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Gaydon Hangar at RAF Wittering, Wittering

Description: Gaydon Hangar at RAF Wittering

Grade: II
Date Listed: 11 July 2011
English Heritage Building ID: 1402766

OS Grid Reference: TF0467502954
OS Grid Coordinates: 504675, 302953
Latitude/Longitude: 52.6143, -0.4554

Locality: Wittering
County: Peterborough
Country: England
Postcode: PE8 6HD

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Listing Text


Military aircraft hangar built in August to September 1952 and designed by the Air Ministry Works Department as part of the United Kingdom and NATO strategic airborne nuclear deterrent.

Reason for Listing

The Gaydon hangar, RAF Wittering, built in 1952, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* INTACTNESS- It is amongst the most complete survival of an aircraft hangar specifically designed for the earliest phase of the Cold War.
* CONSTRUCTION INTEREST- The hangar introduced an innovative method of tubular roof construction of significance to later architecture
* HISTORIC INTEREST- The building is a major component of the pre-eminent example of an airfield landscape that was completely reconstructed for the deployment of Britain's principal deterrent force in the post-war years, and where the British nuclear capacity first became operational
* GROUP VALUE- It forms a group with four other buildings on the site which together provided the means of maintenance, preparation and delivery of nuclear weapons.
* RARITY- RAF Wittering is the only one of the ten former V-bomber bases which retains all of these elements.


RAF Wittering was established in 1916 for the Royal Flying Corps and saw considerable service in both World Wars; after a period as the main RAF flying school, it became a fighter aerodrome in 1935. The advent of the Cold War and the development of the atomic bomb resulted in the selection of ten existing military airfields in the early 1950s as the main bases for the V-force, which carried Britain's airborne nuclear deterrent from 1953 to 1969. They formed a central part of Britain's and NATO's policy of preventing nuclear war by the threat of unleashing the nuclear bomber force.

Wittering is the pre-eminent example of an airfield landscape that was completely reconstructed for the deployment of Britain's principal deterrent force. It was also the home of the Bomber Command Armament School. The main runway, which is 2,743 metres long, was re-laid in concrete (replacing the existing asphalt runway created in 1940-42 when the neighbouring runway of Collyweston airfield was incorporated into an unusually long overall lay-out). A wide-span Gaydon hangar for the Canberra B2 bombers was constructed along with a new control tower, avionics building and nuclear storage and maintenance facilities. The first British operational atomic bomb, the Blue Danube, was deployed to RAF Wittering in November 1953. The first V-bombers (the Vickers Valiant, the Handley Page Victor and the Avro Vulcan) were delivered in July 1955. In 1957-58 tests were carried out at Wittering of the first British hydrogen bomb which was fitted into the existing Blue Danube casing, and four Valiant bombers flew out of Wittering to Christmas Island in the Pacific, one of them dropping the first device on 15 May 1957. Wittering thus has an important place in Cold War history.

To counter improved Soviet air defences and to extend the life of the V-force a rocket-propelled stand-off missile, the Blue Steel, was developed in 1966 and fitted to Victor bombers. Wittering and RAF Scampton were the only two V-bomber bases to house this weapon. For this purpose new ground facilities were built for its storage and maintenance, and these facilities, with the other nine V-bomber bases, constituted Britain's principal nuclear deterrent through the 1960s. However, in the late 1960s NATO's nuclear deterrent policy changed to that of a submarine-based force, and the requirement for airborne-delivered nuclear weapons disappeared. Accordingly the V-force was disbanded and in 1969 RAF Wittering became the principal base for the Harrier VTOL aircraft. The airfield has only recently appeared on O.S. Maps.

The first Gaydon Hangar was built at RAF Gaydon in Warwickshire and five further ones followed, at Coningsby (Lincolnshire), Wittering, Valley (Anglesey) and Machrihanish and Stornoway (both in Scotland). They were a new form of hangar, based on US designs, specifically constructed to house the large V bombers. Amongst these, Wittering survives in the best condition, even if the roof has been re-covered in 1997, and is still used as an aircraft hangar (for Harriers since 1969; Wittering was the first base to fly them operationally). The original was composed of steel sheet and bituminous felt, however the innovative tubular steel roof members are intact. Radiant tube heating was installed in 1984-86 and the hangar doors originally had glazing at the top. The brick offices along one side of the hangar were added in the 1970s.


Reinforced concrete north and south walls, and steel-framed east and west doorways clad with galvanised corrugated steel sheet under an segmental roof of transverse and longitudinal tubular steel lattice trusses finished with ridged steel sheeting, which was replaced in 1997.

The hangar has a simple rectangular plan aligned with sliding full-width doors in the short sides. Ancillary brick office buildings of the 1970s are arranged along the south side and three plant rooms are sited to the north.

The structure consists of a wide hangar shed under a segmentally-arched roof. This descends on the north and south sides to tall concrete and brick side walls with upper clerestory glazing, with, at the east and west ends, steel-framed screen walls terminating in reinforced concrete corner piers. From these piers are latticed steel gantries extending to the north and south, each the width of the seven full-height overlapping hangar doors, and are fitted with upper runners. Four corresponding recessed rails are set into the concrete apron, and when fully open the seven doors slide into the gantries. The central door is taller, and designed to take the high tail plane of the English Electric Canberra B2 and V-force bombers (the Canberra had a wingspan of 19.51m and a tail 4.77m high; the Vickers Valiant had a 34.85m wingspan and a tail height of 9.8m).

The north and south elevations each have six reinforced concrete bays with clerestory glazing of twenty panes in each bay. Against the south side is a long range of single-storey flat-roofed offices built in stretcher-bond brick in the 1970s, which are not of special interest. The north side has three full-height steel-framed plant rooms, variously modified and rebuilt in the 1980s and 1990s, also not of special interest.

The interior of the hangar is one single large space, with a coated concrete floor and seven triangular lattice tubular steel segmental roof trusses springing from the north and south concrete piers. Thirteen similar but smaller flat longitudinal lattice trusses run above them in an east-west direction. Attached to the underside of the roof trusses are six longitudinal triple radiant tube heating pipes of 1984-86. Much of the fenestration on the north side has been bricked up due to the addition of the plant rooms.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.