Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The aircraft graveyard

(DISCLAIMER:  I do not force entry, vandalize, steal, or disclose means of entry or location if it isn't obvious. I do this to protect locations and respect them. Trespass without forced entry is a civil offense rather than a criminal one, which isn't worth acting on unless one causes damage, steals, has ill intent, etc. I simply photograph and leave everything as I find it. I do not condone breaking and entering, and I do not condone what I do. I'm a danger to myself and a terrible role model )

So I had a few days off from doing whatever it is I do for a living, and decided to take a break from Shropshire for a bit. And of course, I found myself on an epic adventure that would once again make my blog title completely inaccurate. However, to this day, only one person has ever complained, and that's my friend Catherine. Sorry Catherine!

I heard rumour of an aircraft graveyard out there somewhere, cluttered with old military aircraft, all slowly falling to pieces. However, when I got there, I found that very few of them actually remain. In 2015 plans were made to build 3,500 homes on the airfield, and as such a lot of the smaller aircraft have now been cleared out and rescued by the East Midlands Aeropark. And according to locals, someone showed up in the middle of the night and stole a helicopter.
And I don't condone theft but this sounds far too outrageous and mind boggling to not find somewhat hilarious.

This meant that I didn't really have much of an aircraft graveyard to check out, sadly. However, numerous activities and businesses were once held at this airfield, and with the housing development plans going forward, these businesses were told in June 2017 to clear out by November of that year. Among these are a clay pigeon shooting range and a race track. Throw in the predictable 1940s airfield bits, and what we're left with is actually multiple attractions for urban explorers, who haven't wasted time! These businesses shut in 2017, and there's already smashed windows and graffiti.

But it's all due to be bulldozed, so let's jump right in!


Here's the runway, huge and barren. While it was once full of life and activity, now I was probably the only person on the entire airfield.

Originally farmland, the area was procured by the Air Ministry in 1939. The airfield was then operational from 1941, operating as a site for ferrying aircraft from US manufacturers to the UK. It was also a training site for Whitley Bombers, and ran training flights to Gibraltar and the Middle East. There were a few notable incidents, the first in 1943 when a Whitney V crashed just as it was taking off. A month later, a Wellington III bomber tried to make an emergency landing, and crashed into two stationary Whitney V's, killing four people. Five months later, another ten people were killed in various accidents.
After the second world war, it was used as a training site for pilots, up until 1954 when the air ministry shut it down. The airfield was then sold back to the family who had owned the land prior to the war.

However, that wasn't the end of it, as its facilities were used for motor sports events, and a variety of other activities, and as such it remained a vibrant and lively place. The Evesham Motor club ran several events here from 1955, and after the success of those, the Cheltenham & District Car Club also ran events here during the 1960s.
I've mentioned the drag strip, which opened in 1973, and the clay pigeon shooting range, because these are the features still here to see. However, the airfield also hosted a gliding club, which was established in 1974, and a model aircraft flying club. And in 1990, the Midland Warplane Museum opened here, hence all the plane ruins.


Now, I don't know anything about planes. As such, my love of this is purely based on aesthetic and historic significance. I'm sure someone who knows about planes would probably take interest in aspects of this that I haven't even considered. Nevertheless, to me there's still something fascinating about them.


The plane is accessible and has three seats, all of which have been scribbled on.












A little more loitering led me to this giant.


 Allegedly this is called an Avro Shackleton, and it's of significance because it was actually brought here in 1988 from Cosford in Shropshire, where it would probably be in better shape if it had stayed.


 This particular plane allegedly first flew in 1958, but was later relgated to ground training duties before being taken here.





It's a pretty magnificent contraption, and it's quite sad to see it like this.


 I accessed the plane via the parachute hatch, and terrified a bunch of teenagers smoking weed, who made their swift escape through the planes windows, completely shocked by someone who looks like an out-of-work magician materialising from the floor. If only I'd brought smoke bombs, dammit!

I did try to reassure them that I really didn't care, but they didn't stick around.




 The seats are no longer in the cockpit, but there are still levers and switches, none of which I know the purpose of. I'd make a terrible pilot.




