From 1951 to 1955, huts on the closed RAF Stoney Cross airfield near Lyndhurst were taken over by the New Forest District Council to be used as temporary civilian housing. There was a housing shortage due to men returning to their families after the war, and where many homes had been destroyed by German bombs.
For the next decade, families lived in Nissen huts on what we now know as Longbeech campsite. As well as the huts, there was a grocery, doctor’s surgery, library, and hall which doubled up as a cinema at the weekends.
The following civilian and family memories were collected in the early 2000s and discovered in the paperwork left behind by the late author Alan Brown. I believe they were collected by Peter Earley, a resident of Longbeech.
Some names and details have been removed. I have no credits for many of photos in this article as they were unlabelled when found in the archives. If they belong to you, your family and you would like them removed, or credited correctly, please get in touch.
Memories of those who lived at the ex-RAF Stoney Cross camp in the early 1950s
The hundreds of people who camp at Longbeech enclosure nowadays will be well aware that it is one of the most pleasant places in the country with its large, sunny clearings and the surrounding beech trees which give it the name.
They are unlikely, however, to know that in the 1950s the area was home to several hundred people and was almost like a small town.
Although the huts were demolished in the late 1950’s the water tower survived for some years. This now too has gone leaving only the network of concrete roads and marks in the ground as a reminder of wartime – and civilian living in the post-war period.
Mr Peter Earley
I only lived there for a few months as a six year old. My memories are somewhat hazy and, unfortunately, my parents died before I thought that memories of this time should be recorded.
I was born in 1947 and for the first few years of my life I lived in Marsh House in Hythe and Dad worked at the garage next door. In the early 50s the house was declared uninhabitable by the Council and the family – Mum & Dad, 2 sisters and 3 brothers – went to live at Stoney Cross in 1953.
We lived in one of three Nissen huts that formed a sort of U shape. There were gates across the open end of the U to keep the ponies out. Together with my younger brother, Dave, we attended Bramshaw School.
As I recall we went by bus and I remember during the winter when the snow lay heavily on the ground the bus skidded off the road in Bramshaw and ended up in the ditch. We were all ferried back to the camp in Land Rovers and I can clearly recall Dad opening the back of the Land Rover and saying “Is there anyone called Earley in here”. Dad walked Dave and I back to our hut where we emptied the snow from our boots.
I’ve always had in my mind that a young boy was killed whilst playing around the milk float. This is probably the incident referred to by ** ******.
Being only 7 at the time my memories of the time are quite slight. I remember we had a cinema, I think it was the only building on the left as you went down into the camp.
I have often visited Stoney Cross. The spot where are hut used to be is easily identified by the junction of camp roads that were alongside. Although my memories are slight my younger brother and sister remember even less. This prompted me to start asking around and then I wrote to the local press asking for any who lived there to come forward.
Mr ***** ******
To me at the time it was a little adventure. Like any 5 year old child, I gave no thought to life’s hardships generally. At 5 years old, especially in the 1950’s, we just got on with life as it was, with no thoughts of how it might be.
My only really strong memory is of *** taking us through the forest to the Sir Walter Tyrell pub and seeing the monkeys in the cage. This must have been in the late spring just before we left as I’ve tried to walk through there recently, and it always seems very wet.
Another memory is just before we left. Several families had left and a lot of the Nissen huts were empty. I remember the postman arriving and delivering letters to one of the empty homes. After he had gone , one boy, who must have been a few years older than me, said that he was going to see what was in the letter that the postman had put through the letter box.
He climbed over the fence around this particular hut, and broke in through a window. The letter didn’t contain anything of value and the young man threw it away with contempt. I was horrified that anyone could do something so naughty – our parents had obviously installed a strong sense of morality into us!
I can remember going by bus along the road towards Emery Down and Lyndhurst; the houses in the woods on the eastern side of the road always looked liked mansions. I guess they were when compared to what we were living in.
Do you remember how Mum’s finger got broken? I can’t personally recall the incident, itself although Mum did tell us about it. *** (who must have been 7 or 8 months old) was in the pram taking in the autumn sunshine, and some ponies stared to sniff around her.
Mum came out to chase the ponies off, and one of them kicked out and hit her on the hand. Mum had broken one of her fingers (I can’t recall which one). Whether or not she went to hospital I have no idea; nor why the finger was not properly set and put in a splint. Her finger set it self so that it was permanently bent and was always a source of fascination later on.
