Unloved Oxford: RAF Upper Heyford

If you’re planning the destruction of the world then you need a fair few people. And if you’re going to have a load of people sitting around you might as well put them somewhere nice – and build a big settlement to keep them happy. Hell, you only get one chance at nuclear war and you wouldn’t want your guys to be the ones who cocked it up.

It’s the bomb that will bring us together

Which is to say: when the Americans set up home at RAF Upper Heyford, a fairly inconsequential WW2 bomber base about ten miles north of Oxford, they really went overboard on building the town. They created an entire new community alongside the runway with school, supermarket, petrol station, cinema, hospital, florist, baseball courts, diners, pubs and long rows of apartments. They looked after their men. But then the war ended: one day in 1993 they left, took their planes and bombs back to the states and left the keys under the doormat for the MOD to pick up. The MOD wanted to put 10,000 homes on the site. The local council disagreed. Fifteen years later they’re only just sorting out their differences. With redevelopment work imminent (it’s taken so long that English Heritage have just listed a load of the buildings as they are now of  ‘historic’ interest) we went to have a look.


Map of key locations we visited on the base.

Get the 25A bus from central Oxford and it’ll drop you right in the centre of the base. It’s largely as you expect – high fences, security checkpoints, decaying signs threatening the Official Secrets Act on anything that moves…except that there’s quite a lot of people around for an abandoned base. An awful lot. Because a large chunk of the better housing (it seems to be the old RAF accommodation) seems to have gone into private hands and is still lived in. And on the actual base a scrappy collection of light industry and commercial users have moved into the old sheds and formed a piecemeal industrial estate. It’s some strange society living inside the carcass of the old development, surrounded by abandoned buildings on three sides.

A sixteen pump gas station with the oil sold in dollars.

But jump over the fence (see map for best points) and you’re in a very strange ghost town. Most of the brick buildings on the civilian side seem to have been built late in the base’s lifespan and have more of a Reagan utilitarian feel than the original WW2 sheds that exist around the fringes of the site. Endless barracks, military police offices and recreation buildings sit there, locked up and amazingly free of vandalism. Photos suggest that there are ways into many of these buildings – we didn’t find many. It’s a fairly secure and disturbingly tidy site that’s not exactly the easiest spot to get to if you’re a bored teenager.

Even in the 1980s it didn’t even seem to attract that many peace protesters – there was some camp of sort but the airmen didn’t seem too put off by the existence of a few grizzled hippies and it played second fiddle to Greenham Common where the juicier ICBMS were based. All that was based here was a rapid-response unit: you’d sit in you plane with the engine running and the payload ready to go for a four hour shift. And if, after four hours, Reagan hadn’t pressed the red button then you got out of your plane and went to the diner for something to eat.

There are hundreds of these dormitory rooms across the site.

This seems to have been something of a boomtown in old Ronald’s time – in 1986 planes took off from here on the botched raid to blow up Gaddafi in Tripoli. (At the same time down the road Boris Johnson was leading the Oxford Union, the Headington shark was raised as a vague statement about the madness of nuclear war and Amelia Fletcher was sitting on Cowley Road playing around with the words to ‘Talaluh Gosh’. It was a bit more of a polarised world back then.) They also tried to prove their worth by taking part in Operation Desert Storm before everything shut up shop.

One of the worryingly common signs pleading not to lock your fellow man in various small containers.

So there’s an ‘recreation center’ (still displaying the times that videos should be returned by) with endless parking lots and on the other side of the site a bowling alley, baseball pitches, a running track and a school. Take care when visiting the latter – while it’s entertaining to find bags of early 90s Mariah Carey tapes in old classrooms there’s a nasty taste in the air and a load of asbestos lying around. We couldn’t even get into the perfectly preserved Volleyball court. And this is all aside from the enormous infrastructure (miles of fencing, water towers, a bloody great big hospital) that are harder to shift. No wonder it’s hard to work out what do with the site, especially since it’s now considered historic.

