Clearing the farms to take men to war
The compulsory purchases that changed lives and landscape forever
In this article, I wish to acknowledge the sacrifices made by local land owners regarding the loss of private farm land by compulsory purchase. For the casual researcher into former WW2 airfields, it is very easy to focus on the heroic actions of crews on missions and to only acknowledge the scale and the remains of the former sites and what they represent as historical markers to the global conflict of WW2.
Usually overlooked by historical record is just how these airfields and associated sites came about during WW2 and how the original owners of the land on which these sites were built were affected. The building of airfields had a massive impact to local infrastructure, residents and land owners, often changing the landscape forever. RAF Blakehill caused heartbreak to many before a shot had even been fired. Why was RAF Blakehill built in this location?
In 1943 the UK government requisitioned 580 acres of land near Cricklade to create an airfield by compulsory purchase.
The location of the airfield at Blakehill was down to topography - the plan for an A Class airfield fitted the landscape, its relatively flat location near the Wiltshire/Gloucester border, with adequate (for the day) transport links for the movement of troop and road transports, as well as the nearby town of Cricklade with a well appointed railway station, allowed ministry planners to fit the requirements of an A class airfield into the landscape. One also has to bear in mind the siting of the nearby airfields of Down Ampney, Fairford, South Cerney, South Marston, Lyneham and Hullavington, and the easy availability of quarried stone and aggregate within a 40 mile radius of Cricklade.
The land at Blakehill unfortuntley already had a purpose in providing farming income and allotment spaces - all this was about to change.
The specifications set by the British Air Ministry in August 1942 called for three converging runway strips, each containing a concrete runway optimally placed—if practicable at the site—at 60-degree angles to each other in a triangular pattern. The longest strip was designated the main strip and aligned southwest to northeast wherever possible, this being chosen to allow aircraft to take off and land into the prevailing wind. The other two runways were to allow safe takeoff and landing from either end when the wind was blowing from other directions. The primary consideration was for operational safety for any type of aircraft then in operation or under development.
The runways were connected by taxiways called a perimeter track (peri-track), of a standard width of 50 feet (15 m). Class A specifications for taxiways set a minimum curve radius of 150 feet (46 m) measured from the centre line for angles greater than 60 degrees and 200 feet (61 m) for angles less than 60 degrees. Perimeter track gradients could not exceed 1 in 40 in any direction, and no building could be placed closer than 150 feet (46 m) from the edge of the track.
Areas called hardstands (or dispersals) were placed along the perimeter track, made of concrete, with their centres at least 150 feet (46 m) from the edge of the track and the edges of each hardstand separated from each other and from the funnels by a minimum of 150 feet (46 m). The purpose of the hardstands was to allow aircraft to be dispersed some distance from each other so that an air attack on the airfield would be less likely to destroy all the aircraft at once.
Dispersal also minimised the chance of collateral damage to other aircraft should an accident occur whilst bombing-up, assuming that bombers were stationed. Hardstands at Blakehill were the Spectacle Loop type, with and exception of a single compass swing pan, the Spectacle type being the easiest in which to manoeuvre aircraft.
A concrete runway 150 feet (46 m) in width was centred on the plan, with a length of at least 2,000 yards (1,800 m) for the main strip and at least 1,400 yards (1,300 m) for the secondary strips. On each side of the strip the field was cleared of obstructions and leveled an additional 300 feet (91 m). Gradients for the strips were a maximum 1 in 80 longitudinally and 1 in 60 transversely. In addition, an area at the end of each runway was cleared of obstructions at an angle of fifteen degrees outward from each side on a rising imaginary plane of 1 in 50 to provide a flight way called a funnel.
The original plan of the airfield - some changes to the position of the T2 hangers were eventually made as well as some of the hard standings locations.
The c1600's map of the area, showing the field boundaries - note the position of the medeaval MOAT feature in each case and how the track known as 'Baydon Lane' travels NE/SW across the site from Cricklade Chelworth, south down to Purton Stoke. The Allotment Gardens and 'Kings Barn Farm' on the left of the map would be lost - 'Blakehill Farm' can be seen on the hill towards the bottom of the map in the centre.
The overlay of the c1600 map of the area onto the actual airfield reconstruction - it is clear the amount of land and hedgerows that were affected. Inset photo of my wife Georgina, without whom I could not have been able to illustrate the map overlays and airfield photo reconstructions. This is the first time this comparison has ever been carried out and published digitally and I owe her a great debt of gratitude.
How the local farms were affected
Here we turn to work carried out by Cricklade Museum colleague, Marion Parsons, author of the excellent series of books ‘Cricklade Revealed’ who has kindly allowed me to cross reference accounts of memories at RAF Blakehill - here she writes about the destruction of Kings Barn Farm;
Some traces of Kings Barn Farm are still evident on the airfield remains today. Here I show the map of the 1600's overlaid on this area. The original entrance road to the farm, running roughly south west from the B4040 can still be traced during dry conditions along with a parch mark showing the location of the farm. Evidence of the former field boundary to the left of the road on the photograph is marked by the short line of trees. The mound of vegetation to the right of the trackway is all that remains of a fuel dump and can be clearly seen on the aeirial photograph.
At the end of the lost trackway, after it passes over the airfield perimeter track, one can clearly make out the brown crop mark on the aeiral photo and this is all that remains of the farm yard and buildings.
The frying pan shaped crop mark to the extreme left of the aerial photo is the remains of the airfield controllers hard-standing for runway number 3.