I also remember leaving Stoney Cross and going to Fairfield. This would have been Easter 1954, I guess. I went with **** to stay with Granny near Basingstoke. While I was there, I went down with Mumps, so I had to stay on a bit longer.
The next door neighbour’s son gave me a red pedal car which I kept for years. Granny and Uncle **** brought me back to Hythe and I can especially remember the old Winchester by-pass. This super-highway made a particular impression on a five year old boy!
Mrs ***** *****
We arrived at Long Beech in the summer of 1947 and stayed till the spring of 1952 when we were allocated a new council house in Totton. At the time we had a very active ten month old baby, so our first priority was to fence off an area around our hut to allow our son to play outside in safety. As the RAF had left a lot of chain link fencing lying around in the forest we used that.
When we had been living there for a short while, the New Forest District Council, or Rural Council as it was then, took over the running of the site. We were charged a small weekly rent to start with, 6/6d (32 and a half pence). Cooking ranges were installed and water piped to each hut.
Previously we had to fetch water from the tap in the nearest toilet block which we shared with others in the area. Walls were built to divide the huts so that we had one large living room and two bedrooms.
There was a large building on the campsite which I believe was used as a church by the RAF, the local doctors held regular surgeries there and a weekly welfare clinic was also held there.
One of the community gave her services to run the weekly library. Books arrived in large boxes which were kept locked till the evening designated for us to come and choose our books. There was plenty of time for reading, no gardens to dig and weed, no lawns to mow, no decorating or DIY to take up the evenings.
We lived in our first hut number 327, for about two years before being offered a slightly upmarket hut at the top of the camp nearer the bus stop on Stoney Cross aerodrome. We had a two hourly bus service to Southampton via Minstead and Lyndhurst. But we didn’t need to use the buses to collect our weekly rations and other provisions as there was a small general store on the site.
Also, milkmen, bakers, butchers and greengrocers called regularly. Having been a member of the Co-op since I started earning, I was keen to continue to patronise them, so I contacted them and the result was that a mobile shop called once a week with practically all our requirements. They were particularly obliging and would bring out anything from Southampton that we asked for if they could obtain it.
Our new hut number 282, has its own toilet which was a big advantage with the family growing up. The District Nurse lived on the site and had attended the birth of my second son, only just getting to me in time. We now lived very close to her, but as it happened she was on holiday when baby number three was due. My husband had left for work before I realised the birth was imminent, so I asked a neighbour to phone from a nearby public phone box to get the nurse from Wellow to come.
The delay meant that my little daughter brought herself into the world with no help from anyone. Luckily it was mid-summer and very warm so she suffered no ill effects. But the neighbour was in such a state of shock that she cut herself with the breadknife.
My husband had been fetched home by then as he only worked a short distance away at the Compton Arms Hotel, now a Little Chef. However, he felt obliged to accompany the neighbour to hospital to have her hand stitched. That was a day none of us have forgotten.
At weekends we would pack up a picnic and explore the surrounding countryside. Life seemed quite idyllic and I think it’s true to say that most people who spent some time at Longbeech camp look back at that time with happy memories.
Mrs *. *****
My husband, small boy and self moved into 331 Longbeech on 19thMarch 1950 and left in August 1953.
The Nissen hut was divided into three, with running water and electricity, we had a kitchen range which my husband and myself took great pride in. We were always polishing with black lead and emery paper, and whitened the hearth around it. In one corner was a large sink and coal bunker in the other.
It was very cold in winter and very hot in summer. We used to boil up our washing in a galvanised bath on a primus stove in the garden, weather permitting. The flush toilet was in a block about two huts away. Most afternoons I took my son into the enclosure to gather lighting wood for the stove.
We had a shop, church and doctors surgery also a bus service to Lyndhurst from the top of the camp, coal, milk, bread and green groceries were delivered, and although coal was in short supply we never went without. Our rent for this was 7/6d (37 and a half pence) per week.
My son started school at Bramshaw when he was five. I used to put him on the bus and meet him in late afternoon. If I thought he was poorly he did not go as it was a long day for a small child and he managed to get measles and whooping cough soon after starting.
The previous tenant of our hut had put a fence round front and back so we were able to cultivate a piece of ground and grew some very good vegetables.
When we first moved in my husband painted pictures round our hut, owls, ducks, chickens, and rabbits to amuse our son. While living there he built a towing caravan in the spare room during winter, taking it outside and bolting it together at Easter time. Quite a few of our neighbours were interested in what he was doing. At that time he was working for the Ministry of Defence in the big hangar on the plain.
