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Building No 16 (Officers' Mess and Quarters)

A Grade II Listed Building in Caversfield, Oxfordshire

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Latitude: 51.9182 / 51°55'5"N

Longitude: -1.1476 / 1°8'51"W

OS Eastings: 458724

OS Northings: 224746

OS Grid: SP587247

Mapcode National: GBR 8X4.QPJ

Mapcode Global: VHCX4.215W

Entry Name: Building No 16 (Officers' Mess and Quarters)

Listing Date: 1 December 2005

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1391628

English Heritage Legacy ID: 496020

Location: Caversfield, Cherwell, Oxfordshire, OX27

County: Oxfordshire

District: Cherwell

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

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Listing Text


1714/0/10048 RAF Bicester: Domestic Site
01-DEC-05 Building No 16 (Officers' Mess and Qua

Officers' mess with living quarters for unmarried officers. Dated 1926, some later (1935) additions to rear. By the Air Ministry's Directorate of Works and Buildings, to drawing number 1808-13/26. Dark red brickwork in stretcher bond, hipped slate roofs.

PLAN: A complex group, symmetrical to the front (SW), a hipped single-storey central block with ante-room and card and writing rooms connected to the main mess and a billiard rooms behind, between which are kitchen and ancillary spaces. Set back to each side a lower connecting corridor to 2-storey wings containing single rooms to central corridors; the whole forming a wide extended 'H'.

EXTERIOR: Windows are generally timber sash set to brick soldier arches and stooled concrete sills, but some later steel casements. The main entrance is set off-centre, left, with small concrete canopy below an over-light, and large sashes, including 2 octagonal flat-roofed bays; small ridge stack left of door. The corridors each have paired doors under a moulded pediment over a plain frieze, on rusticated brick pilasters. The wings have 3-bay outer ends and multi-bay returns, with 3 large stacks to the outer roof slopes, and an added wide dormer to the right-hand wing, which is continued at a slightly lower level. The rear has the two lofty hall-like units, and the kitchen has a gabled clerestory light with ridge ventilator.

INTERIOR: Generally simple but consistent detailing, with high skirtings, picture rails and coved cornices to most rooms, good original timber dog-leg staircases, and substantial wood block floors, apparently in sound condition, to the ground floor. The main mess room with coved ceiling.

HISTORY: This building retains 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. Its unique design, pre-dating the more standard approach later used by the RAF, typifies through its planning - the central mess rooms being separated from the accommodation blocks either side -the principle of dispersal against air attack which Sir Hugh Trenchard - the RAF's first C-in-C - and his planners integrated into the design of air bases and their buildings. It became the Sergeants' Mess and quarters after 1939, when a new Officers' Mess - Cherwood House, Buckingham Road - was built. It lies at the extreme N end of the domestic site, but is linked visually with the later Institute (qv).

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.

Military flying at Bicester commenced in 1918, when the new aerodrome was established as a three-squadron Training Depot Station. The site was demolished after closure of the base in 1920, but it was selected as a bomber station by the Aerodrome Board as part of Trenchard's Home Defence Expansion Scheme, sanctioned by Baldwin's government in June 1923. General Sir Hugh Trenchard founded the independent status of the RAF upon the concept of offensive deterrence, a principle which he shared with Italy's Marshall Douhet and America's General Mitchell. This doctrine envisaged fleets of self-defending bomber formations as the instrument of war most likely to ensure swift victory in any future conflict, and underpinned the justification for the Strategic Bomber Offensive in the Second World War. The RAF's infrastructure was subject to severe political fluctuations in the inter-war period, the result of both events on the world stage and political and financial pressures at home. Only two of the proposed six 'A-type' hangars at Bicester for the 3-squadron station, for which plans were drawn up in August 1926, were built, due to an early deceleration in Trenchard's programme, the next major phase of building forming part of the post-1934 Expansion Period, which had been prompted by the collapse of the Geneva disarmament talks in 1933.

