Unusual Second World War Sites Listed and Upgraded to Mark the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain
An air raid shelter at a Surrey primary school, covered in murals depicting scenes from Treasure Island, Robin Hood, and Gulliver’s Travels; a pillbox cleverly disguised as a roofless cottage in Northumberland to protect the area from German invasion; a rare Chain Home radar defence tower in Essex; and a war memorial to commemorate civilians in Dorset who lost their lives have been granted protection to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain (15 September 2020).
These four new listings by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England are highlighted alongside three other sites which have been either upgraded or re-listed to mark Battle of Britain Day (15 September 2020). In their variety, they show how the Battle has left its mark across England.
Although the Battle of Britain took place between July and October 1940, the date of 15 September is widely seen as when Britain’s RAF Fighter Command gained a decisive victory over the German Luftwaffe.
Two sites have been newly upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*, including another Chain Home Transmitter Tower- at RAF Stenigot in Lincolnshire. Standing at 110m, the same height as St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the tower and the newly listed example in Great Baddow, Essex, are rare surviving physical components of the world’s first radar air defence network and among very few from the network to remain standing today. Built in the late 1930s, it is a reminder of the widespread anxiety during this period about the impact of aerial assaults on the UK.
Also newly upgraded to Grade II* is an important memorial in Ruislip, West London to the Polish Air Force who made a major contribution to the Allied war effort during the Second World War and particularly during the Battle of Britain.
The final highlighted site is the Spitfire Club at RAF Tangmere in West Sussex- the headquarters for Number 11 Group of Fighter Command which played a pivotal role defending London and the South East in the Battle of Britain. The site has been relisted, now also with information about its connection to the Battle of Britain added to its list description on the National Heritage List for England.
The Battle of Britain affected every corner of our nation and it is right that, as we mark its 80th anniversary, we protect the sites, memorials and buildings paying tribute to those who fought and those who lost their lives.
I am pleased that by protecting these sites we can continue to tell the story of the Second World War and keep alive the stories of this greatest generation who fought for our freedom.
Boys' Air Raid Shelter at St John’s Primary School, Redhill, Surrey
The St John’s School boys' air raid shelter with its set of bold, colourful painted murals of topical literary scenes is a well-preserved example of a late-1930s reinforced-concrete ‘cut-and-cover’ air raid shelter - an important shelter type of the period. The shelter remains in its original configuration with its entrance, ventilation system and several fittings and access is from the south-east corner of the playground, with the shelter mostly set beneath a nearby meadow.
This air raid shelter is particularly special for its series of characterful murals painted by the boys in art classes and overseen by their art Teacher, Mr Allen, between 1939 and 1941. The murals are painted directly onto the shuttered concrete walls and include scenes from Treasure Island, The Pilgrim's Progress, Beowulf, Robin Hood, Snow White, Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver's Travels. The murals featured in the Pathé ‘Blitz and Pieces’ newsreel of 7 July 1941 and reflect the colourful designs popularised by the successful ceramic artist Clarice Cliff. They give a strong sense of the nostalgic wartime ‘biscuit tin’ style.
The murals were a novel idea at the time and they were created to provide some distraction and comfort during bombing raids. They show an important part of the way the Second World War was experienced by school children. The murals survive well and are rare, being the only known example of a complete decorative scheme produced by a school in an air raid shelter.
The Chain Home Transmitter Tower at Great Baddow in Essex is the only complete Chain Home transmitter tower surviving in the British Isles and one of only five surviving from the earliest radar network that was in use during the Battle of Britain. The tower was originally erected at RAF Canewdon in south-east Essex in 1937 and was relocated to Great Baddow in 1956.
The Marconi Company scientists and engineers at the Great Baddow laboratories designed the transmitter aerials for the Chain Home system. The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy were also based at Great Baddow carrying out radio technology research which, when used in aircraft, ships and mobile equipment, could be used to identify the source of enemy agents’ radio transmissions.
The tower’s relocation to the Marconi Company research site at Great Baddow in 1956 enabled it to play an important role in defence research and communications during the Cold War, particularly the development of the radio guidance system for the British ‘Blue Streak’ intercontinental ballistic missile.
This unusual pillbox was built in 1940-41 in a conspicuous place on Hemscott Hill and is cleverly disguised as a roofless cottage. It was constructed to defend the vulnerable Druridge Bay from German invasion and has walls of differing heights, creating the impression of a ruined civilian building.
While the more standard forms of pillbox are relatively common, individual camouflage designs or those adapted to local circumstances are less so. In this exposed location, a traditional pillbox would not have been successful. It was paramount that the building was convincing so the enemy would dismiss it as a defensive feature. It survives virtually unaltered and still has some internal features such as a blast wall and the shelves that served as elbow rests.
Sherborne Abbey War Memorial and Second World War Memorial Wall, Sherborne, Dorset
Sherborne Abbey War Memorial is in front of the Grade I listed Abbey Church of St Mary in Sherborne. It is a fine example of a detailed memorial cross made from stone from the Mendip Hills and was erected after the First World War by John Merrick and his company F Merrick & Sons. The Second World War memorial behind is also made from local stone and reflects the community’s desire to commemorate 18 civilians killed in Sherborne in a Luftwaffe air raid on 30 September 1940.
