Category Archives for "History"

Chilbolton Observatory – Hampshire’s Finest Abandoned Airfield

Chilbolton Observatory is one of Hampshire’s finest abandoned airfields. During World War II it was once home to squadrons of Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mustangs, Typhoons, and Vampires.

Opened in 1940 as a satellite airfield for RAF Middle Wallop it was used by the RAF and USAAF.

After the war it was used for flight tests before being closed in 1961. Today it is the site of Chilbolton Observatory, a facility that carries out atmospheric and radio research.

The footage in the video below was taken using a DJI Phantom Vision+ quadcopter drone in June 2014.  You can clearly see that the car park of today was once part of the main runway.

Chilbolton Observatory

Chilbolton Observatory, abandoned airfields, Hampshire

By assumed USAAF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The airfield was an operational base for a squadron of Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain.  The image to the right shows the airfield in 1944 when CG-4As gliders and C-47s transports gathered there in preparation for operation Market Garden.

Today, crop marks in the fields reveal the locations of two of its three runways while in this image the runways, dispersal points, and perimeter track can clearly be seen.

In 1941, with the Battle of Britain won the previous year, the airfield was designated a Care and Maintenance facility.

1944 saw the arrival of the USAAF in the form of Spitfires and Mustangs from the Tactical Reconnaissance Squadrons of the 67th Reconnaissance Wing.

Hawker Tempest, RAF Fritzlar, Germany, 1945

Hawker Tempest, RAF Fritzlar, Germany, 1945. © B Lovegrove

Between 1945 and 1946 it was back in the hands of the RAF.  The airfield saw the arrival of several more squadrons of Hawker Tempests (a derivative of the Hawker Typhoon), Spitfires, and Mustangs.

(Note: In October 2016 at Goodwood Airfield the Hawker Typhoon RB396 Restoration was launched.)

For example, 247 Squadron’s Tempests F2 andTyphoon Ibs arrived on 20th August 1945, and departed on 7th January 1946.  A few month’s later the squadron’s first de Havilland Vampire jets arrived.

When the RAF vacated in 1946 it was taken over by the Vickers Supermarine company and became the location for tests of their new aircraft which included the Supermarine Attacker, Supermarine Swift and Supermarine Scimitar.

The Folland aviation company also used it as a test area for the Folland Gnat and Folland Midge aircraft.

The airfield was also used for location shots for the 1952 David Lean film The Sound Barrier.

By 1961 all major flying operations had ceased and the site was transformed into the location for atmospheric and radio research.  Civilian flying continues at the Chilbolton Flying Club grass strip.

The Chilbolton Observatory radio telescope is a prominent local landmark and it is still used as such by passing aircraft.  It is on the edge of the Middle Wallop MATZ (Military Air Traffic Zone).

Folland Midge during test flights at Chilbolton in 1954

Crop Circles at Chilbolton. Elaborate hoax or a reply from distant planet?

September 24, 2016

Dakota Access Pipeline – Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

If you’ve read anything about the history of the American West you’ll know that it’s a long and sad tale of human suffering. Dee Brown’s classic Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West is a compelling account that summarises the history from the arrival of Columbus to the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890.

You may be aware that wars were fought and lost. Treaties were signed and broken. Friends were made and betrayed. The accounts of the massacres will make your blood run cold. The injustices and maltreatment of survivors will make your blood boil.

Perhaps you’ve read nothing but you’ve seen films that give you some idea of the tragedy and betrayal. Dances With Wolves is one such film. For once the cinema had managed to capture something of what we had read in the history books.

We reservations about our reservations

American Indian Teenage Boy PortraitSo you might think that with the Indian Wars receding into history and Native Americans taking their place in American society, politics, business, and culture all is well.

Except it isn’t. In fact, the brutal treatment didn’t end with Wounded Knee.

Once the tribes were defeated militarily they were confined to reservations on what was then regarded as worthless land. The intention was to to provide them with the means to survive but suppliers and middle men ripped them off.

Their remaining children were forced through a schooling system designed to turn them into Americans. They were beaten for speaking their own languages. Their culture, stories, and prayers were forbidden.

Despite all of this the tribes and their cultures endured and survived, though not without many casualties along the way. Alcoholism and suicide on reservations is all too common.

Dakota Access Pipeline

Crow Agency - United States, May 21, 2012: Two headstones mark the location where two Cheyenne warriors were killed on June 25, 1876 while defending their way of life. General George Armstrong Custer and 267 of his men were killed and 55 were injured when attacked by Lakota and Cheyenne warriors.

Headstones mark the location where two Cheyenne warriors were killed on June 25, 1876 while defending their way of life at the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Once again American politics and business is riding roughshod over the Native Americans. The Dakota Access Pipeline is being driven like a lance through the heart of the land.  With comes a high risk of pollution through leaks and spills into the water supply.

They are driving bulldozers through ancient and sacred tribal burial grounds. Can you imagine the outcry if they did that through Arlington Cemetery?

Those who protest are being treated like criminals and private security firms are setting their dogs on them.

