Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden

1994 – present

(revised September 2023)


Leavesden Studios – or more accurately ‘Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden’ – are located north of Watford just a mile or two inside the M25, about the same distance from central London as Pinewood is.  These two major studios are about 17 miles apart from each other, round the M25. 


Leavesden on 18th November 1996.  The airfield had been closed for flying for two years and George Lucas was preparing to film The Phantom Menace in the old aircraft hangars in No.1 Factory on the left.  No. 2 Factory is still there at the top left of the runway but not in use.
photo thanks to Ian Haskell


Before the 1930s the present studio site was part of a farm and called One Mile Field.  The clue to its size is in the name.  In 1932 the local council were looking for a suitable location to construct an airfield and this was one of two that were considered.  Interestingly, it was also proposed that film studios should be constructed here and this was the preferred choice of the local parish council.  In fact, neither project happened.  The field was purchased by the council and in 1937 an enormous park including several playing fields was planned.  It was to be called the King George V Recreation Ground.  Some preliminary work commenced in 1939 but the park was not completed.  In any case, the declaration of war in September 1939 put all such projects on hold.

At the outbreak of war the Handley Page aircraft company requested that other factories be built around London to help assemble its Halifax bombers.  The De Havilland company agreed to do this and began to look for suitable sites to construct an airfield with associated factories.  The King George V Recreation Ground was ideal and work was begun in January 1940.

George Wimpey Ltd constructed a single tarmac runway, about 3,000 ft long by 150ft wide.  They also built two factories – No.1 factory was built to the north of the runway and No.2 factory on the eastern perimeter.  There were also two ‘flight clearance’ sheds built – one near each end of the runway.  These were very large hangars where aircraft could be prepped ready for their first flight.

Many years later, No.1 Factory formed part of the film studios used for the Harry Potter movies.

No.2 Factory was demolished when part of the airfield was sold off to construct a business park in the 1990s and was never used for film making.


But – back to the war.  No. 2 factory was used to construct Mosquito fighter/bombers.  The Mosquito was a very fast 2-engine aircraft made mostly of plywood that had a variety of versions including night-fighter and tactical bomber.  An astonishing 1,476 of them were made at Leavesden.  The Mosquitos also used the flight shed at the western end of the runway near the A41.  This building was used from the mid ’90s to 2009 as an occasional overspill film stage.  It has now been replaced by a brand new stage.

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Mosquitos being manufactured at Leavesden during the war in the No. 2 factory – now demolished.


Meanwhile, No.1 factory was used to assemble Halifax bombers.  The Halifax was a large 4-engine bomber, almost as successful as the more famous Avro Lancaster.  700 were built here.  In the same way that bits of Airbus airliners are manufactured now in various factories all over Europe, different sections of the Halifax and its engines were constructed in factories around London.  Before the war these all manufactured cars, lorries and buses.  A new company – the London Aircraft Production Group – was formed to coordinate this process which ended with the assembly of the aircraft at Leavesden prior to their first flights.  It is said that pilots liked the Leavesden Halifaxes because the seats were beautifully made in green leather.  The company that made those previously constructed London Buses.  The Leavesden Halifaxes also had superior riveting, which increased the top speed of the aircraft by 10-15 knots.  Very important when being attacked by a prowling Me 110 night fighter somewhere over Germany.


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A Halifax bomber being assembled in No.1 Factory.  Possibly this is where the Great Hall in Hogwarts was located some 60 years later.


The last Halifax made at Leavesden was named ‘London Pride’ and was rolled out on 16th April 1945 with great celebration from many of the great and good including Sir Frederick Handley-Page.


Following the war, No.1 Factory was taken over by the DeHavilland Aircraft Engine Division.  This was one of the first factories in the world to manufacture commercial jet engines.  For example, the Ghost engine was made here in 1947, which powered the Comet airliner and the Venom fighter.

During the Korean war which ran from 1950-1953, DeHavilland anticipated a significant increase in orders for military aircraft.  They decided to double the size of the Leavesden factory so constructed workshops alongside the existing hangars and a new admin block with a control tower at the runway end.  These new facilities were completed in 1954.  They are still in use today as part of the WB film studio complex.

leavesden 1948 450p
Above is No.1 Factory as it was in 1948 – camouflage paint on the roofs still there from the recent war.  The row of hangars in which the Halifax bombers were assembled became film stages between 1994 and 2009.
leavesden 1954 450p
Above is the same view in 1954 following the addition of the extra workshop space that would be used to manufacture aircraft engines. This area still remains in the WB Studios.  The smart new office block seen below is still in use.  At the left hand end of the lower picture can be seen the new control tower for the airfield.  The smaller wartime one is the round white building in front of the old hangars.  In case you were wondering – the tall white tower seen on the upper picture was a temporary control tower erected to give a view of the runway in 1948 to see over the new buildings whilst they were being constructed.  Once the new control tower was operational it was removed.  (That’s useless factoid No. 857B.)


