listed building in the centre of the city, The Assembly House offers indulgent, themed Afternoon Teas with finger sandwiches, scones, pastries, and of course, cakes (£29.50 per adult and £18 per child). It’s a must-try.

As these afternoon teas are often sold out, booking is strongly advised. And while you’re booking, it’s worth taking a look at their individual rooms for your stay too, which are just as gorgeous.

A water fountain sits in front of a Georgian Mansion.

The Assembly House is the place to go for a traditional afternoon tea.

Day Two

The American Library (free entrance)

Home to over 4000 books, films, newsletters, objects, audio recordings, and photographs about American life and culture, The American Library at The Forum is a living memorial to the American personnel who were based here in East Anglia, both to those who gave their lives for their country and those who survived. With so much to uncover, it’s a great way to continue your history-inspired visit.

It would be easy to spend a whole day here, with so many fascinating objects from the time telling stories of their own. From leather flying helmets to uniform insignia, there’s some seriously interesting finds at The American Library.

A wall of black and white portraits with a bench in front of a large book.

The American Library is a must for those uncovering history about the Eighth Air Force

Norfolk Record Office

While you’re in Norwich, it’s also worth visiting the Norfolk Record Office. Found next to County Hall, this Record Office houses items on deposit related to the Second Air Division servicemen based here in Norfolk during World War II. You can also find their digital archive online, with a wide-range of folders available for the different airfields, headquarters, and units.

The Norfolk Record Office is open from 10am-5pm Tuesday-Friday.

Norwich Market, The Sir Garnet, and Jarrolds

Once you’ve finished your visits to The American Library and Norfolk Record Office, it’s time to see some Norwich sights, all historic, of course.

All that retelling of the past, you’re likely to have worked up an appetite, so a visit to Norwich Market is a must. For delicious, local street food from around the world, there’s nowhere better. Norwich Market has been on the same site for 900 years, so it’s not hard to imagine servicemen would’ve visited themselves.

After you’ve had a look around and made the difficult decision on what food to get, head over to the Sir Garnet pub right next to the Market – where you can settle down with a pint and your food (which you’re welcome to bring in!).

Now you’re refuelled and ready to go, a bit of retail therapy is in order, so take the 2-minute walk to Jarrolds award-winning independent department store on the other side of Norwich Market. Jarrolds is Norwich’s longest-running family-owned business, which has been supplying locals and visitors alike with fashion, books, lifestyle, and delicious food and drink since 1823, when the store first began as a bookseller and printer.

A market overlooked by a castle.

Norwich Market has everything – especially when it comes to delicious global street food!

Day Three

Thorpe Abbotts – 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum and Control Tower (free, donations welcome)

Heading out of Norwich and 23 miles south near Diss, you’ll find Thorpe Abbotts. Here, you’ll find the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum.

The arrival of the US Air Force had a lasting impact on the small group of villagers at Thorpe Abbotts when, in 1965, the airfield closed the tower and the outbuildings fell into disrepair. Luckily, in 1977, local man, Mike Harvey, and a group of volunteers made plans to restore the control tower to its former glory – this time as a memorial to World War II and the men who were stationed there.

On a visit to the museum today, don’t miss a trip up to the Glasshouse (which has been recreated as it would look during the war) at the top of the Control Tower, where you’ll get panoramic views of the airfield.

The 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum is open on Wednesdays from March to the end of October (10am – 5pm), with additional openings on Wednesdays (10am – 5pm) during May – September, with openings on bank holidays. Last admission is available at 4pm.

Old Buckenham Aerodrome – 453rd Bombardment Group Museum and Eighth Air Force Heritage Gallery (free, donations welcome)

From Thorpe Abbotts, make your way through the beautiful Norfolk countryside, just 15 miles northeast towards Old Buckenham Aerodrome to visit the home of the USAAF 453rd Bombardment Group. It was this airfield that Hollywood legend, Jimmy Stewart, was the first Operations Officer of Old Buckenham.

On Remembrance Sunday 2014, the aerodrome opened the new 453rd Bombardment Group Museum, which has the largest collection of this kind of memorabilia in existence. Two years later, the Eighth Air Force Heritage Gallery was added – the addition of this gallery giving the opportunity to exhibit more of the collection relating to the Eighth Air Force, of which the 453rd were a part.

The Old Buckenham Aerodrome is open Friday – Sunday from 10am – 4pm. FREE.

So, how do you get here?

If you’re travelling domestically, there’s plenty of ways to get to Norwich (find out more here.) But if you’re travelling from overseas, it’s just as straightforward. You can fly directly into Norwich International Airport via Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam (KLM) from over 400 destinations. And if you choose to land in London, we’re just 147 miles from Heathrow, 153 miles from Gatwick, 100 miles from Luton Airport, and 86.5 miles from Stansted Airport.

From there, you can hire a car to take the drive, or take a train from central London at London Liverpool Street directly with Greater Anglia (leaving at 30-minute intervals). If you’re coming from Stansted, you can also take a direct train to Norwich with Greater Anglia from the airport!