September 17 2014 Latest news:
Monday, March 24, 2014
This is the long abandoned RAF Sculthorpe, an air base with an extensive history, entwined with not only the Royal Air Force but also the USAF.
When the Cold War ended the base became inactive, whilst the airstrip still remains in military hands and is regularly used by the USAF 352nd Special Operations Group, the quarters, messes and admin buildings (the heart and lungs of the place) have been abandoned to mother nature, left to decay together with the stories of those that inhabited them.
I have visited this place before, but never really spent any time looking, feeling, imagining what had gone on here and the people who had transited this place during the height of the Second World War and latterly the Cold War with the Soviet Union. So, one Tuesday morning, on the spur of the moment, I got in my car and made the short drive to the site, just to explore and take photographs and imagine what had been.
From order to disorder
The first thing that strikes you as you walk onto the site is not just the vastness of it, but the eerie silence, even in daytime there are areas of the buildings that not only look foreboding, but that actually send a shiver down the spine. Of course the place is still inhabited, but not by humans, these days it’s wildlife; owls, rats, stoats, rabbits and of course pigeons, amongst others. Brambles encroach through windows like spindly hands and it’s almost as if nature is reclaiming the land for it’s own once more.
Inside out and outside in
Outwardly the buildings look like shells, but step inside (with your sturdy boots of course) and you will find plenty of character still remains, as well as the remnants of a creche, there are textures and muted colours all over the place, there are of course signs of more recent additions in the form of graffiti tags but they take nothing away from the faded glory of the surroundings. It’s odd to think that once these buildings and grounds would have been absolutely pristine, personally, I kind of prefer it this way.
RAF Sculthorpe has been home to many visiting airmen and support crews and was, at one point, the biggest Atomic bomber base in Europe.
Situated three miles west of Fakenham, the base was built for the Royal Air Force for use in World War Two.
It was built up for US Air Force use and was the biggest operational airfield in the UK by 1957, carrying 10,000 personnel and, for a period, the biggest Atomic bomber base in Europe.
The airstrip is said to be one of the longest heated airstrips in the world.
To a certain extent the base was quite secret, its position on top of a hill meaning that very little can be seen from outside.
The base was active during the Second World War and the Cold War.
The US Air Force deployed to Sculthorpe during the Berlin Crisis in 1949 and then, in 1952, it became home for the 47th Bombardment Wing, who were to stay for a decade.
In 1963 Project Clearwater halted large scale rotational bomber deployments to Britain, and RAF Fairford, RAF Chelveston, RAF Greenham Common, and RAF Sculthorpe were returned to the Air Ministry.
The base became inactive at the end of the Cold War.
Much of the associated housing and most other buildings have now been sold off by the military. The US quarters have been extensively refurbished and now form a new village called Wicken Green. The airstrip area remains in military hands, officially as an army helicopter training area.
For me this is where the real beauty lies, beauty in the decay. As the buildings are exposed to the elements they are constantly changing, evolving, it is a reflection of our own life cycle as humans. Created as new, growing in to it’s prime before it’s use is exhausted, when it is then left to grow old, changing, ageing, until at some point it simply ceases to be.
For more on Steve Hunt’s work log on to www.stevehuntphoto.org