The older, asbestos-heavy sheds that housed the USAF high school.

We didn’t even get onto the runway itself or get a chance to see its many enormous hangars. It’s just too big a site and there is some token security – the runway that was reinforced for F1-11 bombers is now used as a standing area for thousands of company cars so there’s proper security and they’re not too happy about you wandering around. However there are tours that are run on ad-hoc basis around the military elements of the base during the week – give the industrial estate a call to find out more.

Latest releases at the Skyking Theater, still in good condition behind the boards.
To see more of my photos click here for some Facebook links – I release copyright so paste them wherever. Far better UrbEx photos are here and here. This place is going to be redeveloped pretty soon with some houses built and other bits turned into a museum. You can’t just leave it rotting away forever but by sticking up explanatory signs for school groups and printing visitors guide the site will lose some of its bizarre wonder. I’d get there sooner rather than later.
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42 Responses to Unloved Oxford: RAF Upper Heyford

  1. Anonymous says:

    This place looks incredible! I cannot wait to go there. And as an Oxford resident (because Brookes student) I’m happy I found your site (via WSC).

  2. Anonymous says:

    I was at heyford from 1960 to 1963 in the US Air Force when it was a SAC base, we had B-47 bombers at that time. I also recall that when the U-2’s were stationed at heyford we had many protesters at the base. I had a great time while I was there.

    • Anonymous says:

      I was at Heyford from Jul 1960 -1963. I lived across the road from the 3 shoes pub. A1c in SPs. Good times!!

      • Anonymous says:

        10 cent beer at the Airmens Club during Bonanza.

      • Anonymous says:

        i was at heyford from aug 60 to aug 63 ther was no sps at that time it was combat def. force for the flight line aps took care of the base. after a while for some reason. the aps were gone. cds took over there duties. one ap was a desk ap at provost office. i lived in fritwell.

    • Anonymous says:

      gary kalpinski also at heyford 60 to 63 we were known as combat def.force ( aps) sps didn’t come along way after 63

  3. Dennis Chester says:

    I was stationed at RAF Upper Heyford from 1966 to 1969, first with the 9514 Sp Gp and then with the 66th TAC RECON WG (RF-101 Voodoos) which we inherited from France when DeGaule kicked NATO out of Frog-Land.

    Our Airman’s Club (later requisitioned and turned into the NCO Club – Boo!) had buses filled with girls coming to us from Manchester, Banbury, Lemmington Spa, etc…it was heaven!

    Nights reveling in Oxford were spent mostly at Whites Bar or around the corner at the Wheatsheafs or the Robuck (sp?).

    Many happy memories…

  4. Michael B says:

    Nice Article!

    Any idea how to get on a tour into the bunker?

  5. Linda says:

    I lived in base housing from 1974-1977 and went to that school in the photos. Very sad to see it now in such a dilapidated state.

    Fond memories of living there and making great friends. Loved the countryside.

  6. Tracey Hoehman says:

    It saddened me and brought tears to my eyes to see it like that, I would of never thought that it would be a ghost town now. I went to school at both RAF Upper Heyford (Junior High) and RAF Croughton (High School). I have so many beautiful fond memories. I wish I would of taken more pictures. Thank you for sharing.

    • Anonymous says:

      tracey, it’s me, wicker

    • Lizza says:

      dont get your lungs x rayed.They are probably full of deadly asbestos that your loving caring USAF lined the schools with.

      • Lizza says:

        hmm
        im actuality it would have been the PSA(property services agency) a dept then of the UK government, who I once worked for, whos job it was to maintain everything(buildings and structures, electrical etc etc) MOD,and there were no “off limits areas”.we could go anywhere where our job took us.The shools were all owned by the MOD.

