The area now known as Alconbury Weald has an extraordinary history with evidence of use and habitation since at least the later prehistoric period.
Evidence of middle/late Iron Age settlement and field systems has been encountered extensively across the site and elements of the field systems appear to have continued in use into the Roman period. Ermine Street, a major Roman road, follows the alignment of the A1/B1043 and passes close to the site’s southern boundary. Inevitably, this route will have acted as a focus for Roman settlement and farming.
Interpretation of aerial photographs and the results of geophysical surveys suggest that, into the Medieval period, the area fell predominantly under agricultural usage and evidence of ridge and furrow, largely now plough-flattened, has been recorded extensively across those parts of the site not impacted by airfield construction. It appears likely that some of this arable farming was connected to the moated manor at Prestley Wood, designated as a Scheduled Monument. The manor, well-sized and standing within a rectangular moat, appears to have been in existence by 1219, when it was granted to the Prestley family by David of Scotland, claimant to the Scottish throne, and then Earl of Huntingdon.
The Application Site, along with the parishes of Alconbury and The Stukeleys, were enclosed between 1776 and 1791, and by the 19th century a number of small farms, including ‘Tinker’s Lodge’, ‘Common Farm’ and ‘Grange Farm’ could be found on the site.
An airfield first appeared on this site in 1938. At this point, the area was almost entirely agricultural and arable, with the land farmed by a handful of families, including the Jolleys and the Pinners. The airfield developed slowly initially, and indeed remained open, and with civilians living onsite, until 1941. The main centre of the base was developed directly on the main house and farmyard of Common Farm, and what was to become known as the ‘Technical Site’ was founded around this area.
The airfield, in its origin, was a rather temporary affair: a collection of tents and grass runways and dispersal pads, intended as a ‘scatter field’ for RAF Upwood which had been founded as part of the RAF’s expansion drive between 1934 and 1936. All maintenance work to the Fairey Battle bombers that were stationed there was undertaken at Upwood and their pilots, members of 63 Squadron, slept under canvas north of the east-west runway.