Scrapbook: UKAEA Harwell housing archive

Latest update: 19th April, 2019: Added 1985/6 colour photo of 8 Wayland Crescent.

Chilton Estate

Map of Chilton prefab estate, prior to partial redevelopment

(Edit: I’m not 100% sure about the garages on Frome Road. I don’t remember these but have taken a punt on a likely location of garages here. Can anyone confirm or deny the presence of garages on Frome Road?)

Wayland Crescent

chiltonprefabswcavon_edited-1On Wayland Crescent, looking toward its junction with Avon Road, late 1970s. (Personal collection)

Wayland Crescent 1977editAt the top of the oval, looking up the crescent. Many thanks to Rev.Dr. Brian Meardon for his contribution of this picture from 1977.

WaylandCrescent_ aug1954.MHanksAugust 1954 (M. Hanks) When built, the prefabs had been sprayed with a wash of white paint. I am told this had been applied quite roughly, leaving lumps and drips. Note the swan-necked concrete masted streetlight. Construction aggregates forming such things as fenceposts, bollards and streetlights were given an architectural finish in which the individual stones forming the composite materials were clearly discernible. The estate was lit with mercury vapour lamps until the early 1980s, when these fitments were replaced by sodium types.

Wayland Crescent Anderson ShelterGarden on Wayland Crescent, 1956, featuring Anderson Shelter based shed. (M. Hanks).



1WaylandCrescent19681 Wayland Crescent, late Spring 1967. Author attempts explanation of how electricity is essentially supernatural in origin. I know this as my infant finger is pointed toward the humming sub-station: a source of some fascination. The family mo’er, a 1966 Hillman Minx, appears half in shot, its AA badge displayed with pride. Beyond the hedge separating us from what was then the A34 can be seen the K6 telephone kiosk and, in a gap in the hedge, the northbound bus-shelter. I remember the AERE bus-shelters each being to this standard green-panelled and part-glazed design until the 1980s.

WaylandCrescent_parkingbay1972Early 1972. Taken from roughly the same spot as the previous picture, looking across the oval. On the other side of the green are the electricity sub-station, the postbox, another row of parking bays and an opposing line of prefabs; the two roadways converging just out of shot. Looks like the 1966 Hillman had begun to need welding.

Wayland Crescent 1967A recent find is this late 1960s photograph taken from the front garden of 1 Wayland Crescent, showing the line of prefabs on the south side of the grassed area.

prefabselfage4At the rear of 1 Wayland Crescent; probably 1968-9. The strips covering connections between sections of the building are seen clearly, as is the concrete base. The coalman delivered anthracite or whichever shade of bituminous coal was that year’s winner of the calorific cup, in sacks, to be tipped into the coal hopper.

Garden swing 1 Wayland Cresc 1969I’ve no idea who was the girl but she does look impressed, does she not. (Late 1960s)

Grace Brown 1 Wayland Crescent late 1960sGrace Brown at the kitchen door of 1 Wayland Crescent. (Late 1960s)




8 Wayland Cres Colin Barlow peAbove: 8 Wayland Crescent, circa 1985/6. Thanks to Colin Barlow for contributing this late-era prefab photo.

Wayland Crescent Garden 1971 editPlot sizes were generous, as seen in this photograph from 1971. Houses across the field are those of Severn Road. (Rev. Dr. B. Meardon)

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Kennet Road

I urge you to read Phil Hall’s reminiscences of life on Kennet Road in the early days of the Chilton prefab estate. It’s a great read: detailed and humorous. Phil paints a vivid picture of his post-war Berkshire childhood, and there is much that would, I’m sure, resonate with anyone who remembers life in an AERE prefab. I’d almost forgotten about the towels on the condensated windowsills, and who remembers the siren drills? You can find Phil’s piece here.

