Get into Mosaic-making this Bank Holiday Monday!

logosThe Ouse Washes Community Murals Project starts at Mepal on Bank Holiday Monday! Mepal is the first of the three places in our special, but little-known, area of East Anglia which stretches from Downham Market to St Ives that will have outdoor murals made by you and others in the communities from across the landscape! For free! You can freely come to these crafty workshops whenever and for however long you want all the week until end of Friday 29th August, and the workshop is held for one more day on the following Monday the 1st September. Anyone can have a go regardless of age and ability at creating these wonderful outdoors art features.

Carolyn Ash and a great outdoor murals - sourced from Ely Standard 24 - http://www.elystandard.co.uk/what-s-on/arts/learn_how_to_put_together_a_mosaic_at_unique_workshop_1_3734029?usurv=skip

Carolyn Ash and a great outdoor murals – sourced from Ely Standard 24

Denver and Welney are the other two places and workshops will be held at these places for their murals later in September then October. It was all made possible by a Heritage Lottery Grant successfully applied to by ADeC under the Ouse Washes: The Heart of the Fens Landscape Partnership Scheme. The murals were commissioned to become a permanent and pretty landscape feature the local people can be proud of because of their involvement in the workshops of the project. The scheme was set up to raise awareness and encourage greater local engagement with the landscape of the Ouse Washes to celebrate and highlight it and its value. Your ideas are also needed – we will give you postcards at the three locations where you can write down what makes the landscape special to you for the designs.

Carolyn Ash with a fabulous example - sourced by Jono Jarvis

Carolyn Ash with a fabulous example – sourced by Jono Jarvis

It will be led by talented artist Carolyn Ash, who will guide you through all aspects of this popular activity – it is the fun, creative and original thing to do for the whole family and to do with friends! As promoted in the Ely Standard24, on the Thursday and Friday between 10am-3.30pm, Carolyn will transform the resulting mosaic into a large outdoor mural.

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Fabulous Community Murals Project

Arts Development East Cambridgeshire (ADeC) are kicking off this exciting project on Bank Holiday Monday 25th August 2014.

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Professional mosaic artist, Carolyn Ash will be working with the community, their pottery/ crockery items, some ‘spare’ museum pieces, found materials and mosaic-ware to create some fabulous permanent murals at Mepal Outdoor Centre, Denver Sluice and WWT Welney.  Postcards, and mini postboxes, will be placed at these sites for ideas for the murals or just turn up on any of the workshop days – it’s all FREE!

ADeC murals workshop poster

Download the poster here

All workshops are from 10 am till 3.30pm – wear clothes you can create in!

Mepal Outdoor Centre (Chatteris Road, Mepal, Ely, CB6 2AZ)

BH Mon 25th – Fri 29th August & Monday 1st September

Denver Sluice (PE38 0EQ/ 9QP follow the signs)

Mon 22nd – Sat 27th September

Whilst at Denver Sluice you may also want to sample the food and drink available at the Jenyns Arms (do check opening times though) and also at the wonderful Denver windmill.  There is also a golf and a sailing/rowing club in the area, a smattering of walking routes and some nice interpretation panels dotted around.  It would make a great day out with lovely lunches and afternoon tea available at the Mill which is only a short walk from the Environment Agency Sluice complex.  Spending a little time at Denver really helps highlight the man-made nature of this landscape.

WWT Welney (Hundred Foot Bank, Welney, Nr. Wisbech, PE14 9TN)

Monday 13th October – Saturday 18th October

The café and interpretation areas at Welney are excellent, with a charge for visiting the reserve proper (over the arching bridge – link to earlier blog post) but lots to see and do in the centre and shop if you have time or come back another day!

These practical, hands-on workshops mark the start of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme’s projects and activities, with the murals made with local people forming a lasting record of this landscape steeped in history and brimming with biodiversity that brings us bang up-to-date!  The murals will be mounted permanently at their making sites with related activities taking place during Festival Fortnight (20 – 31st July 2015 and in 2016 too).  Look out for more information on our activities via this blog.

Murals workshops: contact Nathan.jones@adec.org.uk for further information

See also the mural project’s own Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OWLPCommuntiyMurals

Rich Soil Rich Heritage – Free Film

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Opportunities to view the 45 minute film called “Rich soil, rich heritage” all about the district and how it has been shaped by the many different people who have come here over the past 350 years.

