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Two World War II air traffic control buildings, 620m west and 560m WSW of Whitewall Corner, on the former airfield of RAF Culmhead, Trickey Warren

A Scheduled Monument in Churchstanton, Somerset

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Coordinates

Latitude: 50.934 / 50°56'2"N

Longitude: -3.1284 / 3°7'42"W

OS Eastings: 320800.710161

OS Northings: 115553.142577

OS Grid: ST208155

Mapcode National: GBR M0.PF83

Mapcode Global: FRA 46BM.WKD

Entry Name: Two World War II air traffic control buildings, 620m west and 560m WSW of Whitewall Corner, on the former airfield of RAF Culmhead, Trickey Warren

Scheduled Date: 2 October 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019845

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33029

County: Somerset

Civil Parish: Churchstanton

Built-Up Area: Trickey Warren

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset

Details

The monument, which falls into two separate areas of protection, includes the
original air traffic control building, known as the Old Watch Office, and its
later replacement control tower, both buildings standing within the now
disused airfield of the World War II fighter station of RAF Culmhead at
Trickey Warren.
Trickey Warren is an area of flat ground at the east end of the Blackdown
Hills approximately 9.5km south of Taunton and close to the village of
Churchstanton. It was selected early in the course of World War II as an
emergency landing ground and, a little later, Trickey Warren Farm and its
surrounding land were requisitioned for the War effort. Construction of a
three runway airfield intended as a satellite station of the principal sector
airfield at Exeter began at the site in 1940. However, the airfield was
subsequently equipped as a fully operational fighter station and was
officially opened on 1st August 1941. Known as RAF Churchstanton, the station
was redesignated in 1943 and it is usually referred to by its later name of
RAF Culmhead.
The Old Watch Office was one of the first buildings constructed on the site as
part of the original satellite fighter station. Standing to its full height of
about 3m and with all walls intact, it is built of several thicknesses of
unrendered 9in brick, supporting a reinforced concrete roof, and is 6.5m by
5.2m in plan. The design of the Old Watch Office is considered to be typical
of the type of control building found within an early satellite fighter
station. The layout was simple with an entrance passage, protected by a blast
wall running the length of the building, leading to a gas-proof door giving
access to a single room. Surviving within the building is a pyrotechnic
cupboard with a gas-proof steel door set into the north eastern corner. Also
surviving are the original steel window frames. The Old Watch Office looked
out over the airfield to its south and was used for air traffic control
purposes until 1943 when its function was taken over by a new and larger
control tower. After it became redundant in its original role, it was used for
the remainder of World War II as a battery charging room but was known as the
Old Watch Office in recognition of its former role.
The new control tower, believed by virtue of its design characteristics to
have been built no earlier than 1943, was constructed some 100m to the SSW of
the Old Watch Office. This control tower was built to the standard
specification adopted from March 1943, the term `watch office' being dropped
in favour of `control tower' at about the same time. It comprises a two
storey building almost square in plan and much larger than the Old Watch
Office, with ground dimensions of about 12m by 11m and with a height of 6m. It
was constructed in 9in brick except for the front elevation which is 13.5in
brick; all exterior surfaces are rendered in cement. The flat roof and first
floor were built of `Seigwart' type hollow concrete beams. Situated on the
ground floor of the building were the meteorological office, the duty pilot's
rest room, the watch office, and the switch room. On the first floor were the
signals office, the controller's rest room, and the control room. A concrete
observer's balcony is located on the exterior of the building at first floor
level. This balcony runs the full length of the front of the control tower
overlooking the airfield runways to the south. The balcony also extends around
the front corners of the building for a few metres on either side where access
from the first floor was possible from the doorways provided. The balcony is
about 1.5m wide and is fronted by a tubular steel railing which partly
survives. On the western side, a steel stairway gives access from the balcony
to the roof of the building. The front of the building was provided with three
large steel framed windows at first floor level and three smaller windows on
the ground floor; these survive with some of their original glass panes intact
as do other windows situated around all sides of the building. There is a
single door in the rear elevation and a blocked door on the western side.
A number of different squadrons were stationed at RAF Culmhead during the
course of World War II all of which, for the most part, carried out anti-
shipping sweeps and reconnaissance over the Channel alternating with bomber
escort duties. In the early part of the War, Hurricanes were the principal
fighter aircraft but Spitfires soon became the choice for most squadrons. The
station witnessed the arrival of the very first jet propelled aircraft to
enter service with the Allies when two Gloster Meteors flew in on the 13th
July 1944 to join 616 Squadron. RAF Culmhead ceased to operate as a fighter
station in August 1944. It was utilised as a training airfield until July 1945
when it was relegated to Care and Maintenance; it was finally decommissioned
in August 1946.
A history and condition survey of the fighter station at RAF Culmhead was
commissioned by the Blackdown Hills Project, Somerset County Council, and
Taunton Deane Borough Council and was undertaken and produced by Paul Francis
of Airfield Research Publishing. This survey also contains a summarised
operational history of the station.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Each airfield included a watch office, or control tower, from which air
traffic control staff operated. Given its significant role in recording
aircraft movements, it typically occupied a central strategic position on the
flying field.
There are some eighteen types of watch office, some reflecting evolving
techniques and technology associated with reporting and observation, and some
a combination of roles, for example, with the incorporation of a
meteorological (`Met') office within the building. There are also differences
between the types of watch office found on fighter and bomber stations, while
some individual structures display evidence for their adaptation as the
station's role evolved or changed. During the war years the watch office had
one or two storeys: in the two storey examples, the bottom level housed the
Met office, while air traffic control was confined to the upper level.
At the start of World War II there were no air traffic control or operations
(`Ops') staff working in the watch office, and only operational aircraft had
radio. At this stage the duty pilot would log aircraft movements manually. It
was only as the skies became busier that air traffic control and operations
personnel were employed, and that radio became more widely used.
Of the 500 or so examples originally built, some 220 watch offices survive,
all of which constitute significant and symbolic structures. However, examples
are considered to be of particular importance where they have an obvious and
visual relationship with the flying field and other contemporary structures
and buildings, such as hangars; where they survive as good examples of their
type, perhaps with original fixtures; or where the station has operational
significance, such as an association with the Battle of Britain.

The Old Watch Office at Trickey Warren survives as a standing building in good
condition with its window fittings surviving and some of its internal
features, including a pyrotechnic cupboard, still intact. Of the 37 known
examples of this type of building built in World War II this is one of only
eight which survive in their original form without wartime extensions; it is
one of even fewer not to have had significant internal modification. The
control tower of 1943 at Trickey Warren, which survives as a standing
building, was of a standard design built at 164 airfields across the country.
However, only about one third of this total are extant and the survival, in
this case, of both the Old Watch Office and its replacement control tower is
unusual.
These buildings retain design features which illustrate the measures taken
in World War II to provide the South West and Wales firstly with an
operational air defence against German aircraft raiding across the Channel
from northern France, and then with an active support for Allied bombing raids
across the channel. They also provide an obvious visual focus for the
associated World War II remains which survive at the former airfield.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 27-29
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 26

Source: Historic England

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