The BCAC hangars at Larkhill, the remains of the first military aerodrome in Britain
|Population||2,358 (2011 census)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Fire||Dorset and Wiltshire|
|EU Parliament||South West England|
Larkhill is a garrison town in the civil parish of Durrington, Wiltshire, England. It lies about 1 3⁄4 miles (2.8 km) west of the centre of Durrington village and 1 1⁄2 mi (2.4 km) north of the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge. It is about 10 mi (16 km) north of Salisbury.
The settlement has a long association with the British military and originally grew from military camps. It is now one of the main garrisons on Salisbury Plain, along with Tidworth Camp, Bulford Camp and Warminster. The Royal School of Artillery is located at Larkhill and the Royal Artillery moved its barracks there from Woolwich in 2008.
Before the military garrison was established the area was known as Lark Hill, part of Durrington Down, owing to it being the highest point in the parish. After the first military buildings were established, it came to be known as Larkhill Camp.
Much of Larkhill lies within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, an area rich in Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments. Several long barrows and round barrow groups are located within the settlement. Robin Hood's Ball, the Stonehenge Cursus and the Lesser Cursus lie close to the garrison.
The first modern settlement came in 1899, when a tented camp was established for units training on an area of Salisbury Plain that became known as Larkhill range. Units were accommodated in large official campsite areas whilst training throughout the summer. As Larkhill range was designated for artillery practice, many of the units were artillery batteries. In 1914, the first permanent huts were built on the down.
During the First World War, 34 battalion-sized hutted garrisons were built for use by all types of military forces. A light military railway line was built from the established Amesbury–Bulford line, to carry troops to Larkhill and on to an aerodrome at Stonehenge. After the war, the garrison became an artillery domain and in 1919 the Royal School of Artillery was established there. The light railway was lifted and Stonehenge Aerodrome was closed. However, several other new facilities were established in the interwar years, including a military hospital, married quarters at Strangways, a NAAFI service and military churches. The famed British Ordnance QF 25-pounder was developed by the school of artillery shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. During the War, the garrison was extended again, although primarily for artillery units. The 21st Independent Parachute Company of the 1st Airborne Division was also formed there.
After the Second World War, many of the hutted buildings were replaced with modern structures. The Royal School of Artillery's garrison was rebuilt and permanently established at the site. The Officers' Mess (built 1936–41, designed by William A Ross, Chief Architect to the War Office) is now a Grade II listed building. A new event was started in 1962 to showcase the military's artillery technology – originally named Larkhill Day, it evolved into Royal Artillery Day in 1970.
A primary school opened at Larkhill in 1962.
The garrison church, dedicated to St Alban the Martyr and St Barbara, was built in 1937 and replaced an earlier wooden church. The architect, as for the Officers' Mess, was William Ross; construction is in red brick, with a short southwest tower.
In 2011 the church became the regimental church of the Royal Artillery. The regimental chapel at the Woolwich Barracks closed around the same time, and two stained glass windows were moved to the Larkhill church where they are displayed in lightboxes. One of these is by Christopher Whall, an Arts & Crafts artist.
In 2015, as part of the 300th anniversary celebrations of the Royal Artillery, an additional memorial was created outside the existing structure. Designed to look like the surviving perimeter wall and chapel of St George's Garrison Church, Woolwich, the former Royal Artillery Garrison Chapel, it is painted in the Regimental colours of red and blue. The memorial houses some of the memorial plaques from the Woolwich chapel and a memorial to those members of the Royal Artillery who have been awarded the Victoria Cross. Planned to be completed in time for the 300th anniversary in May 2016, construction was delayed due to concerns over the impact of work close to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. Instead, Her Majesty the Queen, the Royal Artillery Captain General, laid the cornerstone during her visit to Larkhill in May 2016 and the building was completed in time for the dedication ceremony at the annual St Barbara's Day Service (the Royal Artillery's Patron Saint) on 4 December 2016.
In 1909, Horatio Barber, a flying enthusiast, rented a small piece of land in Larkhill. He built a shed to house his new aeroplane, and was soon joined by more enthusiasts. Among these were George Bertram Cockburn, a pioneer aviator, and Captain John Fulton who served with an artillery brigade, and it was partly as a result of their interest that the War Office quickly realised the importance of aircraft and founded the first army aerodrome in Larkhill in 1910. Several more huts were built and a three-bay hangar was constructed by the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, a forerunner of British Aerospace. In 1911, No. 2 Company of the Air Battalion Royal Engineers was established at Larkhill, the first flying unit of the armed forces to use aeroplanes as opposed to balloons. This evolved into No. 3 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps in May 1912, the first RFC squadron to use aeroplanes.
July 1912 saw the first fatal air crash in the RFC. Captain Eustace Loraine and his observer, Staff-Sergeant R.H.V. Wilson, were killed when they crashed west of Stonehenge after flying from Larkhill aerodrome. A memorial was erected near the A303, and moved to a site near the Stonehenge Visitors' Centre in 2013. The nearby junction of the A360 with the former A344 is known as Airman's Corner or Airman's Cross.
In August 1912, the first Military Aeroplane Trials were held at Larkhill aerodrome. Several aeroplanes including the Avro Type G and the Bristol Gordon England biplane were entered, and the competition was won by Samuel Franklin Cody in his Cody V aircraft.
The aerodrome was closed in 1914 when the hutted garrisons were built over the airstrip. The original BCAC hangar, the oldest surviving aerodrome building in the UK, is located on the corner of Woods Road and Fargo Road. It was given Grade II* listed building status in 2005.
Larkhill has been earmarked as part of a future 'Super-Garrison' to be established around Salisbury Plain which could see a substantially larger military presence in the area. This work began in late 2016 and will see major changes to the manpower and facilities at the site.
Several sites in or near Larkhill were suggested for the new Stonehenge visitors' centre. The centre was eventually built at Airman's Cross, by the junction of the A360 and the old A344, southwest of Larkhill. It opened in December 2013.
In popular culture
The comic book V for Vendetta (and its film adaptation) featured a fictional detention centre at Larkhill. The writer, Alan Moore, said that he chose Larkhill because of the obvious military connections, but also because of a particularly unpleasant hitchhiking trip that he had around the area.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Larkhill.|
- Wiltshire Council — Wiltshire Community History – Durrington includes a discussion of Larkhill