The Common Good - Chapters

Greenham Common

1. The lie of the land
The gorse and heather wilderness of Greenham and Crookham commons has captivated many imaginations in the past, and thanks to Greenham Trust, will now continue to do so.  

2. The commons lifestyle
Those living alongside the common had the right to use it for supplementing their meagre livelihoods, but a century or so ago the heath was also renowned for wild sports and raucous public entertainments.

Crookham House (photo courtesy of West Berkshire Museum)3. The gentry at home
Ownership of the common was split between two grand families, each with imposing residences on its northern edge: Greenham Lodge and Crookham House. These lords of the manor gave way to corporate and military landlords in the twentieth century.

4. Early military service                    
The vast, unfarmed expanse was a natural mustering ground for armies on the move. Soldiers have tramped and camped across the common at regular intervals since the English Civil War in the 1640s.

5. A wartime airfield, 1939 to 1944
Concrete and Nissen huts arrived, together with incomers such as the Norwegian royal household and the USAAF.

RAF Greenham Common road sign6. D-Day: before and after, 1944 to 1945
RAF Greenham Common played a vital role in the planning and execution of the D-Day airborne landings. Churchill, Eisenhower and de Gaulle all worked here over the crucial weeks.

7. SAC and the second coming, 1946 to 1964
The Cold War scotched any hope of the commons being returned to Newbury people, as the USAF returned, this time with heavy bombers. Newbury rose up in protest.

8. Deactivation and diversification, 1964 to 1980
For nearly 15 years the airbase was inactive, and the open space attracted aspiring record-breakers, Ugandan refugees and the hugely popular air tattoos. But it hadn’t been forgotten by the military.

9. Peace protest and publicity, 1980 to 1984
Greenham Common became world-famous for the women’s peace protest long before the cruise missiles even arrived. Their newsworthy campaign kept Greenham in the spotlight of media attention for a full decade.

Embrace the Base demonstration (photo courtesy of Newbury Weekly News)10. Reaction, 1980 to 1984
The peace women were loathed by many local people, some of whom took direct action which verged on criminality. Official hostility tended to work through the law courts.

11. Cruise in place, 1981 to 1988
The missile silo area was fortified to almost science-fiction standards, but by the time it was fully stocked, the USA and the Soviet Union were already on the brink of disarmament.

12. INF, the wind-down and commoners’ rights, 1988 to 1992
Russian inspectors checked Greenham’s empty silos, and both sides toasted the end of the Cold War. The Americans prepared to depart, and Newbury scented the possiblity of regaining its common.

13. Common cause, 1993 to 1997
Whilst restoration prospects were surveyed and costed, a brilliant idea was born: a trust that would convert the deserted airbase for public good, and secure the open land permanently in local public ownership.

Removing fuel tanks from Greenham Common (photo courtesy of West Berkshire Council)14. The radiation scare
Fears of radioactive contamination from a 1950s accident were linked to a spike in local leukaemia cases, giving rise to local agitation. Two exhaustive scientific surveys found no grounds for concern.

15. Regeneration
With the commons back in civilian ownership, a massive restoration programme tackled the environmental legacy of 50 years’ military occupation.

16. The control tower
Almost everyone wanted this iconic structure put to recreational use, but the means and methods of so doing spawned controversy, which has delayed its transformation.

Cruise Missile silos17. GAMA    
The compound containing the former missile silos escaped regeneration, to become the spookiest and most inaccessible corner of the common. Some celebrities found a way in, though.

18. Greenham Business Park
The built-up part of the airbase underwent regeneration into an award-winning centre for commerce. The USAF hangars and stores were converted to house fledgling businesses, but the barracks had to go.

19. Art in the Park
Greenham Trust has sponsored numerous artistic projects, most notably the outdoor sculptures which enhance the commercial landscape of the business park.

A memorial to those who gave their lives20. Remembrance
The Royal British Legion and US veterans’ associations joined with the Trust in ensuring that those who died in Greenham’s wartime air tragedies will never be forgotten.

21. The common good
Greenham Business Park, created by Greenham Trust, has, in 20 years, generated £40 million for local good causes of all shapes and sizes.