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Scrapbook: UKAEA Harwell housing archive

While I continue to prevaricate re: the faff of re-formatting northdrive.wordpress.com in order to make this post the static front page (definitely on the cards), I will try to remember to add a ‘latest update’ highlight to this pre-blab, thus:

Latest update: 25th February, 2017

Live the dream! Local jobs for local people.

Chilton Estate

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).

 

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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.

prefabselfage4At the rear of 1 Wayland Crescent; probably 1968-9. Behind small-boy feature, 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.

Plot sizes were generous, as this 1971 photo shows.Wayland Crescent Garden 1971 edit 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.

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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)

Downside

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.

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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 the upper section of West Drive … and then several shots of Hillside and West Drive 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.)

Thames Road

Thames Road_Eileen GallagherA 1954 view from the back garden of 9 Thames Road. Thanks to Eileen Gallagher for contributing our first photo from the Aldfield Estate.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

 Reference

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

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36 responses to “Scrapbook: UKAEA Harwell housing archive

  1. Great photos and video! When you reference “West Drive” do you mean “Hillside”? Does look familiar. I’ve lived at North Drive all my life and recently moved to the new Chilton Field development at Chilton. Very interesting stuff! Keep it coming! 🙂

  2. Thanks Mike. Hillside curves up from and forms an oval with the lower part of West Drive. “… upper section of West Drive” refers to the section of WD closest to the site fence; reached by turning left at the top of the hill. There was a line of garages here. More recently, a portakabin and aerials belonging to an amateur radio club.

    I’m working on some maps which will be added to this post at some point over the summer. Also upcoming is a post relating the last landing – in 1957 – of an aircraft on a Harwell runway.

  3. Yes, the windows opened with window poles which were very long.

    I learnt to drive on the old runways, in front of North Drive I think, around 1972.

    • Thanks for the pole-confirmation Moira,

      Severn Road runway was the local off-road area used for driving-lessons. There was a handy water supply by the garages on Avon Road, just before the turn into Severn Road. GR9 for topping up the rad and giving the C’pree etc. a hose-down after.

  4. My Dad had one of the garages along Avon Road. I think you had to purchase it yourself, made up of concrete blocks. Our car was a cream Ford Prefect MBL 741, it took us to South of France in the 50’s !

  5. Is this blog still open?

  6. Hi, just to try and help a little, I believe the large building in the background of Mrs Hank’s photo was the old wartime gymnasium, where many winter performances of comedy shows were enacted. To the right of it was the start of the “Burma Road” a track leading down to Harwell Village.
    I was brought into 1 Kennet Road in 1947, by my parents, Roger and Kay Hall. At that time 1 Wayland crescent was occupied by a Mr. and Mrs Bowles, (spelling). The Italian prisoners of war were still erecting the site and their were no garden fences. Certainly no school. Many other memories of people and events,but maybe they is not wanted here;

    • Excellent – many thanks for this information, Phil. The ‘Burma Road’ to Harwell still exists and I too have always known it by this name. Great to know about the old gymnasium… I had rather feared it might’ve been a cowshed. 🙂 Do feel free to send any anecdotes about the area or photos.

      • Hi, yes I can confirm that the building in the picture where Margaret is standing at the A34 and at the start of the Burma Rd was a Gym also used for Boxing and every cherry season Bosleys from Harwell village would erect a stall at that point and sell cherries strawberries etc and often Gypsy’s would camp at that spot with their horse drawn carts, just in front of where Margaret is standing is where the old Carters store stood before being relocated to a more central location, opposite across the road from where she stands the farmer would always build his Hay stacks of bails and every year it would be set alight the same would happen to the one that was built behind the old Gym.

  7. Hi
    I lived in Thames road with my farther who was Sir John Cockcroft’s chauffer I was a apprentice 1961/66 , built my scramblers motorcycles in the one of the brick garages at the top of the road using a Tilley lamp at night . Went back on a trip from SA a couple years ago to find all the prefabs gone . Had good memories of the time there , Any one remember the prefab the Russia spy lived in, I think it was on Hillside

  8. Eileen Gallagher

    I also lived in Thames Road, from 1952-1956. Two of our daughters were born there and the lovely midwife came from Harwell Village. They were extremely happy days with so many good friends and neighbours.

  9. Do I have to do anything else to be involved in this AERE theme?

    • Hi Eileen,

      Thanks for your comments. I’m always looking for photos of the old AERE estates to add to this post, so it’d be great if you have any from your time on Thames Road.

      • Hi, I probably have a few photos from the past but I am not sure that they will be of much interest to anyone. I remember a great deal about my time there and we lived in Ridgeway House before we got a prefab. I believe we were the first married couple to live there. Prior to the birth of my children I worked for Dr. Henry Seligman in Isotopes Dept. My late husband worked in Hangar 8. I will see what I can do about a few photos. Thankyou for your response. Regards, Eileen Gallagher

        Sent from my iPad

        >

        • Thanks, Eileen. It’s also good to have peoples reminiscences here in the comments. It all helps build the history store. The best pictures for inclusion here would feature street-scenes, but a few interior pics from the prefabs would be good as well; particularly where they show details of the prefabs’ fittings. If any pics feature identifiable living people though, their permission should be sought before publication.

