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‘An Arena of Glorious Work’: The Protection of the Rural Landscape Against the Demands of Britain's Second World War Effort

  • GARY WILLIS (a1)
Abstract:

This article explores the development of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England's (CPRE) policy response to the increasing demands for rural land by the armed forces and other war effort-related government departments prior to and during the Second World War. The CPRE was supportive of Britain's war effort, but nevertheless throughout the war sought to remain an effective advocate for the preservation of the rural landscape – a landscape that was regularly evoked by state propaganda to stimulate the population's support for the war effort, yet was subject to alteration and degradation by that very effort. The result was a generally private campaign of lobbying characterised by opposition to some war effort-related proposals for rural land use, acquiescence to others, and consistent efforts to seek to ensure that requisitioned land was returned to its prewar use. Central to the CPRE's capacity to influence was a consultative mechanism created by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1938, which established the CPRE as a stakeholder that government ministries were required to consult with over their proposed use of land in rural areas for airfields, training camps, war industry, and other purposes. The immediate postwar legacy of this work, both for the CPRE and the rural landscape, is also examined. This article therefore contributes, albeit from a tangential perspective, to the growing historiography on the militarisation of landscapes, defined by Coates et al. as ‘sites that have been fully or partially mobilised for military purposes’.2

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1. University of Liverpool Special Collections (SCA) D439/11/4/8/19-22, unpublished account, P. Abercrombie, No. 20, Part VI, ‘18 months of activities 1938 to August 1939, II: Voluntary work (i) re CPRE’, pp. 3–4.

2. Coates, P., Cole, T., Dudley, M., and Pearson, C., ‘Defending nation, defending nature? Militarized landscapes and military environmentalism in Britain, France, and the United States’, Environmental History, 16 (2011), 458.

3 S. D. Davis, ‘Britain an Island Again: Nature, the Military and Popular Views of the British Countryside, c. 1930–1965’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Darwin College, University of Cambridge, 2010).

4. Carey, A., ‘This Land’, in Elson, V. and Shirley, R., eds, Creating the Countryside: The Rural Idyll Past and Present (London, 2017), p. 80.

5. Sheail, J., Rural Conservation in Inter-War Britain (Oxford, 1981), pp. 1, 6, 7, 206.

6. Matless, D., Landscape and Englishness (London, 2016 edn), p. 32.

7. Ibid., p. 31.

8. Ibid., p. 46.

9. Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading (MERL) SR CPRE B/1/1CPRE, Annual Report, 1927, p. 2.

10. CPRE HQ Archive, Record of Inaugural Meeting of CPRE 7/12/26, p. 5.

11. Oxford Living Dictionaries, <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/scenery> [20th June 2018].

12. Short, B., The Battle of the Fields: Rural Community and Authority in Britain during the Second World War (Woodbridge, 2014), p. 51.

13. CPRE Annual Report, 1927, p. 1

14. Abercrombie, P., The Preservation of Rural England: The Control of Development by Means of Rural Planning (Liverpool, 1926), p. 7.

15. Short, Battle, p. 405.

16. Sheail, J., An Environmental History of Twentieth Century Britain (Basingstoke, 2002), pp. 26–7.

17. Stamp, L. D., ‘The Scott Report: A New Charter for the Countryside’, Geographical Magazine, xv, 1942–3, pp. 391404, esp. p. 397.

18. Stamp, L. D., The Land of Britain: Its Use and Misuse (London, 1962 edn), p. 432.

19. MERL SR CPRE B/2/13, CPRE Quarterly Report, June 1945, Vol. XIV, No. 4, p. 4.

20. Short, B., Watkins, C. and Martin, J., eds, The Front Line of Freedom: British Farming in the Second World War (Exeter, 2007), p. 39.

21. Ibid., p. 134.

22. W. Foot, ‘The Impact of the Military on the Agricultural Landscape of England and Wales in the Second World War’, in Short et al., eds, Front Line, p. 133.

23. Foot, ‘Impact’, pp. 136–7.

24. MERL SR CPRE B/2/12, CPRE Twelfth Annual Report, 1938, p. 6.

25. Mandler, P., ‘Against “Englishness”: English culture and the limits to rural nostalgia 1850–1940’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. XII, Series 6 (1997), p. 174.