The station was opened in January 1928, the 10th of that month seeing the arrival of Hawker Horsleys from Spittlegate. The fabric and layout, planned on dispersed principles, retains an identifiable 1920s character, and provide examples of the first permanent buildings erected for RAF operational stations. Air Commodore (later Air Chief Marshall Sir) Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt, President of the Aerodrome Board until late 1925 and C-in-C Bomber Command early in the Second World War, was responsible for the selection and outline planning of these stations, often in close collaboration with Trenchard. Designs for the built fabric were developed in detail by the staff of the Director of Works and Buildings (Maj-Gen Sir Andrew M Stuart, and Maj-Gen Sir William A Liddell from April 1924 to July 1929). The most prominent technical buildings, most notably the guardroom (Building 89) and station headquarters (Building 47), and the buildings on the domestic site were designed in a simple, astylar, neo-Georgian style. The domestic buildings were laid out in an open plan manner, more formally than the technical site to the east (see below) and thus enabling the principal buildings around the parade ground area to play a particularly important role in defining the character of the site. The planning of the technical site is dominated by a strong east-west axis, from the west entrance to the flying field. This road is tree-lined and flanked by the 1920s motor transport group (Buildings 129, 130 and 131), armoury (123) and workshops (90 and 99). It provides clear views towards the hangars to the east and, across the A421, the domestic site to the west.

From the west entrance, which is flanked by the impressive group of Station Headquarters and Guardhouse (Buildings 146-7 and 89), two service roads branch out, one to the north-east serving the power house and water supply group (Buildings 81, 82 and 84) and that to the south-east serving the Air Ministry Works Department Group (Building 144) and the now-demolished coal yard. The latter, and the main workshops (Building 99), was served by an Air Ministry railway which entered the site from the east.

The 1930s extensions and new buildings carefully match the style of the 1920s scheme. Whilst the married quarters to the N of Skimmingdish Lane and the W of Buckingham Road drew their inspiration from the Garden City Movement, the neo-Georgian officers' mess (Cherwood House, Buckingham Road) and married quarters off Skimmingdish Lane reflect the distinct change in the aesthetic quality and design of RAF stations, which resulted from the Air Ministry's consultation with the Royal Fine Arts Commission and appointment of an architectural advisor to the Directorate of Works and Buildings in 1934. The buildings constructed in 1939 for Scheme M, notably the decontamination centres, boiler and power houses and flat-roofed barracks buildings, are characterised by developed Art Deco characteristics; Buildings 23, 25 and 20 are distinguished by flat protected concrete roofs - to counter the effects of incendiary bombs and minimise the effects of bomb blast - and the use of glazing detail and string courses to give a much more streamlined horizontal design. The increase in aircraft at Bicester was marked by the completion of new C-type hangars in 1937, and the building of a new control tower in 1938 reflected the increased importance given to the need to control movement with the defined zoning of serviceable landing and take-off areas.

1938 was marked by the arrival of Blenheim bombers, which replaced the obsolete Overstrands with which many airfields had been equipped into the mid 1930s, and in October 1939 the first Halifax prototype made its maiden flight from Bicester. From 1938 to October 1944 Bicester served as an Operational Training Unit, mainly for the training of pilots, observors and gunners for the Blenheim crews of 2 Group. The outset of the conflict saw the completion of the bomb stores group to the south and construction of pillboxes and trenches for the close defence of the airfield, now surviving on the east side of the hangars and in a group to the south of the flying field. The flying field was considerably enlarged to the north and south, with tracks and 'panhandle' standings for the dispersed parking of aircraft characteristic of World War Two bomber stations. RAF Bicester functioned as an Operational Training Unit until October 1944, 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. Crews for the medium bomber units in the Middle East and then the Far East were formed and trained at Bicester and Upwood, Mosquitos replacing the Blenheims from January 1944. From autumn 1943 it was already serving as a Forward Equipment Unit for the logistical support of Operation Overlord. After 1945, 71 Maintenance Unit formed here as one of the principal aircraft salvage units, responsible for southern England. Crashed aircraft were brought here and reconstructed in one of the hangars for crash investigation purposes. This use, together with its role as a gliding school and the administrative use of the domestic site (DCTA Caversfield) has ensured the preservation of the inter-war character of the site and the rare and consistent preservation of exterior detail and fitments. Post-war redevelopment and encroachment by quarrying has removed most of the Second World War extensions to the flying field.

(Dobinson,C: Airfield Themes (Report for English Heritage), 1997; Francis, P: British Military Airfield Architecture, 1996; Francis,P: RAF Bicester (Site Report for Cherwell District Council), 1996; Operations Record Books, PRO AIR 28/63 and 1302)

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