Fylde prison site once trained RAF war heroes

Kirkham RAF station, at the time it was the proposed site for Kirkham open prison, 
dated 1960
Kirkham RAF station, at the time it was the proposed site for Kirkham open prison, dated 1960

Today it’s HMP Kirkham, but the site on which the category D prison sits was once used to help the war effort.

RAF Kirkham was built by George Wimpey on 220 acres of land, bordering the A583 Blackpool to Preston Road.

Annual Sports at RAF Station, Kirkham, July 1955

Annual Sports at RAF Station, Kirkham, July 1955

Work started in 1939 and the camp opened in 1940, as a training camp for RAF tradesmen – including bomb disposal corps.

Up to 1945, during the Second World War, it trained 72,000 British and allied service men and women.

In November 1941, Kirkham became the main armament training centre for the RAF – with 21 different trades and 86 different courses on equipment and weapons, varying from 22 riffles to 75mm guns.

Pupils came from the Commonwealth, the United States, the Netherlands, Poland, France, Norway, Czechoslovakia and Belgium.

Group Captain HMG Parker, at RAF Kirkham, in 1955

Group Captain HMG Parker, at RAF Kirkham, in 1955

Kirkham had 10 hangars, as well as its own 780-seat cinema and hospital – the tuberculosis and penicillin research centre for the North West of England. From May to December 1945, Kirkham became a demob centre.

Pictured are ex-servicemen in June 1945, at RAF Kirkham, getting their clothes allowance – transforming them from a soldier into a civilian.

One ex-serviceman, warrant officer James Spaulding, was quoted giving his greatest wish to the Express: “I want to see my wife and kiddy, and I want to potter about in my own bit of garden.”

After the war, Kirkham trained RAF boy entrants until December 1957, when it closed. The vacant site is pictured here in February 1960, when it was being considered as a potential site for a new prison.

Men leaving the services back in "civvies" (civilian clothes) at RAF Kirkham, in June 1945

Men leaving the services back in "civvies" (civilian clothes) at RAF Kirkham, in June 1945

In the early 1960s, part of the facility was taken over by the Home Office, with HMP Kirkham opening in 1962, as an open prison. The rest of the land lay derelict, but is now used for agricultural and a nature reserve.

As these pictures show, it wasn’t always work, work, work at the base. An annual sports day took place, and is shown here in July 1955, with youngsters racing.