Avon Road

Avon Road West 1948 M Hanks

Looking west from the last prefab on Avon Road toward recently decommissioned runways. Thanks to Margaret Hanks for contributing this 1948 view. Severn Road is yet to be built; its junction would be behind the photographer. I am told that one of the hills here was nicknamed ‘Pylon Hill’ by local children.


Frome Road

Local press article_prebab demolition_Chilton_smlThe prefab demolition programme was implemented from 1986. The last prefabs to be knocked down, several years later, were a small number on Frome Road, adjacent to the runway from which 6th Airborne division had taken off for Normandy on 6th June 1944 and close to the site of the experimental catapult pit. Harwell’s last AIROH prefab was demolished in March 1991. A temporary solution to the post-war housing shortage and said to be designed for a lifespan of ten years, these characterful homes lasted, in some cases, more than forty. (Click image to enlarge.) (M. Hanks)


ChiltonCP_1972Chilton County Primary School, 1972. Reception class was in the building nearest the fence, with year-groups progressing through the school toward a final year in the terrapin building out of shot to the left beyond the aluminium classroom block. This large prefabricated structure was built at the Bristol aircraft factory after the war. Upper windows were openable by means of very long poles.

Many thanks to Roger Burnett for his contribution of the following photos from his time at 10 Downside.

10 Downside 1952

The photograph above is of Roger in the rear garden of 10 Downside, in about 1952. Behind the hedge in the next picture is the Horse & Jockey pub. This was situated on what was then the A34.

Roger Burnett 10 Downside rear garden tent

The prefabs on Downside were laid out in pedestrian cul-de-sacs, with four rows of three prefabs each. The next photograph shows Roger’s brother Martin outside 11 Downside in about 1954.

Martin Burnett Downside 1954

A 1950s family gathering at the front door of 10 Downside:

Burnett family gathering 10 Downside


Aldfield Estate

This British Pathe newsreel from 1947 documents construction of the “atom village” at Harwell, contrasting this fangled high-tech realisation with the rustic charms of its Berkshire countryside setting.  There’s a brief shot of prefabs adjacent to a runway or taxiway at 2m 06s – I think this is West Drive … and then several shots of Hillside from  2m 34s. Can anyone identify any other locations shown? No.17 Hillside was home to Klaus Fuchs prior to his arrest and imprisonment, in 1950, as a Soviet spy. (Thanks to Moira in the comments for this information.)

HarwellFromPrefab1947 Mary Flowers

Harwell from the prefab in 1947 © Mary Flowers, 2009. Used with permission.

The above photograph comes from Mary Flowers’s autobigraphy Atomic Spice. I am most grateful to Mary Flowers’s and Oscar Buneman’s sons Michael and Peter Buneman for permitting this and the next photograph to be republished here. The photograph above is taken from the upper Hillside road. In the foreground are three prefabs on the lower section of Hillside. At right angles to these are, from the left of the picture, the prefabs of Coln Road, Vale Road, Thames Road and West Drive. The structures that look like silos appear to be the old RAF Harwell ‘Celestial Navigation Towers’. According to pages 28 – 29 of Nick Hance’s Harwell – the Enigma Revealed, these had been used to train wartime aircrews in night-time navigation, with mock-ups of the night sky projected onto their ceilings. The training equipment was removed from the towers in October 1945. At an unknown later date, one of the towers was relocated elsewhere on the Harwell site and used as a chemical engineering rig.


Prefab1947 Mary Flowers

Hillside prefab in 1947 © Mary Flowers, 2009. Used with permission.

Also from Mary Flowers’s Atomic Spice is the above picture of the Bunemans’ Hillside prefab in 1947. Mary’s son Michael Buneman has also kindly sent us the following picture of him with his older brother Peter outside their prefab in 1948.