You mention Fairfield Garage in your letter. My husband worked there for a short while, he was a first class, army-trained mechanic, driving and working on tanks during the war.
Most of the men folk at Stoney Cross were ex-forces waiting for homes and there was not a lot of money about at that time.
I made many friends at Stoney Cross, sadly most are no longer with us and that goes for my husband also.
Mr ****** *****
I’ve heard from my mother Mrs **** ***** that you are collecting photos and stories about life in the Longbeech campsite on the site of RAF Stoney Cross in the early fifties. Looking back, this now seems like another world away.
I can clearly remember being a young child living in our Nissen hut with its tarred corrugated tin roof. I can still remember the address – 331 Long Beach. I think I was about 4 when we went there and I left after being at Bramshaw School for about a year, so I must have been between 5 and 6 years old.
We had to share our toilet that was in an outside block, with the people next door. In our kitchen my mother used to cook using a primus stove or on the open range (I think that’s what it’s called).
We used to have regular forays into the woods to get dry wood for it. My Dad painted pictures of Disney cartoons, Mickey Mouse and friends, on our tin roof ceiling just to make it a bit more cheerful.
For me life was very good, in the summer we had ponies wandering outside of our garden. I could play under the trees and as children we seemed to have so much freedom.
In my mind, the sun was always shining but I do remember a very cold spell when there was so much snow that my Dad had trouble driving his car (a black Ford Perfect) up the hill to the top of the camp.
I’ve attached two photos. The one of me aged 4 shows our hut on the left and my Dad’s caravan on the right that he built inside the Nissen hut.
One day he just brought all of the sides out from our spare room and constructed a caravan by the side of hut. Our neighbours couldn’t believe it! We then went off on holiday in it. No MOT tests in those days.
The second photo is taken south of our hut. We were next to a large green where the ponies often grazed. Happy, carefree days.
Mrs *. ******
At the age of between 10 and 11 my parents were sent to the Air Force Camp at the RAF Stoney Cross Airfield to await being housed at Totton in one of the new council houses. We lived in the Sergeants’ Mess for a year or two where my brother ******** was born.
Life was reasonably good for us children as we had the surrounding woods to play in, which didn’t please my mother very much as we would roam quietly for some time.
Whilst there we had a shop installed, a surgery twice a week, 2 bakers, Lowmans and Winters from Fritham, a chip van called twice a week, Thursday evening and Saturday lunchtime. There were pictures laid on and a dance once a week and a Sunday School, a youth club for the older kids, the ice cream van came round 3 or 4 times a day during the summer, Carlos and Whippy, 2 greengrocers, Elkins and Ron White, 2 coalmen, Combs and Wrights of Totton.
We had a coach trip to the seaside arranged by a Mrs. Tussle and friends, street parties and a bonfire and fireworks at the top of the airfield controlled by firemen and police, so in all it was fun.
In fact, for us children it was the happiest time we could have had and if it was possible I’d go back tomorrow. However, it was a hard time for my parents with five children to bring up. There was firing to collect, wood and fir cones to help keep the huts warm, and once a week concrete floors to wash and paint with floor paint.
My Granny made us a rag mat to put on the floor for comfort. We had to walk to school at Minstead until a bus was arranged but this didn’t always turn up in bad weather and so again we walked. We were a large family and so couldn’t always afford the bus fare.
We older ones later went to Bartley School at Cadnam so would walk the younger ones to Minstead then continue on to Cadnam arriving sometimes as late as 9.30 or 10 am, but always got a mark as the headmaster always knew we would turn up at sometime.
It was a very healthy place as we spent quite a lot of time out doors when it was fine. We would collect wood and fir cones for the fire and my father used to cut up logs from fallen trees and we helped stack logs in the shed.
We had no Post Office so again we had to walk to Minstead Post Office to collect the Family Allowance and more groceries and bread, which meant one of us older ones, had to stay home to collect it.
My mother would go without often so that she could make ends meet. My father and us children came first with her. As I remember, my father was never out of work for as soon as one job closed he would walk the streets to find another and often my mother never knew till later, sometimes he would walk for days to find work.
Things we would play were Hide & Seek, Tarzan, Cowboys & Indians and making dens and in the evenings our parents and others would join in our games such as skipping, rounders and chase and later they would chat together while we children played, many times until quite late. In the winter we stayed indoors and played cards, Ludo, Snakes & Ladders, drawing or singing around the stove with hot buttered toast and mugs of cocoa.
