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Duxford: Nissen Hut known as Building 171

A Grade II Listed Building in Thriplow, Cambridgeshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.0937 / 52°5'37"N

Longitude: 0.1261 / 0°7'34"E

OS Eastings: 545748

OS Northings: 246066

OS Grid: TL457460

Mapcode National: GBR L8N.NQM

Mapcode Global: VHHKP.4MJS

Entry Name: Duxford: Nissen Hut known as Building 171

Listing Date: 18 January 2019

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1461305

Location: Duxford, South Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire, CB22

County: Cambridgeshire

District: South Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Thriplow

Built-Up Area: Duxford Airfield

Traditional County: Cambridgeshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Summary


Nissen hut, known as Building 171, built to the designs of Major Peter Norman Nissen installed at RAF Duxford around 1940-1945.

Description

Nissen hut, known as Building 171, built to the designs of Major Peter Norman Nissen installed at RAF Duxford around 1940-1945.

MATERIALS: prefabricated steel structure with a half-cylindrical skin of corrugated steel and internal timber supports.

PLAN: rectangular in plan.

EXTERIOR: the prefabricated steel structure comprises a half-cylindrical skin of corrugated steel. At either end a wooden frame supports vertical timber weatherboarding. At the northern end three, timber plank and batten doors provide a wide entrance with a single casement window to the left and ventilation panel above. To the southern end a central plank and batten door is flanked by simple casement windows. A window has been created on the eastern side by the insertion of a dormer, the corrugated sheeting being supported by the timber window frame.

INTERIOR: although the structural steel frame is visible and readable, the internal face of the building has been sprayed throughout with insulating foam which distorts the detailing. The internal space has been subdivided using particleboard and a door inserted, but this has done little damage to the original structural frame. The floor is of concrete.

History

Duxford’s suitability as a landing field led to its use for military flying during the Military Manoeuvres of 1912. Construction of the Training Depot Station (TDS) started in October 1917, and the first units including Americans arriving in March 1918. It was one of 63 Training Depot Stations in existence in November 1918, and 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. Training Depot Stations, which comprised the main instructional flying unit for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Air Force (RAF), were built in pairs, Duxford and its sister station at nearby 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.

Duxford 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 20 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. In an attempt to achieve parity with Germany’s increasing air strength, the British Government introduced a number of schemes for the expansion of the RAF, which followed in quick succession between 1934 and 1939. The Cabinet (National Government) passed five schemes: ‘A’, ‘C’, ‘F’, ‘L’ and ‘M’, which led to a large-scale re-building programme at existing RAF stations (including Duxford) and to the development of numerous new aerodromes.

During the Battle of Britain (10 Jul – 31 Oct 1940), Duxford was the most southerly airfield in 12 Group, responsible for the defence of the Midlands and East of 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 15 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 3 and later 5 squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes into battle), which formed the focus of disagreement concerning fighter defence strategy which continued into the winter of 1940 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 at Duxford in December 1940, saw a wide variety of new aircraft for evaluation and testing, including the replacement of the Hurricane, Hawker Typhoon, Mosquito and Mustang (the most powerful fighter of the Second World War). The airfield was officially handed over to become base 357 of the United States Eighth Air Force on 1 April 1943, the first of 75 P47 Thunderbolts arriving on the same day. 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. 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, with 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.

RAF Duxford was closed in 1961, and subsequently chosen as one of the locations for filming of the Battle of Britain in 1968, (when the 1918 repair section hangar was destroyed). In 1969, the Ministry of Defence declared its intention to dispose of Duxford, and the Imperial War Museum duly requested permission to use part of one of the airfield’s hangars as temporary storage. The Imperial War Museum was founded in 1917, and opened to the public at Crystal Palace in Sydenham Hill in 1920, before moving to the Imperial Institute in South Kensington in 1924, and finally the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Southwark in 1936. The museum was originally intended to record the civil and military war effort and sacrifice of Britain and its empire during the First World War. The museum's remit has since expanded to include all conflicts in which British or Commonwealth forces have been involved since 1914. As of 2012, the museum aims to provide for, and to encourage, the study and understanding of the history of modern war and wartime experience. Duxford became the first outstation of the Imperial War Museum in 1976, and Cambridgeshire County Council joined with the Imperial War Museum and the Duxford Aviation Society to purchase the runway in 1977. The construction of the M11 along the east boundary of the site in 1977 shortened the runway by about 1,200ft (366m). The final aircraft to land at Duxford before the runway was shortened was Concorde test aircraft G-AXDN, now on display in the Airspace hangar. In October 2008, an agreement was reached between Cambridgeshire County Council and the Imperial War Museum, under which the runways and 146 acres of surrounding grassland were acquired by the museum.

Nissen huts are prefabricated steel structures, built to the designs of Major Peter Norman Nissen. They were employed particularly during the Second World War and used for a multiplicity of uses, including that at Alconbury Airfield which was constructed as an extension to the Operations Room for briefing crews. At Duxford, the Nissen hut known as Building 171 is understood to have been installed on the site in around 1940-1945 as a training room, one of a range of buildings originally associated with the machine gun range. It now forms part of the Works Yard and is used for storage. A Schedule of Drawings for Duxford record Building 171 as one of a series of blister hangars but these were removed in 1947.

Reasons for Listing

Nissen hut, known as Building 171, built to the designs of Major Peter Norman Nissen installed at RAF Duxford around 1940-1945, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural Interest:

* as a near complete example of a Nissen Hut which survives close to its original form and within its original context;

Historic Interest:

* as an integral component of Duxford Airfield the finest and best-preserved example of a fighter base representative of the period up to 1945 in Britain;

* for Duxford’s important association with the Battle of Britain and the American fighter support for the Eighth Air Force;

Group value:

* for its strong group value with the uniquely complete group of First World War technical and domestic buildings typical of both inter-war Expansion Periods of the RAF;

* for its strong spatial and functional group value with the MGR and the numerous other Listed buildings across the Duxford Airfield Conservation Area.

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