Peter and Michael Buneman outside Hillside prefab 1948 pe

Peter Buneman (driving) and Michael Buneman (riding), outside their prefab on Hillside (1948)

Thames Road

thames road 1951_2

Geoff Randall contributed the 1951 photos above and below. The photo above shows Geoff with his older brother Jim and grandfather Tom outside No. 8 Thames Road. Tom had been a member of the British Expeditionary Force (‘The Old Contemptibles’) who fought at Ypres in 1914. In 1916, Tom was invalided out of the army with a serious head wound. Young Geoff went on to have a career in motorsport while young Jim, appearing here to be playing an improvised drum kit, went on to play drums with local bands.

thames road 1951_3

Jim and Geoff on their father’s back. The side door in the background is that of No. 7 Thames Road. Some way down in the comments to this blogpost, there’s a most evocative exchange of memories between Geoff and Ted Slatter.

Thames Road_Eileen GallagherA 1954 view from the back garden of No. 9 Thames Road. Thanks to Eileen Gallagher for contributing these photos from the Aldfield Estate.




Thames Road_2 Eileen GallagherAnother photo from Eileen’s collection. This one dates from 1955. The prefabs shown are those of West Drive and Hillside.






North Drive

48 North Drive 1947At the garden gate of number 48; one of the four semi-detached houses on North Drive. This photograph from Margaret Hanks dates from 1947.



A34NorthDrive1947Another 1947 shot from Margaret’s collection, taken at the southerly entrance to North Drive and looking north along what was then the A34. The large building seen between the second and third telegraph poles appears to be situated just beyond the junction with the Winnaway, approximately level with the northerly North Drive entrance. Can anyone identify it or guess its purpose? (The answer’s in the comments, facthunters.)

 Police Club and garages

PoliceClubNDThe Police Club, on the northern oval of North Drive, was demolished in the early 1990s. This photograph dates from the winter of 1989/90.

North Drive garages Feb 2018 copy

The garages on North Drive remained in UKAEA ownership. Their roofs took a battering during the storms of winter 2017 / 2018 and the garages were demolished not long after this February 2018 photo was taken.

I am grateful to Margaret Hanks for contributing several photographs. This inspired me to search through my own family archival suitcase for more, and to suggest compiling a community-sourced photographic archive documenting how the estates have changed down the years. So… do you have any photographs from your time on the Chilton or Aldfield prefab estates? Or from North Drive or Severn Road before the sell-off? Let’s include the Abingdon and Wantage AERE housing as well. Anything you have, especially from pre-1990-ish, that you’re willing to publish.

UKAEA Harwell is a historic site, yet relatively undocumented when it comes to its social history: photographs and memories of those who have worked and lived here. With South Drive about to be destroyed and replaced by a new development on a new road layout, it would be good to have some photos of these fine houses and their landscaped setting in better days [mutter, grumble, “localism” my ‘arris etc. etc.]. Whilst absolutely no-one is interested in anyone else’s holiday snaps, then or now, the photographs giving greatest historical appeal may well be those clicked off on return in order to use up the roll of film, and hurry up cos Boots closes at 5. Those are the ones I want. Don’t worry if the quality’s not perfect, it’s the record that matters here. Leave a short comment somewhere on this blog and I’ll e-mail you for the goods.


Nick Hance (2006), Harwell, The Enigma Revealed, Enhance Publishing, pp51-60


Planning permission granted: South Drive to be destroyed

ImageSouth Drive is to be levelled and up to 120 new houses are to be built on a new road layout; with no regard to alternative proposals, to the history of the site or to the wishes of existing residents. Link to decision.


Heritage to be razed; local opposition airbrushed

The following formed part of my objection to the planned demolition of South Drive. It was received by the council on 25th February:

“There is nowhere in the county quite like South Drive: a 1936 colonial-style Air Ministry development of mellow red brick, garden bays and sash windows,retaining its original road-layout and situated on chalk downland in an area of outstanding natural beauty. South Drive houses are among the oldest surviving parts of this former airbase.