Leaflet HLF

Enjoy!

 

Grants available for Community Projects: now open for applications

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Today we are launching our Community Heritage Fund, our small grants scheme!

 

Grants available for Community Projects

Have you got an idea for a small community heritage project in your local area?  Grants of between £500 and £2,000 are now available to help people look after, learn about, extend the understanding of and to celebrate the unique landscape and hidden heritage of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership (OWLP) area.

 

Who can apply?

Anyone living inside or outside the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area is eligible to apply, coming from organisations, groups in the voluntary and community sectors or individuals and local companies.

What can we finance?

Projects should have clear public benefits, support the OWLP scheme’s objectives, and provide some input into the partnership’s main events, the Ouse Washes Festival Fortnights planned for July 2015 & 2016.

Project ideas could, for instance, include the creation of a new circular walk/ village information panel, bringing an area’s heritage to life via an oral history project or walks-and-talks, heritage skills training or passing on land-based management skills to others, or perhaps a one-day community event focusing on the culture or natural heritage of your local area.

Many other activities could also certainly qualify for a grant; the above is just indicative of the kind of projects we think people might be interested in carrying out.

 

Do you have a project idea? Why not come and talk to us:

As part of the launch of our Community Heritage Fund scheme we will be touring the area: the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership team will be visiting four characterful pubs spanning the area to discuss your project ideas.

Please come and see us and enjoy a complimentary snack or two!

  •  Lamb & Flag, Welney – Monday 30th June 5.30 – 7. 30 pm
  •  Jenyns Arms, Denver Sluice – Tuesday 1st July 7 – 9 pm
  •  Three Pickerels, Mepal – Wed 2nd July 5.30 – 7.30 pm
  •  Old Ferryboat Inn, Holywell – Thursday 3rd July 5.30 – 7.30 pm

Please find our leaflet here, for the four above events: Community Heritage Fund A5 poster (PDF, 0.5MB) – please hang this up for people to see or pass on to others if you could as well; thanks.

Capture

 

How to apply

The first two application rounds have deadlines of 20 August & 30 November 2014. Application forms and grant guidance can be found here (and also in our Resources):

 

We encourage you to contact us if you would like some feedback on your initial ideas; we are there to advise you on your project ideas and to guide you through the application process.

We are looking forward to your project ideas; hope to see you in the pub for one of our pub info sessions!

 

Circular Walks in OWLP area – part 1 : Mepal

LogosOne of the things that came out clearly out of the community consultations we held last year in the parishes of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme area was that people would like more information about possible walks in their area.

Access to circular routes: the problem identified

People are especially after circular routes which they can follow, starting from their own village. Although a lack of joined-up rights of way in many parts of the OWLP area has been identified, we have also noticed that part of the problem seems to be the lack of access to the information about existing opportunities to access the countryside. Where this information is available, people also do not always know about its existence: often, existing walking and cycling routes are only available in paper versions or are available online but people are not necessarily aware of their existence.

Our solution

So, we are going to do something about this: over the next months, we aim to publish a series of blog posts advertising existing opportunities for exploring the countryside, be it for walking, cycling, horse-riding, canoeing or boating.

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Mepal’s circular walk. Source – http://www.visitcambridge.org/dbimgs/MepalWay(1).pdf

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The Three Pickerels Public house along the New Bedford River. Source: http://www.visitcambridge.org/dbimgs/MepalWay(1).pdf

Mepal circular walk: the Ouse Washes, Wildlife and the Gault Hole

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Front page of the Mepal Walk leaflet. Source: http://www.visitcambridge.org/dbimgs/MepalWay(1).pdf

 

A very good example is the route published for a tour through and around the village of Mepal. Even though this leaflet has been available for over a year and hard copies have been distributed in Mepal, not many people know of this very good route. For instance, when I showed several Sutton residents the leaflet nobody had seen it before, even though the route passes very close to the Sutton-Mepal parish boundary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The leaflet with the Mepal walk can be downloaded here

This leaflet, by the way, together with several other routes published for Cambridgeshire, was funded through a grant distributed through the previous LEADER programme (see previous blog post).

 

Do you know of any good walks in the area?

