RAF Oulton Museum, Blickling Hall.

If visiting the airfields of North Norfolk, then a stop at the grand 17th Century Blickling Hall is a must. Here, not only do we have a house that dates back some 400 years, but an estate that goes back even further to the 15th Century, and once belonged to the Boleyn family. A mix of Jacobean architecture, grand paintings and tapestries complement a library that contains one of the most historically significant collections of manuscripts and books in England. Walks that take you through a 4,800 acre estate of gardens, wild meadows and woodland, are brimming with wildlife. Even on busy days, you cannot fail to enjoy the peace and tranquillity, the inviting waters of the lake and views over the Norfolk countryside.

But equally important, you have a house that once belonged to Philip Kerr, 11th Marquis of Lothian, Britain’s Ambassador to the United States. Lord Lothian, played a major part in Britain’s war, convincing Churchill to write to Roosevelt, explaining the consequences of a Nazi victory in Europe and the poor defensive position Britain lay in at that time.  A letter that began a chain of events including Lord Lothian’s speech to the American people, that eventually led to the ‘Lend-Lease’ programme being initiated and arms allowed to flow into Britain.

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Blickling Hall, the Museum can be found in the buildings to the right hand side.

A few miles from Blickling, is the airfield RAF Oulton, part of 100 Group commanded by Air Commodore Addison, whom the farm at RAF Foulsham is named after. Oulton utilised much of the house and grounds of Blickling, billeting officers in its ‘wings’ and other ranks in Nissen huts within its grounds. The lake was regularly used for dingy training, the upper floors allowed for bathing in baths – a real luxury for aircrews in the Second World War.

Housed within one of the ‘wings’, is a small museum, the RAF Oulton Museum.

The museum itself is situated in the upper floors on the eastern side, utilising one of the former barrack blocks used by the RAF. The original paintwork still colours the walls and a ‘mock’ billet has been recreated using original furniture sourced from local shops, auctions and through donations.

The museum holds a unique collection of photographs, personal letters and stories gathered over a number of years accumulating into a fascinating record of life at RAF Oulton only a few miles away.  The winter of 1944-45 was one of the worst on record and many of the photographs show crew members relaxing in the snow on and around the base.

Letters tell of the local people, their connections with the base, the pub outside the main gate formerly the ‘Bird in Hand’, (now a private residence) and the Buckinghamshire Arms next to Blickling Hall, (still a pub) where crews would spend their evenings and ‘free’ time.

Log books and uniforms from those stationed at Oulton, along with a mix of original artefacts and replica newspapers, all help to recreate the atmosphere of an RAF billet. It is packed with historical and personal information – a real gem for those interested in history and life on the RAF base.

A great little museum, it is certainly worth a visit.

More information about Blickling Hall and the RAF Museum can be found on the National Trust Website.

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A Gem of a Museum in the Heart of an Aviation Mecca

I recently updated the original Trail on this site after visiting the Thorpe Camp Museum. A really pleasant little museum, it provides a wealth of information for very little cost. Its history and that of the area, is incredible.

Thorpe camp museum sits on the original  communal site 1 on the former RAF Woodhall Spa and was acquired in 1988 by a group of volunteers (The Thorpe Camp Preservation Group) who have utilised the original buildings and pathways that would have been used by RAF personnel during their stay at Woodhall Spa. Entrance is a nominal fee and worth every penny.

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Original buildings of No. 1 communal site are now a museum.

A number of original huts and buildings display a range of letters, photos, memorabilia and other artefacts that take you through aspects of life both at Woodhall Spa and Lincolnshire life during the Second World War. Specific displays tell you about each of the four squadrons based here (97, 617, 619 (Dambusters) and 627) , the crew members, aircraft and personal stories. A memorial stands at the centre of the site reflecting their dedication.

Extensive work has been done to research the famous dams raid of 617 Squadron, how the bouncing bomb was developed, how it worked and what the aftermath of the operation was.

A small shop provides food and drink, and is a welcome break after a long journey.

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An Allan Williams Turret on the site.

A civilian section shows life ‘at home’. Weddings of the Second World War were scant affairs due to lack of money and rationing, but brides made the most of what they had; examples of these are nicely displayed. The home guard, ARPs, and domestic life are all represented in this atmospheric museum.

Many young men were sent from within the borders of Lincolnshire on major operations such as ‘Market Garden’, these too are represented through displays of uniforms, photos, letters and official documents.

Further buildings, also originals, house well stocked displays of the V1 and V2 development. The terror weapons used by Hitler to break the morale of the British people. Over 3000 of these V2s were used against targets in the UK predominately London and the South East. Models, photographs and documents again show the extent of this development.

Something I had never come across before was the idea of using arrester gear on heavy bombers where runways may have been shorter than ideal. The principle, based upon that used by the navy on their aircraft carriers, was to place one or more steel cables across the runway for a landing bomber to ‘catch’ as it landed. A small number of airfields in the UK has these, Woodhall Spa being one of them, and an original winch has been removed from the airfield and carefully refurbished. This now has pride of place in the museum. It is believed a further example remains on the airfield alongside the remains of the runway. A rather ingenious but ineffective idea, it was not widely used due to mis-landings and the increased weight that the arrested gear added to an already heavy aircraft.

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An Arrester Gear Hub that was used on RAF Woodhall.

Thorpe Camp provides a chance to see inside a Lancaster cockpit. A replica, painstakingly built includes all the detail of an original Lancaster bomber. Other parts, including turrets, dials and engines can also be found in this dedicated exhibition room.

Staff at Woodhall Spa are carrying out renovation projects and have their own workshop to do this. The process can be viewed and makes for an added interest to the visit.

As an aviation enthusiast the trip is topped off with another feature in the form of a BAC Lightning F1A (XM192) in 111 Squadron markings standing proud beside another cold war relic the Bristol Bloodhound missile.

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BAC Lightning of 111 Squadron RAF.

Using a range of original documents, photographs, letters and memorabilia, Thorpe Camp at Woodhall Spa is a delight to wander and a real insight not only into the life of this Second World War airfield but life during those hard times in general.

Thorpe Camp is part of Trail 1, and is located near to RAF Coningsby. It has its own dedicated webpage where you can find further information and details.