  7. Jerry Toner says:

    I was stationed at Upper heyford from 9/56 th 12/59.
    I was at first assigned to the 3918 ADS sq. as Air Police and later assigned to the 3918th Air Police Sq. Some of us were lent to the Raf Fairford when they were exchanging units, taking them back to the states. I did take my family back to the base in 06 and wasd not allowed past the old Air Police head quarters. The civilian guard told me that it was for our safety ( aspestisd you know ) there weasn’t any aspesdtis on that base, they just didn’t want anyone walking around. I was there during the cold war. We were all disappointed in not being able to see my barracks that was accross the street fron the chow hall.
    Jerry Toner a/2c

    • Peter Baer says:

      Hi Jerry,

      I too was at Heyford ’57 to ’60. Worked at 3918th Base Hgtrs across the street from the AP building. I believe we also shared a barracks with your squadron for a time. Best time of my life. Banbury, Oxford (Whites Bar), Leamington Spa, and of course London. I would catch a ride to London from a Brit called Charlie who sold cars thru the BX on base.

      Pete Baer A/1c

      • Amy Goldman says:

        do you recall an American soldier Troy McGhee/Mcgee,about 18-20 yeas? He was ther in Sept 1956. I am trying to help a Brit helping a Brit locate him or info.

    • Amy Goldman says:

      Hi, I am a Nyer who is currently helping a Brit, who is helping another Brit in a search for a U.S. military guy who was stationed there at Upper Heyford in September 1956.His name was Troy McGhee or McGee. They think he was from Detroit, born about 1938 .If anyone remembers this guy or had any contact with him after and knows anything about locations or anything at all about him, please email me at rustygold@hotmail,.com. Anything at all about TROY MCGHEE. Thanks, Amy

    • Hi pardon me for writing to you ,but the fact that you were US military police stationed in Oxford prompted me to do so . l wonder if you knew another USAF policeman .all I can tell you is he was aged 26 in 1957 and he was friendly with the daughter of the landlord of a pub in Adderbury called “The Dog and Partridge”. Her name was Margaret. I would be greatful if you could pass on any information you might have, as this would answer some questions that have been troubling my wife for a long time.
      Yours Sincerely Ian Colquhoun

  8. Anonymous says:

    Why is it that all the info on Upper Heyford is centred around when the Americans were there wuth not a mention of prior to this when it was an RAF parachute training camp

  9. Eve Chantler says:

    My name is Eve Chantler (nee Walker) I, and many other girls from Kenilworth, Leamington and Coventry went to the Upper Heyford dances put on by the USAF in the Airmans club, I was 18 years old in 1969. I remember some great dances, and great times, I wonder if anyone can remember myself and other girls that attended the dances, and any of the USAF airman from the time, look frorward to any replys. Eve

    • Stu Wood says:

      I was stationed there from 68 to 71 (I was 19 to 22 years old) and loved to go to the dances at the Rec. center. Hell, I might have even danced with you.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hello, well i went out there today to get some new tyres, my brother in law recommended it, and was appalled by lots of things BUT ESPECIALLY all the empty houses, what a absolute DISGRACE, they are all going to rack n ruin, why oh why cant something be done about it, it would make brilliant 1st homes for families, either renting or buying………….. IM IN TOTAL SHOCK. Admittedly the last time i was on the base was about 25 years ago but blinking heck, its such a waste

  11. davybass says:

    davybass, can remember my dad being stationed there in 19 41/2 he was a flight sergant cook at the time and we lived in steeple aston off camp (how the hell he managed that i do not know) last time we went there was in 1975 what a bloody shambles it was in, just like a ghetto.

  12. bev says:

    Hi, i live in upper heyford now and i find this place amazing. Although permission has just been granted to redevelop the village which i am pleased about as it means i can keep on living here i find it very sad that so many of the building are not going to be preserved. I have lived here for two years now and i am still amazed at the history i find on walks with my dogs. Most of the building still have all there signs still up and i love explaining what they all mean and making up stories of why people would visit those building to my kids. I would love to learn more about upper heyford from the people who lived here in its good days. Please contact me if you have any photos of amazing stories!