However, this outrage has had an unexpected effect. it has united the tribes of the USA in a way that hasn’t been seen for centuries. They are coming from all over the USA and beyond to show their support.

Social media has spread the message far and wide, and the world is watching.  Video footage of the protest and the reaction of those paid to guard the construction sites is there for all to see.

Supporters of the pipeline are well funded.  They are exploiting social media to spread their message too.  They have pointed out that the intended route of the pipeline doesn’t actually traverse any Indian reservations.  Thus they demonstrate their failure to understand how all things are connected.

From an ecological point of view what is over there is connected to what is here. Fences and lines on a map don’t mean a thing.

Leader of the Free World

Native American WomanOn the one hand this this may seem like yet another example of the US government looking the other way while the Indians are abused by a powerful corporation.

But it’s much more than that and it has rallied tribal people and others from all over the USA and beyond.  There is no political agenda.  All people want to do is safeguard their access to clean water.

When I hear the President of the United States referred to as the ‘Leader of the free world’ I can’t help but wonder, “Free from what?  Free for whom?”

Would it be too much to ask that the USA sets an example to the rest of the world?

Give the tribes a break.  Demonstrate to the watching world that you can live up to the principles and ideals that you boast are your bedrock.

September 14, 2016

Essential Tips For Enjoying the Goodwood Revival

tips for enjoying the Goodwood Revival

Richmond Trophy, Madgwick Corner

The Goodwood Revival never disappoints and there are always lots of reasons why I return each year but to make the most of it takes some planning. Whether your main interest is motor sport, classic cars or bikes, vintage fashion, or historic aircraft then there’s plenty to see.  Here are my essential tips for enjoying the Goodwood Revival and taking away happy memories that will linger right through winter until the following year.

What is the Goodwood Revival?

It’s a revival of the motor racing that used to take place on the circuit around the airfield but it’s so much more than that too. It’s a celebration of many of the best in motor cars, aircraft, motor bikes, fashion, design, music, and dance of the 1940s, 1950s, and the 1960s.

Spitfire at Goodwood Airfield

Who can resist waving & cheering a Spitfire?

The airfield was called RAF Westhampnett during World War II and it was the home of several squadrons. From here Douglas Bader took off and made his last flight before being shot down and going into captivity. Near the Goodwood Aero Club you will see a bronze statue of Sir Douglas Bader in a likeness contemporary with the months he spent there.

After the War the perimeter track was converted into a motor racing circuit and racing continued there until 1966 when the track was closed. Racing returned in 1998 when the first Goodwood Revival was held and it’s been repeated every year since.

When and where is the Goodwood Revival?

The Revival is held on a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on the first or second weekend in September every year.  It takes place at the Goodwood motor racing circuit and aerodrome just north of Chichester, West Sussex, England.  You can arrive by road (A27) or rail (Chichester Station), or you can simply fly into the airfield (with prior permission from the organisers).

Essential Tips For Enjoying the Goodwood Revival

Due to wide range of things to see and do at the event there will inevitably be some suggestions that are of no relevance to some.  These tips are offered for the newcomers, the first-timers who may be a little bewildered by the spectacle.

As Fred Pontin used to say, “Book Early!”

Vintage Fashion at Goodwood Revival

Well dressed ladies queuing at Betty’s Salon

The Revival is very popular and tends to sell out each year.  You’ll need at least an entrance ticket and are all kinds of supplements; grandstand seats, weekend tickets, camping, hospitality packages etc, so plan ahead.

Decide whether you’re going to be staying anywhere nearby or going home at the end of the day and make arrangements accordingly months in advance.

Watch the weather and keep watching

You’re about to to an outdoor event on an airfield near the south coast of England in September.  When the sun shines and winds are light it can be glorious but if a weather front passes through you can get drenched and cold.

The 2016 Revival was a reminder of how different things can be.  On the Saturday the rain blew in from the west and it drizzled for most of the day.  The cloud base was so low that all flying (displays and pleasure flights) had to be cancelled.  That meant that the afternoon motor races were brought forward and the main events finished early.

The next day, on the Sunday, the weather could not have been better.  Warm sun, light winds and very little cloud.  A dry track and picnics aplenty.  I expect the people who bought Saturday only tickets were cursing their luck.

Knock-on effects of wet weather

1960s listening booths

1960s listening booths

Most people will have to park in a grass field a good walk away from the site.  If there’s been a lot of rain the combined of effects of long grass and vehicles will have the inevitable effects.  Suddenly those 1950s high-heels you bought on eBay don’t seem like such a good idea as you gingerly make your way through the mud.

The airfield itself is an exposed place but the grandstands are even more so because they are elevated and you feel the full force of any wind and rain. If you bought your seat months previously and you’re only there for the day then it can be a big disappointment to find yourself getting wet and cold in your grandstand seat.

So put some umbrellas, macs, and wellies in the boot of your vehicle, just in case.

Arrive early and reduce queuing time

The car parks usually open at 7am and the gates open at 7.30am. If you can get there early you’ll avoid the worst of the traffic queues later in the morning.

