Record Details

NHER Number:2830
Type of record:Monument
Name:Swanton Morley Airfield


This is the site of an RAF station that was constructed in 1939-40, and continues in use (although since 1995 it has been used by the army). During World War Two it included the largest grass airstrip in Europe, a perimeter track and buildings including a control tower, hangars, barracks, messes, a bomb store, Pickett Hamilton forts and pillboxes. Aerial photographs reveal traces of sub-surface structures such as the airfield battle headquarters, that would have been occupied during an attack, and numerous air raid shelters. Some of the buildings survive and the grass airfield is the only one of its kind to survive in Britain. During World War Two the airfield was used by a bomber group and in June 1942 the first joint British-American bombing raid was launched from it. It was the site at which the Mosquito aircraft first entered service in an RAF squadron.

Images - none


Grid Reference:TG 0037 1853
Map Sheet:TG01NW

Full description

Built 1940. Part still in use by RAF, part used by private aircraft.
On west much of the old runways ploughed up, but one large hanger still in wood to north.
E. Rose (NAU), 22 November 1978.

In fact this was a grass field and only the perimeter track and the dispersal areas (one of which remains as roads to the present married quarters) were in concrete. The three grass runways may still be seen as cropmarks
Information from D. Edwards (NAU).
E. Rose (NAU).

Astra cinema of 1950s removed to Duxford Museum in 1986, see (S1).

Area extended to southwest to include cropmarks of former dispersal areas on (S2) - area proposed for gravel extraction.
E. Rose (NAU), 12 January 1987.

This is the largest grass airfield in Europe and the only surviving grass World War Two airfield in England.
Concrete dispersal areas in northeast corner removed early 1993.
E. Rose (NAU), 18 February 1993.

World War Two anti-aircraft artillery.
See file.
D. Gurney (NLA), 28 January 1997.

Final two World War Two hangars demolished 1998 to 1999 despite fact that one was intended for preservation.
E. Rose (NLA), 28 June 1999.

Description of airfield:
Built 1940 as a grass fighter airfield, this is the only World War II grass airfield surviving, and the largest grass airfield in the world. The original buildings survive intact - the cinema has already been removed to Duxford museum - some are said to have wall paintings. There are pillboxes around the perimeter. The perimeter track and dispersal areas are in concrete; part of this was destroyed n 1993. There is a large RAF housing estate of more recent years that could be excluded from schedule.
The base will close down in the near future and the country council have applied for a EC grant to level the site. Local farmers also wish to buy it and plough it up so that they can then apply for grants to stop ploughing. There is much local support for preservation.
Information from Ancient Monuments Form, (S12).
H. Mellor (HES), 22 June 2018.

29 June 1993. NLA aerial photography.
Photographs taked of cropmarks/parchmarks caused by stalls of 'airfete' held at base.
S. Massey (NLA), 29 January 2001.

26 August 1997. NLA aerial photography.
Section of airfield (to south) visible.
H. Clare (NLA), 29 March 2001.

2 February 1995. NLA aerial photography.
Hangar visible.
M. Brennand (NLA), 20 April 2001.

26 June 1996. NLA aerial photography.
Parchmarks of building, located at TF 9972 1839, presumably dating to World War Two.
The runways are showing clearly as cropmarks.
Situated alongside these runways are a series of peculiar markings, both positive and negative. Many of these are in groups of three, with the appearance of lettering. It was thought that these may be insignias or squadron markings, although this seems unlikely. They are probably marks in the grass caused by temporary structures or fixtures, possibly relating to military assault courses or activities, as suggested by E. Rose (NLA).
S. Massey (NLA), 30 August 2001.

January 2003.
Three Pickett-Hamilton forts scheduled. National Grid references TF 9995 1852, TG 0008 1874 and TG 0054 1899.
See scheduling record (S4) and (S13) in file.
See NHER 51063, NHER 51064 and NHER 51065 for further details.
J. Allen (NLA), 6 March 2003.

December 2005.
Control tower Listed Grade II. See NHER 53122.
A. Cattermole (NLA), 12 November 2009.