    • Alex P says:

      Hey there Bev! I was there as a boy, back in the late 80’s when my parents were in the US Air Force. I’m planning a visit by myself in the first week of October and would love to chat with some locals about what to expect when I get there, how I might be able to take a tour if any organizations offer such a thing, etc. If you’d be willing to chat or even take a walk around the premises with me, please let me know! We can trade stories and I’ll see if my folks have any old photos I can bring along to share with you!

  13. Delmos "FLIP" Burks says:

    My name is Delmos Burks, AKA, “FLIP”. I was stationed on Heyford from Dec. 1968, to June, 1972. I was a Liverpool runner,but I stayed on base some weekends. I was in the 20TH. Supply Squadron. I have nothing but fond memories of “THE ROCK”. Recently I have been attending reunions in “Vegas” with some of my old Air Force buddies. I hung out with “JINX”, Tony Ingram, Doug Watson, Dennis Pizsko, “Sweet Will”, “Big Tom” “DIZZY”and the JAMES GANG, Robert Crittenden. Too many guys to name,

  14. Mark carey says:

    I was stationed from 78 to 81 and have nothing but great memories. We used to have wonderful nights in Oxford and London with many girls from the local area being bussed into the airforce club. In 85 I was contacted by a girl from Banbury to say I was the father of a 4 year old boy. 30 years later my lad is now on ops’ in Afghanistan although sadly I was married to a girl from Nebraska. Many great times, would love to catch up with Tom “GUMBO” Gunnerson, Derek “BJ” Love, Andy “NUTS” Rogers and Steve “CRABMAN” Harris. Disappointed by what is left, had a great time therone idling F4, Mark “TEABAG” Carey. Great site

  15. gary says:

    Igrew up living around Heyford i worked there for over 10 years and i met my wife there such a great place had such good times

  16. Julia says:

    Hi I was stationed at RAF Upper Heyford from 1986 – 1988, it was my first station after bootcamp. I loved being there, the base, the local pub, the surrounding communities, going to Oxford and London and Liverpool, and all the surrounding countries on my off duty time. It was probably the best 2 years of my life. I would love to go back now just to reminisce and take photos and enjoy the landscapes. I could hear the sheep from my dorm room: I wonder if they are still there? I was part of the Hospital Squadron and worked in the Dental Clinic. I keep in touch with some of the folks I served with. Please find me on facebook if you served with me during those years. Julia Roca is still my name.

  17. Robert Neuman says:

    I was a USAF Veterinary Specialist (along with an officer and an NCO) attached to the 3918th Dispensary at Heyford from 1958-61. Our command was the 59th Veterinary Inspection Flight headquartered in South Ruislip. We inspected food suppliers to the base (including Cadbury’s Chocolate outside Birmingham) as well as the chow hall and clubs. I met my wife at an Airmens Club Dance and we’re still together 54 years later. Our officers were veterinarians, and we ran a weekly clinic for base personnel pets. And that’s why we’re not speaking Russian here today! Robert Neuman

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi Robert, thank you for your service and congrats on 54 years of marriage. Now, that is a great accomplishment!

    • Lizza says:

      SOrry Robert I dont agree.THe US only became involved in the second war due to the japs attacking pearl harbour.It wasnt really about defending europe at all,you simply wanted to stop hitler attacking the US with his V3 rockets.The US had every intention of using europe as “the european theatre of operations” (check history).The UK was to be sacrificed in the event of WW3.we were known as the 51st state, and “the unsinkable aircraft carrier.”This I think is historical fact.
      Lets stop all this crap about UH being there to protect the uk.It wasnt.B61 nuclear bombs were stored at UH for years.They werent for “local use” in europe.The B61 bomb is a DAY (dial a yield) device, the “yield” could be preset.Thats why there was a very heavy presence of SP’s at UH.To protect the “nukes” and the aircraft of course.UH was the USSR NUMBER ONE target in the cold war.We used to live only 18 miles from the place.

