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Latitude: 51.9167 / 51°55'0"N
Longitude: -1.1445 / 1°8'40"W
OS Eastings: 458937
OS Northings: 224591
OS Grid: SP589245
Mapcode National: GBR 8X4.ZBD
Mapcode Global: VHCX4.32TY
Entry Name: Building No 32 (Airmen's Institute)
Listing Date: 1 December 2005
Source: Historic England
Source ID: 1391631
English Heritage Legacy ID: 496023
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)
1714/0/10044 RAF Bicester: Domestic Site
01-DEC-05 Building No 32 (Airmen's Institute)
Airmen's Institute and recreation centre, with dining room. 1926, extended 1935/6 and later. By the Air Ministry's Directorate of Works and Buildings, to drawing number 709-12/26, 540/35 and 2296/35. Dark red English bond brickwork, hipped slate roofs, some asbestos-cement slate in later works.
PLAN: A broad U-plan main range, linked to 2 further ranges to the rear, and a late extension to the right in carefully copied detail. Multiple use, with dining room, card, writing and games rooms, the kitchen and ancillary rooms linked to the rear. Originally accommodated 182 airmen and corporals.
EXTERIOR: Steel multi-pane casements set to flush chamfered concrete lintels and stooled sills, recessed centre section, with hipped roof higher than wings, has arched lights to the ground floor, one, to right, a later glazed door, and a steel escape stair to left. Two-bay wings return right in 5 bays, and left in 2+3 bays, the left part brought forward, with its own hipped end. At the junction of the two parts on the NW end a tall arched doorway and over-light, probably the original main entrance. The rear with various casements at both levels, and connected to hipped or gabled service ranges, linked by a flat-roofed single-storey unit.
INTERIOR: Little original detail survives later remodelling, with the exception of first-floor room with segmental-vaulted ceiling and brick dado with moulded rail.
HISTORY: This building retains through its various phases 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 forms part of an important historical group, with the Sergeants' Mess (qv) and the 'E' type barracks blocks (qv) laid out around a generous parade ground, related also to the later 1930's Expansion Period buildings to the north, centred on the Officers' dining room and Institute (qv). The building has a separate gated entry from Skimmingdish Lane, with which it is aligned. This building became the WRAF Mess after the construction of Building 20 (qv) in 1939.
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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