The Nissen Hut Project
Getting it back to Seething Tower - Narration by Mr Tony Jeckells
For a number of years we had contemplated acquiring a Nissen Hut as more exhibition space was urgently needed. However the wheels did not start to turn until the summer of 2000 a few months after I had retired when I chanced to see an advert in a local paper whereby there was one for sale. I contacted the advertiser and he duly gave me directions to meet him at the venue. Jim Turner accompanied me to the village of Little Ellingham near Attleborough in South Norfolk and when we arrived I was surprised to see that the man that I was dealing with had a familiar face. It transpired that he had a steel erecting business and had an account with my former firm.
The Nissen Hut was up for sale as he had planning permission for the site and we were met with a sorrowful sight as the building was completely surrounded by large bushes and brambles. On entering through a ramshackle door we found it packed from floor to roof with junk including a boat and a Mercedes car! It had originated from Deopham airfield and had already been used as a pigsty for 30 years! However we agreed a deal of £400 but we were unable to return to dismantle it until October of 2000 as it took the owner Mr Oxborough all that time to clear out the interior!
If I recall correctly there were 8 of us who travelled to Little Ellingham to dismantle it and number all the roof sheets and hoops and by the time we had completed our task it was raining steadily. However we bundled everything
together and we collected it and brought it to Seething the following week and kept it under wraps for the Winter.
The Spring arrived in 2001 and with the on-going maintenance tasks and open days it was put on hold until the Autumn when my brother-in-law agreed to us using his workshop at his contractor's yard to clean up all the sections. Before any planning application was made we had discussions with both our landlords the Waveney Flying Group and South Norfolk District Council as to where we could locate the building and we were only allowed to position it at the rear of the Control Tower adjacent to the road. Shortly after planning permission was granted and in March 2002 work commenced whereby I hired a mini excavator from my firm and also called in my nephew who was in the construction business and between us we excavated the foundations. It was decided to excavate a complete foundation as opposed to the wartime process whereby just the two ends were dug to support the brickwork. As is well documented the wartime projects were not constructed to last but ours was something different and we wanted a proper job!
Jim Turner and Ron Everson helped concrete the foundations and a short while after the concrete had set the brickwork commenced with piers set at every 6 feet to take the hoops. We had I believe erected and bolted 3 sets of hoops when at the weekend a gale blew up and lifted the hoops out of their moorings, and so much to our anger and disappointment we had to reset them. At this period it was decided to double up on the brickwork to 9 inch work to give the building extra strength. After the hoops were installed, concrete was again poured in the base area to a level around 2 courses below the existing brickwork, yet again with the assistance of Jim and Ron.
The next step was to fix the roof sheets using the original oak joists which were still in excellent condition! My nephew bricked up the 2 ends with the end nearest the road incorporating a fire escape door. We acquired 2 Crittall windows for the front end and decided on an oversize door for the access of large objects ie engines etc. Certain stipulations were made by South Norfolk District Council and we had to make provision for a vision panel in the door and also ventilation ports high up on the walls at each end. As is well known corrugated sheets suffer from condensation and so it was decided to have the interior foam sprayed and then clad with 3mm plywood. Brickwork was also extended inside to a height of 4 feet. To complete the project we then had to call in an electrician and lastly concrete the rest of the floor to finish level. I contacted local firms with whom I had connections with and asked for estimates beforehand for the various tasks and the total price was £4745.
It was agreed that we apply for a Heritage Lottery grant for that amount as we had already spent £8000 and the coffers were getting rather low! Much to my delight and surprise it was duly granted in September 2002 and I had to thank 2 friends of mine who assisted as referees and with endorsements. Work then progressed with the ends also being rendered and again as the various contractors were available. The final touch was completed in September 2003 with work on the finished floor. The men who did the job were friends and this involved an amusing episode. One young man had recently married and he took a lot of banter from the rest of us especially from the guy in charge who had brought along a big rake to level out the concrete as they progressed along. The young man did most of this and as I recall it was a Saturday morning job and completed by early afternoon. During the evening I received a call from Nigel who was in charge and who owned the rake asking me to collect it as he had forgotten to take it home. I went to Seething the following morning to collect it and on opening the Nissen Hut door I looked behind it to find the rake stuck fast in the floor! The young man had his revenge after all! I duly informed Nigel and he agreed that it was no more than he deserved! (alas we don't have a photo to show this embedded rake!!)
We were then into the Autumn and over that period and into the Winter of 2004 we applied fire retardant paint to the cladding and anti condensation paint to the interior brickwork. At last our project was completed . However this was not really the end of the story as we had to find some display cases from somewhere and upon making enquiries at Norwich Castle museum we were kindly donated 4 from the museum at Kings Lynn which were surplus to requirements. We have also made wall mounted cases and have built up an extensive exhibition also relocating larger artefacts from within the Tower to make more room therein. I have to say that I am pleased and proud for what we have achieved and I hope it will carry on for many years to come.