Check this out! Bunk beds! Who wants to come camping in a abandoned military aircraft? It sounds great, apart from the risk of waking up in someones garden, next to their stolen helicopter.



The planes equivalent of a kitchen sink has been turned into a bin, by very considerate teenagers.









But if you thought that plane was trashed, check out this one!



And look, this ones invisible! Cold War tech at its finest!



There's a building nearby, which has some plane wings inside. As I said, I know nothing about planes, but going on the size of it, I assume it was part of the planes tail, maybe.




There's a bunch of car doors in here, which is pretty interesting, and somewhat odd.






There are some plane posters on the wall, so I assume this building was part of the war plane museum.

But that's about it for the aircraft graveyard. But we're nowhere near done yet, because this airfield has a few features of interest that date right back to the 1940s. In particular...

PILLBOXES!!!


For those who don't know, Pillboxes are an old military defensive precaution, dating back to their first use in 1917. Usually from a distance they look like derelict barns, or are camoflaged so that they aren't immediately noticable, but they actually have tiny holes in the side which would have been fitted with guns. They were designed to take out enemies if they approached on ground level.

The pillboxes here are actually a variety that I've never seen before, and I since learned that they were called Mushroom Pillboxes, and are actually relatively rare.
The same basic concept applies. While people inside would be standing up, their heads would actually be peering through a gap at foot level, through which they would open fire, while simultaneously being hard to shoot back at.



Only two of the three mushroom pillboxes were accessible, but they were pretty samey.



As you can guess, being discreetly hidden away in a field, these things make excellent places for various animals to crawl off to when they want to die, and there were a few bones down here.
If this was written by one of those silly urban explorers I'd call the blog post "Satans airfield" or something stupid like "Village of Bones."
Fortunately I'm not a total drudgeon. As far as bizarre nicknames go, with me what you see is what you get. Globe House for example is two words, one describing an object in the house, and one specifying that the house is in fact a house.



Moving on from the pillboxes, I found myself at the Clay Pigeon Shooting Range!


Now, this is supposed to have closed down too but it's surprisingly immaculate, with the lawn cut and everything.


And oddly enough, there was nobody around, and I could just wander onto the site without interference.





By far the best part of the shooting range was that the clay traps are still here. These are the devices that fire the clay pigeons. They clay pigeons are so called because the sport of shooting projectile clay came about after the sport of shooting actual pigeons was made illegal in 1921.


This ones still fully loaded and good to go!

Meanwhile, the grass, while immaculate, was littered with evidence of prior shooting.



But I didn't really stick around, because honestly, it didn't look quite like it had closed down, and if a game suddenly did start, and people started firing guns while I was sneaking around the shooting range, that would probably ruin my excellent mood.

Moving on!

This walled up section of the airfield was an old race track, and it was definitely no longer in use.







Only a year or so ago this area would be bursting with life, with hundreds of people having a great time.


This little building had two doors around the back, one on each floor. The ground floor was locked tight so I couldn't get in, but someone had kicked down the upstairs doorway, revealing this little office.











I assumed at first that the names on the blackboard were generic graffiti from urban explorers, but underneath is written "Bulldog 2017" which refers to the Bulldog Bash that was held here every year.

This was a pretty huge motorcycle event, which began here in 1987, and was founded by The Hells Angels. It involved motorcycle racing, stunt riding, topless bike washing, wet t-shirt contests, lots of alcohol, live music, and people having a good time. It was very successful, with around 50,000 people attending in 2007.
Some of the bands who performed here were quite big names too. Status Quo performed here in 2007, and Motorhead in 2009. It was also at the Bulldog Bash of 1996 that the stunt performer Eddie Kidd had an accident which left him paralysed and brain damaged.

A quick look on the Bulldog Bash official website revealed that the 2018 event has been cancelled, having found out on short notice that the land had been sold for housing development, but it promises to do something somewhere else in 2019.

