Some of the only WW2 structures that still remain today on the RAF Beaulieu site are the handcraft huts to the west of the airfield. The reason they still survive is because they are on private farmland in an area which would have been part of the airfield accommodation area during the war.
As a result of being on private land, they were not destroyed after the airfield closed in 1958.
If you scroll down, you can see the photos I’ve taken when visiting the area in November 2020. I managed to identify what some of the buildings would have been. This was based on being able to see two buildings to the left of the 1945 map; the sergeants’ quarters.
Dave Reed also visited in November of 2020, and he was given permission to access the private farmland to the right side of the map which I was unable to access. He has been able to document what would have been the huts making up the officers’ quarters.
1945 map of Site 5’s accommodation blocks
According to the 1945 map of the airfield above, the RAF Beaulieu handcraft huts are in an area called Site 5. There were 32 buildings on this particular site area in total including:
- Sergeant quarters x 10
- Sergeant latrines x 2
- Sergeant and airmen ablutions (washing area)
- Airmen barrack hut x 7
- Airmen latrines (type 72) x 2
- Officers’ quarters x 6
- Officers’ latrines x 2
- Officers ablutions (washing area)
- Fuel compound
In my scan of this part of the the map above, I’ve also overlaid part of the map key to help you identify the old structures. The huts marked in red the ones you see in the photos below that we know still exist today.
Documenting the handcraft huts at RAF Beaulieu
The handcraft huts and other Site 5 buildings are located at the side of the old airfield site accessible from a road that runs off from Roundhill Campsite, heading towards the cottages next to Perrywood Inclosure.
To see them you don’t need to go as far as the cottages. Instead you can view the remaining the accommodation huts by going through a gate next to a bridleway sign, then down a farm track towards two private farm entrances.
The remaining sergeants’ quarters to the left side of the map
The bridleway is publicly accessible and will curve off to your right. This path lets you see the existing handcraft huts labelled as 85a and 85b from the left hand side of map. Here is how they looked when I saw them in November of 2020.
85a. Sergeant’s quarters
According to the 1945 airfield map, that would make them accommodation huts to the left of the map. This would make them Sergeant’s Quarters (Type A).
This would make sense, as according to research I’ve done (more of that further down the page), handcraft huts were predominantly used for barrack accommodation on airfields.
At the moment, one of these handcraft huts appears to be shelter for livestock to live in on the farm, and the second one below being possibly used for storage.
85b. Sergeant’s quarters
The two handcraft huts to this side of the farms can be seen without trespassing and were documented from a public path.
Handy Hint: If you want to visit them for yourselves, check out my second RAF Beaulieu walk where I show you how to access the bridle pathway to see them up closer. Please do respect the farm and residents’ privacy and do not trespass off the path.
The remaining officer’s quarters to the right side of the map
There are also remaining handcraft huts to the right of the 1945 map. I was unable to access these due to them being on private farmland, but Dave Reed was given permission to enter the area.
Without being granted access the buildings and huts are not easy to see from the public path, being 50 metres or so from the track.
The side of the track and site would have been the officers’ area. That means any buildings here would have been officers’ quarters, latrines, or washing areas… and some still do remain.
92a. Officer’s ablutions
94. Officer’s ablutions
95a. Officer’s quarters
Here’s the first of the handcraft huts on that side of the track.
It’s important to note, that the next two handcraft huts on the old RAF Beaulieu airfield Site 5 are being used as full-time accommodation today.
Dave Reed was given permission to go through the gate and enter the land. The people living here gave him permission to take these photos.
Please do not attempt to do this yourself unless invited to by the landowner or residents.
95b. Officer’s quarters
91. Officer’s quarters
Older photos and notes on the Beaulieu handcraft huts (1983 to 1994)
As you might already know, the local author and illustrator Alan Brown previously started to document RAF Beaulieu before the turn of the century. Below you can see his hand drawn overview of the handcraft huts from 1983, plus photos that he took between the period 1983 to 1994.
In Alan Brown’s notes above he shows the layout of the handcraft hut interior and it’s location on the airfield communal site No.5. I’ve transcribed his notes below:
“The No. 5 site huts, just off the road to Dilton Farm. This site used huts with brick built end walls covered with plaster. Brick dividing walls between the two ends of the hut and asbestos sheet roof. These huts were better standard than other huts at Beaulieu. There were used by various personnel but after 1948 became more used for workshops and stores. In 1983 No.5 site huts are still standing on either side of the bridle path to Dilton Farm.”
Also Brown also included photos of airmen stood outside the huts. I believe these photos below would date between 1946 and 1950 in the immediate post-war period during the AFEE’s time at Beaulieu.
And lastly, here are photos that Alan Brown took of the handcraft huts after they had been left to decay post-1950 when the last of the AFEE personnel left Beaulieu.
These photos were taken between 1983 and 1994. When compared to the images higher up the page, the huts don’t look that much different to how they do today.
And the last of Alan Brown’s photos is very similar to one of mine, as seen on the bridle path approach.
Handcraft huts during World War 2
The handcraft huts you see in the area near Roundhill Campsite are made from 7 sides. Each of the 7 sides is an asbestos sheet, which are then bolted together to form the unique and recognisable shape.
They were manufactured by the Universal Asbestos Manufacturing Company Ltd of Watford for use as airfield accommodation from 1942 onwards. That’s why some still exist on old wartime airfields around the UK.
Quick and easy to assemble, I assume they are called handcrafts huts because a team of men at the airfield could have taken the sheets and rapidly built an accommodation hut.
A lot of what I have learned about handcraft huts comes from 2017 research I found online from Karey Lee Draper. She’s an architectural historian who published a thesis called “Wartime Huts: The Development, Typology and Identification of Temporary Military Buildings in Britain 1914-1945.”
Here’s an extract where she explains how the remaining accommodation huts we see at Site 5 on RAF Beaulieu would have been made;
“The Handcraft Hut was advertised as an 18 ft span temporary construction with a length of 36 ft, which could be adjusted upon requirements. It consisted of three ‘Handcraft’ reinforced asbestos-cement double cranked units, measuring 4 ft wide by 12 ft long. The exterior has a distinctive shape, similar to the Nissen, but with seven sides. The interior walls were lined with asbestos-cement sheets.”
The asbestos sheets would have been the roof construction. The sheets were then supported on bricks, with walls at each end. Draper goes on to describe this aspect as follows:
“The exterior end walls could be constructed from a variety of materials such as brick, breeze blocks, hollow blocks, and asbestos cement. Along with the hut, the manufacturer also sold necessary parts and accessories, including window units of a box type frame, made of asbestos-cement, shelving and ventilators.”
The handcraft huts at RAF Beaulieu offer an invaluable insight into what the airfield would have been like during the Second World War.
Whilst they are not in the best of condition, one hopes that they will remain there for a few years to come, so others can gain this insight.
Thanks to Dave Reed & Tony Johnson
I am very grateful to Dave Reed for letting me include his photos on this page. If you want to see more of his images please visit his Military Explores Facebook page. Also, a huge thanks as usual to Tony for letting me glimpse and digitise his archives.