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Chichester Air Force Distribution Depot


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What: Defended Fuel Depot
Where: Chichester, West Sussex
Built: 1938-9
Architect: Unknown
Abandoned: c.1994
Listed: No
Visited: 2015, 2016
Last Known Condition: Derelict but intact
Page Updated: September 2016

The RAF fuel depot at Portfield, Chichester was built by Esso in 1938-9 as part of an Air Ministry contract for the supply and distribution of fuel to the nearby Tangmere, Westhampnett and Merston Airfields. Unlike later depots, the site didn't have a connection to the national Government Pipeline and Storage System, instead being supplied by rail. The fuel was stored in four 500-ton and two 350-ton Whessoe Foundry steel tanks covered with earth. It was then loaded into bowser lorries and taken by road to the airfields. Power to the site was provided by a six-cylinder National marine diesel engine.

Despite being camouflaged, by 1940, the depot appeared on Luftwaffe target maps and was even mentioned in a broadcast by the infamous ‘Lord Haw-Haw’, William Joyce, with the chilling words ‘‘We know about the petrol dump in Chichester’’. Air raids were carried out by German bombers on two separate occasions, but luckily for the people of Chichester the bombs fell wide of their mark.

A rail spur allowed tank waggons to be unloaded away from the busy mainline. It remained in use until the 1990s
An angled rail spur allowed fuel to be unloaded away from the busy mainline. It remained in use until the 1990s

The site included a fully equipped vehicle workshop, presumably for servicing tanker lorries.
The site included a fully equipped vehicle workshop, presumably for servicing tanker lorries.

A system of pipes connected the rail spur with the underground tanks Unloading operations were controlled from this small brick hut Unloading operations were controlled from this small brick hut Alarm sounder and Carter warning siren on the side of the control building Unsurprisingly given the high risk of fire, emergency switches were everywhere Fuel pump switch room Switch room window overlooking the siding An abandoned pallet jack and sections of pipework next to the tracks One of the defended 500 ton tanks Steel doors to underground tank with hatch above. Bolted shut and inexpertly sealed with expanding foam. Tank latterly used for storing gas oil. Tank latterly used for storing diesel. Sand barrel (missing shovel). Generator house. I think the wooden tower is some sort of exhaust stack for the engine. The site was powered by this six-cylinder 'National' marine diesel engine coupled to a generator. Pump building containing a backup four-cylinder 'Standard' petrol engine Air raid shelter (sealed) Motor workshop Site office Mess room An old calendar on the wall Distribution area map Filling station Forecourt pump control console Detached line label Flammable

I've not been able to find out when exactly the depot was decommissioned: RAF Merston and Westhampnett were closed shortly after the War, but RAF Tangmere remained in military use until 1970. Control of the depot was passed from the Air Ministry to the Ministry of Power in 1959 and the site was later let out to Wm. Cory & Son Ltd who operated a Shell franchise distributing diesel and heating oils until the mid-nineties.

The depot was sold in 2011 and recent plans for the site have included a new Park & Ride, a waste transfer facility and a supermarket. So far none have gotten any further than the drawing board.


Bibliography

"New park and ride site on the cards for Chichester", Bognor Regis Observer, 18/03/2011. URL:http://www.bognor.co.uk/news/transport/new-park-and-ride-site-on- the-cards-for-chichester-1-2506136 [accessed 30/08/2016].

"Chichester Fuel Distribution Depot", Airfield Research Group, 19/01/2009. URL:https://www.airfieldresearchgroup.org.uk/forum/fuel-depots/1035-chichester-fuel-distribution-depot?limitstart=0 [accessed 11/09/2016].

"Chichester Wartime Air Force Distribution Depot", South East History Forum, 31/12/2013. http://sussexhistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=6091.0 [accessed 11/09/2016].

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The Derelict Miscellany: website and all content © D. A. Gregory unless stated to be otherwise.