I have started this series of blog posts to showcase the existing walks and cycle rides in the area – by all means pass on any information to me about other sources of walks or rides, whether published online or not. We are keen to let more people know about the options and get you out and about in this very special landscape!

 

Related posts:

 

6 April: Ouse Washes Experience – Do join in!

LogosAn exciting event is coming your way soon: On Sunday 6 April will see the Ouse Washes Experience.

This is a brand new event, which will be held in the heart of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme area.

The Ouse Washes Experience: a sponsored run or cycle ride

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The Ouse Washes in flood, May 2012. Kite Aerial Photography by Bill Blake Heritage Documentation, All Rights Reserved.

This event is organised by the Ely Hereward Rotary Club, in close co-operation with the OWLP scheme, Cambridgeshire ACRE, Mepal Outdoor Centre, RSPB, Environment Agency, Cambridgeshire County Council and Cambridgeshire Police.

The idea is that all participants will either run or cycle along the Ouse Washes between Mepal and Welney, for either 4 or 9.6 miles (6.4 or 15 km), that is from Mepal until the Welches Dam/RSPB Ouse Washes reserve, or until the end in Welney village.

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See the Ouse Washes close up – all abilities are welcome

Cyclist and runners of all ages and abilities are invited to join! It is not a race, but should be seen as a great opportunity to enjoy the day in a unique landscape and raise money for charity in the process.

It is a unique opportunity to get to see the Ouse Washes area from a different viewpoint. Participants, whether they go on foot or on bicycle, will all leave together and follow the same 9-foot wide track in between the Old Bedford River and the Counter Drain.

Although a public footpath, this is not normally open for other users: special permission has been given by the owners, the Environment Agency, and its tenant, the RSPB, for use by cyclists and for this event.

map

The route: From Mepal to Welches Dam, or to Welney

Further Details

Full details of the event can be found in the following flier: http://rotaryclubely-hereward.org/IMUpload/OWE%20flier%20V.5.pdf   Or download it here: OWE flier V.5

See also the Ely Hereward Rotary Club’s Twitter account (@Owe2014Ely) for the latest news on the event. Or, see this news item which came out last week.

I like the idea – how do I register for the event?

Do come and join us – it is fairly simple – to register, go to the dedicated Ouse Washes Experience Webpage on Eventbrite, or follow the links on the Ely Hereward Rotary Club website, and follow the instructions.

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RSPB Ouse Washes reserve at Welches Dam. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

Sponsorship for Magpas

Whether participating as a family, an individual or perhaps as a group of friends or colleagues, the idea is that everyone brings in money for charity through sponsorship.

MAGPAS was chosen as the headline charity: most of the proceeds of this sponsored event will go to MAGPAS, the emergency medical charity with their noticeable orange helicopter (apparently the only one in this colour nationwide!). See here a picture of the helicopter when I joined the Ely Hereward Rotary Club recently to meet the Magpas team at their base at RAF Wyton:

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The bright orange helicopter from Magpas , with Emma Nick and Keil from Magpas; and Michael and Gary from Ely Hereward Rotary Club

Magpas provides an enhanced air ambulance and emergency response service. What’s special and unique about Magpas is that each Helimedix team is made up of both a specialist doctor and a paramedic, thus being able to start treatment straight away when needed. Even though all doctors and paramedics give their time for free, the costs for the charity are still high, what with the helicopter, a huge range of equipment and extensive training provided to their doctors and paramedics. Magpas receives no Government or National Lottery funding and relies wholly in donations from the public.

Their work is crucial in saving lives across East Anglia and beyond: Since the charity was founded in 1971, Magpas has attended over 60,000 patients. Many people owe their lives to the heroic works of the Magpas staff! Definitely a worthy cause to raise funds for.

Related events on 6 April

The registration of the event will take place at Mepal Outdoor Centre. There will be stalls with information from various organisations, including ourselves and Magpas. Mepal Outdoor Centre will also have a range of trainers in place if people want to make a full day of adventure out of it – why not combine the run or cycle ride by doing some wall climbing, archery or water sports afterwards?

There are also ongoing conversations with the RSPB Ouse Washes reserve and the pub/restaurants, both in Mepal and Welney, to have further add-on events on the day – watch this space for any updates!

Now why not come and join us!

