RAF Northstead

RAF Northstead, located halfway between Red Row and Widdrington opened as a Mobile Ground Controlled Interception (GCI) station in May 1941, with Sqd Ldr Keighly and Flt Lt Hunter as Controllers, it operated as a satellite to the sector station at RAF Ouston.  The purpose of the station was to direct aircraft onto approaching enemy aircraft once they had been detected approaching the coast by the Chain Home radar stations scattered around the district.

The operations personnel at the time were all RAF, and since the billeting situation in a mining district such as this was poor, the accommodation was scattered, some at RAF Acklington and some in tents on site.  Having to transport personnel to site was a drain on available transport and a more permanent solution was sought.

In June 1941 a movement was started to accommodate all personnel in huts near the GCI site but it wasn’t until August that three Nissen Huts were promised, which was still significantly short on the number required.  By the end of July, and due to the expansion of RAF Acklington, the personnel stationed there were forced to move and take up residency at the Northstead domestic site.  With the onset of winter, the domestic site, situated in a field on the west side of the Widdrington to Red Row road, had become a sea of mud as there were no paths. The three Nissen Huts had no electricity, but power was available at times with a mobile generator and water was delivered by a bowser.  All personnel continued to be fed in the NAAFI at Acklington.

In 1942 a large-scale effort has made to improve the living conditions at the domestic site.  In January personnel still had to travel back and forth to Acklington to use the NAAFI but a dining hall was in the process of being built.  It wasn’t until the end of the year that electric lighting was available on the domestic site when the RAF Northstead finally became a small self-contained unit, drawing stores, rations and so on from RAF Acklington.  

In August 1943 Northstead became fully operational as a Final Station and had a brick operations block known as a ‘Happidrome’. It had single rotating aerial array with the transmitter and receiver housed in a well underneath.  By now the threat of German air raids over the North East had diminished and the site was mainly used for Ground Controlled Interception exercises mainly in connection with the night fighter units based at RAF Acklington and 54 Operational Training Unit operating out of RAF Charterhall and Winfield.

By June 1944, with the threat of German attack all but gone, 2808 Squadron of the RAF Regiment, who had been responsible for the air defence of the station, moved to RAF Cleadon with the defensive duties being handed over to the Northstead personnel, who were organised into Defence Flights, under the command of F/Lt Armstrong.

1945 saw continued practise exercises but by August the site was starting to be run down with many staff demobilising.  However, it wasn’t until April 1946 when the site eventually closed, handing over to 60 Group with care and maintenance duties being carried out under instructions from HQ 73 Wing.

There are only small traces of RAF Northstead still remaining and these are situated just to the east of the new Chibburn Farm.  Many sources place the site to the west of the Red Row to Widdrington Road, and whilst the domestic site was located here, just to the north of a disused Tile Works, the Final Site, including the Happidrome, was further north and on the eastern side of the road, although the road layout and field boundaries have changed since the war due to opencast workings in the area. 

General view of RAF Northstead. The site is in the top left grid square.
RAF Northstead showing the collection of buildings at the domestic site on the western side of the Widdrington to Red Row road, and the Final Site further north on the opposite side of the road.
A sketch site plan found in the RAF Northstead Operations Record Book showing the domestic site, final site and the location of the four Anti Aircraft positions.