In 1959 the DeHavilland company became part of Hawker Siddeley which in turn was taken over in 1966 by Rolls Royce.  They based their ‘small gas turbine division’ at Leavesden, where many engines for aircraft and in particular for helicopters were made.  The last engine manufactured here was a Gnome for a Wessex helicopter in 1993.

During the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and into the early ’90s the airfield was used for general aviation and several business and charter aircraft were based here – as was the Goodyear Blimp.

In ’91 and ’92 there were no orders for Rolls-Royce helicopter engines, partly due to the recession and of course to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  This led to big cutbacks in defence spending.  Sadly but inevitably RR decided to close the facility.  They had left the site by June 1993 but the airfield remained open for a few more months.  However, on 31st March 1994 the last flight left the airfield and it was closed to aviation.




Filming begins at Leavesden…


In 1994 the Bond film Goldeneye was unable to use Pinewood as the stages there were fully booked.  Eon, the production company, looked for an alternative studio but only this airfield offered the large stages they needed by converting several of the old hangars.

What at first was seen as a temporary fix to a problem turned out to be rather more permanent.  The old aircraft factory No.1 proved to be an excellent place to make feature films.  The arrangement of several large hangars linked to thousands of square feet of workshop space was ideal.  Also of course, being an airfield there was and is a large area upon which to build exterior sets.  This back lot has the added advantage of a very low horizon with no visible buildings.


In 1995 the airfield was bought by ‘Millennium Group’ who intended to turn it into a theme park based on movies.  They also planned to keep some film making here and to sell off part of the site for housing and a business park.  The housing and business park went ahead but the theme park plans were never submitted to the council for approval.


In 1996 Leavesden was used to film some scenes for Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.  No, me neither.

Later in 1996 George Lucas returned to England to make the first of his Star Wars prequels – The Phantom Menace.  The original three films had of course been made at Elstree Studios, a few miles south of here, but those studios were no longer able to provide sufficient space.  Leavesden was ideal.  It could be sealed off from the rest of the world and there was more than enough space to construct large sets and fill stages with spaceships, alien worlds and giant greenscreens.  Principal photography commenced on June 26, 1997 and ended on September 30th.


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One of the old stages in use.  Although converted from aircraft hangars they were equipped with proper film stage grids as can be seen here.  The new stages however have higher and better designed grids.


November 1998 saw Tim Burton move in to make Sleepy Hollow.  Filming continued until April the following year.  Most of the film was shot here but curiously, the spooky forest was built on the 30,000 sq ft H stage at Shepperton.  Odd, since A and B stages here were a similar size.  As a complete contrast, An Ideal Husband was also filmed here earlier in 1998.


In 2000 Warner Bros leased the whole airfield and began to make the first of the Harry Potter films – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  They made 8 movies in total, completing the series in 2009.


leavesden aerial old stages windows live 450p
Leavesden during the Harry Potter years.  The area with zig-zag roofing is the workshop space built after the war for manufacturing aircraft engines.  The stages are on the right (previously the wartime Halifax factory) and the two buildings at an angle in the centre were wartime aircraft hangars being used now as stages.  The upper one is stage C which you can see has had an extension added to it.  The lower one is the D stage which had a tank for shooting underwater scenes built within it. The D stage is the only one still remaining.  To the left can be seen the exterior set for Privet Drive – Harry’s muggle home.
image thanks to Windows Live
This photo was taken on 9th June 2006 by Ian Haskell.  Many thanks to him for sending it to me.  This was the year Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (5th in the franchise) was filmed.  The old flight shed is in the foreground and clearly in use.  No. 2 Factory has been replaced with a business park top right – (WB now own buildings 5 and 6 and are marketing them as ‘Leavesden Park’ with space for production offices and industry-related businesses.)  Note that in this photo, sets are beginning to appear on the airfield but the runway is still intact.  Compare this with the photos taken in 2022!


During this time there were 7 stages including a huge one over 74,000 sq ft.  These were adapted from existing hangars.  The old flight shed on the west side of the airfield was also occasionally used as a silent stage.  Stage D had an underwater tank 60ft x 60ft and 20ft deep built within it, so nearly twice as big as the underwater stage at Pinewood.  This was constructed in 2004 for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which contained several underwater scenes.


