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Latitude: 51.9166 / 51°54'59"N
Longitude: -1.1454 / 1°8'43"W
OS Eastings: 458873
OS Northings: 224573
OS Grid: SP588245
Mapcode National: GBR 8X4.Z2Q
Mapcode Global: VHCX4.3392
Entry Name: Building Number 31 (Sergeants Mess)
Listing Date: 1 December 2005
Source: Historic England
Source ID: 1391626
English Heritage Legacy ID: 496018
Location: Caversfield, Cherwell, Oxfordshire, OX27
Civil Parish: Caversfield
Built-Up Area: Bicester
Traditional County: Oxfordshire
Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Oxfordshire
Church of England Parish: Bicester with Caversfield
Church of England Diocese: Oxford
SP5824 SKIMMINGDISH LANE (SOUTH-WEST)
1714/0/10045 RAF Bicester: Domestic Site
01-DEC-05 Building No 31 (Sergeants' Mess)
Sergeants' Mess. 1924, altered and extended 1935. By the Air Ministry's Directorate of Works and Buildings, to drawing number 191/24. Stretcher bond brickwork, slate roof with brick stacks.
PLAN: A single storey building with near symmetrical front to S, central rear wing with kitchens, and extended wing to left. Entrance to right of centre has lobby with billiard room to right, reading and writing rooms to centre, and main dining room to left, originally for 40 members, extended in 1935 to accommodate an additional 25. The original asymmetrical elevation was made symmetrical by the addition of the left-hand gable.
EXTERIOR: The entrance front has slightly projecting end gables, coped in brick and shouldered on corbelled brackets, over wide semi-circular arched openings with herring-bone brickwork spandrels, all set flush, above a 3-light casement with transom to left and a later pair of inserted doors to right. The recessed centre has an external eaves stack flanked each side by 3 windows, and the original pair of main doors to right. The right return has a complex bay incorporating a large external stack with swept hunches, beyond which are stores with a later extension. The long left-hand has two external eaves stacks, a near-central panelled door with 2-light casement to its left, and a small light at each end, beyond the stacks. Both gable ends are coped. To the rear is the hipped kitchen range. Roofs are slightly swept up to a boxed eaves.
INTERIOR: Original joinery including panelled doors, and cornicing to principal rooms; king post trusses to roofs.
HISTORY: This is an unusually well-preserved example of an RAF barracks building of the inter-war period, retaining the architectural style of the first phase of buildings - representative of the first permanent designs for Britain's independent air force - on this uniquely well-preserved and historically important site. It is prominently located on the axis of the later Dining Room and Institute (Building 20), set at an angle to the N end of the Parade Ground flanked by the Type 'E' barracks blocks. This was the first permanent RAF Sergeants' Mess design, the extension of 1935 relating to the development of Air Ministry policy; even in this expanded form it became too small, and in 1939 the sergeants moved to the former Officers' Mess (Building 16), and this building became a barracks unit. The Air Ministry's official publication on its Works Directorate stated that Sergeants' Messes were more greatly affected by the development of RAF personnel policy than any other domestic buildings designed and built by the Directorate. They originally catered for Sergeants on the basis that 50% were married and so non-users of the mess, but with the growth in numbers of sergeant pilots, of whom only 10% were entitled married, the original areas were found to be inadequate in relation to the number of regular users.
Bicester is the best-preserved of the bomber bases constructed as the principal arm of Sir Hugh Trenchard's expansion of the RAF from 1923, which was based on the philosophy of offensive deterrence. It retains, better than any other military airbase in Britain, the layout and fabric relating to both pre-1930s military aviation and the development of Britain's strategic bomber force - and the manner in which its expansion reflected domestic political pressures as well as events on the world stage - in the period up to 1939. It was this policy of offensive deterrence that essentially dominated British air power and the RAF's existence as an independent arm of the military in the inter-war period, and continued to determine its shape and direction in the Second World War and afterwards during the Cold War. The grass flying field still survives with its 1939 boundaries largely intact, bounded by a group of bomb stores built in 1938/9 and airfield defences built in the early stages of the Second World War. For much of the Second World War RAF Bicester functioned as an Operational Training Unit, training Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders as well as British air crews for service in Bomber Command. These OTUs, of which Bicester now forms the premier surviving example, fulfilled the critical requirement of enabling bomber crews - once individual members had trained in flying, bombing, gunnery and navigation - to form and train as units.
For further historical details see Building 16 (Officers' Quarters and Mess).
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