Heritage Day offers fascinating insight into military base

The converted Watch Office at the former Alconbury airbase.

The converted Watch Office at the former Alconbury airbase. - Credit: URBAN & CIVIC

Alconbury Weald is rich in military heritage and will be celebrating its past by opening up some of its secrets on September 11 as part of the National Trust’s Heritage Open Days.

The designs of the current and future development of the former airfield include key listed buildings, which will be preserved and enhanced in heritage settings.

The Open Day event will focus on the old airfield’s historic role: straddling both the RAF and American Air Force eras of the Second World War and the unique Cold War Intelligence role of the Avionics Building (Building 210).

Alconbury from the air.

Alconbury from the air. - Credit: URBAN & CIVIC

Pre-booked guided tours will give a fascinating insight into the Cold War Avionics building, which was designed to survive a nuclear attack while still analysing reconnaissance taken by the TR1 reconnaissance aircraft (also known as the U2 spy plane).

The Grade II* Listed building was designed and constructed during some of the hottest moments of the Cold War in the 1980s, but it was completed in 1989 as tensions between the West and the Soviet Union thawed.

It was one of the largest and most sophisticated buildings of its kind in the UK at the time, and remains an important monument to the nature of the Cold War and those who served in it.

The old mask storage area at Alconbury.

The old mask storage area at Alconbury. - Credit: URBAN & CIVIC

The events on Watch Office Green will include live music from The Umbrella Band playing classics from the 1940s (at midday) and a performance from Cambs and Beds Lindy Hop dancers (at 3pm).

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There will also be a display of military vehicles from the Second World War period and a range of events including displays, artefacts, costumes and board games.

Rebecca Britton from Urban&Civic said: “The military past of Alconbury Weald has shaped the legacy of the land we inherited, and the design of the development moving forward incorporates echoes of the airfield’s history, through key footprints, views and features, as well as the listed buildings.

"All of these will come together as the development rolls out into a Heritage Trail as well as a specific Cold War Heritage Area that will tell the unique story of this place’s role in intelligence gathering at some of the most frightening periods of our history.

INFO: www.heritageopendays.org.uk.