No.8 South Drive, Sir John Cockroft s former residence, should be considered historically important in relation to the development of the site. The bomber station’s first CO decreed that the station should take the name of whichever parish his house was situated in: thus it was that RAF Harwell is what the UKAEA inherited in 1946, rather than RAF Chilton.” 

I was not the only North Drive objector to raise the soviet hammerheritage value of South Drive as a reason to not destroy it.  Yet here is the planning officer’s summary of our neighbourhood objections:

“3.3 Representations from local residents
– A total of 13 representations had been received at the time of writing this report, of which 11 object and 2 consider that there is not enough information submitted. The objections made are on the grounds of the following concerns:

•Loss of landscape setting and open character of the site
•Increased traffic generation and appropriate parking
•Adverse impact on wildlife, particularly bats
•Impact of construction on routes to the site
•Loss of privacy and of existing residential amenity

So when,  in Section 6.20, Heritage Assets, we are told:
” The proposal has no heritage assets within the site or within the surrounding area. The submission has not identified any heritage asset that is identifiable in the local area that would be subject to any adverse impact from this proposal.

… it is as if no-one had any other view.

Planning committee report: fall of the 5 Year Plan

Having scanned through the 46 page document, a few things jumped out which I’ll detail below and in the next post. Go through it yourself and see if you feel your objections were summarised adequately by the planning office.  My substantive factual comments on the heritage of the site have been airbrushed out of the report entirely. More on that in a moment. First though, here’s the context in which the “need” for this extra housing has been generated :

“6.2 The current lack of a five year supply of housingsoviet hammer
sites in the district is due to the lack of delivery of new housing by developers rather than an under-supply of allocated housing land. This has primarily been caused by delays in progressing some major allocations due to the economic downturn and the delay in bringing forward the council’s new local plan. The current lack of a five year housing land supply justifies some flexibility in line with the NPPF in the consideration of planning applications which do not accord with local plan policy.

Oh I see. Reality gets in the way of the 5 Year Plan so we must sacrifice a well-loved part of our locality to pay for the council’s duff projection. In the parallel universe of local bureaucracy, neighbourhood interests are mere trifles compared with the bother of amending The Plan.

“6.4  It is clear the application is contrary to local plan policy GS2. However, whilst the council does not have a five year housing land supply, policy GS2 is inconsistent with the framework. The proposed development, therefore, needs to be considered on its site specific merits and whether it constitutes a sustainable form of development as defined in the NPPF.

Inconvenient planning rule not to your liking sir? Chuck it away and make a new one! 

Will our elected representatives help? Remember the 2010 election campaign of Mr. Ed Vaizey, promising “…local people a say in how many, and where local homes are needed…”? Well, pre-election localism seems to have morphed into the NPPF post-election, with its notorious presumption in favour of “sustainable development”.  Use of the magic word “sustainable” gives ministers special permission to misrepresent and insult the people they were elected to serve.

Planning committee notification

E-mail received from Planning Committee…

Planning Committee Notification
Location :Land at South Drive Harwell OX11 0PT
Proposal: Outline application for demolition of existing 13 dwellings. Erection
of up to 120 dwellings with associated infrastructure, access, parking and
Application reference: P13/V0129/O

I am writing to let you know planning committee will consider this application on 22nd May 2013. The meeting will start at 6:30pm in the council chamber at Vale of White Horse District Council, Abbey House, Abbey Close, Abingdon, OX14 3JE.

The officer’s recommendation to committee is to grant planning permission. You can see a copy of the officer’s report on our website at – search for ‘meetings and agendas’ and click on planning committee from the list.

If you would like to speak at this meeting, please let me know in writing by 12 noon on 21st May 2013.


To save you the bother of searching through the VWHDC site, here’s the link they didn’t see fit to provide:$ (pdf 85kb)

Feb 2013: objections to the South Drive re-development proposal

This post may be updated if and when  appropriate. If you have info that you think will be of general interest then please add your comment.

Feb 16 2013_0658_edited-1Thanks to Holly Spence for forwarding the following example letters of objection. These are downloadable from the links below.

