Monday, 27 March 2017


The Chase Through Time aerial survey work has been underway since the beginning of the year. This is the first of a number of blog entries looking at some of the sites Historic England are mapping.

We are currently looking at RAF Hednesford and the first stage of our mapping is using the 1946 aerial photographs that show the camp in its role as a training school. The camp was built in 1938 and for over ten years served as a school of Technical Training for flight mechanics, riggers and fitters.  If anyone can help us by providing accurate dates for the camp or any other information concerning its use please do contact us. There is a comments section at the bottom of the page.

RAF/106G/UK/1483 RS 4263 09-May-1946 Historic England RAF Photography

This 1940s aerial photograph provides a detailed view of the different buildings that made up RAF Hednesford. But we are also fortunate to have a copy of an historic plan of the camp which tells us what all the buildings were used for. Most of the buildings that can be seen on the photo above were huts for accommodation.

RAF/106G/UK/1483 RS 4263 09-May-1946 Historic England RAF Photography

These huts were arranged around smaller buildings, which were the ablution blocks that had toilets and washing facilities. There was an ablution block for every four huts. This photo shows 48 huts in two groups of 24. Most of the buildings between these two groups are bathhouses.

RAF/106G/UK/1483 RS 4395 09-May-1946 Historic England RAF Photography

Special treatment appears to have been provided for those to be billeted in the 16 huts near the north-western end of the camp. Here the sleeping quarters were linked to the ablution blocks via covered or perhaps completely enclosed walkways. These walkways are white in this photograph and must have made trips at night or in bad weather more bearable.

RAF/106G/UK/1483 RS 4395 09-May-1946 Historic England RAF Photography

The only other buildings connected by covered or enclosed walkways are the educational and technical huts. These were near the centre of the camp close to the large hangar-like training sheds with camouflaged roofs. It was in these buildings that the men were trained in their various technical roles.

RAF/106G/UK/1483 RS 4395 09-May-1946 Historic England RAF Photography

The information on the plan and the standardization of the building design means that we can recognise a repeated pattern in the layout of the plan. The building on the left is a NAAFI (Navy, Army, Air Force institute) and on the right a Dining Hall.

© Historic England

This is the aerial survey mapping of part of RAF Hednesford.  The NAAFI and the Dining Hall shown in the previous photograph are near the centre of the image. The distinctive outline of these buildings can be seen repeated at the top right of the image and at the bottom. In total, the camp had four NAAFIs and four Dining Halls. Other buildings included barrack huts, ablution blocks, bathhouses, Squadron and Wing HQ offices. The features outlined in red are air raid shelters.

Plan Staffordshire County Council

Although there is an RAF plan of the camp, the aerial photographs are still an important source of information. The buildings on the plan are not accurately drawn and this is particularly noticeable when you compare this drawing of the NAAFI and the Dining Hall with the outline mapped from the air photos. The buildings are similar enough to be recognised as the same, but the dimensions are different.

RAF/106G/UK/1483 RS 4395 09-May-1946 Historic England RAF Photography

The aerial photographs also show us different aspects of the camp that were not depicted on official plans. For example in 1946 there were a number of aircraft fuselages or apparently complete aircraft at the southern end of the camp.

RAF/CPE/UK/2555 RP 4440 27-Mar-1948 Historic England RAF Photography

The camp plan emphasises the regimented nature of a military camp with regular rows of huts within a rigid system of roads. In contrast, the aerial photographs show the many paths of worn grass cutting diagonally across the site, formed by the men taking the shortest route from building to building.

The camp continued as a technical training school throughout the Second World War and the immediate post-war years but the 1950s saw a change in use. Our next post on RAF Hednesford will look at RAF aerial photographs taken in the 1950s and see if this change in use affected how the camp looked from the air.

Should you be interested in visiting the site of RAF Hednesford, part of the area of the camp is in open access land, but part of it is on private land and you would need to seek permission from the landowner to access those areas.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Visit to the Chorley Pals Museum and Archive 22 February 2017

The following notes have been kindly supplied by Mary Cartwright, who like many of our volunteers is also involved in other centenary projects on the Chase.


The visit was organised by Anne Walker from Cannock Chase AONB who drove us by minibus to Astley Park in Chorley, a beautiful 17th century house now owned and administered by Chorley Council.  There we were greeted by John Garwood and Steve Williams, Chorley Pals historians and trustees of the Chorley Pals Memorial Trust.

 Steve and John presented a very interesting talk starting with a brief history of the Chorley Pals, the main points as follows:

- In August 1914, Captain James Milton set about raising a Pals Battalion in Chorley.  Eventually 212 men and 3 officers from Chorley, Blackburn, Burnley and surrounding villages became Y Company of the 11th Battalion East Lancashire regiment known as The Accrington Pals.  Steve stressed that the Chorley Pals had a distinct identity within the Accrington Pals regiment.

- In May 2015 the Pals travelled from training at Caernarvon to Rugeley Camp where they trained until July before moving on to Ripon.

- John told us that the Pals were not issued with rifles at Caernarvon or in training at Rugeley Camp; they had to wait until they arrived at Salisbury Plain in September 1915.

- Chorley boys sent postcards and letters home during their training on the Chase.  L/Cprl Richard Ormerod writes to his sister Polly 'It is a terrible place; no one has a good name for it'. There is more information on the Pals time on the Chase together with some of the letters and images included in the presentation at this link:

- Steve also gave an entertaining account of the process of funding, commissioning and erecting the Chorley Pals Memorial, a fitting tribute, a beautiful piece of sculpture and an amazing achievement, more information at this link:

After lunch we had a guided tour of 'Chorley Remembers', the Chorley Pals museum and archive. The exhibition was themed in three zones – remembrance, conflicts and activity.  Many of the exhibits were donated by local people.  During the visit John, an authority on the Chorley Pals, who started his research in the 1970s when he met and interviewed some of the Chorley Pals, shared some of his wealth of knowledge with us. Before leaving we packed into the ‘Trench Experience', a simulation of a Somme trench a watched a short dramatization of a conversation between a private and an officer, both from Chorley. It is very moving, and although there is no mud, gore or smells, the battlefield noise is convincing, especially as Steve and John turned up the volume and the vibration especially for us.  More information on the museum, well worth a visit, at this link:

Huge thanks to Steve Williams and John Garfield for their hospitality and sharing their knowledge with us, and to Anne for organising the visit and for driving us there and back.  A return visit is being planned for the Pals to visit Cannock Chase.


 More information

Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

'Chorley Pals' (1989) John Garfield (ISBN: 9781852160371)

'Chorley Pals'  (2009) Steve Williams and John Garfield