Construction of airfield began in 1939. Three J-type hangars were planned, but only one was built. Other buildings included a control tower, six H-block barracks, an Officer's Mess, a Sergeants' Mess and Station headquarters, and an Airmens' Mess incorporating a cinema.
Opened on 17 September 1940 as a 2 Group Bomber Command Station. Used throughout World War Two for many bombing missions.
The grass landing strips were bounded by a concrete perimeter track with dispersal areas. Three type T2 hangars were constructed at various points around the perimeter, with one adjacent to the main station buildings.
This was the airfield where the de Haviland Mosquito first entered service in an RAF squadron.
Used as an RAF station until 1995. Now an army base.
Information from (S5).
In June 1942 the first joint American-British bombing raid was launched from the station and Eisenhower and Churchill were present.
The three Pickett-Hamilton forts mentioned above were built in late 1940. They are comparatively rare survivals. See NHER 51063, NHER 51064 and NHER 51065 for further details.
Information from (S4).
World War Two pillboxes were built around the perimeter track. In 2002 six survived (see (S6)). See NHER 25493, 28694, 31421, 32427, 32442 and 51062 for details. A possible electricity substation (NHER 37166) and an anti-aircraft or observation tower (NHER 37167) were also built during World War Two. In 2002 there were plans to demolish NHER 32427, 37166 and 37167 ahead of gravel extraction (see S5).
During World War Two an antenna array site (NHER 40950) was associated with the airfield.
D. Robertson (NLA), 15 March 2006.

May 2008. Norfolk NMP.
The World War Two grass airfield, perimeter track and associated structures, defences and accommodation ranges are visible on aerial photographs (S6-S11) of Swanton Morley airfield. The main structural components of the airfield survive on the ground, or did until relatively recently and therefore the site is reasonable well documented on Ordnance Survey maps and previously undertaken surveys of the site. For this reason very few components of the airfield were mapped as part of the NMP project. The perimeter track and dispersal points were mapped to provide a framework for the few components of the site that were recorded. The main groups of features mapped were those that were not depicted with sufficient detail on the Ordnance Survey mapping or those components that have been destroyed, most notably the bomb stores to the south of the site. Also the perimeter defences around the western and northern part of the site were also mapped.

The exact locations of the rare Pickett Hamilton turrets could not be identified from the wartime aerial photographs. This is due to surface of the grass airfield being covered in the small concrete platforms of the former runway lights. Given the clarity and the scale of the aerial photographs of the airfield, it was found to be virtually impossible to distinguish the picket Hamilton forts from the concrete markers bordering the runways, although it is possible that these features had been purposes camouflaged from aerial view. The above ground component of these defences would have consisted of a small hatch level with the ground, potentially surrounded by a circular parched area, approximately 2m in diameter, covering the roof of the underground structure. In 1988 a series of small circular parchmarks can be detected on the aerial photographs (S11). Three of these are broadly consistent, although not identical, with the locations of the scheduled Pickett Hamilton forts. See NHER 51063, NHER 51064 and NHER 51065 for further details. In addition to these three recorded and scheduled examples, six other parchmarks of a comparable size and location were identified (TG 0063 1877, TG 0020 1867, TG 0001 1886, TG 0025 1903, TF 9979 1887 and TF 9996 1902). It seems likely that these mark the locations of other Pickett Hamilton forts, although it is not clear how much of these structures actually survive below the ground. Given the relatively late date of the aerial photographs showing the parchmarks (1988), it is possible that more of the rare Pickett-Hamilton forts survive below the surface than was previously thought.

To the south of the main site was the bomb stores, consisting of two areas of earthworks and structures, centred on TG 0006 1765 and TF 9992 1797. The northern area consisted of a series of storage structures and areas surrounded by broad earthen blast walls, linked by a sinuous access road. The southern area consisted of three linear groups of earth-covered bomb stores, again linked by a track.

Very little mapping was undertaken of structures and features within the main airfield infrastructure of operational buildings and accommodation. A number of sub-surface structures were mapped however. A group of elongated earthen-covered structures, assumed to be air raid shelter, were mapped at TG 0084 1842. These are still visible in 1988 (S11). Two substantial subterranean structures were mapped at TG 0061 1809 and TG 0068 1860. The southern structure appears to be the larger of the two and is likely to have been the airfield battle headquarters, which was designed to be occupied during an attack.The square structure visible on aerial photographs projected from the ground surface is likely to be the observational cupola. This structure appears to survive in 1988 (S11). The northern structure may also have acted as a sub-surface operational building or it may have merely been an air raid shelter. The 1988 aerial photographs would suggest that this is no longer accessible from the surface, although it is possible that it survives in tact under the ground.

