The military definitely has a strong importance in my immediate family history. Most noteably the navy and the airforce, with both generations of my grandparents having been involved in the past two world wars either through industry or combat. During the last world war my Great Grandfather was part of the team that built the inconic Mosquito aircraft at RAF Swannington in Norflok, my grandfather worked on engine maintenance for the barracuda dive bombers at RNAS Merganser in Scotland, and more recently my uncle has been heavily involved in the RAF Burtonwood association projects. So it is safe to say that the airforce holds a special place in our family heritage. Which brings me to my most recent "urban exploration".
RNAS Stretton, better known as Stretton Airfield and traditionally named HMS Blackcap lies just 3 miles from my house in Warrington, Cheshire and can clearly be seen on any aerial photograph, standing out amid the vast array of industrial estates, farmland and housing developments that have grown around it since it was commissioned in 1942 during the second world war. At the time, situated south-east from the adjacent Burtonwood American Air Base a mere ten miles away, its purpose as an RAF airfield was to protect the cities of Liverpool and Manchester from the Luftwaffe, with a total of three runways and numerous hangars the airfield was a station for 41 Fleet Air Arm squadrons as well as aircraft being flown to and from carriers in the Irish Sea.
The German air force however soon relinquished its threat and the airfield henceforth became an aircraft maintenance yard that housed a sizeable amount of civilians and remained a largely busy complex until the end of the war when it assisted Burtonwood in the extraction and disposal of American naval aircraft. At its peak, the airfield handled one third of all Fleet Air Arm Aircraft and all of its spare engines, and it continued to supply and serve the Royal Naval Air Service until its closure in 1958. As it currently stands, the station is merely concrete runways and taxi lanes, and only half of the original site still remains. In 1974 the now dominant M56 motorway cut straight through the middle of the site, flattening the north side which was then slowly turned into the bustling industrial estate that is now home to Eddie Stobart and co. Some of the original buildings are still scattered around the area, divided by storage facilities, roads and farmland that are slowly but surely hiding them from sight.
Since its closure the only permanent use of the track was as a motor oil testing circuit for Shell Motorsport Technology, who built their station on the south east side whilst renovating the airfield into a vehicle circuit, therefore being responsible for keeping the remaining airfields in relatively good condition until they themselves left the airfield behind with much of their base still intact. Including the garages and mechanics yard and office block which overlooked the start and finish line.
The only wartime remains are two unused air raid shelters, one still left with its original bench and cushions, and a water reservoir to the south. Barracks and hangars remain but are offsite and now technically on private property. Hopefully the airfield will still stand for some time, but the threat of housing development is slowly consuming many of the remaining WWII airfields across the country; the recent demolition of Burtonwood airbase being no exception. Hardly anybody acknowledges the fact that Stretton Airfield is even still there, but perhaps that's a good thing. You can’t help but feel glad you can still, for the time being at least, stumble onto the same ground that once had some real purpose in our military history.
view full album here: http://www.rikcotterill.com/albums/rnas-stretton-hms-blackcap/