The new OWLP Landscape Boundary

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As part of the development phase works we have reconsidered the boundary for the OWLP scheme area. This was included in the work done as part of the Landscape Character Assessment , commissioned by the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership to Sheils Flynn.

Redrawing the boundary

For our stage 1 submission, back in early 2012, the boundary drawn was still relatively simple. Not anymore. Following the recent finalisation of the Landscape Character Assessment for the OWLP area and the Landscape Conservation Action Plan as part of our stage 2 submission, I can now show you the final results of this work.

First of all, spot the differences:

A4_Boundary

Boundary as drawn for the OWLP’s stage 1 application, February 2012

337-LA-10 - Parish Boundaries

OWLP boundary as defined for the stage 2 submission, November 2013. Map created by Sheils Flynn for OWLP. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2013 – not to be reproduced.

In their comments on our stage 1 bid, the HLF considered the OWLP area boundary somewhat vague and arbitrary; despite numerous hours of discussion between partners had already gone into this.

A coherent landscape

A requirement for the stage 2 submission was, thus, to come up with a better described, understood and more coherent boundary. The new landscape boundary is based on careful consideration of a number of related factors:

  • The boundary surrounds a strongly coherent landscape. The vast majority of the OWLP landscape is below the 5 m contour line.This is a distinct landscape, with a unique history, linear waterways, significant wetlands and which plays an important role in food production, drainage and flood prevention.
  • The boundary is driven by the landscape using natural boundaries.
  • The boundary is understood by local people – as part of the community consultations held during the Audience & Access work, people were shown draft versions of the new map, to which people responded positively, as the boundary line follows local landscape features such as roads, drains and other, locally recognised landscape features.
  • The boundary reflects historic patterns of land use: the ‘territory’ associated with the Fen Isle villages, including for instance historic field patterns, droveways and outlying farmsteads, together describe historic patterns of land use and the present-day sense of community in this part of the Fens. Settlements developed on ‘islands’ of higher land in an otherwise expansive and historically marshy landscape. The most productive arable fields were concentrated on the more elevated, relatively well-drained land surrounding the villages, with pasture on seasonally water-logged meadows. The marshy fenlands, which covered vast areas of the Fen Basin, were an important economic resource, used for cutting peat, reeds and sedge and to provide a constant supply of wildfowl, fish and eels.
  • The boundary contains a relatively empty landscape, with a scatter of settlements on the areas of higher land on and around the edge; relatively well-drained soils fringe the low-lying fen that was the focus of the Ouse Washes drainage scheme. The settlements function as individual gateways to the central, lower landscape.
  • The boundary coincides with the historic road pattern: the alignment of roads and causewayed tracks connects the villages and forms a loose ring around the Ouse Washes.
  • The boundary contains an internationally significant wetland landscape: recent wetland and fen restoration projects and opportunities for new wetlands as part of the Great Ouse Wetland and Fens Wetland Vision projects contribute to the international value of the Ouse Washes and have the potential to provide superb opportunities for public access, recreation and environmental education.

Crossing multiple boundaries

The OWLP area covers two Counties (Cambridgeshire and Norfolk), five different Districts (Kings Lynn & West Norfolk BC, Fenland DC, East Cambridgeshire DC, Huntingdonshire DC and South Cambridgeshire DC) and no less than 29 Parishes.

In the process of redefining the boundary for the OWLP landscape, the total area increased from 199 km2 at the stage 1 bid to 243 km2 now, stretching for 48.5 km between Denver and Downham Market at the northern end and Fen Drayton and St Ives to its south.

The OWLP residents

The OWLP area contains 25 villages/settlements which are either fully or partially within, or directly abutting the area’s boundary:

  • In Norfolk these are Denver, Salters Lode, Fordham, Nordelph, Ten Mile Bank, Welney, Tipps End and Lakes End.
  • The Cambridgeshire settlements are Manea, Pymoor, Wardy Hill, Coveney, Witcham, Mepal, Sutton, Earith, Aldreth, Over, Swavesey, Fen Drayton, Holywell, Needingworth, Bluntisham, Colne and Somersham.
  • Close by are also the settlements of Hemingford Grey, Willingham, Haddenham and Little Downham (Cambridgeshire) and Hilgay (Norfolk).