However, unless you live or you’re staying near by then obviously that may not be practical, but if you can arrange it you’ll have the added benefit of your vehicle being nearer the entrance.  This makes popping back to it for a change of clothes or recharging batteries (phone, camera, or just your own) an easier option.

Leave late and see more

Racing usually goes on until about 6pm.  The area known as ‘Over The Rroad’ continues to be a mini retro festival with a small fun fair, market, live music and dancing until about 10pm.

If the weather’s bad then people tend to leave earlier but whatever the weather the car parks empty gradually throughout the afternoon.  Most people leave after the last race so stay a while longer and enjoy the other attractions – it beats waiting in a traffic queue.

Get to know the site

Glam Cabs Carry on Cabby

Glam Cabs are Revival regulars

With so much to see and do it can be difficult to know where to start.  There’ll be things on your ‘must see’ list and others will be on the ‘if there’s time’ section.  You might want to plan it accordingly or just leave things to chance.

The main area just inside the entrances and along the length of the startline is the busiest and can get quite crowded.   There’s more space as you cross the track (using the underpass) and continue into areas inside the airfield.

Similarly, start walking clockwise or anti-clockwise on the perimeter path and things start to open out.  If you’re early enough you might find a space by the trackside fence but there’s good viewing from the embankments behind too.

Use Google Maps or Earth to examine the airfield and you’ll see that the perimeter path is about 2.5 miles in total.  There are several grandstands around the track each with food, bars, and toilets.  There’s even a viewing screen on the furthest grandstand at Lavant Corner on the opposite side of the airfield to the terminal buildings.

Find some peace and rest your feet

The Freddie March Spirit of Aviation Exhibtion

The Freddie March Spirit of Aviation Exhibtion

For a little respite from the noise of the track and the crowds near the startline you will find a gentler pace in the Freddie March Spirit of Aviation where all the vintage aircraft are on display.  These tend to be widely dispersed and there are some quiet spots to be found here.

Alternatively you could hop onto the tractor towed trailers that travel around the perimeter and find somewhere to sit in the sun on one of the embankments.  Noisy while the races are on perhaps but in between you can lie back and bask in the sun with picnic to hand.

I tend to go to the event on my own and do a lot of walking.  During the course of the Saturday and Sunday in 2016 I walked a total of 14 miles but then I like to keep moving from one event on the timetable to another.

For more information and tickets…

Visit the official Goodwood Revival website.  There are hours of clips to be seen there and on social media.

Share your tips

Entire books have been written about the Revival and this post is just a few basic tips.  What are yours?  Share them in the comments section below.

September 3, 2016

Knowlton Church and Earthworks – A Ceremonial Henge

Knowlton Church and Earthworks

Knowlton Church and Earthworks

The ruins of Knowlton Church sit in the centre of the ceremonial henge that predates it by about 3,500 years.  It is one of the most striking examples of how the new religion of Christianity adopted many existing sites of worship and ceremony, and in so doing persuaded the population to convert to the new religion.

However, this conversion was never fully completed and the old religion has endured to this day.  If you click on the aerial photograph above and to the right then zoom in on the area just below the church ruins you will see a small black circular area of bare soil.

Knowlton Church, Knowlton RingsWhen I visited the site early one morning in October 2014 I found a used tea light in that space.  It seems it had recently been used for a ceremony of some kind, perhaps a solitary follower of the path of Wicca.

It would seem that the Old Religion created the site, Christianity used for several hundred years, and now neo Pagans are using it once again.

Knowlton Church and Ceremonial Henge 1Knowlton Church

The Normans built the original church in the 12th Century and in was in continuous use until the 18th Century.  The tower was added in the 15th Century.  After the roof collapsed in the 18th Century it was abandoned in favour of another, more recently constructed church in Woodlands.

Knowlton Earthworks – A Ceremonial Henge

Knowlton Church and Ceremonial Henge 2The earthworks were built about 4,500 years ago in the Neolithic Age.  It is clear from the size and dimensions that the earthworks were designed for ceremonial use and were not defensive structures.  English Heritage suggest that there may have been wooden walls and a roof covering the whole area.

If you want more details and facts about the site’s history then just google it and you’ll find plenty, but I would suggest the best way to get to know the site is to visit it.

Ideally, go as I did in the early morning, preferably when it’s sunny.  To see the sun come up and cast the long shadows you can see in these aerial pictures is very atmospheric.  It reminds you of the timelessness of the space.

Imagine all the history that has passed while the church has been there.   That’s less than a thousand years. Then continue your journey back in time to the point when the earthworks were constructed and you will be going back another three and half thousand years.

The site is managed by English Heritage. For more information please visit their website.

Aerial Photography

I took theses aerial photos (with the permission of English Heritage) using a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ drone in 2014.  This model has been discontinued and you would be best investing your money in a more modern version like the DJI Phantom 4 Drone Camera.

There are cheaper drones available, but DJI are the a market leader that others seek to emulate.  If you intend to buy a drone for personal use then explore the full DJI range and choose one that suits your budget and ambitions.  Below is a link to the DJI Phantom 3 model.