From Spitfire wings to spinouts – celebrating one hundred years of human endeavours at Milton Park

Photograph of a group of people in high visibility jackets and hard hats, standing in front of an orange construction vehicle.


Past and present members of Milton Park’s innovation community gathered for a demolition ceremony to celebrate the science and technology that has spun-out of its wartime buildings.

Although no longer habitable, the event was an opportunity to say a fond farewell to 57 and 59 Jubilee Avenue, Milton Park’s last two remaining single-storey wartime buildings prior to demolition, and to recognise their contribution to life-changing endeavours over the years.

From their time as an RAF depot with early punch card machines and radio wireless technology, to life science companies using them for cancer research and Covid vaccines, the buildings have played host to a wide range of innovation over the years.
During the First World War, The Royal Flying Corps used Milton’s strategic location on the Great Western Mainline as a supply depot in the early days of aviation. RAF Milton Depot then played a key role during Second World War’s pivotal moments by supplying equipment and essential parts to keep planes flying, with over 800,000-line items in stock, from Spitfire wings to buttons for uniforms.

After the war, Milton Depot, which became known as Milton Trading Estate, continued to be a hub for logistics and enterprise and was bought by MEPC in 1985. The management team took the decision in the 1980s to provide accommodation and support for spinout companies, a bold move as many landlords wanted iron clad financials and long lease terms at the time, neither of which entrepreneurial companies nor Oxford University spinouts could provide.

57 and 59 Jubilee Avenue were adapted to provide vital incubator space for pioneering science companies, which included early Oxford University spinouts such as Oxford Asymmetry International, acquired by Evotec and Avidex, which evolved into Immunocore and Adaptimmune. Representatives from these drug discovery multinationals attended the event to commemorate their origins in the buildings.

The move was instrumental in shaping the innovation community it is today. From humble beginnings in those wartime buildings, the adaptable space has allowed a range of spinouts to grow into multi-national and unicorn companies.

Today, the organisations collectively employ thousands of people across the globe and are among Milton Park’s largest occupiers. Oxford Immunotec (now Revvity), Oxitec and Glide Pharma (now Enesi Pharma) all resided in the buildings and have subsequently stayed and spun-out into larger buildings onto Milton Park.

Overseen by David Horton Contractors, a family-owned company that demolished Milton Park’s other wartime buildings, the event gave former occupiers of the unassuming wartime buildings a chance to reminisce and reflect on their early days. 

Kathryn Wilkes, Vice President - Human Resources for Evotec, said: “The ceremony was a fitting reminder of just how far Evotec has come.

“I can remember working in the buildings in the ‘90s with just one computer between us and when it was cold, our chemicals would freeze in the winter! Without building 57 and without Milton Park being so flexible, Evotec wouldn’t exist as it does today.”

Jo Brewer, Chief Scientific Officer at Adaptimmune, added: “In the early days, the buildings’ cheaper rent played a big part in enabling us to scale rapidly and invest more money into the science. 

“I fondly recall seeing Helen Tayton-Martin, Adaptimmune’s Founder, signing documents to start the business with one hand, while changing her newborn daughter’s nappy with the other. It’s amazing to think just how far we’ve come.”

Pauline Cakebread, a member of Steventon History Society and Executive Director at Milton Park occupier Prosper21 – an international brand and marketing consultancy - conducted research into the history in the run-up to the event.

Pauline commented: “Milton Park has a whole hidden history and was full of buildings like these one hundred years ago. Milton and its employees were heavily involved in the distribution of all the aircraft parts for the whole of the south of England during the Second World War. 

“The site played a nationally critical role as well as having local importance for the community as a significant employer of women. Innovation was key in developing aviation technology and logistics then, just as it is today.”

Speaking at the event, Philip Campbell, Milton Park’s Commercial Director, said: “Normally in the property world when we mark a milestone it’s usually to celebrate planning permission, groundbreaking, practical completion or an official opening. I can honestly say, this is the first time I have ever hosted or attended a demolition ceremony.

“It was a poignant event and I’d like to thank everyone for taking the time to share their personal stories and anecdotes as we look ahead to building on the past, whilst realising Milton Park’s future plans.”

Looking back on a century of innovation, the demolition of the buildings will enable Milton Park to build on its 2040 Vision, a future ambition to continue to support innovation for decades to come.

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