Christmas time was very dear so we children would ‘nick’ a Christmas Tree from the copse near by. One year we got a rather large tree, about 8 or 9 feet and Mother said we had to take it back as Daddy would be in trouble but we cried so much that in the end Dad cut some off the bottom and we made decorations for it. This was the best Christmas we had. It seemed we also helped her get our Christmas present, but we didn’t realise it at the time, you see she would take one of us each week to Southampton to buy clothes and our present and we also helped pick out our sisters and brothers presents and carry them home.
Don’t laugh but there you are, children believed in Santa Claus then.
We went blackberry picking, blueberries and mushrooms later. We were always picking flowers for my father, Daisies, Buttercups, Bluebells, Foxgloves and many more which my mother always found a jam jar or broken cup to put them in.
We also went on picnics and long walks with my mother as she always found time to spend with us if she could, even to join us in our play and would bring sandwiches and rock cakes and lemonade and we would eat them in our little den made in the fallen leavers.
Sometimes we older ones would sneak away to the Golf Club near buy and ‘nick’ the players balls then meet them at the Club House later in the day and, if we were lucky, they would give us pennies or sixpence for them. Naughty I know but it was fun.
We went Carol singing at Christmas time in a large group with candles in jam jars on sticks and collect money which was shared out. This was a happy time as we visited pubs and big houses along the Southampton to Bournemouth road. ‘The Compton Arms’ and ‘The Dick Turpin’ were two we would go to often and of course collect quite a lot of money, crisps and hot mince pies and arrive home tired and sleep in late which didn’t bother my mother.
After my brother’s death we moved around a bit, to the top of the Stoney Cross Longbeech camp and later halfway down. We were the ****** family and were there for six years. We were rather timid and so were bullied quite a bit but wouldn’t change life there.
Then at the age of 15 I left school and stayed at home to help my mother as she had another baby during our time there, my sister *******, which left my mother with kidney trouble.
Then, as I was reaching 16, I got a job in one of the big houses along the Emery Down road. I was there for about a year before leaving to get married. I met my husband at Longbeech while he was visiting his sister Mrs ******. I went to live in Scotland and soon after my mother was rehoused in Totton.
As I said earlier, this was the best time of our lives, although it was hard at times, and it broke my mother’s heart when we had to leave, we’d been there so long. Life at Totton wasn’t the same and unfriendly.
We had the deer hounds and fox hounds come through the wood with the huntsmen and my mother sheltered one deer in our shed as it was near collapse and sent the huntsmen off on a wild goose chase while we kids went of with kippers to get the hounds off the scent. Then once we shut a fox in the copper house and let him out after they had gone. We children watched one day when the hounds pulled a deer down by the throat and tore it out while the huntsmen sat on their horses and watched before shooting it.
You should have heard the screams the deer made.
Some of the families I can recall are:
There was a chimney sweep Ted Splatt, a cake van, fresh fish van, papers delivered daily including Sundays, dustmen, and sewer men. Doctors were Danchey and Tucket and the Police patrolled at night.
Mr * ********
We went to live in Longbeech at RAF Stoney Cross either in 1949 or 1950.
We lived in No. 268 Longbeech, Stoney Cross; we lived there for approx 3 to 4 years. We lived in an Ablution Unit. It had 10 toilets and 10 washbasins when we moved in. They had some removed when we moved in.
We went to Bramshaw School Then to Dowting (Downton?) School. We were a family of 6, 2 adults, 2 boys, 2 girls. While we were in Long Beech, I and ****** ******* contracted Meningitis.
We are trying to remember some of the families we remember i.e. Mr. & Mrs. Switzer, Mr. & Mrs. Hatch, Mr & Mrs . Cooper , Mr & Mrs . Turner, Mr & Mrs. Herbert, Mr & Mrs Lamb, these are a few that we can remember at the moment.
We are still trying to get in contact with any one else we might remember. Hope this will help, we are very interested in all you do so please keep in touch and we will still keep trying to find out more.
Mr ***** **********
On a visit to my Mum in Marchwood yesterday, I saw your letter about Longbeech in the 16th January edition of the New Forest Post. Mum’s recollection of some detail is patchy, but I hope from what we spoke about yesterday after seeing your letter, and from what I recall her telling me at various times, the following is helpful to your research.
