A recent assessment of the remaining buildings on the former RAF King’s Cliffe airfield, Northamptonshire, has not proven to be as positive as one had hoped for. The result could open the door to future development of the site and ultimately the permanent loss of these buildings as a result.
King’s Cliffe (originally visited in Trail 6) was the station for a number of RAF and USAAF units flying P-38s and P-51s amongst them . They operated as fighter escort for the heavy bombers of the Eighth, seeking out targets of opportunity, particularly enemy locomotives, as enemy fighters reduced in numbers. It was also the site of Glenn Miller’s final hangar concert, for which a memorial has been erected on the base of the hanger structure.
Closed post war, it was returned to agriculture, and the runways removed for hardcore. A few buildings still remain including: aircraft pens, pillboxes, the Battle headquarters and a rather dilapidated watch office. Away from the airfield site, the chapel and other small accommodation buildings survive in modern use. King’s Cliffe has certainly taken its share of post war degradation.
This survey was initiated following the successful planing application made for Jacks Green; the area to the southern side of the airfield around the Glenn Miller Memorial. This application has been granted (see here and the media reports here), and development is due to proceed. This combined with the findings of the survey by Historic England, won’t help the long-term future of King’s Cliffe’s buildings, and it may have further implications for the preservation of the site as a whole.
Historic England, submitted their report to the Secretary of State who has deemed that the remaining buildings, including those mentioned, are not suitable for classification as “historically significant” and therefore will not be added to the list of Buildings of Historical interest and so ‘listed’.
The full report can be accessed via the Historical England Website, but the key points they highlight are thus:
1. The Watch Office:
The report highlights the fact that of the 18 different models constructed, there are 220 examples still surviving today, with many of them surviving in a better condition.
At King’s Cliffe the watch office (type Watch Office for Night Fighter Stations FCW4514) is a windowless shell, with some of its internal walls demolished and its balcony rails missing. There are no internal features. It is a poignant and dramatic ruin, but its condition precludes designation.
2. The Battle Headquarters:
At the time of the survey, the building was flooded and so access was inhibited, but it is thought that it is unlikely to contain anything of historical or architectural significance. Again Historic England state that there are better preserved examples on other sites around the UK.
The report states:
At King’s Cliffe, much of the essential wartime context has been lost with the removal of its runways and hangers. Moreover, the interior of the structure, which is flooded currently and effectively inaccessible, is unlikely to retain fixtures and fittings of interest. Together, these considerations mean that King’s Cliffe’s Battle HQ cannot be recommended as an addition to the List.
3. Fighter Pens:
Built to protect fighters and crews from attack, with soil mounds, brick walls and protectives rifle slits, there are a variety of these structures surviving today around the UK. More significant examples can be found at Battle of Britain airfields for example, and whilst those at King’s Cliffe were important, they are in mixed condition and according to the report, not of significant value.
The report states:
Elsewhere, however, the pens are very degraded or part demolished. The fact that only a proportion of the fighter pens survival relatively well as an ensemble, and that much of the essential wartime context has been lost with the removal of the runways and hangers, means that King’s Cliffe’s fighter pens cannot be recommended as additions to the List.
There are a small quantity of pillboxes around the airfield site and these represent a minute number of the 28,000 constructed in defence of the UK. Rarer examples are more likely to be selected for listing than the more common examples. Those found at King’s Cliffe are the Oakington style, a rarer model of which only 61 have been recorded by the English Heritage Monuments Protection Programme. Some of these have since been demolished and so an even smaller number exist today. However, “a high degree of selectivity” was used as a basis for the decision.
While the three examples at King’s Cliffe are also of undoubted interest, and generally survive in relatively good condition, a high degree of selectivity must be deployed when assessing structures of this late date. The loss of so many key components of the wartime airfield compromises their historic context and argues against recommending them for designation.
The conclusion of this report, states that the decision not to recommend listing these buildings is down to three primary points:
1. The fact there the buildings are in poor condition,
2. The fact that they are not ‘rare’ and,
3. The fact that because the other major features, (runways and hangars) have been removed, they are not significant in ‘Group Value’.
This decision is not surprising, but the wording suggests that any airfield with no runway or hangars, is not likely to have its buildings listed for preservation unless they are either very rare or in very good condition. After 75 years, that is extremely unlikely.
This outcome means that any decision to demolish the buildings lays with the landowner, and whilst they have been in situ for the last 70 years or so, there is now no need to retain them in any form should they so wish.
Ultimately, these buildings could be removed for land development, or agriculture use, meaning they would then be lost forever. That would leave the two small memorials as the only significant reminders of the King’s Cliffe site.
The full report can be accessed via the link below, which gives a detailed explanation for the decision. The annex of the report will be published on the Heritage Gateway website.
www.historicengland.org.uk case number 1426070
Anyone who wishes to challenge this decision can do so within 28 days with a request that the decision be reviewed in light of further evidence or because of irregularities in the process, full details are available through the link below. A form is available through this link, with appropriate guidance for completion. Both downloadable from the ‘Reviews of Listing Decisions’ page.
If you are unable to access the website please contact:
The Listing Review Officer
Heritage Protection Branch
Department for Culture Media and Sport
100 Parliament Street
My thanks to Sandra Beale for forwarding this information.