Pickett-Hamilton Fort

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II
List Entry Number:
1464711
Date first listed:
13-Jan-2020
Location Description:
Pickett-Hamilton fort at SJ 56782 90304, Omega, Warrington

Map

Ordnance survey map of Pickett-Hamilton Fort
© Crown Copyright and database right 2020. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2020. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1464711.pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 04-Apr-2020 at 23:34:03.

Location

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Pickett-Hamilton fort at SJ 56782 90304, Omega, Warrington
District:
Warrington (Unitary Authority)
Parish:
Burtonwood and Westbrook
District:
Warrington (Unitary Authority)
Parish:
Great Sankey
National Grid Reference:
SJ5678290304

Summary

Pickett-Hamilton fort of around 1940 on the former RAF Burtonwood Airfield, from June 1942 former USAAF base. Relocated to its present location at SJ 56782 90304 in 2019.

Reasons for Designation

The Pickett-Hamilton fort of around 1940 on the former RAF Burtonwood Airfield (from June 1942 a former USAAF base) is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as a specialist type of pillbox designed specifically for airfield defence, ingeniously remaining flush with the ground and raised to provide cross-fire in the event of an enemy attack; * the fort is largely intact, though no longer in working order, with the concrete firing platform, central hydraulic jack and pump mechanism surviving.

Historic interest:

* the fort is a remaining reminder of the defensive measures Britain put in place to protect its airfields during the Second World War, here associated with RAF Burtonwood, which was transferred in 1942 to the United States Army Air Forces to become a servicing centre for their aircraft.

History

The importance of defending airfields against attack was realised before the outbreak of the Second World War, prompted by the Munich Crisis of 1938, and a strategy evolved as the war went on. Initially and during the outbreak of war this involved the dispersal of aircraft and other largely passive measures such as camouflage, sandbagging and the creation of some trench shelters and gas decontamination centres. Light anti-aircraft guns were installed at the perimeters of many airfields, but little more was built until the summer of 1940. At this point it was realised that airfields were extremely vulnerable to enemy attack. The scale of airfield defence depended upon the likelihood of attack, with those airfields in the south or east of England, and those close to navigable rivers, ports and dockyards being more heavily defended. A suite of defences, some to fire on attacking enemy craft and others to prevent airfield capture, were constructed such as pillboxes, machine gun posts, more substantial towers for Bofors guns and slit trenches. Fighter pens were provided for the aircraft, usually grouped in threes. Night fighter stations had sleep shelters where the crews could rest. An airfield’s defence would have been coordinated from its own Battle Headquarters building.

Pillboxes (fortified gun positions) took many forms, from standard ministry designs used throughout Britain and in all contexts, to designs specifically for airfield defence. Three Pickett-Hamilton forts were issued to many airfields and located on the flying field itself. These forts were designed by engineer Francis Norman Pickett and architect Donald St Aubyn Hamilton. Their plans for a ‘disappearing pillbox’ for airfield defence were submitted to the Government by the New Kent Construction Company of Ashford in 1940, who then built many of the forts. Pickett-Hamilton forts were ingeniously designed so that they could remain flush with the ground surface to allow aircraft to move freely across the airfield, but could be manned and the forts raised to provide cross-fire in the event of an enemy attack. In cross-section they consisted of two reinforced concrete cylinders, one inside the other. The concrete lid of the smaller cylinder had a single access hatch through which two men could enter before raising the structure by a lifting mechanism (there were also rarer, four-man designs). The lifting mechanism initially consisted of a standard eight-ton aeroplane jack, but was then replaced by a compressed air system, which operated more quickly, supplemented by a hand pump for emergency use. It could be raised approximately 2.5 ft (0.75m), revealing three loopholes.

This Pickett-Hamilton fort was designed to form a small part of the defences for Burtonwood Airfield and was one of three constructed by 1941. Burtonwood had opened on 1 January 1940 as a servicing centre for British aircraft and was operated by No 37 Maintenance Unit, Royal Air Force, until June 1942. The airfield was then transferred to the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) to become a servicing centre for the United States Eight, Ninth, Twelfth and Fifteenth Air Force aircraft.

The US Air Force use ended in 1959, with the site returned to the Ministry of Defence in 1965. In 1973 the M62 was built over the main runway. The site was officially closed in June 1994 and has been gradually cleared as new business development took place. The Pickett-Hamilton fort was scheduled in December 2002. In 2018 Scheduled Monument Consent was granted for the fort to be moved approximately 600m south to enable development of the site. After restoration the Pickett-Hamilton fort was relocated to this new position. It is now displayed raised and partially set into a sloping embankment, enabling more of the structure to be seen. An information board is due to be erected.

Details

Pickett-Hamilton fort of around 1940 on the former RAF Burtonwood Airfield, from June 1942 former USAAF base. Relocated to SJ 56782 90304 in 2019.

MATERIALS: concrete and steel.

PLAN: circular.

EXTERIOR: the fort has been moved to a different location on the former airfield where more of the structure has been made visible than would originally have been the case.

The outer concrete cylinder (which would have been sunk entirely into the ground with only the top surface visible) is only partly sunk into the ground, with the eastern side fully exposed. The inner concrete cylinder is fully raised. It has three horizontal rectangular loopholes and an overhanging, circular, concrete slab lid. The lid has an offset manhole with a steel cover.

INTERIOR: the fort retains the central hydraulic jack and original pump mechanism, which are no longer in working order. They have been sand blasted and painted to preserve the components. The hydraulic jack is encircled by a concrete firing platform on which the men stood to reach the loopholes. It is unclear whether the original metal rungs set in the outer cylinder wall, used to climb down into the fort, survive.

Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that the modern gambion cages and hard-surface viewing area in front of the fort are not of special architectural or historic interesr, however any works which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest still require LBC and this is a matter for the LPA to determine.

Sources

Other
Information about the former airfield and the fort from draft design for a display board to be displayed beside the relocated Pickett-Hamilton fort.

Legal

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].