The First World War memorial was designed by William Douglas Caröe FSA (1857-1938). He was a well-known architect who became senior architect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1895 and was one of the leading church architects of his time.
Memories and perceptions of the Second World War have been central in shaping the national identity of the UK, with the Battle of Britain having particular resonance. Many of the physical reminders of this extraordinary period still stand amongst us today, such as the murals in the air raid shelter inspired by the children’s favourite books and the looming radar air defence tower, respectively listed and upgraded today. We are pleased to recognise their significance 80 years on and to remember this important turning point in our history.
Chain Home Transmitter Tower at RAF Stenigot, Donington on Baine, Lincolnshire
The Chain Home Transmitter Tower at RAF Stenigot was first listed at Grade II in 1997 as a rare surviving physical component of the world’s first radar air defence network. Built in the late 1930s, it is well preserved, almost complete and crucially it survives in its original location.
Strikingly tall at 110 metres, the giant steel tower is a very rare and visible survival of pre-Second World War communication equipment and still has four of its six working platforms. It was built in response to pre-war tensions and fears of aerial attack which anticipated the need for a national air defence system.
The Chain Home stations were decisive in providing early warning of German aerial attacks, and played a crucial role in the air defence of the country during the Battle of Britain, changing the course of the Second World War. The Chain Home system was the world’s first radar air defence network and tells the important story of how radar and satellite communications developed from the Second World War through to the Cold War.
I am delighted that the status of the Polish Air Force Memorial has been upgraded to Grade II*, showing how well recognised the site is not just by the Polish community, but also by Britain. The memorial is one of the leading monuments in the UK dedicated to Polish history, and every year it plays host to one of the most important commemorations of Poles fighting in the Second World War. It is a testament to the crucial role played by the Polish Air Force in the war and to the sacrifice made by Polish airmen and airwomen, 18,000 of whom had served in the Polish squadrons in the UK by the end of the war. I am glad that Historic England has chosen this special time, the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, for the upgrade, making it a fitting tribute to the Poles, who represented the second-largest contingent in the Fighter Command, accounted for 12% of all Luftwaffe losses and had the most effective Allied unit in the Battle – the 303 Polish Fighter Squadron. I would like to thank Historic England for this recommendation and all those who have looked after the memorial since it was built.
The Polish Air Force Memorial is located on West End Road, next to RAF Northolt, in the London Borough of Hillingdon. Many of the Polish Air Force (PAF) Squadrons were based there during the Second World War and they played a significant contribution to the success of the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940.
This memorial is of exceptional importance in commemorating the contribution and sacrifices made by the PAF and it is specifically dedicated to them as an independent military force, listing the names of 1,900 casualties who lost their lives in the Second World War. The memorial was first listed in 2002 and is the only known war memorial designed by eminent Polish sculptor Mieczyslaw Lubelski in England. It is one of the best-known of Lubelski’s surviving works internationally. The sculptural elements depict iconography associated with the PAF, along with a carefully designed walkway and landscaping around the central pillar. There are stone and bronze features and the names are carved into curved granite walls.
The memorial is an important symbol of positive Anglo-Polish relations in the early stages of the Cold War. It was unveiled in 1948 when many Polish people were unable to return home due to the Soviet-backed government in Poland and they were encouraged by the British Government to remain. The memorial has been visited by two Polish Presidents during their state visits to the UK: Lech Walesa in 1991 and Aleksander Kwasniewski in 2004. It was also visited by President Andrzej Duda, in 2015.
At first, the British were sceptical of Polish pilots’ abilities when they arrived in Britain in 1940, believing German propaganda about their supposed ineptitude during the invasion of Poland. But as RAF casualties increased in the summer of 1940, RAF Fighter Command needed experienced pilots and by August 1940 an agreement had been reached to establish the independent Polish Air Force (PAF) beginning with two squadrons, Nos 302 and 303. Having already gained valuable combat experience against the Luftwaffe in Poland and in France, the PAF quickly became the largest and one of the most successful foreign units serving under overall British command.
The Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, noted the importance of the Polish contribution to victory in the Battle of Britain:
Had it not been for the magnificent work of the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of battle would have been the same.
The Spitfire Club was listed in 1986 as one of the few remaining buildings from RAF Tangmere which is well-known for its links with the Battle of Britain. It was a fighter base, and was also used in support of the secret Special Operations Executive - a British special forces reconnaissance organisation formed in 1940 - and it was the headquarters for Number 11 Group of Fighter Command, which played a key role in the Battle of Britain, defending London and the south-east.
Two well-known ace fighter pilots, Wing Commander Douglas Bader and the then inexperienced Johnnie Johnson who had many victories over the Luftwaffe, were stationed at RAF Tangmere in 1941. The building’s list entry has been updated and now better reflects the building’s connection with the Battle of Britain.
The former Spitfire Club was designed as a chapel and airmen's club around 1920.
Its importance is increased by its group value with two other listed purpose-built RAF buildings at the airfield - Barrack block 116 and the Watch office and also with Grade II listed Tangmere Cottage, which was used as an operations centre for the Special Operations Executive. Collectively, these buildings provide a strong sense of the Second World War military experience.
The Spitfire club and barrack block have now been converted into apartments and the wider airfield developed for industrial and residential use.