War in Kenn

 

DECOY SITE KENN later CLAVERHAM MOOR (photos taken 2011 heree)
OS 4342/6804 SMR 7077 SA273/02
Findings of site visits by Marianne and Michael Pitman and YCCCART (Yatton, Congresbury, Claverham and Cleeve Archaeological Research Team)
August/September 2008

The remains of a blast shelter part of a Starfish site can be seen along the north side of Claverham Drove on the northeast side of Decoypool Drove. It was used for a short while as a dwelling immediately after the WWII. It was surveyed by Ian Donald in February 1987 and the purpose of YCCCART investigation was to see how much the site had deteriorated and to try to answer some of the outstanding questions. The possibility of conservation was discussed.

When bombing was expected in Bristol before London, the government organised decoy fires to attract the bombers away from Bristol at Wharf Farm Kingston Seymour, Priddy, Downside and Kenn Moor.

Starfish is short for Night Special Fires or QF. As the Germans dropped incendiaries on targets before bombing them these fires were to attract the bombs away from the real target of Bristol or Avonmouth. The enemy fires would be put out quickly and these alternative sites would be lit immediately. Kenn Moor site was operational in early 1941 and decommissioned on September 2lst 1944.  It was fired on March 27th 1944, but no bombs were collected.

Most starfish covered 10-15 acres and each firing used 25-30 tons of flammable material. There were three types of fire, usually 6 boiling diesel oil fires, 2 paraffin grid repeaters and 16 sawdust and scrap wood baskets. The first two burnt for four hours and the baskets for one hour, so a quarter were lit every hour for four hours. Detonation was electrically initiated after a telephone call from RAF Lulsgate and if this failed fires were lit manually. Sometimes creosote pools were lit.

The sites were built and rebuilt as necessary by William Cowlin and Son Ltd; CoIston Electrics did the electrics and Arthur Scull the plumbing. They were only used on cloudy nights or they would have been recognised as a fake city burning.

Current state of blast shelter and generator house

The corrugated roof and sides, and some brick blast walls of the shelter still stand. The main entrance door faces the corner of the intersecting droves and is protected by ascending stepped red brick walls. The door has gone but the doorway has a metal surround supported by a frame. The turf covering has also disappeared to expose the roof externally despite being replaced by Andrew Williams, the owner. The structure has some small holes but the interior mud covered floor is dry.  The ribs horizontal supporting bars and J fixings for the semicircular corrugated sheets can still be seen.

There are two main chambers separated by a passageway open at the north end and with a door held open to the west. The first and larger chamber has semicircular end sections with some regular round apertures on the south side. The second chamber is similar and has a small hatch at ground level on the west side and the central panel at the far end has a a semicircular opening at the top. There are reported to be metal fixings on the floor for a diesel generator udder the mud. It appears to be made of concrete and was constructed to a different specification for the generator. Outside there is a freestanding blast brick wall obscured brambles protecting the northern end of the passageway. After the war a blast wall protecting the front entrance was removed but the foundations remain. The building was used subsequently as a cattle shelter and is undermined by badger setts.

Other shelter

The bridge over the rhyne is reinforced concrete possibly from the small building on the west of DecoypooI Drove which has since disappeared.

Concrete holders

In the field to the north are two concrete structures about 30 metres apart lying west east and made up of two small parallel walls and a longer base on each. The base concrete extends beyond the end of each set of walls. There are square holes in pairs in each slab and metal fixings in each of the walls on top which were probably to secure to baskets of wood shavings. There appear to have been grooves cut parallel in the end pieces which are likely to have been due to shuttering when they were built.

There are also four small mounds in pairs between the concrete structures linked by raised paths. AW understands that these were ash heaps and cinder tracks to aid movement on potentially boggy ground. There are also reported to be a further two concrete bases lying to the north buried in the ground. Many pig troughs were brought from Yatton station by horse and cart but their use is not known.

Possible site for searchlight

From the air photos of 1946 there appears to be a round area which may have been a searchlight pad on the west side in the fourth field from the road. However a 93 year old farmer Roly Hazell of Manor Farm, Kenn who farmed in the area during the Second World War said there was never a searchlight and this was corroborated by another 93 year old farmer Len Burdge who farmed nearby. Len thought the area may have been the site of a circular feeder and surrounding hoof prints. Len identified where bombs dropped on the moor and these were corroborated against official records so his memories are likely to be correct.

Possible Rocket Launchers

These were remembered by Peter Day and David Pearce but no evidence was found for them unless the concrete structures were for that purpose.

Manning

The site was manned first by the RAF from 1940-1944 by, amongst others, Lotty Forbes and Ginger Pooley and Sgts Andy Maine and Hussey; the latter two of whom in Kenn Street with Mrs StapIes. They did odd jobs in Kenn. Five others lodged at Kenn Court with the Dyers and five at Mill Farm with Archie Griffin.

Other parts of site

When the fields were ploughed about 2004 a bag of coal was found in the old plantations alongside the drove but further to the north as well as concrete bases for the decoys.

Ownership

The land belonged to Mounstevens from Yatton during WWII and land was rented to Ray Naish by Arthur Edwards. Then it was owned by Roly Gray from Bizley Farm, West End, Nailsea, until it was sold to Andrew Williams of Kingston Seymour in the 1990s and he still owns it.

The fields border the original wetland plantation or forest on Geoff Naish’s land at Decoy Pool Farm at West End Nailsea. William Naish, Ray’s great grandfather, build the road on willow faggots.
Charles and Cuthbert Stuckey ran Blue Angus on these fields earlier in the twentieth century and Price’s colts were also there. There were always a lot of reeds that used to be burnt off.

Conclusion

Ian Donald identified in February 1987 the structures identified in roughly the same state of repair.
YCCCART identified the efforts Andrew Williams had made to preserve the site and concluded that the group could not do anything to support preservation further because of the badger setts but hoped Andrew Williams would continue to use it as a calf shelter and replace the turf roof.

Additional information from Vince Russett/SMR/CBA, Ian McDonald, John Penney, Ian James and Donald Brown has been included.