Along with the Bulldog Bash, the airfield was also the site of the Phoenix Festival, from 1993, and The Global Gathering music festival, which brought 25,000 people to the airfield in 2001. However from what I can tell, the Bulldog Bash was actually the more notorious. Even though it had a consistent record of causing the local police little to no trouble compared to other events of its scale, I've seen plenty of news articles that have expressed that the police and council did not want the Bulldog Bash to take place, with some even accusing the event of fundraising illegal activities.
However, in actual fact, it seems quite the opposite, with the Bulldog Bash raising £750 for a dementia charity in 2015.

The media loves scandal though, and their coverage of the Bulldog Bash seemed biased against the event, and used the shooting of a biker in 2007 as an incident that was apparent proof of how dangerous the Bulldog Bash was. However, the man was shot on the M40 roughly 20 miles away, and the only link this story has to the Bulldog Bash was that the man was on his way home from it.
Silly media, I see what you're trying to do. Leave it to them to exploit a mans death to boost an agenda.

We all know the real villains of society wear suits and sit in offices. I'd sooner trust a Hells Angel rather than a politician to babysit kids, that's for sure.


This little building has had the glass door completely smashed. I assume it was an eatery, based on the seating area and the kitchen.





Whoever put this sign up must be furious.




Scrawled on the whiteboard is the line "Not having foglights is a mist opportunity."
That actually amuses me more than it should. Bravo, whoever wrote that.



On the fridge are a few notes about people stealing food.



Poor Jerry.


There's also this caravan park, which is off limits with a sign hanging on the fence, telling anyone who wants to get their stuff to call a phone number. But really, this didn't interest me. There were two notable features that I was eager to find, and that was the 1940s Battle Headquarters, and the old control tower. I found the latter first, and it had seen better days.


The tower itself dates back to 1941 and only ceased being used by the military in 1954. Earlier photos of it from 1982 show that it had "Aviation club" written across it in bright letters, and it had this purpose well up until modern times, with photos as recent as 2003 showing it to still be quite lively. However, a photo I found of it from 2008 showed that it was derelict. Presumably the aviation club continued operating out of surrounding buildings. One thing the 2008 photo did display was the words "Control tower" written on the upper wall in suspiciously pub-like font. I wondered if maybe it had become a drinking hole at some point during its life.


Slipping inside, it was obvious that it at least had a kitchen once.


There's a sign asking that the control tower is kept clean and tidy. Well, that was a waste of paper, wasn't it?




There are mowers everywhere, even in the toilet.




Well, these are still in better conditions than the toilets in some pubs and clubs.




I headed upstairs, and found that my suspicions were correct, there was a bar here! And it's been the playground of urban explorers at least as far back as 2014.



Apparently this bar was exlusively for the flying club, but honestly I think an old RAF control tower makes for a quirky pub location.




The dart board is still here, with a score board.




I was able to leave via the fire exit, which according to old photos of the control tower originally included a ladder to the roof, but that's now long gone.

Behind the control tower was a shed full of old carts, which are traditionally pulled by horses. I'm not sure why they're here.





And just next to the derelict control tower was a small, less derelict office, from which the flying club operated from.



 Like everything else, it's clearly not in use anymore, but all the paperwork remains. Given the short notice that the other businesses were given to move out, it's quite possible that the people in charge just haven't got around to clearing this out, or even that they've concluded that it's best left bulldozed.



 Here's a map of the airfield, which is actually pretty huge.





With the control tower crossed off the to-do list, only one feature remained, and that was the Battle HQ, which I noticed purely because I recognised the surface features. Many people don't know about Battle HQs though, and when they find them they often mistake them for ROC bunkers, and laugh when you correctly call it a Battle HQ because, let's be honest, it sounds like something you'd buy from Toys R Us with a bunch of little plastic army men.


Like ROC bunkers, Battle HQs are subterranean and dotted around the UK. But unlike ROC bunkers, they're in fewer number and in less random places. Battle HQs can be found at almost any UK airfield that dates back to the 1940s. Every airfield I've been to has had one, although Tilstocks was only accessible on my very first visit, having been filled in on my follow up. RAF Condovers Battle HQ was in a bush. I never found Montford Bridges, but apparently it's in someones garden. Whereas RAF Rednal's is completely destroyed. But I'm referencing really old blog posts now, so perhaps these airfields deserve return visits. Even RAF Shawbury has a derelict Battle HQ on the grounds, but since it's still an active RAF base I have yet to look into it.

