The site of a factory building which 100 years ago produced engines for British fighter planes vital to turning the tide of First World War has re-opened as a community art centre.

Gnome House in Blackhorse Lane, Walthamstow was built on the site of the Gnome rotary engines factory which made the lightweight aircraft engines giving British Sopwith Camel pilots’ superiority in the skies above the western front.

Heavy industry had been established in Blackhorse Lane since the early years of the 20th century.

One of the earliest engineering entrepreneurs in the area was Peter Hooker, who ran a company of printing engineers in the area and gave the name to Hooker’s Road, along which the northern part of Gnome House lies.

During his period of operation from 1901 to 1921 the rotary aeroplane engine was invented including the Le Rhone engine designed in France.

Hooker, sensing an opportunity, converted the print factory to mass-produce the French aircraft engines and put his nearly 2,000 workers on the case under new company name 'The British Gnôme and Le Rhône Engine Company'.

The engines produced on license from the French were marketed as Gnome engines because of their squat, powerful design.

They were placed inside the iconic British dogfighter plane, the Sopwith Camel after designer Thomas Sopwith called the rotary engine "one of the greatest single advances in aviation”.

The Camel arrived on the Western Front in time to participate in the Battle of Ypres which began on July 31, 1917.

A superlative fighter, the Camel was credited with shooting down 1,294 enemy aircraft, more than any other Allied fighter of the war.

It was used in one of the most famous dog fights in history when Roy Brown a Canadian pilot was officially credited by the RAF with shooting down Manfred von Richthofen “The Red Baron” on April 21 1918.

In the fight, Brown immediately turned back to engage two more German Fokkers, which retreated under fire, and landed with a damaged but resilient rotary engine and “fifty bullet holes” in his Camel, according to news reports.

He did not find out the identity of his German victim, who had been the victor of 80 aerial duels until sometime after the combat.

While 413 Camel pilots were shot down in combat during the war, 385 were lost in non-combat related situations, many due to its difficult handling.

The force of the Gnome rotary engine in fact produced a significant pull to the right.

In the hands of an experienced pilot, this characteristic could be exploited to give exceptional manoeuvrability in a dogfight but was fatal to novices who were often put straight into battle.

Despite the success of the engine, Peter Hooker’s company failed to thrive after the war and in 1928 was voluntarily liquidated.

One Gnome engine built by Peter Hooker remains on display at the Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica in Argentina as it shows its operative internal parts.

Gnome House was built around 1930 for the lift manufacturers Hammond Bros & Champness Limited, which took over the site but named it after its First World War heritage.

The building produced electric and hydraulic lifts for domestic and industrial uses until the 1990s when rapidly declined before becoming totally derelict five years ago.

This year Gnome House was transformed following a nine month £1 million makeover.

Since opening in May, it now boasts a café, an exhibition space and a print making facility run by Inky Cuttlefish studios.

The studio has hosted kids workshops focused on the Blackhorse Lane industrial heritage, flight and early aeroplanes.

The children involved built model tri-planes, and a large bi-plane for the art project after visiting several aviation museums.

Local resident Mark Burton said on the opening of the facility: “We’ve been tremendously lucky to conserve an important and iconic part of the borough’s manufacturing heritage for long term community use.

“We very much see it as the heart of the Blackhorse Lane community and welcome ideas from local people as to what they would like to do here.”