New Harwell Doc

Objection to South Drive HS

I might add that the largest South Drive house, Sir John Cockroft’s former residence, can be considered historically important in relation to the development of the site. The bomber station’s first CO decreed that the airbase should take the name of whichever parish his house was situated in: thus it was that RAF Harwell is what the UKAEA inherited in 1946, rather than RAF Chilton. (Source: Nick Hance, 2006, Harwell: The Enigma Revealed)

For the full horrors of what’s being planned for our area, the list of documents relating to Goodman’s application is on the VWHDC site here. This is also the page to access the comment facility for your objections. So I think I’d better give it a bigger link. Here then is a nice big red objection-button, linking straight to the form:


Get ’em rolling in. Deadline for objections is 27th Feb.

Update! 19/2/13

Natural England object:

“Natural England objects to this proposal, as we consider that the scale of the proposal is likely to adversely affect the purpose for which the North Wessex Downs AONB has been designated.
The level of housing provision within an AONB should be directly related to the need for housing in that area. This application shows no justification for the need for 120 houses at Harwell.”

Vale and South Oxon Countryside Officer’s initial statement:

“Following my initial review of the submitted information I have contacted RPS the Ecological consultancy who prepared the ecological reports to request
further information regarding the extent and distribution of White Helleborine
across the application site. The site has been found to support a nationally
important population of this endangered plant and it is therefore important to
fully understand the impacts of the proposals before determining the planning

Meanwhile,  Thames Valley Police acceptance appears to be available on receipt of a  new car.

“Having undertaken a qualitative examination of the scheme and the impact of the policing the Local Police Area Commander has requested a contribution of £21,259. The contribution represents a pooled contribution towards the provision of a new marked PCSO vehicle to serve the site and surrounding area.”

Would the proposed development not be served by site police then? Like wot we are…?

November 2012

A glossy sheet of A5 has been plopped through our letterboxes this evening. In four short paragraphs we learn that Goodman are due to make a planning application for “approximately 125” houses on a site identified only as “South Drive”. The application will be made in December, with an exhibition for we likely-objectors on Tuesday 13th November in the cricket pavilion [4PM-8PM].

Immediate thoughts:

Are we expected to breathe a collective sigh of relief that the figure “400” has been replaced by “approximately 125”? Many of us were suspicious of the 400 figure when it was reported – an extremely high density of housing to try plonking on a relatively small and mostly never-developed area in an AONB. And/or is the 125 houses just Phase 1 of something even bigger?

Perhaps they’ve rightly considered the legal problems of access from our private estate roads…

What do you think? Reply below.

Where we are: how our objection to 400 new houses has progressed, from November 2009 – May 2011

It doesn’t really feel like 18 months  since we first became aware of Goodman’s / UKAEA’s desire to build 400 houses on the fields behind North Drive. For those who haven’t been around for all of this, here’s a quick summary of what’s gone on…

In November 2009 Karon Hawthorne of North Drive was opted into the Harwell Parish Council and in her first couple of weeks was made aware of plans for new houses to be added to the VWH local development plan and core strategy. Luckily there was a meeting of the North Drive Management Company a week away. Karon emailed a few members of the residents committee to make us aware of the situation, and to ask our managing agents to put this on the agenda of the NDMC meeting coming up! Neither the Vale nor the Parish council had, at this point in time, made the residents of North Drive aware of the potential development.

With objections due by the 29th January, the plans only being exhibited in Harwell on the 7th  January and the busy Christmas period coming up, this did not leave much time for us to form our objections, or let the majority of the North Drive residents who were still in the dark, become aware of the situation…

I held a meeting with a few residents between the Christmas and New Year period to plan a method of attack for getting the word out to residents and to split up the unenviable task of reading our way through all the literature on the VWH website in relation to the Local Development Plan and the Core strategy of which the 400 houses would be an additional amendment.