        • Paul Seligman

          HI…I am Paul Seligman, Henry’s son. If you have any pics of my dad …it would be great to get them. If it’s a problem…no problem!

          Cheers, pauul

          • Hi Paul, Thankyou for your message but I am sorry to tell you that I do not have any photographs of your father. I was his secretary in 1951/2 prior to starting a family. I remember him well and have very many happy memories of my time at Harwell, an exciting place to be at that time. Kind regards, Eileen G.

            Sent from my iPad

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          • Hello again, I thought I would just mention that back in those early days of Harwell, not only did we not have mobile ‘phones with cameras, but no-one would have been allowed past the gate with a camera. It was, of course, a top secret site. Regards, Eileen G.

            Sent from my iPad

            >

          • Gilles Sabourin

            Hi Paul, I am doing some historical research on the Montreal Laboratory during WWII where your father worked. I have a photo where perhaps you could identified him. Could you please contact me offline (or give me a way to contact you offline) so that I can send you that photo. Thanks.

          • Hi, In response to the request to identify Henry Seligman, I am pretty certain I can oblige as I worked for him at Harwell.

            Regards, Eileen Gallagher

            Sent from my iPad

            >

          • Gilles Sabourin

            Thanks Eileen for your suggestion to help. Please contact me offline : (e-mail address forwarded – Ed). I could send you the photo.

      • Thanks for your replies concerning my old photos of Thames Road prefab.

  10. Eileen Gallagher

    Sorry about poor quality photo. View from back garden of 9 Thames Road in 1954. There were swings in the field beyond our garden.

  11. Eileen Gallagher

    I wonder if anyone remembers my late husband, John, who worked at Harwell from 1947 to 1956. As already mentioned, we lived in 9 Thames Road after spending a few months in Ridgeway House.
    (Eileen Gallagher)

  12. My parents lived on Wayland Crescent when I was born (in Oxford) in 1952. They had a Hillman Minx. My earliest memory was of them being painted purple and my father saying that was an undercoat.

  13. I lived at 16 Avon Road from 1971 to 1987 when the prefabs were nearly all empty.
    My father Mr Frank Wren was an Apprentice Trainer and my mother Mrs Helen Wren worked in the libary.
    Mr and Mrs Brown, lived at 1 Wayland Crescent in the 70s i think he was Trevor? She was Grace and their son i think was Robert…We were at Chilton Primary school together for a while.

  14. Further to Margaret Hanks comment about the garages at the top of Avon Road, I had one of those in the late 70’s which I bought off a previous owner. However although it was mine I still had to pay ground rent to the Authority. When I left Avon road to move to a house I had bought in Drayton no one wanted to buy the garage so I was forced to demolish it so I could stop paying the rent. Most of the rubble went into the footings of an extension a friend was building in Harwell village.
    My prefab in Avon Road, number 24 was one of those in the first photo at the top of this page, opposite the end of Wayland Crescent. We used to call it the Tardis because it felt larger on the inside than it looked on the out, mainly due to the walls being so thin!!

  15. I see that you want Poho’s, well I have plenty but I cannot put my hands on them as my Ex kept them, however I will have a sort through of what I have, It’s true that you had to be careful with camera’s but I was a keen photographer at an older age and always had my camera with me, my Father worked in Hanger 7 on Zeta he was an instrument maker, I recall 2 visits to AERE-UKAEA bye the Queen who would lunch in South Drive at Sir John’s home and we would line at South Drive waving flags, the Horse and Jockey was licensed and run by Mr Ian McFarlane, yes, they opened the windows with long poles at the School and the sports were held to the front of the school with the parents sitting on the terraces, a number of children from Harwell village also attended the school, the apprentices at AERE were well organised and held magnificent Balls (Dances) at B Mess the mascot being a polar Bear purchased from a place in Birmingham I also recall that fateful foggy day when I as in my lounge room in North Drive and I heard a plane with it’s engines spluttering I rushed out side to see a Beverly come out of the fog only just above the houses and to the front of North Drive between the houses and the A34 heading for Abingdon, it was doomed and I always believe that the brave pilot flew to avoid the houses, these are some of the names that I recall who lived at N.D. Grant-Hughes-Gunn-Herring-Thomlinson-Pollarck-Palmer-Wheel- Slater-Doe-Dunn and me Slatter.

    • Thanks for another great post full of rich memories, Ted. Let me know via the comments if you do find any photos from the estates, and I’ll send you an email address for the uploading. In the meantime, I’m looking out of my North Drive window and imagining that stricken plane coming down.

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