WORLD WAR I Sedgeford Aerodrome
In this ‘technical area’ we had, while rooting around in the undergrowth, come across an unusual H-shaped concrete pedestal, which had curved, almost scalloped, surfaces when seen in section. After much scrub-clearance, the pedestal proved to be in a small annexe attached to another larger building (Building 8). This building had its own unusual aspect, as it had a large, concrete-lined conduit running down the centre of the floor, which led to the base of a chimney. We extended the excavation of the annexe on the north-west corner. This revealed a chalkrubble platform, partially covered with tarmac, and a concrete plinth beyond the H-shaped pedestal, as well as two concrete foundations for posts. We guessed that this represented the remains of a lean-to style extension to the annexe, with sloping roof, visible in aerial photos.
During excavation in the annexe we discovered a small metal plate inscribed with the name Blackman Motor No. 52033 and carrying electrical specifications. We later tracked this down to the firm of James Keith Blackman Ltd, a company registered in Manchester, which made extractor fans for power stations before World War I. Thus we now know that our curiously shaped pedestal would have carried two electric fans.
Further research revealed the building to be the remains of a doping shed, where aircraft wings would have been repaired. Here an acetate solvent was applied to the canvas wings,
above & BELOW Carpetrolling and wall-chasing in the technical area: volunteer excavators find ways to reveal the groundplans of buildings in areas of heavy vegetation.
current archaeology | www.archaeology.co.uk shrinking the material and stretching it over their wooden frames.
The solvent was called ‘dope’ because the fumes made people ‘high’ – and in large doses could be lethal. The electric fans would have been used to force the toxic fumes down into the conduit and out of the shed via the chimney.
Other sections of the technical area were much more heavily overgrown, and we generally changed strategy to ‘wall-chasing’ in order to determine the extent of the remaining buildings. The first target was a long rectangular building immediately north of Building 8. From comparison with the building layout at the contemporary aerodrome at Stowe Maries in Essex, we expected this, Building 9, to be a workshop block.
It appears to have been divided into three sections, which we designated south, central, and north. The southern section was the most vegetation-free, and thus the most fully investigated. This section enclosed an area where there were no signs of any flooring, and we suspect that a suspended wooden floor had been removed.
In the middle of this section, we uncovered the foundation of a partition wall, running east–west, which would have divided it roughly in half. The base of an internal door in the partition was found near the central north–south axis of the building, providing access to the rest of the building. We also exposed a double doorway in the southern wall, which lined up with a concrete path leading to the doors of the doping shed.
September 2014 |