The original stages were as follows:

A – 243 x 132 x 30ft (32,000 sq ft)

B – 231 x 132 x 30ft (30,500 sq ft)

C – 122 x 92 x 28ft (11,000 sq ft but had a temporary extension added)

D – 123 x 96 x 28ft (contained underwater tank)

E – later used as a workshop area

F – 15,300sq ft

G – 19,200 sq ft

H/I – 74,500 sq ft

Flight shed – 48,000 sq ft


Most of the above had very limited sound attenuation, as they were of course adapted from industrial units.

The back lot had several familiar sets built on it including Privet Drive, the main courtyard at Hogwarts, Hagrid’s hut and part of the rickety bridge at Hogwarts.  Most of these had bluescreens built round them and the backgrounds were added in post production.  None of these sets now remain in situ but Harry’s house and part of the bridge were dismantled and reconstructed in the exterior part of the Warner Bros Studio Tour.


In 2010 Warner Bros announced a proposal to buy the freehold and to redevelop the site as a major international film studio.  The plans were agreed and construction began.  The stages dating back to the wartime Halifax factory were demolished and replaced with new ones.  All are now fully insulated sound stages.  This is particularly important as most are positioned next to each other.  I have read that many of the original steel frames of the old hangars were incorporated into the structures of the new stages.  This explains why they follow very similar outlines and must have saved quite a bit of cost in their construction.

Other buildings were refurbished or had extensions added.  There were some new construction workshops and offices added too.  The new studios began operating on 11th June 2012 and were officially opened in April 2013 by Princes William and Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge – who all clearly enjoyed visiting the Harry Potter exhibition and, in some ways rather spookily resembled the three leading characters of those books and films.


leavesden old studio plan 450p
Above is a plan showing how the old stages were laid out.  The exterior walls have remained more or less in the same place but below is a drawing indicating how the new stages are arranged.  Stage C has been completely rebuilt and is much larger than before.  The pink areas are workshops and the cyan ones are offices.

leavesden new stages on old ones 300p


This plan indicates how huge the Leavesden site is and how many stages had been built by 2021.  Nine new stages were added between 2015 and 2021.  Most of the stages and other facilities are top right but stage L on the far left replaced the old flight test shed.  J, K and R at the bottom centre (shown in grey here) are the home of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.  The blue square in the centre of the back lot is the exterior tank.  D stage contains an underwater tank.  The pink blocks are workshops.
with thanks to WBSL



What has been completed is a site with superb facilities for every department.  There are currently 18 stages in the main complex – the 19th is located on the west side of the airfield.  This huge stage (L) of nearly 50,000 sq ft replaced the previous flight shed.  Only the 007 stage at Pinewood is larger in the UK at 59,000 sq ft.  It also has 50,000 sq ft of hard standing outside its dock doors where sets could be extended if required.  In July 2021 three stages opened, including the V Stage.  This was equipped with 7,100 sq ft of wraparound LED screens and a 5,500 sq ft moveable LED ceiling in 8 sections, enabling virtual production shooting to take place.  House of the Dragon, the Game of Thrones prequel was the first to use this facility.  It was said to be the largest VP volume in the UK.

All the stages have excellent grids with catwalks over them enabling rigging to be relatively fast and flexible.  There are numerous workshops positioned all round the site, supporting the various productions taking place.


leavesden aerial new stages and lot kays 450p
The Leavesden site in 2012. The size of the back lot is clear – including what is left of the original runway which has been widened. ‘Hagrid’s Hill’ can be seen on the far left.  This has since been levelled. The block of buildings on the upper left contains the new stages and the Studio Tour with its car park is on the right. The stage replacing the old flight shed is not visible in this photo – it is to the bottom left.
image thanks to Kays
The studios, probably in 2015.
photo thanks to Ian Haskell



The  2012  stages are as follows:

 – 180 x 130 x 45ft (23,400 sq ft)

 – 180 x 130 x 30ft (23,400 sq ft)

 – 240 x 130 x 45ft (31,200 sq ft)

 – 120 x 90 x 27ft (10,800 sq ft – contains underwater tank)

 – 280 x 120 x 30ft (33,600 sq ft)

 – 280 x 130 x 30ft (36,400 sq ft)

 – 280 x 120 x 30ft (33,600 sq ft)

 – 140 x 130 x 30ft (18,200 sq ft)

 – 140 x 130 x 30ft (18,200 sq ft)