26. Wilt, A. F., Food For War: Agriculture and Rearmament in Britain before the Second World War (Oxford, 2001), p. 209.

27. Matless, Landscape, p. 239.

28. MERL SR CPRE A/3, CPRE Executive Committee Minutes, ‘Woodsford aerodrome’, 29th October 1935.

29. MERL SR CPRE A/3, CPRE Executive Committee Minutes, 26th November 1935.

30. MERL SR CPRE A/3, CPRE Executive Committee Minutes, 29th January 1936.

31. MERL SR CPRE A/3, CPRE Executive Committee Minutes, 28th April 1936.

32. MERL SR CPRE C/1/137/1, H. G. Griffin, letter to W. F. Ascroft, 28th October 1936.

33. Ibid.

34. MERL SR CPRE B/2/8, CPRE Monthly Report December 1936, Vol. VIII, No. 2, p. 21.

35. MERL SR CPRE C/1/137/1, Griffin, letter to J. C. Wrigley at Ministry of Health, 7th May 1937.

36. MERL SR CPRE C/1/137/1, Griffin, to the secretary, Air Ministry, 5th July 1937.

37. MERL SR CPRE B/2/11, CPRE Eleventh Annual Report, 1937, p. 7.

38. MERL SR CPRE B/2/13, CPRE Wartime Progress Report, September 1942–1943, Vol. XIV, No. 1, p. 15.

39. MERL B/2/11, CPRE Eleventh Annual Report, 1937, p. 7.

40. MERL SR CPRE B/2/12, CPRE Annual General Meeting, 2nd May 1939, p. 32.

41. MERL SR CPRE A/3, CPRE Executive Committee Minutes, ‘Defence departments and the acquisition of land’, 8th February 1938.

42. MERL SR CPRE B/2/10, CPRE Monthly Report, February 1938, Vol. X, No. 4, pp. 12–13.

43. Ibid.

44. From Our Parliamentary Correspondent, ‘Defence Sites’, The Times, 2nd February 1938, p. 12.

45. Editorial, ‘Land for Defence’, The Times, 2nd February 1938, p. 13.

46. ‘Defence Sites’, The Times, 2nd February 1938, p. 12.

47. MERL CPRE SR A/3, CPRE Executive Committee Minutes, ‘Defence departments’, 8th March 1938.

48. MERL SR CPRE B/2/10, CPRE Monthly Report, March 1938, Vol. X, No. 5, pp. 16–17.

49. MERL SR CPRE A/3, CPRE Executive Committee Minutes, 8th March 1938.

50. Abercrombie, ‘18 months of activities 1938 to August 1939’, p. 16.

51. Self, R., Neville Chamberlain: A Biography (Farnham, 2006), pp. 280–1; Weir MSS DC96/22/2, Chamberlain to Hilda, one of his younger sisters, 9th January 1938; Chamberlain to Lord Weir, 15th January 1938; Welles, S., The Time for Decision (New York, 1944), pp. 64–6.

52. MERL SR CPRE B/2/10, CPRE Monthly Report, November 1937, Vol. X, No. 2, p. 4.

53. ‘Preserving Rural England’, The Times, 2nd May 1939, p. 11.

54. CPRE HQ Archive, Record of Inaugural meeting of CPRE, 7th December 1926, p. 9.

55. Ibid., p. 11.

56. Matless, Landscape, p. 47.

57. MERL SR CPRE B/2/13, CPRE Wartime Progress Report and Annual Report, 1939, Vol. XIII, No. 1, pp. 30–1.

58. Cornford, P., The Origins Of The Organic Movement (Edinburgh, 2001), p. 12. In the context of the period, such ‘views’ ranged from guild socialism – to pacifism – to neo-Nazism: Ibid., p. 154.

59. MERL SR CPRE B/2/12, CPRE Monthly Report, April/May 1939, Vol. XII, No. 4, p. 25.

60. MERL SR CPRE B/2/13, CPRE Wartime Progress Report and Annual Report, 1939, Vol. XIII, No. 1, p. 7.

61. ‘Military Use Of Land’, The Times, 8th August 1945, p. 5.

62. Jennings, W. I., ‘The emergency powers (Defence) (No. 2) Act, 1940’, Modern Law Review, 4:2 (1940), 132.

63. MERL SR CPRE B/2/13, CPRE Wartime Progress Report and Annual Report, 1939, Vol. XIII, No. 1, p. 7.

64. Buchan, U., A Green and Pleasant Land: How England's Gardeners Fought the Second World War (London, 2013), p. 25.

66. MERL SR CPRE A/3, CPRE Executive Committee Minutes, 13th July 1937.

67. MERL SR CPRE C/1/137/1, Griffin, ‘private and confidential’ letter to P. Abercrombie, 15th July 1937.

68. Ibid.

69. MERL SR CPRE B/2/13, CPRE Wartime Progress Report, September 1942–1943, Vol. XIV, No. 1, p. 8.

70. MERL SR CPRE C/1/53/2, CPRE List of ‘The Parliamentary Amenities Committee’, 22nd July 1939.

71. MERL SR CPRE B/2/12, CPRE Twelfth Annual Report, 1938, p. 8.

72. MERL SR CPRE C/1/53/2, CPRE, ‘Legal and Parliamentary Correspondence’, 1939.

73. MERL SR CPRE B/2/13, CPRE Wartime Progress Report and Annual Report, 1939, Vol. XIII, No. 1, p. 6.

74. Ibid.

75. ‘The Countryside in War-Time’, The Times, 13th August 1940, p. 2.

