Latest updates: 12th December, 2018: added three 1947/8 Aldfield Estate pictures; added section: Hillside; added sidebar link to Mary Flowers’s autobiography ‘Atomic Spice’.
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?)
August 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.
Garden on Wayland Crescent, 1956, featuring Anderson Shelter based shed. (M. Hanks).
1 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.
Early 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.
A 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.
At 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.
I’ve no idea who was the girl but she does look impressed, does she not. (Late 1960s)
Grace Brown at the kitchen door of 1 Wayland Crescent. (Late 1960s)
Plot sizes were generous, as seen in this photograph from 1971. Houses across the field are those of Severn Road. (Rev. Dr. B. Meardon)
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.
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.
The 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)
Chilton 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.
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.
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.
A 1950s family gathering at the front door of 10 Downside:
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another 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
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