The resident population of the LP area is 33,010. Outside the Ouse Washes LP area the neighbouring towns within a c10km zone are Downham Market, Littleport, Ely, Chatteris, March, St Ives, Huntingdon and Cambridge; they have a collective resident population of 236,688. The OWLP scheme’s delivery phase focuses on both the local residents and market town residents.

337-LA-001 - Location Map

Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area – Location Map. Map created by Sheils Flynn for OWLP. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2013 – not to be reproduced.

Click on the above map (X 2) to zoom in; the maps displayed here can also be viewed in our Resources section.

What do you think?

What do you think? Does this boundary indeed reflect local people’s perceptions of what makes a coherent landscape? Let me know your thoughts – click on the balloon at the top to leave a comment, or contact me directly. Thank you.

 

Related Posts:

 

New Heritage Lottery Fund projects in the Fenland area

Heritage Lottery FundIn East Anglia two other Heritage Lottery funded projects have started recently. As there are clear links with our work in both projects, I wanted to share this with you as well. These are Fenland Lives & Land and Eighth In The East; both projects are looking at the history of the area, with the Fenland Lives & Land looking at different aspects of life in the Fens in the past and the Eighth In The East looking at the history of the World War 2 US Airfields in East Anglia.

Fenland Lives & Land

With the Fenland Lives & Land project there are exhibitions going in a range of museums, communities and schools across the Fens, celebrating the extraordinary landscape of the area and which will be going for 3 years; its launch was last week Thursday.

The five exhibitions are focused on the following five themes:

  • Constructing the Past: Ancient Crafts and Engineering
  • The Wild Fens: A Journey back to Ancient landscapes
  • Living on Land & Water: Discover a World of Waterways
  • Trading Stories: A Century of Fenland Shops, Pubs and Trade
  • Bread or Blood

Each of these themes will be explored in different parts of the Fens, from the history of the ens to what was being sold in traditional shops and pubs throughout the centuries, to changes to Fenland farms over time with the effect of the Downham Riots of 1816 which resulted because of the hard economic hardship faced by farms, workers and soldiers who were returning from the Napoleonic Wars. These exhibitions will be going on for 3 years all across all Fenland museums.

For more information, see the project’s website (http://www.fensmuseums.org.uk/index.aspx) and this useful leaflet (http://www.fensmuseums.org.uk/documents/Fenland_Generic_Leaflet.pdf).

Eighth in the East

This project was recently awarded £575,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to record the history of East Anglia airfields used by the United States during World War 2. The project aims to work with local museums to get stories of Americans who served and the stories of local people who lived near the bases between 1942 and 1945.

The project will look at the 67 airfields in the East which provided bases for USAF bombing raids over Germany. About 200,000 US personnel served in East Anglia in what became known as the ‘friendly invasion’.

This is a 3-year project and hopefully by the end of the project there will be a large amount of information about that time in East Anglia. With this information there cycling and walking tours may be created to these sites and museums will have more information on want was happening in East Anglia during the ‘friendly invasion’ by the Americans.

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World War II US airfields in East Anglia project to record history. Source:http: //www.idaventry.com/pin/world-war-ii-us-airfields-in-east-anglia-project-to-record-history/

Look here (https://ousewasheslps.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/hidden-heritage-mepal-airfield/) for an earlier blog post about the WW2 use of the airfield in Mepal, which is located within the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area.

Hidden Heritage: Mepal Airfield Part 2

Heritage Lottery Fund

Thor Missiles at Mepal

Who realises that a modern industrial site just outside of Mepal hides so much history dating from the Second World War and that Mepal, Sutton and Witcham were in the front line of the Cold War and would have been a major Soviet target?

Project Emily

In 1957 a proposal from the USA was put to Britain to deploy Thor Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM) in the UK. The proposal was regarded favourably by Britain’s new Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. Final agreement on the deployment of Thor in Britain was reached at the Bermuda Conference in March 1957, when Macmillan and Eisenhower met to discuss key issues. On 1 April, Macmillan reported to Parliament that:

“The rockets will be the property of Her Majesty’s Government, manned by British troops who will receive their prior training from American experts. The rockets cannot be fired by any except the British personnel, but the warhead will be in the control of the United States – which is the law of the United States- and to that extent the Americans have negative control; but it is absolutely untrue to say that the President and not the British Government will decide when these missiles will be launched and at whom. So long as we rely upon the American warheads, and only so long, that will remain a matter for the two Governments”.

