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Hemswell Court, former RAF Officers' Mess, including associated entrance walls and gate piers

A Grade II Listed Building in Hemswell Cliff, Lincolnshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 53.3947 / 53°23'40"N

Longitude: -0.5753 / 0°34'31"W

OS Eastings: 494831

OS Northings: 389595

OS Grid: SK948895

Mapcode National: GBR SYF5.7T

Mapcode Global: WHGH6.4X9Y

Plus Code: 9C5X9CVF+VV

Entry Name: Hemswell Court, former RAF Officers' Mess, including associated entrance walls and gate piers

Listing Date: 4 November 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1435888

Location: Hemswell Cliff, West Lindsey, Lincolnshire, DN21

County: Lincolnshire

Civil Parish: Hemswell Cliff

Built-Up Area: Hemswell Cliff

Traditional County: Lincolnshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lincolnshire

Church of England Parish: Harpswell St Chad

Church of England Diocese: Lincoln

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Hemswell

Summary


Former RAF Officers’ Mess built in 1935 and opened in 1936, converted to a hotel in the 1980s.

Description

Former Officers’ Mess built in 1935 and opened in 1936, converted to a hotel in the 1980s.

MATERIALS: yellow brick laid in Flemish bond and plain clay tile roof covering.

PLAN: the principal south-west facing range has an approximately rectangular plan with flanking L-shaped accommodation wings.

EXTERIOR: the building is in a restrained neo-Georgian style and has hipped roofs with bonnet tiles at the hips. The tall one-storey principal range has a long frontage of thirteen bays. The central three bays slightly project to form a triple arched porch in front of the recessed entrance which extends just above the eaves. The arches have square columns and two rows of brick headers around the arch rings. The central arch contains the entrance door which has multi-pane wooden glazing bars and semi-circular fanlights with radial glazing bars. The flanking arches are similarly glazed but appear to be fixed rather than opening as doors. Two tall brick chimney stacks rise from the roof ridge in line with either end of the porch. The five bays either side are lit by tall twelve-over-sixteen pane sash windows with wooden glazing bars which may be original. The lower section of the window in the eleventh bay is a multi-pane glazed door which is possibly a later alteration. The return walls are lit by two windows in the same style as those already described.

The principal range is attached to the two-storey flanking wings by short single-storey corridors. The main (south-west) elevation of the wings are five window bays wide with each bay lit on both floors by uPVC windows in the style of the original six-over-six pane sashes. The ground-floor windows have gauged brick arches. A uPVC door occupies the second bay. The return walls on the inner sides are six bays wide, and above the second bay a large chimney stack rises from the verge which has two shafts joined to create an arch. The remaining elevations that form the long north-east stem of the L-shape wings are in a similar style. It was not possible to see the rear elevations.
INTERIOR: it was not possible to carry out an internal inspection so other sources have been used for this description. A comparison between current photographs and scenes in The Dam Busters film show that the building appears to retain much of its original layout and internal fixtures and fittings. The principal range contains the original ballroom, dining room and lounge area which are in a restrained neo-Georgian style with plain cornices, dado rails and large delicate panels above. The multi-pane glazed doors have wooden glazing bars, and the opening between two of the rooms has a neo-Classical door surround with corner blocks. There are at least two surviving fireplaces which have dark grey marble insets, stone surrounds and fenders, and moulded wooden mantelpieces, one of which has flanking full-height bookcases which have glazed doors with wooden glazing bars. The floors are laid with narrow boards which appear to be original. The main dogleg stair has a closed string, square newel posts and turned balusters supporting a moulded handrail. The kitchen retains original fittings including panelling, plate rack, sink, and possibly the Aga. In the flanking wings, the dormitories have been converted into bedrooms and are said to retain the original radiators.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the entrance drive to the east is lined by brick walls with flat coping. Each end of the walls terminates in square brick piers with a plinth and stepped square caps surmounted by a ball finial.  The gate piers and walls have been rebuilt and are not original to Hemswell Court.

History

One of the greatest changes in warfare during the C20 was the growth of military aviation. At the outbreak of the First World War there were just a handful of military airfields but by the end of the war, when the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service were combined to form the Royal Air Force, the new service occupied 301 airfields, including airship and fighter stations, and training depots. After the war all but 30 were closed and the number of airfields did not substantially increase until the early 1930s. During the 1920s and 1930s under the Chief of the Air Staff, Major-General Sir Hugh Trenchard, new permanent airfields were established to house the deterrent bomber forces and defensive fighters. These new airfields were built to high design principles with standardised technical and domestic areas. Contemporary amenity societies were concerned at the intrusion of these large developments into the countryside and one consequence was the construction of the larger domestic buildings in a neo-Georgian style. Many also have tree-lined roads and widely spaced buildings to guard against bombing which gave them a campus-like quality.

The first airfield at Hemswell was opened in 1918 by the Royal Flying Corps and was called RFCS Harpswell after the nearby village of that name. After the First World War the site returned to farmland, and in 1935 a new RAF Station, now called Hemswell, was built as one of the permanent bases being set up to accommodate the rapidly expanding RAF. Its neo-Georgian design 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. The tree-lined road leading to the premises served to camouflage the nature of the site.

On 31 December 1936 Hemswell opened as one of the first airfields to accommodate Bomber Command which had been formed earlier that year. No. 144 Squadron and No. 61 Squadron both arrived in 1937 and took part in the very earliest operations of the war. The last hostile operation from Hemswell was in April 1945. It continued in use during the Cold War and in 1959 became the lead Station of a group of five Thor Missile sites. They were on full alert, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year until the missiles were withdrawn in 1963. The Station ceased all RAF activities in 1967. The 1954 film The Dam Busters was mainly filmed at RAF Hemswell. Although the raid by No. 617 Squadron on the Ruhr Dams had originated from RAF Scampton (also in Lincolnshire), Hemswell was used as a substitute in the film as its wartime layout was similar. Scenes were filmed in the front entrance, bedrooms, anteroom and dining room of the Officers' Mess, in the hangers and NAAFI canteen, as well as on the roadways within the base.

Hemswell was put up for sale in the early 1980s. The entire technical site and domestic blocks, including the post-war married quarters, were purchased from the MOD in May 1985 by First State Holdings. The runways were removed for hard core aggregate but the old road layout has been retained. The RAF married quarters laid out around Lancaster Green have formed the new parish of Hemswell Cliff, and most of the other buildings have been restored for various new uses, including the conversion of the Officers’ Mess into the hotel Hemswell Court. In 2015 the windows of the flanking accommodation blocks were replaced with uPVC.

Reasons for Listing

The former RAF Officers’ Mess built in 1935 and opened in 1936, which was converted to a hotel in the 1980s, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: it has a fine neo-Georgian composition with carefully judged proportions and good quality building materials;

* Interior: the interior treatment displays the spatial quality and understated refinement typical of the neo-Georgian idiom;

* Degree of survival: the layout, fixtures and fittings of the reception rooms in the central range survive with a high degree of intactness, and overall the external composition and configuration remains close to its original form;

* Historic interest: it is a well preserved example of its type, that encapsulates the aims of the post-1934 Expansion Period in the lead up to World War II. It was home to two of the squadrons that were involved in the earliest action of the war, and featured prominently in the acclaimed 1954 film The Dam Busters;

* Context: it retains its immediate contemporary setting, character and relationship to other buildings, including the carefully designed layout of the tree-lined approach road and the green around which the Officers’ housing is arranged.

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