To the south of Whinlands Pit at TG 0063 1789 is a pillbox, possibly a type 22. A series of perimeter defences are visible running in a line from TF 9925 1773 to TF 9930 1852, alongside the western edge of the site. These appear to consist of a variety of small gun emplacements and defensive structures. The hexagonal shape of the seemingly earthen feature, 6.5m across, at TF 9930 1809, would suggest that it is a camouflaged type 22 pillbox. A section of barbed wire also runs around the perimeter at this point. The aerial photographs from 1988 (S11) would suggest that none of these defences remain, although it is possible that they obscured by vegetation along the boundary.

To the north of the airfield is a greater concentration of perimeter defences, consisting of gun emplacements, including three probable light anti-aircraft emplacements at TG 0101 1897, TG 0064 1925 and TG 0037 1937. Two small square structures, both approximately 4m across, at TG 0104 1916 and TG 0029 1939 may represent type 20 pillboxes or similar structures. A number of other rectangular structures and earthen-covered elongated features are likely to be the remains of huts and air raid shelters. Smaller features such as weapons pits and possible spigot mortar emplacements may also be visible, although none could be recorded within any certainty. Stretches of barbed wire also protect this northern part of the site. The circular ends of the dispersal points within this northern part of the airfield appear to have the remains of a structural component in the centre – showing only as a hexagonal arrangement of bases. The original function of these features is not known, although it is possible that they are the remains of a turning platform or structure related to the maintenance or loading of the aircraft. However all of the dispersals that have this feature at the end have possible evidence of a lock or barrier being set up at the end of the perimeter track. This may suggest that they were not in use as dispersal routes at this time. It is therefore possible that defensive positions were set up on the dispersal terminals. Emergency water tanks were also located at TG 0123 1894, TG 0000 1935 and TF 9954 1873. All were within close proximity to the large hangars.

The parchmarks of building located at TF 9971 1843, previously assumed to be World War Two in date (see above), is actually a post medieval agricultural structure that is marked on the Ordnance Survey first edition map (S12).
S. Massey (NMP), 12 May 2008.

Monument Types

  • BUILDING (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD?)
  • LINEAR FEATURE (Early 20th Century to 21st Century - 1901 AD to 2100 AD)
  • AIR RAID SHELTER (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • AIRCRAFT HANGAR (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • ANTI AIRCRAFT BATTERY (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • BARBED WIRE OBSTRUCTION (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • BATTLE HEADQUARTERS (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • BOMB STORE (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • GUN EMPLACEMENT (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • HUT (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • LIGHT ANTI AIRCRAFT BATTERY (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • MILITARY AIRFIELD (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • NISSEN HUT (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • PICKETT HAMILTON FORT? (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • PILLBOX (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • SPIGOT MORTAR EMPLACEMENT? (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • STRUCTURE (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • WATER TANK (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • WEAPONS PIT? (World War Two - 1939 AD to 1945 AD)
  • AIRFIELD (World War Two to 21st Century - 1940 AD to 2100 AD)
  • CINEMA (Mid 20th Century to Late 20th Century - 1950 AD to 1986 AD)

