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Officers' Mess and Quarters, Figheldean

Description: Officers' Mess and Quarters

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 10 October 1988
English Heritage Building ID: 321483

OS Grid Reference: SU1543148860
OS Grid Coordinates: 415431, 148860
Latitude/Longitude: 51.2387, -1.7803

Location: Choulston Close, Figheldean, Wiltshire SP4 9RY

Locality: Figheldean
County: Wiltshire
Country: England
Postcode: SP4 9RY

Incorrect location/postcode? Submit a correction!

There is also a scheduled monument, Three Round Barrows West of Netheravon Aerodrome, at the same location as this building or very close to it. This may be related in some way or possibly a different name for the same structure.

Listing Text


1382/2/173 AIRFIELD CAMP
10-OCT-1988 NETHERAVON (Former RAF Netheravon)

Officers' Mess, incorporating former accommodation chalet 11F and 9 detached four- room chalets, designed 1913, construction completed mid-1914. Designer probably D M Franklin, drawings countersigned by Col. A M Stuart, Assistant Director of Fortifications and Works. Softwood framing with asbestos-cement panel facings and linings, joints covered with painted softwood battens; some masonry to gable ends, and all set to concrete levelling-slabs with plinth offset. Asbestos-cement slates to roofs.

PLAN: The buildings are set around three sides of a large open grassed square, the Officers' Mess central on the N side, with 2 flanking chalets each side 3 on each of the returns, all to one storey, but a small 2-storey unit as part of the Officers' Mess has a central entry and lobby with internal vestibule to dining rooms, right, and lounge, reading-room and billiard-room to left - the last two in a cross-wing; transverse access corridor to rear kitchens and stores, and a gabled wing in 2 storeys across the rear. Some later insertions.
The chalets are all to a standard pattern - except 11J - with central entry and two bedrooms each side, a short transverse corridor, and projecting service block to the rear, set transversely through a short connecting link. The last chalet to the SE, 11J, is similar, but to a T-plan, and with hipped roofs.

EXTERIOR: All units have been built to a coherent design philosophy, with wooden sash windows set to a grid of vertical and horizontal battens framing openings, and with a sole-plate, sill and head-bands, and with verticals to panel widths; gable end fireplaces create a masonry central section, rendered and set flush with adjacent panels. The Officers' Mess has a central higher gable above a pair of part-glazed panelled doors with a 5-pane overlight, flanked by small 12-pane sashes, and framed to 4 wooden pilasters and a weathered cornice returned to the short sides, all on a wide landing to 3 steps. Above the doors is a large decorative panel with the winged RAF emblem, and motto PER ARDUA AD ASTRA; the gable above and the returns have extra decorative vertical battens. To left and right are 5 and 4 large 12-pane sashes, with a further 2 on the return, left, finishing to a plain gable end. To the right is a slightly projecting gable over 2 similar sashes, continued to a wing with 3 further sashes, and a hipped outer end. Beyond this the building is linked to the former chalet 11F, with a higher floor level, and with long narrow rendered wings (of c1942) brought forward each side of a recessed centre, this having central panelled doors with 2 sashes each side, then 3 to each inner return, and pain outer gables. The long return at the left end of the building has 2 ridge dormer lights above two groups of five-3 light clerestory windows, and 4 deep 12-pane sashes. The rear is complex, with some later flat-roofed insertions or additions, but including an original 2-storey accommodation block.
The chalets are very consistent in design: each have a central pair of doors with a fielded panel under 8-pane glazing, and Doric pilasters with entasis curve, to consoles carrying a moulded open pediment over a flat soffit, with 2 sashes each side, and a single sash in the gable ends. The rear is similar, with a short link containing ledged braced and battened doors, to a cross-wing with a three 12-pane and two 8-pane sashes. Chalet 11J has an identical portico and door, but with a single and a tripartite sash each side, and with sashes and a door to the deep central rear wing.

INTERIOR: Building 9, the Officers' Mess, has many original 5-panel doors in moulded architraves, deep moulded skirtings, and moulded cornices. A small lobby with g lazed inner doors leads to a large square inner ante-room, flanked by paired glazed doors in architraves; to the rear is a pair of bold Roman Doric columns in-antis, with wall responds, carrying a full entablature. The long dining room to the right is in two parts, with a proscenium/curtain divider; there are two good fireplaces with full height over mantels, and tile inserts to pilaster surrounds. Iron tension-bars are exposed below asbestos-panelled canted ceilings. At the far end steps rise to a further dining area with bar, plus a series of smaller rooms, all formed in the former chalet 11F, here connected to the main building.
To the left of the ante-room is the long lounge, also with fireplace and surround, and beyond are the smaller reading-room, and billiard-room with top-light, in 2 sections, with an elliptical arch divider. Throughout this building the detail is of a high order, and in the principal rooms is mainly the original work.
The chalets generally retain much of the original fittings and trim, including panelled doors in moulded architraves, deep moulded skirtings, and built in cupboards to the bedrooms. The small entrance lobby has glazed inner doors and a tiled floor.

