Abstracted from Newsletter 55 Spring 2012, 5-7
Was there an ‘aerodrome’ at Wiggold?
A single word has fuelled a stimulating but frustrating search. On the Popular Edition of the Ordnance Survey Contoured Road Map of Swindon and Cirencester (Sheet no. 104, scale one inch to one mile) is shown east of the Foss Way near Wiggold and adjacent to the Welsh Way a site labelled “Aerodrome”. The map was first published by the Director General, at the Ordnance Survey Office, Southampton, 1919, with periodical corrected reprints.
That single word was erased by the time of publication of a later edition of the One-Inch Popular Edition, revised in 1913-14, with road, railways and minor corrections to 1932.
To get one’s bearings, the national grid reference is centred on SP 048058 (OS Sheet 1114 (SP 00/10) Cirencester, scale 1:25000).
So what is known about this aerodrome? Answer: Precious little, especially of those early days, but the mystery deepens by the time of World War 2. Two elements of research beckoned: first, ask anyone who showed the remotest interest in idle ramblings; and secondly, delve into the archives and master the internet.
The first personal contact came from Tom Lyle: “It was a field used by the Australian Flying Corps (A.F.C.) [during World War 1] which later moved to Minchinhampton [reopened as RAF Aston Down in WW2]”.
It is known that the A.F.C. had under their training command two airfields at Minchinhampton and Leighterton, but there is no mention of Wiggold. The A.F.C. seems to have been here in Gloucestershire in 1916-18 and the Minchinhampton Airfield was in use until it closed in 1919. In correspondence, Miss S. Brockman recalled that the A.F.C. held a dinner at the King’s Head in Cirencester on Armistice night and that there had been a photo of the occasion.
Turning to the land owner, Will Chester-Master confirmed that the field had been known as “AIRFIELD” field since the 1930s. Before that it was known by another name. [Estate and tithe maps in 1837 and 1838 give field names as The First, and Second Downs, arable, of 23 and 27 acres respectively.] Over time it had been used for target practice, and as a private airfield. Peter Broxton (via Richard Reece) confirmed its location. “Of course there was, I helped harvest it one summer in the early 1960s. Mrs Barton had a framed map of Wiggold hanging in the house and ‘Aeroplane Field’ was clearly marked on it. It was in the angle of the Fosseway and the Welsh Way as you suspected.” [Corrected Feb 2017]
With the kind help of Will Chester-Master I contacted Dan Barton. He came up with the following information: The field was approximately 60 acres – a dividing hedge had been taken out. It was an emergency landing field for South Cerney [in WW2] and was also used as a target to practice aerial photography. He mentioned Hawker Harts, which from my memory were biplanes which had been used as light bombers amongst other things. Mr Barton also said that at one time it had been used by the Gloucester Flying Club.
The search then turned to records held at Gloucestershire Archives. Document K/1054/5 File S/T/15 contains correspondence on planning issues concerning airfields in the county in the period 1936-1938. In the file are notes on a proposed Cirencester and District civil aerodrome. Apparently the local council were surveying possible sites suitable for use as a civil aerodrome to serve Cirencester and surrounding districts and Wiggold was a contender, along with North Cerney.
The Honorary Surveyor’s report of January 1938 states that the site at Wiggold “appears capable of development into a good aerodrome surface at small cost. The ground being level and generally even, little grading would be necessary except in respect of the filling and levelling of the slight hollow in the south-west corner and the removal of trees and hedges. The site is capable of extension to the North, South and South-East, the ground remaining level for some considerable distance in these directions and it is possible that an aerodrome of standard dimensions might be obtained if required at some future date.
The air approaches are naturally good from all directions, the only obstruction, other than a few individual trees on the boundaries being Wiggold copse and it is considered that it would not be necessary to cut any of the trees in the copse at any rate for initial development of the site as the runways could be arranged so as to avoid the copse.”
Wiggold was considered “as much superior to the other proposed site at North Cerney, however, the Department could not regard it as altogether suitable for development as a civil aerodrome for general purposes because of its proximity to the site in course of development at South Cerney, intended to be used as a training school for Royal Air Force pilots.”
The report’s conclusion was “that as the establishment of an aerodrome is not an immediate proposition, that an agreement should be reached between the Air Ministry and the Urban District Council to the effect that when the former vacates the South Cerney site, the latter should have first refusal of purchase.”
So, was the “Aerodrome” at Wiggold used by the Australian Flying Corps in World War 1, and did its ghost inspire the local council to develop aspirations of building a civil aerodrome? Staverton has now assumed that role in the county, with the Cotswold Airport aspiring to the heights by name.
I now return to head scratching in the hope of finding another source. Unless of course, dear readers, you come up with something to ease my troubled brain.
Philip Griffiths, with sincere thanks to those who have supported me thus far.
Text of his recollection corrected by Peter Broxton Jan 2017
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