We set up a residents meeting for the 10th  January, arranging an interview and photo shoot with the Oxford Mail. Luckily the weather that year paid us a favour and with copious amounts of snow in early January the Vale postponed the planned exhibition from the 7th to 28th January, and consequently the consultation period was also extended.

Over the next 6 weeks or so we (the residents) held meetings, attended the open session at the parish council, made contact with other local campaign groups and interested parties, read our way through the VWH literature, formed our formal objections, attended the exhibition (and made our views very vocally known!!), made contact with charities and societies for advice and got in touch with councillors and MPs alike (phew).

We then drafted, read, re-drafted, read, etc.  and finally submitted objections from the NDMC/NDRC as a whole. Lots of residents submitted their own objections too. All these can be viewed on the council website. [pdf file: opens in new window. Arguments for and against the proposed development on North Drive are found on pages 23-27]

And then we played the waiting game…we had been told we would hear by June 2011

However all can change with a general election and sometime around the 27th May the new coalition government announced the abolishing of the need for councils to produce ‘regional spatial strategies’ – i.e. the local development framework! Our celebration was short lived…upon contacting the VWH I was informed they were still pressing ahead with their LDF, but that due to being ‘overtaken by events’ there would be a ‘slippage’ in the councils response on the amendments to the LDF…we are still waiting to hear on these! The last LDF expires in 2012, so we hope we hear before then!

In the meantime I was contacted by Goodman’s (the AEA developers) as they would like to meet with me, Karon and David Marsh (Chair of Harwell Parish Council) to ‘share and discuss’ their plans for the Harwell site with us. In addition to this I asked Clare Howells and Emma Coghill as directors of the NDMC committee, and Ade Brown as a long term resident to attend this meeting at well. We met with them in August 2010 and again in October 2010

I will write a separate article about these meetings (and what we thought of Goodman’s and their associates!) but all in all it appeared they only wanted to meet with us in order to show the council we were on board and had agreed to their plans, to tell us how wonderful it would be to have all these extra houses here and to imply that they already had permission so there was no real point in us objecting! At our second meeting with them we presented them with a letter informing them that the overriding position of the North Drive residents was to object to the proposals and therefore we were not in a position to comment on any of their plans.

We also went to see Ed Vaizey and Reg Waite came to visit some of the residents towards the end of last year. No clear voice of support or otherwise came out of these meetings.

Since then it has all been a bit quiet…that is until last week, when an article appeared in the Didcot Herald. Our fate is finally going to be discussed on the 8th July!

So that’s a summary of the last 18 months or so! Hopefully we will get key documents and things uploaded to the site for you all to view. Things are going to hot up in the next few weeks so we will keep you posted and look forward to us all getting as geared up again as we were 18 months ago!!!

Posted by Susannah

Chair of the North Drive Residents’ Committee

UKAEA Harwell housing: a short history

Don’t Mention The War

With the country preparing for war against an expansionist-minded Germany, the estates were constructed in 1936 by builder John Laing on behalf of the Air Ministry, as part of the nascent RAF Harwell. The simple modern 2-bed terraced and 3-bed semi-detached North Drive houses were designated as married quarters for the ratings, whilst the elegantly proportioned Colonial style detached houses on tree-lined South Drive, with their garden bays and sash windows, were reserved for officers.

RAF Harwell became operational as a bomber station in 1937 and, in the early years of the war, Wellington bombers of No. 38 Group took off from here for bombing raids over Bremen, Essen and Cologne. In 1944 the base was reallocated to No. 30 Group, whose Albemarles towed the Horsa gliders that would drop the first wave of troops from 6th Airborne Division onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Our houses served as some of these men’s final billets for the few days before departure on the night of June 5th, as documented in Nick Hance’s excellent book Harwell: The Enigma Revealed, which also relates eyewitness testimony from one of the many Luftwaffe bombing raids on the airfield.

