Tangmere is a village and civil parish in the Chichester District of West Sussex, England. Located three miles (5 km) north east of Chichester it is twinned with Hermanville-sur-Mer in Lower Normandy, France.

The parish has a land area of 467.3 hectares (1154 acres). In the 2001 census 2462 people lived in 963 households, of whom 1233 were economically active.

Origin of the Name

The origin of the name Tangmere is not certain. 'Mere' implies a pool rather than a grand lake, and 'tang' is thought to be of Norse origin meaning ‘tongs'. It could be that Tangmere was the pool at the fork, or junction of two ancient paths. The pool was later filled in to form a small village green.


The village seems to have been first settled in Saxon times but the stone church of St Andrew was built after the Norman conquest. In 677 the controversial Bishop of York, Wilfrid (later Saint Wilfrid), came to Selsey and converted the South Saxons to Christianity. In 680 a charter, possibly by the King states: “I Caedwalla...have granted his brethren serving God at the church of St Andrew...the land of 10 hides which is called Tangmere”. A hide equated to 120 acres (49 hectares).

The Domesday Survey records that Tangmere had a population of around 120. At the end of the 19th Century it had grown only to 164. By 2001 it had risen to 2400.

The Manor of Tangmere was owned by the Archbishop of Canterbury until 1542, when Henry VIII claimed possession. It passed later to Cardinal Archbishop Pole and then to the Crown again, being granted by Elizabeth I to Richard Baker and then Sir Richard Sackville. – a cousin of her mother Anne Boleyn.

In 1579 the manor became part of the Halnaker estate which was later acquired by the 3rd Duke of Richmond. When he died in 1806, the Goodwood estate, including Tangmere, totaled 17,000 acres (69 km²). Goodwood maintained ownership of Tangmere land until the 1930's.

Royal Air Force Station

Tangmere was the home of the former RAF Tangmere air station, which played a pivotal role in World War II, especially during the Battle of Britain. Part of the former airfield is now home to the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum.

The aerodrome was founded in 1917 for use by the Royal Flying Corps as a training base. In 1918 it was turned over to the American Air Force as a training ground, and continued as such until the end of the Great War in November of that year, after which the airfield was mothballed.

In 1925 the station re-opened to serve the Fleet Air Arm, and went operational in 1926 with No. 43 Squadron equipped with bi-plane Gloster Gamecocks (there is still a row of houses near the museum entrance called Gamecock Terrace).

As war threatened in the late thirties, the fighters became faster, with Hawker Furies, Gloster Gladiators, and the Hawker Hurricanes powered by the famous Merlin engines all being used at Tangmere. In 1939 the airfield was enlarged to defend the south coast against attack by the Luftwaffe, with Tangmere's only hotel and some houses being demolished in the process. The RAF commandeered the majority of houses in the centre of the village, with only six to eight families being allowed to stay. It was only in 1966 that the village resumed its status as a civilian community.

In August 1940 the first squadron (602) of Supermarine Spitfires was based at the satellite airfield at nearby Westhampnett, as the Battle of Britain began. By now the villagers had mainly been evacuated, and extensive ranges of RAF buildings had sprung up.

The first and worst enemy raid on the station came on 16th August 1940 when 100 Junkers Stuka dive bombers and fighters crossed the coast and most headed for Tangmere. There was extensive damage to buildings and aircraft on the ground. 14 service people and six civilians were killed, but the station was kept in service and brought back into full operation.

Later in the war, as the RAF turned from defence to attack, the legendary Group Captain Douglas Bader – the legless fighter ace – commanded the Tangmere wing of Fighter Command. Today he is commemorated in the Bader Arms public house in the village.

Throughout the war, the station was also a secret base for the Special Operations Executive who flew agents in and out of occupied France to strengthen the Resistance. The SOE used Tangmere Cottage, opposite the main entrance to the base. Today the cottage sports a commemorative plaque to its former secret life.

After the War, the RAF High Speed Flight was based at Tangmere. In September 1946, a world air speed record of 616 mph (991 km/h) was set by Grp Capt Donaldson in a Gloster Meteor, and then, in September 1953, Squadron Leader Neville Duke flew a Hawker Hunter at 727 mph (1,170 km/h) – the 50th anniversary of this event was commemorated in 2003.

The station finally closed on 16th October 1970, when a single Spitfire flew over the airfield as the RAF ensign was hauled down.

Recent history

Following the closure of the RAF station, some of the land around the runways was returned to farming. Tangmere Airfield Nurseries have built huge glasshouses for the cultivation of peppers and aubergines.

Until 1983 37 acres of barracks, admin blocks and repair workshops remained derelict until bought by Seawards Properties Ltd. Housing soon spread around the airfield, and much RAF building was demolished and officers' houses retained as homes. However, some original RAF buildings remain, including 3 large hangars, the Control Tower and one of the ‘H Block’ accommodation buildings.

The Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, now a major visitor attraction and base for annual celebrations was founded by a group of enthusiastic veterans.

The church of St Andrew was built in 1100 and stood up well to occasional gales and was untouched by wartime bombing. A freak storm in October 2003 brought a lightning strike which ripped the spire, damaged the roof and caused devastation inside the church, giving rise to the need for extensive repairs.

When the 1901 census was made available on the internet Tangmere Local History Group began a detailed study of life in the village at the end of the Victorian era. This is being compiled and will be available in due course. The Local History Group regularly meet and welcome new members.

The Parish Council was established in 1966 from when the village has slowly resumed its development as a rural community, rather than a military one. With the boom in modern housing there has been an influx of young families, most of whom work in and around Chichester.

External links

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