Project Emily was then born and twenty sites were chosen to house the new missiles. Construction started at Mepal in 1958 and was declared operational on 22nd July 1959 with the reformed 113 (SM) Squadron; the SM stands for ‘Strategic Missile’. Each site had three Thor missile pads and was part of a cluster of five sites under the command of one base. Feltwell was the first base to be operational in 9th January 1959 and Mepal was under its command. The missiles themselves were kept prone and invisible in specially made shelters such as the one in the picture below.

LEl5 AIE

Thor missile shelter clearly shown. Courtesy of Paul Bellamy at Airfield Information Exchange.

When the order came to launch, whether real or simulated, it would take up to 15 minutes to get the missile ready and the sequence needed the authority of both the British and Americans. The ‘dual key’ system meant that the RAF could initiate a countdown but the missile could only be launched after the Americans had armed the warhead. In fact the warheads (1.44 Megatons) were not even kept on site but  at Faldingworth, an old wartime airfield near Scampton, Lincolnshire.

Construction of the Thor missile hangar

Construction of the Thor missile hangar. Photo courtesy of the Carpetbagger Aviation Museum, Harrington.

The layout of a Thor launch pad

The layout of a Thor launch pad. Photo courtesy of the Carpetbagger Aviation Museum, Harrington.

The missiles were only put on a high state of readiness once in their history and that was during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

Thor missile in its launch position

Thor missile in its launch position. Courtesy of Paul Bellamy at Airfield Information Exchange.

Thor missile deployment to the UK was scheduled to end in November 1964; however it ended in 1963 when the US deployed its Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM)
and the RAF’s own ‘V Force’ had the Blue Steel standoff weapon launched from
Valiant, Victor and Vulcan bombers.

Evidence left on the ground

There is very little evidence left of both the WW2 and Cold War heritage of Mepal airfield but if you know where to look there are some interesting relics. Part of the runways and perimeter track are still visible on the Sutton side of the A142, while the Elean Business Park and the straw burning power station cover much of the Eastern side but some elements can still be seen. In fact many of the buildings and access roads to the domestic site can be seen around Witcham and the sewage works  built for the airfield is still in use today! Martyn Chorlton’s excellent book Airfield focus 47: Mepal and Witchford has many interesting photos and maps. I took this photo on the old Sutton to Mepal road, it is actually part of the North West to South East runway!

Part of the old runway

Part of the old runway

The Thor missile bases where broken up before the power station was built but part of the southern base (LE10) can still be seen at the north-eastern edge of the Cheffins Auction site.

An aerial photo of Mepal airfield taken in January 1959

An aerial photo of Mepal airfield taken in January 1959. From Airfield Information Exchange

An overlay of the missile bases and runways on a recent aerial photo

An overlay of the missile bases and runways on a recent aerial photo. Courtesy of Paul Bellamy at the Airfield Information Exchange.

Another relic of the Cold War days is the trig point just off of the old road from Sutton to Mepal, each base had two of these built by the Royal Engineers Survey Squadron prior to construction as the missile pads had to be accurately surveyed. The second one has either been removed or more likely to be buried under the spoil dug out from the power
station when it was built.

Mepal South, Project Emily Trig Point.

Mepal South, Project Emily Trig Point.

I’m sure many people have memories or stories to tell of the history of Mepal airfield, we would be delighted to hear from you and will update the Blog with any new information. We aim to carry out a dedicated project on the history of the airfield over  the next few years, watch this space for more details.

I would like to thank the Airfield Information Exchange and the Carpetbagger Aviation Museum for helping out with pictures and information.

Hidden Heritage: Mepal Airfield

Heritage Lottery Fund

During World War 2 Mepal Airfield was an “expansion” airfield, the construction of which commenced in July 1942. It opened in April 1943 and it functioned as a sub-station for 33 Base in Waterbeach along with Witchford Airfield as part of No.3 Group Bomber Command.  Its design was the standard wartime 3 runway layout with the main runway 6000 feet long with two shorter runways approximately 4200 feet each; it had one B1 type hangar and two T2’s. The first aircraft to arrive was a DH82 Tigermoth flown by Squadron Leader G A Watt.

