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Eight cantilevered pillboxes at the former RAF Oakington

A Grade II Listed Building in Oakington and Westwick, Cambridgeshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.2743 / 52°16'27"N

Longitude: 0.0754 / 0°4'31"E

OS Eastings: 541698

OS Northings: 266045

OS Grid: TL416660

Mapcode National: GBR L6G.FWF

Mapcode Global: VHHJW.836C

Entry Name: Eight cantilevered pillboxes at the former RAF Oakington

Listing Date: 1 December 2011

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1404968

Location: Oakington and Westwick, South Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire, CB24

County: Cambridgeshire

District: South Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Oakington and Westwick

Traditional County: Cambridgeshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Oakington St Andrew

Church of England Diocese: Ely

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Summary

Eight cantilevered pillboxes, numbered 443 to 446, 449, 454, 455 and 462 in Francis (2005), designed by F C Construction and Co. Ltd of Derby and constructed in 1941 as part of the airfield defences of the former Bomber Command base at RAF Oakington.

Description

MATERIALS: Reinforced concrete and London Brick Company Phorpres bricks.

PLAN: Circular and partially subterranean, the structure was designed to be covered with earthworks to prevent detection from the ground and air.

EXTERIOR: The pillboxes are approximately 5.5m in diameter and have a reinforced concrete, disc-shaped roof supported at its centre by a substantial, brick cruciform-shaped, anti-ricochet wall. Around the perimeter is a brick and concrete composite, subterranean curtain wall that finishes approximately 30cms below the outside lip of the roof, thus giving an open observation and firing slit around the entire structure. The gun openings of nos. 446 and 462 have been wholly or partiallly infilled with brick and part of the curtain wall of no. 454 has been removed and shored with corrugated metal sheets. The traversed, brick entrances are stepped to the interior.

INTERIOR: The central anti-ricochet wall supports the roof, allowing easy access around the circumference. A 5cm tubular steel rail is fixed to the inside of the curtain wall around which machine-gun turnbulls could slide and be locked in any position. Most of the Oakington pillboxes retain the rail. The turnbull survives in no. 445 which also has a single loop hole for a Boys anti-tank weapon aimed at the railway and ammunition locker recesses built into the curtain wall.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURE: Linked to no. 445 is a partially below-ground, brick and concrete, detached, trenched air-raid shelter. The shelter has a concrete entrance to the north and a central concrete opening. To the south a trench leads into the pillbox. The interior of the shelter has two partition walls, presumably for ablutions.

History

RAF Oakington was an expansion period aerodrome constructed in 1939 and placed under Bomber Command during World War II. From 1950 it was part of Training Command before being transferred to the army in 1975 and then used as an immigration reception centre between 1999 and 2010. The watch tower and some of the airfield defence structures such as the battle headquarters, command posts and later ROC post were demolished by the army. Many of the station buildings have been demolished recently in advance of redevelopment.

The cantilevered pillboxes were designed as a private venture by F C Construction Co. Ltd of Derby, one of the main designers and contractors of reinforced concrete in the midlands. The company designed a pillbox of circular design with 360 degrees field of view and a disc-shaped roof. A total of 61 were recorded nationwide under the Monuments Protection Programme, at least nine of which have been destroyed. Ten were built at RAF Oakington in 1941 (two of which are considered as separate cases) when the hard runways were laid. Designed to be covered by earthworks to prevent detection from the air and ground, five of the pillboxes (nos. 443 to 446 and 462) protected both the railway line between Cambridge and St Ives (now the Cambridge guided busway) and the airfield. No. 449 defended the southern dispersals, part of the runway and the now demolished battle headquarters and nos. 454 and 455 protected a command post which is no longer extant. A development of the cantilevered pillbox was the provision of a link-detached, brick and concrete air-raid shelter, one of which remains linked to no. 445. The stanton shelter separate from, but next to no. 449, was demolished recently.

Five of the pillboxes on the airfield (nos. 443, 444, 445, 449 and 455) remain intact, although no. 445 is entirely overgrown. Nos. 446, 454 and 462 have been altered.

Reasons for Listing

The eight cantilevered or Oakington pillboxes erected in 1941 on the former RAF Oakington airbase, Cambridgeshire, are designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons.
* Architectural Interest: This unusual form of pillbox is innovative in its design, allowing unrestricted 360 degree observation, and is sophisticated in the use of a concrete, cantilevered roof.
* Rarity: Only 53 examples of this pillbox type are thought to remain. The Oakington group is the largest and the former airbase is the type-site for the cantilevered pillbox.
* Group Value: The group, with the associated air-raid shelter attached to pillbox no. 445, has enhanced value as it forms the defensive circuit around the former Bomber Command station.
* Intactness: Although three of the pillboxes have slight alterations, these do not unduly affect the historic fabric and interest of the structures.
* Interiors: Each pillbox retains its internal gun rails, and in the case of pillbox no. 445, the remaining turnbull.

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