HISTORY: A group of outstanding historical interest, and of striking architectural form, comprising some of the earliest extant buildings erected for the RFC. They were commenced in the summer of 1913 and completed under the superintendence of Captain B H O Armstrong by June 1914. The drawings are countersigned by Colonel A M Stuart, Assistant Director of Fortifications and Works and after 1918 the Air Ministry's Director of Works. The formal arrangement, with the officers' mess set axially to a wide open forecourt, and balanced by the dignified bedroom chalets, demonstrates the high standards sought by the War Office, their planning being clearly related to C19 cavalry barracks. The separation of mess facilities from accommodation represented a departure from mainstream army practice, and anticipated a distinctive feature of air base planning. The entrance to the mess is surmounted by the RFC motto and emblem, the mess interior being the most elaborate but the chalet rooms all being provided with standard features including cornicing and fitted cupboards. This group is the first to be encountered on entering the hilltop site, with very little visible alteration externally or internally, and only a minimum of extension to the rear of the mess in the service areas.

With Upavon and Larkhill, Netheravon comprises one of three sites around the Army training ground at Salisbury Plain which relate to the crucial formative phase in the development of military aviation in Europe, prior to the First World War. It was the first new squadron station selected and developed by the RFC's Military Wing, the second being Montrose in Scotland where original hangars (listed grade A) have survived. It was also the second new site built by the Royal Flying Corps, the first being the Central Flying School at Upavon which was established in June 1912. A first move was made here prior to Christmas 1912, and in June 1913 the men and machines of the Royal Flying Corps' 3 and 4 Squadrons were relocated from Farnborough to Netheravon; at that time the technical buildings were ready, but tented accommodation was still used as the barracks had not been completed. Netheravon, being one of the stations developed by the Military Wing of the RFC, also hosted a general mobilisation of the RFC's squadrons, from Montrose in Scotland to Farnborough, before going to France with the Expeditionary Force in August 1914. From autumn 1914 the base was increasingly used for training, playing an important role in preparing some of the first squadrons for aerial combat; from June 1918 it was used as a Training Depot Station, and special hangars (qv Building 38A) were provided for the Handley-Page 0/400 bombers which were the cornerstone of Trenchard's Inter-Allied bomber force. No 1 Flying School remained here, with some interruptions, until 1942, after which it was largely used by RAF Transport Command, for airborne exercises and the preparation of gliders for the invasion of Europe in 1944. The Army Air Corps have been based here from 1966, including TA units from 1995.

In contrast to the ad hoc planning of Upavon, Netheravon was developed as a prototype flying base with the distinctions between domestic and technical camps, whose buildings had to fulfil a wide range of requirements from workshops to recreational facilities and ordering by rank, which subsequently characterised the planning of RFC and RAF stations. This was of critical importance at this time, for flying had been included with other military activities and there was no idea of what an air station required: before the completion of these buildings, the Bustard Inn at Rollestone provided accommodation for these early army flyers. In this early period the War Office issued specifications for building types, against which contractors submitted tenders, the aim being to achieve a degree of standardisation. These first designs were completed by Captain B H O Armstrong, head of the FW1a and from June 1913 FW2 (with a brief to produce standard designs) branch of the Directorate of Fortifications and Works, who remained at the heart of army aviation until the formation of the RAF in 1918. The softwood frame construction chosen for the buildings, with cover strips placed over the asbestos cement panels, is indicative of the Directorate of Fortifications and Works' intention to provide a pattern for repetitive reuse. The western domestic site is divided between the officers' accommodation and airmen's barracks; the eastern site still has some technical buildings although the group of six original hangars (later augmented to 15) has all disappeared, the last remaining until at least 1959. It is remarkable how the layout of pre-1914 buildings on the domestic site has been retained intact, and how the principles upon which the base layout was established - a combination of topography and its historical context as a prototype site - have formed the template within which subsequent phases of rebuilding in the inter-war period (the A-type hangars and control tower) and development have operated.

Whilst the remains of the technical site at Netheravon are fragmentary, the domestic site has survived in a complete state of preservation. It has the best-preserved suite of barracks buildings of any of the 301 bases in the United Kingdom occupied by the RAF in November 1918, these in turn being modelled on standard types of Victorian cavalry barracks. There are no sites of this degree of preservation surviving from any of the other combatant nations of the First World War - with the notable exception of the combined mess and hangar at Schleissheim, sited just to the north of Munich and established in 1912 as the base of the Royal Bavarian Flying Corps. It is significant, in this context, to note that the only other examples of pre-1919 domestic buildings identified for listing are located at Upavon and Duxford, where one barracks hut has survived within the context of a key site. With the exception of the Officers' Mess and Chalets, which have retained important interior details, the buildings on the domestic site are principally of interest for their external completeness and relationship to each other as part of this planned group.

(C S Dobinson, RAF Netheravon, a short structural history (report for English Heritage), 1998; Operations Record Books, PRO AIR 28/ 582, 1090)

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

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