SHARING THE PASSION
An important Second World War control tower has been painstakingly restored by a couple with a love of history, and it’s now open for overnight visitors. Nigel Price deployed to the former RAF North Creake and sampled this B&B with a difference.
I’ve always had a fascination with old military buildings, growing up within touching distance of England’s east coast and the famous defensive line of World War Two pillboxes. Many a happy childhood hour was spent playing in such structures, of which there were many only a short cycle ride from home. Later, I discovered wartime architectural relics that were on a much grander scale – airfield control towers. Again, my local area had these in abundance, with stations such as King’s Cliffe and North Witham having seemingly open access for me and my pals to explore.
Sadly, many of these magnificent structures, a source of endless interest for me, are off limits today, or worse, have been demolished. One with a very bright future, though, can be found at the former RAF North Creake in North Norfolk. Even better, it’s been turned into a very smart bed and breakfast, where visitors can spend a night at the tower – and very enjoyable it is too!
The building has been given a new lease of life thanks to the dedication of married couple Claire Nugent and Nigel Morter. The couple have transformed the historic tower from a rundown nondescript building with a non-standard pitched roof to a haven of 1940s style – a worthy tribute to the men and machines that called the station home in the Second World War.
A ‘secret’ station
RAF North Creake was established on land just outside Wells-next-the-Sea on the beautiful North Norfolk coast in 1943, and was home to Bomber Command’s 100 Group. The first sortie from the station was in support of D-Day, with Short Stirling IIIs from 199 Squadron providing radio countermeasures for the invasion. A second Stirling ‘special ops’ unit, 171 Squadron, was formed at the aerodrome in September 1944, and soon both exchanged their bombers for more powerful HP Halifax IIIs.
The airfield’s time as a flying station was brief – just days after the war in Europe was over, North Creake’s wind-down began. Both resident flying units were disbanded in July 1945 and just two months later the base had been put into care and maintenance, and had become a scrapyard for de Havilland Mosquitos. It was officially closed and sold off in September 1947.
Local farms and businesses utilised many of the airfield’s buildings, and this remains the case today. These include the hangars and, of course, the tower. The latter structure has been occupied for most of the time since the RAF left, with spells as offices, flats and a private home. Extensively converted over the years, it had lost most of its original fittings and by 2010 was almost unrecognisable as a control tower.
It was then put up for sale, and although the house was habitable, it needed much work to bring it up to modern standards, and a major renovation if it was to return to its former glory. It came to the attention of environmental science graduates Claire and Nigel, a London-based couple who were on the lookout for such a project. The plan was to fully restore a wartime airfield building and open it as stylish bed and breakfast accommodation.
Claire outlines how it all came about: “We stumbled across a building in a field about 10 years ago, thought it was an amazing structure, and decided to find out more. It was the former operations block at RAF Steeple Morden in Cambridgeshire. It was derelict, but we could see the potential. We tried to buy it, but that proved not to be possible. That led to us trying to find out about similar structures that were built throughout Britain during the Second World War, and we became completely fascinated with airfield buildings.” The couple’s attempts to buy and preserve a suitable structure kept ending in disappointment, with landowners unwilling to sell. Then, by chance, an internet search revealed that the one-time control tower at the former RAF North Creake was available. The location was perfect – near a popular holiday destination – and it had planning permission and services connected. It also came with three acres of land.
See the November issue of Britain at War to read the rest of this story…