  18. Anonymous says:

    The site is mainly storage now for paragon.

  19. Pingback: Report - RAF Upper Heyford - April 2013

  20. Thomas Weslager says:

    I was stationed at Heyford as a firefighter from 88-91, its one of those bases that you either loved or hated, I chose to love it. Living off base, hitting the pubs, traveling, and making a lot of British friends left great lasting memories and I will never forget it. As for on base what a life, we had about everything we would expect to have in the states, sometimes a day old in the commissary where you had to watch out for dive bombing birds, lol. The club was always packed and always a good time but I preferred the pubs. There was a lot of animosity towards the US military over there, Steeple Aston yuppies crying because the F111’s were loud, even though we were there before them, CND’rs in their little hippie camp that would light the grass on fire once in a while to remind us that they were there, or just the occasional Brit that we would meet that would complain but most of us didn’t care and for the most part they approved of us, especially as you travel and get further away from the base. As I look over the pictures and videos online I am saddened by the state of the base now, eventually most of it will be gone but never forgotten by the people that were stationed there.

  21. Mike Goodwin says:

    I was stationed at Heyford from 1970-1972 with the 20th Security Police Sqdn. I was assigned to Law Enforcement and mainly worked as Desk Sergeant at SP Hdqtrs. What a great two years !!
    At the time I lived in one of the newest barracks that was recently built (down the street near the NCO Club). Sure rained alot and usually foggy, but made many friends and of course loved Oxford,
    London, Bicester and Banbury. Being at Heyford is something I will always remember and cherish.
    It’s hard to see how run down it is now. Anyone out there that may have been there in the early 70’s ?? Would like to correspond.

  22. Don Birrittier says:

    I was stationed at Upper Heyford in the Law Enforcement Sqdn from 02/1979 – 02/1981. Hated those darn “alerts” that sometimes lasted for daaaaays. But everything else was exciting drinking, eventful drinking, and entertaining drinking. Lived in the dorm at RAF Croughton the first year and moved to a flat in Brackley the second year. Met my (now X-wife) Ruth from Brackley shortly after arriving in the U.K. Now living near St.Louis,Mo. Anybody out there want to say “hey” ?

  23. Pam Schultz Hart says:

    I just found this site today 8-29-13. I lived at Upper Heyford from 57 to 60 as an Air Force brat as
    Dad was the base commander. I have many fond memories of the tennis courts by the Officer’s
    Club, the movie theater, the good old snack bar and attending a British school in Oxford. Those
    alerts were difficult in my house- just hoping the RED Tel did not ring. Would love to chat with
    anyone who was there during my years

  24. Amy Goldman says:

    SEARCHING FOR SOMEONE THAT SERVED AT UPPER HEYFORD IN SEPTEMBER 1956;TROY MCGHEE/MCGEE. ANYONE RECALL HIM,PROBABLY FROM DETROIT ORIGINALLY BUT A YOUNG GUY, BORN ABOUT 1938.SOMEONE IN THE UK IS TRYING TO FIND HIM OR FIND OUT ABOUT HIM. ANYONE REMEMBER HIM?? THANKS!

  25. Gloria says:

    I lived in Banbury with my ex- husband who was stationed at Upper Heyford from 1969-1970. The photo’s on line of Upper Heyford brought back many fond memories. There where many wonderful people that we meet there. I volunteered at the base hospital and remember working with Dr. Moore all the hospital staff where great. Everyone was very nice to be, I was young and expecting my first child who was born in Banbury. I recall that there where many difficulties brought on by lonely men whose wives where not allowed to accompany them for sometimes as long as a year. I recall meeting an English girl who married an American serviceman, her name was Shiela. They lived in the same building as we did in The Hollies. Also an American who was from Chicago and had a little girl she named Rashawn, we lived on West Bar. Those where such great times, being so young and innocent…

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