Due to their age, and being susceptible to floods, Battle HQs are actually harder to find and explore than ROC bunkers. but they do have a more intricate layout, the surface feature being an observation room, with stairs leading down to lower levels.


Here's a basic plan that I found on the internet. The observation room on the right of the diagram is usually the most likely room to be accessible due to being on higher ground and therefore less likely to be flooded. It has narrow slits to observe the airfield, and also an interior window that looks into the defence officers room.

The Battle HQ served the purpose of co-ordinating the defence of the airfield in the event of an attack, so they were in contact with any pillboxes on site.

There are usually two means of access- a hatch and a stairway on opposite ends. In this case the stairs had been blocked, so I had no choice but to take the hatch.


It's not totally clear, but the ladder has actually snapped after the third rung, with the remains of the ladder propped up against the wall. The Battle HQ was also flooded, but the observation room was dry, and thanks to being over six feet tall, with god-like legs, I was able to stretch from the third rung of the ladder to the floor of the observation room.

Given that few people in the  forbidden tourism sport actually know about these things, and the challenge of locating it and getting in, it was actually my favourite part of the adventure.

Not only that but because it was underground and semi-filled with water, the temperature was refreshingly low and provided some respite during our current heat wave.


There were plenty of spiders here. I guess Battle HQs aren't for the arachnophobic.


Here's a shot of the main hatch from the observation room, having made it safely inside without falling into the water. It smelled of pond down here. There's a wooden board floating at the bottom of the hatch, and it's got numerous snails chilling on it.



The observation room is square and has these slits on all sides, so that anyone in here could peer out. It's quite odd to think that this would have once had electricity and furniture in it.


There's the "window" to the rest of the Battle HQ.


Here are the stairs leading below water level. I would love to have gone down here if I had a wetsuit, however realistically, the water is clear because it's not been tampered with. Any movement would probably just kick loads of dirt up from the floor and I wouldn't be able to see anything.



So pointing my camera through the "window" on manual focus, and a long exposure, I was able to get this. It's not perfect, but it shows the room beyond the observation room, with a doorway on the left leading to the rest of the building. Some of the old internal features can be made out, but I love the clarity of the water. It's completely undisturbed and unmoving. Allegedly this Battle HQ was drained of its flood water in 2009, but in nine years, it's all accumulated again.

I do love Battle HQs though, even though there's not much left. Like ROC bunkers, they're little historic nuggets left behind to rot when they should be protected. I'm sure some somewhere probably have been protected, but most surviving ones are pretty similar to this. Tilstock and Condovers were both flooded when I went to them. However, we are experiencing a heatwave, which could negate the flooding to some extent, so perhaps the time is right to visit some of these places.

I'm really pleased with this adventure. I came here looking for an aircraft graveyard, and I got an abandoned race track, control tower, bar, and cool underground 1940s military stuff on top of it.
Aircraft graveyards are quite fascinating in their own way, but it's sad to see historic aircraft rotting away, left to the mercy of vandals.
But worse still, in the not-so-distant future everything you've seen on this blog post will be swept away, wiped off the face of the  Earth, and built on. The legions of people who have come here to have a great time at the events will never come here again. And while it's not in my neighbourhood, and I never came here in it's glory days, it's important to remember that events have been held here since 1955, and were important to thousands of people. For many this is the end of an era, and that is sad.

Anyway, that's it for today. Next time I'm back in Shrewsbury writing about something of historic significance. In the meantime, like my Facebook page, and follow my Instagram, and my Twitter, and subscribe to my Youtube channel in the hopes that I'll someday add another poor quality video to it.

Thanks for reading!

2 comments:

  1. Brilliant. I flew over here on a helicopter tour quite recently and started scouring Google maps for a closer look and more info. Your blogs are wonderful thank you.

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  2. Wow!! Sad that that Avro is sitting there, I have been inside 2, both in museums and they are bigger than they look. Those old carts are neat too. Another great post, I look forward to them.

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