Associated Finds - none

Protected Status

  • Scheduled Monument

Sources and further reading

---Article in Serial: 1973. Airfields of Norfolk and Suffolk. Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum. Part 1.
---Aerial Photograph: TG 0018 J, Q-W.
---Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A.. 1995. TG0018/L,M.
---Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1997. TG0017/T - Z.
---Illustration: Various. Various. Architectural plans.
---Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1996. TG 0119AFL - AFV.
---Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1995. TG 0019AEH - AEJ; TG 0119AFB - AFF; TG 0018AF - AL, N; TG 0017AA - AD.
---Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1996. TF 9918C - G; TG 0018AM - AU.
---Serial: Dobinson, C.S.. 1996. Twentieth Century Fortifications in England.. Vol I(4), p 587.
---Record Card: NAU Staff. 1974-1988. Norfolk Archaeological Index Primary Record Card.
---Correspondence: Correspondence regarding Swanton Morley Airfield.
---Unpublished Document: Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England. Ancient Monuments Record Form.
---Unpublished Document: Monuments at Risk Survey. 1995. Swanton Morley RAF Station, Norfolk.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1990. [Articles on the Spitfire at Swanton Morley Airfield].
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1994-1995. [Articles on the proposed theme park at Swanton Morley Airfield].
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1993. Jobs blow as fight for RAF base fails. 29 April.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1995. Flying school takes off from old base. 19 June.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1995. Tanks to take over air base. 2 September.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1995. Sunset farewell to RAF station. 7 September.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1995. A proud history is remembered. 6 September.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1995. Solemn farewell to base. 16 September.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1997. Air museum plan fails after public protests. 17 November.
---Map: 1945. Royal Air Force Swanton Morley. Plan of Airfield 1945.
---Map: Swanton Morley Deviation to Bomb Stores.
---Photograph: Pope, S.. 1960. Swanton Morley Air Field aerial photograph.
---Secondary File: Secondary File.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2013. Interesting to read about gun posts (Letter to the editor). 3 July.
<S1>Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1986. The end of an era down at the Astra. 21 November.
<S2>Aerial Photograph: TF 9918A.
<S4>Designation: English Heritage. 1990-2013. English Heritage Scheduling Notification. Notification. DNF330.
<S5>Unpublished Contractor Report: Trimble, G. and Underdown, S. 2002. Report on an Archaeological Evaluation on land adjoining Swanton Morley Airfield, Beetley, Norfolk. Norfolk Archaeological Unit. 770.
<S6>Vertical Aerial Photograph: RAF. 1946. RAF 3G/TUD/UK/51 5124-6 31-JAN-1946 (NMR).
<S7>Vertical Aerial Photograph: RAF. 1946. RAF 3G/TUD/UK/51 5058-9 31-JAN-1946 (NMR).
<S8>Vertical Aerial Photograph: RAF. 1946. RAF 3G/TUD/UK/100 5222-3 30-MAR-1946 (NHER TG 0019C).
<S9>Vertical Aerial Photograph: RAF. 1946. RAF 106G/UK/1428 3128-9 16-APR-1946 (NHER TG 0018A-B).
<S10>Vertical Aerial Photograph: RAF. 1946. RAF 106G/UK/1427 4357-8 16-APR-1946 (NMR).
<S11>Vertical Aerial Photograph: BKS Surveys Limited. 1988. BKS 0402-4 07-AUG-1988 (NCC 3510-2).
<S12>Designation: [unknown]. Ancient Monuments Form. SAM Record. NHER2830.
<S13>Designation: English Heritage. 1994? -2011?. English Heritage Digital Designation Record. Record. DNF330.

Related records

53122Parent of: Control Tower, Robertson Barracks (Building)
37167Parent of: Possible World War Two anti aircraft tower or observation post (Monument)
37166Parent of: Probable World War Two electricity sub station or installation (Monument)
51063Parent of: World War Two Pickett-Hamilton fort, Swanton Morley Airfield (Monument)
51064Parent of: World War Two Pickett-Hamilton fort, Swanton Morley Airfield (Monument)
51065Parent of: World War Two Pickett-Hamilton fort, Swanton Morley Airfield (Monument)
25493Parent of: World War Two pillbox (Monument)
28694Parent of: World War Two pillbox (Monument)
32427Parent of: World War Two pillbox (Monument)
32442Parent of: World War Two pillbox (Monument)
31421Parent of: World War Two pillbox and spigot mortar base (Monument)
51062Parent of: World War Two pillbox, Swanton Morley Airfield (Monument)
44346Related to: Bylaugh Hall World War Two military headquarters (Monument)
40950Related to: World War Two buildings and the site of a World War Two antenna array (Monument)

Find out more...

Norfolk County Council logo Heritage Lottery Fund logo

Powered by HBSMR-web and the HBSMR Gateway from exeGesIS SDM Ltd, and mojoPortal CMS
© 2007 - 2024 Norfolk Historic Environment Service