With the Luftwaffe finally swatted in 1945 and, following RAF Harwell’s brief post-war period as Transport Command,  the land was transferred to the Ministry of Supply and, under their auspice, the UKAEA was formed on 1st January 1946. The RAF housing stock was inherited and, augmented by the construction of 200 prefabricated bungalows on the south and west sides of the site, followed by 12 new houses on Severn Road and an additional terrace of 4 houses on South Drive, were let to employees of the new facility. UKAEA also built estates in Wantage and Abingdon so as to avoid the creation of a new town at Harwell and ran their own distinctive fleet of blue buses, providing a subsidised commuter service from neighbouring areas.


AIROH B2 Aluminium Bungalow. Image: National Museum of Wales

The Aldfield and Chilton prefabs were Type B2 Aluminium Bungalows designed by the Aircraft Industries Research Organisation for Housing [AIROH]; itself charged with turning surplus aircraft manufacturing capacity over to address the urgent national housing shortage, as identified by the Housing Act of October 1944. The bungalows weighed nine tons each and were brought to the site by lorry in four pre-assembled sections, which were then lowered onto their concrete base by crane. A gang of German PoWs assisted with the on-site assembly.

The National Museum of Wales at St. Fagans have restored one of the few remaining AIROH B2s, relocated from Cardiff. They have a page of interior photographs here.

The last prefabs on Chilton Field were demolished in the mid 1980s and, since demolition, the land has been unused. On the western Aldfield estate, several concrete prefab bases are still extant, along with the occasional period artefact buried in the undergrowth.


Flogging the Family Silver

By the end of the 1980s, UKAEA no longer needed a housing-stock of its own to attract employees from afar so the North Drive and Severn Road houses, along with the UKAEA houses in Wantage and Abingdon, were sold to sitting tenants and a housing association. The South Drive houses were retained but tenancies were not renewed when their occupants moved on; the houses being boarded-up one by one as they fell empty. The estate roads of North Drive and their small enclosed areas of grassland were transferred to the North Drive Management Company, of which every property-owner here is a shareholder and liable to pay an annual maintenance charge for upkeep of these common areas.


The high value given to atomic research in the post-war years is reflected in the landscaped environment that was created in order to make this an attractive place to live and work. Woodland areas provide safe outdoor play opportunities for children and there is a traffic-free route to the shops on Curie Avenue. The whole site testifies to the optimism of the period and is a rare example of utopian thinking that somehow remains in harmony with its setting. Reminders of the old airbase include what looks like a sentry point where the AEA western footpath crosses the Icknield Way and many North Drive houses retain the sheds that were made from surplus Anderson Shelters.

Sir John Laing’s North Drive houses, though modest, were well-built and had an advanced specification for the 1930s, featuring cavity walls, internal coal-storage, first floor bathrooms and large windows providing plenty of natural light. A mystery feature is the first-floor connecting aperture between houses. In my house, the area between the fireplace and the inner wall in the smaller bedroom is a plasterboard partition the size of a doorway: this meets my neighbour’s first-floor landing. I can find no evidence of there ever having been connecting doors between the houses; most likely is that the houses were built with this option of internal connectivity, but that it was never used. *

Boarded-up houses on South Drive. These fine houses, still owned by UKAEA, have been left untenanted for years.

Today, in 2011, only three of the ten Colonial style houses on South Drive remain occupied. The rest, including No.8 South Drive, the former home of Harwell’s first director, Sir John Cockroft, stand boarded, empty and decaying. We would like to see these buildings restored to use; with some or all possibly being converted to flats. But, if UKAEA and their developer partner Goodman have their way, then these high-quality houses will be demolished.

Update! 29/1/12

* Thanks to a commenter here who tells me that these connections did see some use, I finally worked out that they were designed-in for flexibility: the adjoining houses could be adapted easily to  3 -bed/1 bed  pairs. This makes sense with the layout and within the context of a wartime airbase, where tenancies would have been short-term.