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Building 45 (Officers' Mess)

A Grade II Listed Building in Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.0959 / 52°5'45"N

Longitude: 0.1286 / 0°7'42"E

OS Eastings: 545908

OS Northings: 246309

OS Grid: TL459463

Mapcode National: GBR L8N.HBW

Mapcode Global: VHHKP.5LT4

Entry Name: Building 45 (Officers' Mess)

Listing Date: 10 October 2002

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1067839

English Heritage Legacy ID: 489825

Location: Whittlesford, South Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire, CB22

County: Cambridgeshire

District: South Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Whittlesford

Built-Up Area: Duxford Airfield

Traditional County: Cambridgeshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Whittlesford St Mary and St Andrew

Church of England Diocese: Ely

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Listing Text


Building 45 (Officers' Mess)


Officers' Mess with accommodation. 1935. By A Bullock, architectural advisor to the Air Ministry's Directorate of Works and Buildings. Drawing Nos 2498/34 and 204/35. Extended 1939. Red brick in Flemish bond, pantile roof on steel trusses.

PLAN: A broad-fronted 'H' plan, with symmetrical front, the central single-storey range set back from the two-storey bedroom wings. The central range long and shallow, with central hall flanked by the main reception rooms - a long ante-room to the right and two rooms to the left, approached by the long corridor at the rear. The main dining room lies at right angles to this range across the corridor but central to the ante-room. To the left, rear, are kitchen and services, with a small two-storey bedroom block. The transverse corridor is taken through short links to the bedroom blocks, which are double-banked, with central corridor; the left-hand (west) wing is also extended to the rear (in 1939) by a unit with separate hipped roof. All roofs are hipped, with parapets to the reception range and the dining room, the remainder to an eaves, and flat roof to kitchen and services.

EXTERIOR: All windows are timber sash with glazing-bars, to flush boxes, with brick voussoirs and stone sills. The central range has a slightly stepped forward central 3 arched bays to brick piers, over set-back pairs of glazed doors with radial fanlights, all to a one step full-width stone landing; the parapet is taken higher than to the flanking sections, in five bays with large 29-pane windows (grouped 3 + 2), with 2 similar windows on the end returns; to the right one of the windows has a pair of doors inserted below the upper sash. There are 2 plain square ridge stacks to the centre section.

Short low-level links, each with 2 pairs of glazed French doors, connected to the 2-storey blocks. The short ends have three 12-pane above a central arched, part-glazed door flanked by 12-pane, and at the eaves, tall paired stacks linked at the top over an arched opening. The long returns are in 8 bays, with 12-pane to each level, but that to the left extended, with a further 3 sashes and a door to the ground floor, and one above. The rear (N) end of the right-hand block is in 3 bays, identical to the front, including the doubled stack. The inner faces have a variety of 12 or 9-pane and triple sashes, also one deep 21-pane stair light. At the rear to the left is the long rectangular mess, in 8 x 2 bays, with very large 28-pane sashes (but one only of these on the W side); the outer 4 bays have brickwork of different colour from the inner bays, marking the extension of the 1940s. The roof slopes have 3 louvred vents, and the whole is with parapet. To the right is a compact 2-storey range, with projecting central bay having an arched central door under 12-pane, and a small 9-pane set back each side; the returns have five close-set 12-pane above a door and three 9-pane (W side). There are walls and gates enclosing internal courtyards.

INTERIOR: The square entrance hall has painted plywood panelling in tall panels to a frieze at the height of the arch springings to the doors. To each side is a blind recessed arched panel, and pairs of glazed doors open to the corridor each side at the rear. The rear wall is plain panelled. The full-length ante-room, to the right, has full-height panels with moulded surrounds, a deep cornice and a dado-rail, and adjacent to the hall a full-height glazed display cabinet each side of a broad fireplace with painted wood overmantel and surround, polished marble bolection-mould and glazed tile interior. The inner wall has 3 pairs of glazed doors to the corridor, and opposite the centre pair similar doors to the dining room. This has a slightly coved ceiling to a deep painted cornice, and a deep polished dado with separate chair-rail. To the left is a small pair of glazed doors to the kitchen, and one large sash, with continuous windows to the right. To the left of the hall are two rooms of 3 and 2 bays, with skirting and dado, a full entablature cornice, linked through paired glazed arched doors, and with pairs of glazed doors from the rear corridor. Floors are in polished wood strip, with central carpet areas. The larger, inner room has a fireplace with bolection-mould surround identical with that in the ante-room. The bedroom wings have been stripped of many fittings, including doors, which generally have painted moulded architraves. Dog-leg staircases have square balusters to a solid string, and heavy square newels, and a service stair in concrete is a log-leg, with square steel balusters and steel handrail. The service areas were not inspected.

HISTORY: A fine composition, externally in original condition, typical of this period in its neo-Georgian style. It also clearly shows the impact of the Royal Fine Arts Commission on designs of the post-1934 Expansion Period, but especially the 'guiding hand' of Sir Edwin Lutyens in its careful grouping of openings, and in the paired chimney stacks. It was planned according to the principles of dispersal, established by Trenchard in the early 1920s, whereby the central dining area and recreational facilities are separated from the accommodation wings by lengths of corridors with the idea of localising the effects of bomb damage.

