Parade's End...or how Bomber Command base and its drill area became beautiful garden homes

By Gary Edwards


Developers often talk up their properties by claiming they are ‘flying out the window’. But in the case of a former Bomber Command base in Oxfordshire, they may be justified in saying things are taking off.
RAF Bicester, home to Bristol Blenheim bomber squadrons and, later, Fighter Command’s Hurricane, Spitfire and Mosquito squadrons during the Second World War, is being transformed by City & Country into the 23-acre Garden Quarter.

With the first phase of the development – comprising 200 one-bedroom flats and two-bedroom cottages – now complete, Kay O’Mara and her husband John are among the first residents to move in.

Their new two-bedroom cottage overlooks the sergeants’ mess and the kitchen window looks out over the former parade ground, which has now been landscaped into a pleasant green square.

Parade ground: The revamped buildings on the base

Parade ground: The revamped buildings on the base

‘I have to suppress the desire to shout “ATTEN-SHUN” every time I do the washing up,’ says Kay, 71, a retired sunglasses merchandiser. ‘It certainly adds a lot of character to the place, thinking about what has gone on here in the past.’

The development is 12 miles north of Oxford and a mile from Bicester North station, just a 48-minute train journey from Marylebone.

The base started off as home to the RAF’s predecessor, the Royal Flying Corps, in 1917 but was developed as part of Sir Hugh Trenchard’s expansion of the RAF in the Twenties. After 1945 it was used as one of  the RAF’s aircraft salvage units.

RAF Bicester was once home to Bristol Blenheim bombers

RAF Bicester was once home to Bristol Blenheim bombers

The site – its buildings as well as the airfield – was made a conservation area in 2002 and issued with a Grade II listing. Barbed wire and sentry boxes have now been removed but the grand officers’ mess and quarters are still intact.

The original red-brick married quarters drew its influences from the Garden City Movement of the Thirties.

The exteriors have been smartened up and the officers’ mess and quarters, barrack block, dining room and cookhouse are being transformed into homes fitted with all the latest mod-cons.

Kay and John, 72, a retired painter and  decorator, have two daughters – Nicola, 43, and Rachel, 42. The couple wanted to move nearer to IT worker Nicola, who lives in Bicester, when Rachel moved to Qatar with her pilot husband.

The O’Maras used to drive past the site on their way to see Nicola and her daughter Amelia, seven, and were curious to look around when building work began.

‘We loved the peace and quiet. The buildings are well spaced out and it’s beautiful. It really feels as if we’re starting our lives again,’ says Kay.

Their cottage was on the market for 270,000 and they sold their three-bedroom semi-detached house near Bolton for  154,000, having bought it new, 43 years ago, for 2,895.

Ready for inspection: The sleek dining area of one of the Garden Quarter properties

Ready for inspection: The sleek dining area of one of the Garden Quarter properties

The property has a large open-plan kitchen and living room, an en-suite bathroom, a walk-in wardrobe and a study. Outside they have two parking spaces and a small patio.

Although there is no garden, the O’Maras enjoy the benefits of the open parkland, which has been transformed by the planting of many semi-mature trees, including birches, horse chestnuts and maples.

Now they have moved in, the O’Maras are looking into the history of the base. ‘There’s a huge bunker on the site that Winston Churchill apparently used during the war,’ says Kay.

Prices at the Garden Quarter start at 165,000 for a one-bedroom cottage while two-bedroom houses are priced at 287,500. Since its launch in June, 50 per cent of the first released units at the Garden Quarter have been sold, with many buyers coming from the local area.

Mandy Soames, of City & Country, said:  ‘The military history is a selling point for buyers as it provides properties that are full of character.’

City & Country, 01279 817882,


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