76. MERL SR CPRE A/1/5, CPRE War Emergency Committee Minutes, ‘Defence departments and land acquisition’, 10th February 1941.

77. MERL SR CPRE B/2/13, CPRE Wartime Progress Report and Annual Report, 1939, Vol. XIII, No. 1, p. 6.

78. Matless, Landscape, p. 123.

79. MERL SR CPRE B/2/13, CPRE Wartime Progress Report, July 1940–July 1941, Vol. XIII, No. 2, p. 9.

80. A. King, Wings on Windermere: the History of the Lake District's Forgotten Flying Boat Factory (Redbourn, 2008), p. 8.

81. Ibid., p. 15.

82. MERL SR CPRE C1/36/4, D. M. Matheson, letter to H. G. Griffin, 17th December 1940.

83. MERL SR CPRE C1/36/4, Griffin, letter to Keeling 3rd December 1940.

84. MERL SR CPRE C1/36/4, Griffin, ‘private and personal’ letter to Keeling, 10th December 1940.

85. MERL SR CPRE C1/36/4, Llewellin, ‘secret’ letter to Keeling, December 1940–1/1941 period.

86. MERL SR CPRE C1/36/4, Griffin, letter to Abercrombie, 3rd November 1940.

87. MERL SR CPRE C1/36/4, Griffin, ‘private’ letter to G. L. Pepler, 3rd December 1940.

88. MERL SR CPRE C1/36/4, Lord Beaverbrook, letter to Griffin, 28th December 1940.

89. ‘Windermere Sunderland Flying Boats’, <http://windermeresunderlandflyingboats.tumblr.com/about> [7th June 2018]

90. ‘From Calgarth to Windermere’, <http://fromcalgarthtowindermere.tumblr.com/fromcalgarthtowindermere> [7th June 2018].

91. MERL SR CPRE B/2/13, CPRE Quarterly Report, September 1945, Vol. XIV, No. 5, p. 6.

92. MERL SR CPRE B/2/13, CPRE Wartime Progress Report, October 1943 to October 1944, Vol. XIV, No. 2, p. 8.

93. MERL SR CPRE A/1/6, CPRE Executive Committee Minutes, ‘Reinstatement of requisitioned land and disposal of factories, buildings etc.’, 11th January 1944.

94. Legislation Gov. UK, <http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo6/8-9/43/introduction> [22nd August 2017].

95. Childs, J., The Military Use of Land: A History of the Defence Estate (New York, 1998), p. 195.

96. ‘Requisitioned Land’, The Times, 19th January 1945, p. 5.

97. Ibid.

98. MERL SR CPRE B/2/13, CPRE Quarterly Report, June 1945, Vol. XIV, No. 4, p. 4.

99. MERL SR CPRE A/1/6, CPRE Executive Committee Minutes, ‘Requisitioned Land & War Works Bill’, 12th June 1945.

100. MERL SR CPRE B/2/14, CPRE Annual Report, 1946, Vol. XV, No. 1, ‘Defence works and war-time establishments’, p. 17.

101. MERL SR CPRE B/2/14, CPRE Annual Report, 1947, Vol. XV, No. 2, p. 6.

102. Ibid., p. 8.

103. Ibid., p. 6.

104. Ibid., p. 12.

105. Ibid., p. 6.

106. Ibid., p. 8.

107. Abercrombie, ‘18 months of activities 1938 to August 1939’.

108. MERL SR CPRE B/2/13, CPRE Wartime Progress Report, September 1942–1943, Vol. XIV, No. 1, p. 4.

109. Ibid.

110. Ibid.

111. MERL SR CPRE B/2/13, CPRE Wartime Progress Report, August 1941 to August 1942, Vol. XIII, No. 3, p. 16.

112. Dwyer, J. C. and Hodge, I. D., Countryside in Trust: Land Management by Conservation, Recreation and Amenity Organisations (Chichester, 1996), pp. 89.

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