Shortly after l arrived into the world on 16th January 1953, the Council offered Mum and Dad accommodation at Longbeech. I think they paid ten shillings a week rent for a two room Nissen hut. I understand some homes were divided into three to provide an extra bedroom.
Heating was via an upright cylindrical stove (wood or coal burning I suppose), and this had a hot plate on top for cooking and warming food. Other cooking was done on a primus stove. There was no gas supply to the huts, only electricity.
One of the huts was used as a local shop, although Mum says that she and other housewives used to catch a bus that went to Totton via Minstead and Lyndhurst. Their bus ride to Totton was regarded as a highlight of the week, enabling them to do other shopping and visit parents etc.
Some of the civilian tenant families at Stoney Cross erected garden fences, however, our Nissen hut had no such luxury, and so the inevitable happened. As a lively toddler I one day made my escape, and was next spotted running around beneath the legs of some New Forest ponies!
I think that when my sister was born, we were re-housed in a brick built semi in Hounsdown, just outside Totten near to the top of Spicers Hill. But that wasn’t the last we saw of our old Nissen hut. The corrugated iron structure was at some point dismantled, rebuilt as a groundsman’s hut at Eling Recreation Ground, Totton and continued to see useful service for a number of years thereafter.
As for the RAF Stoney Cross airfield, I recall that because a large part of the area was surfaced with concrete, it was a favoured venue for learner car drivers to practice without the hassle of being on the public road.
Very many thanks for your response, and in particular for the diagram of the camp layout and photographs. I’ll print them off and run them past my Mum in case anything strikes a chord. I guess I could also check with her and possibly with aunts and uncles to see if any family photos exist from the time.
As I said previously, I think it was the arrival of my sister (also called ******), in September 1954 that prompted our move to a council house. I think it is a shame and indeed a missed opportunity, that the book you refer to confined itself to the military role of the Stoney Cross airfield, with only passing reference to what would have been an important social housing resource and issue of its day, playing a vital part in the lives of many local families.
Mr Harold Redman
Thanks for your most interesting letter. I hope to be able to inform you what you want to know about civilians, social housing, and families living at the aerodrome at Stoney Cross and Longbeech.
I spent approximately 4 years at Longbeech, 1 year down the bottom end and 3 years at the top. I’m sorry I have no photos of the camp but if you can get in touch with Colbury Hall at Hounsdown you will be shown quite a lot of pictures dealing with Longbeech and Holmsley (Another airfield site on the west of the New Forest that housed families after the war).
The Nissen huts were all the same. We had one sink and cold water supplied and the heating consisted of one combustion stove, we had a tin bath to bathe in and to get enough hot water took ages. It was very tough in the winter and we always seemed to have heavy snow storms. It was OK in summer but too hot.
In summer New Forest ponies used to roam around the huts and at night used to rub themselves against the hut sides waking one up. My hut was under an oak tree and when the acorns started to fall they used to wake you up, we often have a laugh about that.
I knew most of the people living there, most of them ex-servicemen and we all got on well together. Weekends we used to gather wood for the stoves and in the evenings on a Sunday we used to walk through the woods to the Sir Walter Tyrell for a pint or sometimes to the Royal Oak at Fritham.
We had a grocery shop, library and doctors surgery. The doctor was Dr. Danby who also had a surgery at Minstead Hut.
I visited Longbeech with some of my family last year and pin-pointed exactly where our Nissen hut stood, I found some brick foundations where my hut stood and we planted a cross there, perhaps it’s still there. I think it would be a great idea to have a reunion in the spring, let me know if you do. I am 83 now. I still get around but I’m a bit slower these days.
The water tank is still there on the left at the entrance. When I went there the control tower and hangars were there and also the guardhouse. I remember them well. During the war I often used to visit Stoney Cross aerodrome as I had friends there, most of the personnel were American. The main guardhouse was at Castle Malwood on the main road to Ringwood, the other was by the Rufus Stone near the Sir Walter Tyrell.
As regards the Holmsley Aerodrome, that was further down the road, at the back of Holmsley Station. As far as I know, no one lived there after the war. During the war I travelled by road and just before you got to Holmesley Station the heavy bombers were parked nose to tail on the verges alongside the road.
During the war the Canadians were stationed across the road from Stoney Cross and if you travel by car going from Castle Malwood from the old guardhouse, take the first turning left to Lyndhurst and on the left after about a mile you will see a memorial made by the Canadian soldiers. To this day a service is held and poppies and cards laid by the people who worked at the camp site. I often visit the monument when passing that way with my family.