 – (replacing old flight shed) 440 x 112ft (49,280 sq ft) – this is a mute stage

Exterior tank  – 250 x 250ft x 4ft deep with an 8ft deep section of 109 x 96ft

In 2015, three more stages were opened:

 – 250 x 140 x 50ft (35,000 sq ft)

 – 140 x 121 x 40ft (17,000 sq ft

 – 140 x 121 x 40ft (17,000 sq ft)

In 2017, another stage was constructed:

 – 250 x 140 x 50ft (35,000 sq ft)

In August 2019, a further two stages were opened:

 – 140 x 121 x 40ft (17,000 sq ft)

 – 140 x 121 x 40ft (17,000 sq ft)

In July 2021, three more stages became available:

T – 250 x 140 x 50ft (35,000 sq ft)

U – 190 x 128 x 45ft (24,000 sq ft)

V – 190 x 128 x 45ft (24,000 sq ft) This is a Virtual Production stage containing a large LED volume.


NB – the 10 new stages due to be completed by 2027 will bring the total at Leavesden to 29.  Around then, Shepperton will have 31 and Pinewood will probably have 50.


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The impressive new C stage at Leavesden.  All the stages have been built to this very high specification.
photo thanks to WBSL
The Virtual Production volume inside V stage.  This became available in August 2021 and with a 360-degree shooting area of 5,700 sq ft was the largest VP volume in the UK.
photo thanks to WBSL




Major expansion announced in 2022 and revised in 2023


In February 2022 Warner Bros announced that they were planning a major expansion of the facilities here including 11 new stages, workshops, offices and car parking.  The new buildings will be sited on the southern half of the back lot – so the outdoor tank will be going.  They will extend as far south as the L stage (the old flight shed) and its associated workshops.  A new car park will be built on an island site on the east side of the main approach road, with a footbridge linking it to the new stages.  A new roundabout will be built here.

Land has been purchased to the west of the railway line – the southern half will become a new permanent back lot, replacing the existing one, and part of the northern half will be a naturally landscaped park for local residents.

The 2022 proposed expansion.  ‘A’ are stages, ‘B’ are offices, ‘C’ are workshops, ‘D’ is an amenity building, ‘E’ is storage and distribution.  The pink building is a multi-storey car park.
with thanks to WBSL
The site as seen on Googlemaps


These exciting proposals are not surprising, given the ever-increasing demand for stage space in and around London.  The plans appear to be very well thought-out with impressive consideration for their environmental impact.  Planning permission was sought in March 2022 with amendments following over subsequent months.  Permission was granted in December 2022.


It was assumed that construction would commence during 2023 but in September there was a press announcement that gave a different timetable.  The new info was that Leavesden would become a primary production hub for DC Studios.  For those not in the know – DC Comics have heroes such as Superman, Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern etc.  The associated movie franchise has so far struggled to achieve quite the same success as its Marvel Comics rival but its films are nevertheless extremely popular worldwide.

Interestingly, the announcement stated 10 new stages rather than 11, so I assume a couple of the smaller stages will become one large stage.  The WBSL website still carried the 2022 plans in September so possibly more details will be revealed in due course.  It seems that work on the project will not commence until the second quarter of 2024 and is expected to be complete in 2027, when the site will have a total of 29 stages.    Warner Bros Discovery is launching CrewHQ, a scheme to nurture workforce development in film and TV production and there will also be a training centre here.  All very good news for the British film industry!


Another view – photographed around 2020 by Ian Haskell.  The field in the centre right is now the new back lot.  Stages Q and S are on the far left but T, U and V are not yet built.
Leavesden on October 11th, 2022.  Note a temporary stage near the exterior tank and in the far top right corner is a set on the field that is now a new back lot.  I have some detailed photos of it but am not publishing them as they might spoil the enjoyment of a future film.  This back lot was given temporary planning permission in 2021 as WB needed to catch up on a post-Covid backlog of work.
photo thanks to Ian Haskell.



In addition to those listed above, three ‘stages’ – J, K and R – are situated just south of the main block of studio buildings but separated from them.  They house the  Warner Bros Studio Tour  – sometimes known as The Making of Harry Potter – which opened in March 2012.  This is not a theme park but an exhibition of actual sets, dismantled from the original stages and re-erected here.  There are thousands of props from all 8 movies on display which can be closely examined by visitors.  The tour has the highest customer satisfaction rating of any tourist attraction in the world – and quite right too.  It is superbly done.