Aerial View of Mepal Airfield, 1943

Aerial View of Mepal Airfield, 1943

Mepal’s first unit was 1665 Heavy Conversion Unit that was originally based at Great Ashfield. It had 24 Stirling Mk1’s but only stayed for a week, before moving to Waterbeach.

75 (NZ) Squadron

The New Zealanders of 75 (NZ) Squadron Royal Air Force were the first operational occupants of Mepal Airfield in June 1943 flying Stirlings initially and then Lancasters. The Squadron was already very experienced prior to its move to Mepal and had completed almost 3500 sorties with over 100 losses. The first operational sortie was on 3rd and 4th July 1943 when 13 Stirlings attacked Cologne with no losses. The next few months were extremely busy for 75 (NZ) Squadron with missions being flown to Hamburg, Essen, Nuremburg, Turin, Munchen-Gladbach and Berlin. The last bombing missions for the Stirlings were in November 1943 when Air Chief Marshall Harris ordered that Stirlings would no longer operate over German targets. The Squadron continued flying the Stirling for another 4 months on other missions such as mine laying, attacking rocket sites and carrying out special operations.

75 (NZ) Squadron Stirling

75 (NZ) Squadron Stirling

On the night of 19th April 1944 an enemy intruder attacked Mepal dropping over 34 anti-personnel mines, but no injuries were reported. The same night 2 Lancasters were shot down in the circuit at Witchford.

The last Stirling left Mepal on 29th April 1944 which left 75 (NZ) Sqn with 26 Lancasters; at this point there were 123 Officers, 284 Senior Non Commissioned Officers and 853 Other Ranks based at the airfield. The next few months again were very busy for the Squadron included support for the allied invasion on D Day and many bombing missions with the new 8,000 and 12,000 lbs bombs. On 29th September Mepal was once again under attack, this time by a V1 ‘Doodlebug’ which missed the airfield and landed and exploded at Sutton Gault. In January 1945 Wing Commander C H Baigent DSO DFC + Bar took over command of 75 Squadron. He had been a Flight Commander in 1942 and had completed a second tour the previous November; he arrived at Mepal just before his 22nd Birthday!

Aircrew briefing for a bombing mission in 1943

Aircrew briefing for a bombing mission in 1943

The last bombing mission took off from Mepal on 24th April 1945 when 20 Lancasters left for their 739th mission to a raid on Bad Oldersloe.

From the 29th April to May 8th 1945 Operation Manna was launched from Mepal which involved 126 sorties to drop supplies to the Dutch in Western Holland; a truce was arranged with the German commander to allow the mission to take place safely. After VE day as part of ‘Tiger Force’ Nos. 7, 44 and 49 Sqns moved in to train for the war in the Pacific, but these were stood down after the Japanese surrendered on August 15th 1945.

At the end of the war 75 (NZ) Sqn were involved in the repatriation of prisoners of war. They also flew ‘sightseeing’ sorties over Germany for the ground crew and ‘Baedecker’ sorties to assess the effective of the bombing offensive. Belgium refugees were also taken home and by the end of May 1945 2,339 PoWs had been repatriated by 75 (NZ)Sqn Lancasters.

75 (NZ) Sqn flew 8,017 sorties (the highest total for the whole of RAF Bomber Command) on 739 operations, losing a total of 193 aircraft (the second highest loss rate). There is a very interesting and comprehensive website for 75 (NZ) Squadron at http://75nzsquadron.wordpress.com , well worth a look and gives lots more information than I could possibly hope to publish in this blog.

75 (NZ) Squadron and Lancaster 1945

75 (NZ) Squadron and Lancaster 1945

After WW2

 In July 1946 the last Lancaster left Mepal; the airfield was earmarked to be a Transport Command base but this never came to fruition and it was put under care and maintenance. The last ever aircraft movement at Mepal was in 1949 when a Meteor F4 from Duxford made an emergency landing; the pilot had failed to switch fuel supplies and as a result both engines flamed out followed by a ‘wheels up’ landing; he was apparently reprimanded for his carelessness!

The airfield remained closed until July 1959 when it became an important strategic base at the heart of the Cold War! There will be more about the intriguing history of the Cold War base in Mepal in a future Blog!

All photographs are courtesy of the Cambridgeshire Community Archive Network.