Duxford?s suitability as a landing field led to its use for military flying during the Military Manoeuvres of 1912. Construction started on October 1917 on the Training Depot Station (TDS), the first units including Americans arriving in March 1918. The group of hangars and other buildings on the technical site now constitute the best-preserved group of buildings surviving from a First World War airfield in Britain: it was one of 63 Training Depot Stations in existence in November 1918; TDS's, which comprised the main instructional flying unit for the Royal Flying Corps and the RAF, were built in pairs, Duxford and its sister station at Fowlmere making one wing. Each TDS comprised three flying units, each having a coupled general service shed and one repair hangar (the Duxford example was demolished in 1968, leaving Old Sarum in Wiltshire and Leuchars in Scotland as the only examples which survive as part of hangar groups). Other specialist buildings, such as carpenters? shops, dope and engine repair shops and technical and plane stores, characterised these sites.

It was one of a core number of stations retained for the RAF after 1918, first as a Flying Training School and then (from 1 April 1923) as a fighter station with 19 Squadron. This was designated as a mobile (expeditionary) squadron, and they remained on the base until replacement by the Eagle Squadron of American volunteers in August 1941. 19 Squadron?s expertise resulted in the station introducing a number of aircraft into RAF service - such as the Gloster Gauntlet which it received in January 1935 and was displayed along with the prototype of the Gloster Gladiator at George V?s Silver Jubilee in July of that year; the first Spitfire to an RAF squadron was delivered to Duxford by Supermarine?s test pilot in August 1938, and 12,000 visitors caught their first sight of the Spitfire during Empire Day on the 20th of May 1939. With one exception, the wooden-framed barrack buildings were replaced in a rebuilding campaign that commenced in 1928. A major phase of modernisation was approved in 1931, resulting in the construction of the station headquarters and guardroom on the south camp and the construction of domestic buildings in the north camp - the sergeants' mess being the first building ready for occupation. Other building phases were related to the Scheme 'A' of RAF expansion made from 1935 and Schemes 'L' and 'M' commenced in 1939.

During the Battle of Britain, Duxford was the most southerly airfield in 12 Group, responsible for the defence of the Midlands and Eastern England but also making it well-placed to reinforce and support 11 Group to the south which bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe assault. Czech and Polish squadrons operated from Duxford during the battle, and on the 15th of September - the critical point in the battle - five Duxford squadrons led by Squadron Leader Douglas Bader claimed their highest ?score? of 52 aircraft destroyed (plus 16 probably destroyed and 3 damaged). Bader - Commander of 242 Squadron initially based at Coltishall - was the instigator of what became known as the Duxford Wing, a strategy whereby he led led 3 and later 5 squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes into battle which formed the focus of disagreement concerning fighter defence strategy. This continued into the winter of 1940 and finally resulted in the removal of Sir Hugh Dowding from his position as C in C, Fighter Command, and the replacement of Air Vice Marshal Keith Park as A.O.C 11 Group by his rival AVM Trafford Leigh-Mallory of 12 Group. Some of the pillboxes, air raid shelters and fighter pens installed by 1940 for the purposes of airfield defence and protection against attack have survived.

The arrival of the RAF?s Air Fighting Development Unit, in December 1940, saw a wide variety of new aircraft for evaluation and testing, including the Hurricane?s replacement, the Hawker Typhoon, the Mosquito and the Mustang (the most powerful fighter of the Second World War). The airfield was officially handed over to become base 357 of the US Eighth Air Force on 1 April 1943, the first of 75 P47 Thunderbolts arriving on the same day, the King and Queen returning to Duxford (after their visit in January 1941 to inspect the base and present medals) to welcome the Americans in May. The first of the new Merlin-powered P51 Mustangs - which were to play a critically important role in the European air war - arrived to replace the Thunderbolts after the completion of the steel matting runway in December 1944, and the base in its fighter support role was responsible for the destruction of 338 aircraft in the air and a further 358 on the ground for the loss of 167 aircraft and 113 pilots. Duxford?s post-war service as a jet fighter station, with Meteors, Hunters and then Javelins, was marked by the completion of a replacement runway in concrete (6000 feet long with operational Readiness Platforms at both ends) in August 1951. The station was closed in 1961, subsequently chosen as one of the locations for filming of ?The Battle of Britain? (1968, when the 1918 repair section hangar was destroyed), and was the subject of a public inquiry in 1976 when Sir Douglas Bader argued for the retention of the entire airfield in opposition to the construction of the M11 across the eastern boundary of the site. Duxford is now home to the Imperial War Museum.

(Raby A: Duxford Airfield: the Story of a Famous Fighter Station (unpublished); Duxford Diary, 1942-5, Duxford Aviation Society, 1989; Ramsey W G (ed), Airfields of the Eighth (After the Battle, London), 1978, pp. 72-6; Raby A, ?Duxford?, in Ramsey (ed), The Battle of Britain Then and Now, 5th edition, (London, 1996), pp.198-211; Francis, P, British Military Airfield Architecture, 1996; Dobinson C, Twentieth Century Fortifications in England, Vol IX - Airfield Themes, 1997; Operations Record Books, AIR 28/232-4 and 1017)

This text is from the original listing, and may not necessarily reflect the current setting of the building.

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