One assumes that if and when the public eventually tire of Harry Potter (maybe in 100 years), this exhibition could cover other WB films.  It is also possible that in due course these buildings could become working stages as part of the studio lot.  Just to emphasise – Warners have not suggested anywhere that this is planned.  Frankly, judging by the continuing popularity of the Studio Tour, it ain’t happening any time soon.

Incidentally, you may have spotted that these stages are of course the initials of J K Rowling.  Coincidence or wizardry?  You decide.  Initially there were 2 stages but in 2019 another very large building opened as part of the tour containing Gringott’s Bank and Bellatrix LeStrange’s vault.


The studios in 2020 – seen from the west.  J, K and R – the Studio Tour and its car park are at the top. The large multi-storey car park to their left is for the crew working in the studios.
photo by Ian Haskell


Although these studios were for a while best known for the Harry Potter films, they have been used to shoot some scenes on several other movies and in more recent years – entire films.  Some have used stages, others just the back lot.  I have mentioned two or three above but others have included Die Another Day (’01), The Dark Knight (’07), Sherlock Holmes (’09), Inception (’10), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (’11), The Dark Knight Rises (’11), Argo (’12), Robopocalypse (’13), Edge of Tomorrow (’13), 300: Rise of an Empire (’13), Tarzan (’14), Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation (’14), Jupiter Ascending (’14), The Man From UNCLE (’14), In the Heart of the Sea (’14), Pan (’15), The Legend of Tarzan (’15), Knights of the Round Table: King Arthur (’15), Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (’15), Alien: Covenant (’16), King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (’16), Wonder Woman (’16), The Mummy (’16), Kingsman: The Golden Circle (’16), Paddington 2 (’16), Justice League (’16), The Darkest Hour (’17), Tomb Raider (’17), Bohemian Rhapsody (’17), Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (’17), Overlord (’17), The Current War (’17), Hunter Killer (’17), Mission Impossible – Fallout (’17), Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (’17), Ready Player One (’17), Cats (’18), The Kid Who Would Be King (’18), Wonder Woman 1984 (’18), Men In Black: International (’18), Pokemon Detective Pikachu (’18), Spider-Man: Far From Home (’18), Hobbs & Shaw (’18), Fast and Furious 9 (’19), The Witches (’19), Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga (’19), Tom and Jerry (’20), Venom: Let There Be Carnage (’20), The Batman (’21), Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore (’21), Mission Impossible 7 (’21), The Flash (’21), Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (’21), Wonka (’21), The 355 (’21), Meg 2: The Trench (’22), Barbie (’22), Fast X (’22), Mickey7 (’22).   (Dates mostly refer to filming, not cinema release.)


When you look at the list above and add all the other international blockbusters filmed in recent years at Pinewood, Shepperton, Longcross etc, you do begin to wonder just what is still being made in Hollywood?



The stages have been very busy shooting international blockbuster movies since they became owned by WB but some TV dramas have also been filmed here; these have included seasons 1, 2 and 3 of Pennyworth (’19, ’20, ’21) and sci-fi comedy Avenue 5 (’19, ’21), made for HBO and Sky, starring Hugh Laurie.  Season 1 of the Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon was filmed at Leavesden in 2021 – interesting as the original show was made in Belfast.  Season 3 of Heartstopper was based here from October 2023.

One notable TV drama made here some time ago was the excellent Longitude (’00).  Going further back, the second series of the kids’ gameshow series Pump It Up was recorded on one of the old stages here in 1999 for ITV.  The first series had been made the year before in a similar very large converted industrial shed in a village a few miles from here called Park Street Studios.  As it happens, that facility had previously been used by another Bond movie – Tomorrow Never Dies.  By coincidence, it too was originally an aircraft factory – in its case used by Handley Page.  Park Street Studios were demolished around 2007 and the land used for housing.



Late at night on 10th July 2019 fire broke out on the P stage. Fortunately, nobody was injured. The stage contained sets for Avenue 5.  Director Armando Iannucci thanked and praised the firefighters for all their work in putting out the fire.  Reports said that 14 fire crews were involved so it must have been serious.  Two episodes of the show had yet to be filmed and it was not known at the time how the fire would affect those.   Somehow the show went on and received excellent reviews when transmitted.  Season 2 began filming in 2021.



It may not have escaped your notice that these studios are now Pinewood’s main commercial rival in the UK.  Had Pinewood been able to accommodate Goldeneye all those years ago, Leavesden Studios might never have come about.  I wonder where all the Potter films would have been made?  Possibly not even in the UK.

With some of the newest, largest and best-equipped sound stages in Europe along with excellent supporting facilities including a huge back lot, Leavesden is set to attract some of the biggest films and high-end TV dramas in the world over the coming years.