In praise of the corrugated iron hut………

Corrugated iron huts, Keevil

It all started with an officer in the 29th Company, Royal Engineers. Major Peter Norman Nissen (1871-1930), needed a fast, easy-to-erect building which would offer storage and living space in the field. Since this was 1916, the need was great indeed, and production of the hut, made from curved sheets of corrugated iron was approved immediately. A single hut took 54 sheets of curved corrugated iron, 10 ft 6 ins high and 2 ft 2 ins wide, and a specially braced framework.  By the end of the First World War, around 100, 000 units had been manufactured.

Athough small scale production continued between the wars, it was only the outbreak of World War Two that caused a massive expansion of the building programme. Although the huts could be taken apart, and moved to new locations as required, many formed the backbone of ‘permanent’ buildings on airfields, army barracks, and naval bases worldwide. There were various versions of the hut built, including the  Romney Hut (British) and the Quonset Hut (US). The Quonset Hut was named after Quonset Point, where the Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center was located (Davisville being a part of North Kingstown, Rhode Island).

These huts are located on Keevil Airfield, Wiltshire, and look to be modified Quonset huts, as these were considerably larger than the British versons, and I have seen a photograph of similar huts at Keevil in 1943. This is possible as Keevil was, at one time, Army Air Force Station 471, home to several US Army Air Corps units. These included the 81st Airdrome Squadron, providing communications and other support to AAC flying units. Herbert Hawkes, who served with the 81st described the conditions at Keevil in 1943 as, ‘mud’!

The huts now serve a variety of uses, the one on the left of the photograph being used by Bannerdown Gliding Club, an RAF GSA Gliding Club, affliated to nearby RAF Lyneham.

Postwar, huts of all three types continued in use in the UK, and in other countries. They housed farm animals and equipment, many when former airfields reverted to agricultural use; they were used to house PoWs, as well as ‘displaced persons’, and, above all, they continued their military careers on bases both large and small. As for Major Nissen, he received a small payment for his efforts, but the Distinguished Service Order from a grateful nation.

3 comments on “In praise of the corrugated iron hut………”

  1. An excellent treatise on the lowly simple functional corrugated structure. not too many come to mind, but two are notable: Donald Judd, a 1960’s exponent of American minimalist art, took flight from NYC and moved to Marfa in West Texas which is where the Dia Foundation bought Fort Russell, a former US Army post on whose grounds now stand two majestic converted artillery sheds topped by Quonset huts. There is the focal point of the Chinati Foundation, an arts enclave where Judd attracted the likes of Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain. see
    The other auspicious example is the Quonset Hut of Owen Bradley of Nashville, Tennessee, where said hut was attached to a house which became the first recording studio on Music Row; recording there was a who’s who of American Country music and Pop music of the fifties and sixties — see!/pages/Owen-Bradleys-Quonset-Hut/220133323733?v=info


    • Thank you for your comments; I have always been fascinated by the simple elegance of the surviving WW2 structures!


  2. I am fascinated by old airfields and their architecture. These huts have found their way into many a farmers field and store a great deal of ‘modern’ machinery in place of the crews and staff of WWII squadrons. Good examples are also found at RAF Hardwick now a budding new Museum.


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