Civilian Use of the Nissen Huts
I am extremely grateful to have permission to share images posted from the OLD CRICKLADE Facebook Page by Robert Heaven (page Admin) - full source details will be provided where possible and individual permissions from photo owners will be sought. I am also grateful to Marion Parsons who's tireless work in producing the book series 'Cricklade Revealed' has already provided a detailed library of personal memories from those families who lived in the old barrack huts at RAF Blakehill after the war. For those visitors wishing to read these accounts at length, the 'Cricklade Revealed' series is available from the Cricklade Museum at £3.60 each. I borrow Marion's explanation from page 21 of Cricklade Revealed part 7, to introduce the website visitor to the subject of the Blakehill Huts;
"When hostilities ceased many factories switched from military to commercial production, but the increasing demand for workers was hampered by the housing shortage. In the Swindon area, homes were urgently needed for key factory workers employed by the GWR Railworks, Vickers, Garrads, Plessey and other local manufacturers. In response to this national problem, the government started building 'pre-fabs' as cheap temporary homes, and converting living quarters on abandoned airfields and army bases into civilian accommodation. This was how in November 1946 when RAF Blakehill closed, Cricklade and Wootton Bassett Rural District Council drew up proposals to adapt the Nissen hits on the unoccupied military 'living sites' as temporary housing until new council housing could be built. In all, at Blakehill, there were six ex RAF living sites. These consisted of separate groups of half circular, corrugated steel Nissen huts set up in a random fashion (rather than neat rows) on differently shaped compounds around the aerodrome. In general there were more than thirty huts, plus other ex-military buildings on most of these sites, Each compound was surrounded by farmers fields on the land that had been requisitioned by the Air Ministry when the airfield was built. There were about 150 huts suitable for conversion on five of the six sites, at an estimated £241 per hut. Nissen huts, which were built like a half pipe section, were thirty feet long and sixteen feet wide. Before conversion they had been sleeping quarters for the WAAF and RAF Personnel, heated by a coke fired stove, and with no internal partitions. They were lit only by windows in the brick built ends and latrines and washrooms (ablution huts) were in separate buildings outside. "
"Now, each was to be divided in to five spaces inside. These provided 2 bedrooms, a big living room with a new dormer window to allow in extra light and a bathroom and kitchen separated by a narrow lobby at the entrance.
After this conversion, a hessian and pitch covering was laid on the roofs to make the huts weather proof.
The community of more than 500 people that sprang up as a result of converting the huts at Blakehill were from diverse backgrounds and from many parts of the country, all thrown together as a result of the war."
"After the misery of living in shared accommodation, or in homes with only primitive facilities, these huts seemed like heaven to many of the new tenants. Just to have their own front door key, electricity, hot and cold water laid on and an inside toilet was a luxury, and all for a rent of 13s9d. per week. Nearly all of them were young couples with small children. Many still vividly remember their move to Blakehill in 1947 or early 1948 as the huts became available."
For those visitors wishing to read these accounts at length, the 'Cricklade Revealed' series is available from the Cricklade Museum at £3.60 each.