One of the joys of this project has been talking to people who remember what life was like in the village during the second world war. At our first Open Day we met John Chappell who lived in what is now Chestnut Walk as a child. It was fascinating to hear his stories of life with the airmen about the village and he brought his childhood sketchbook to share with us and we reproduce some of his pictures here.
Phyl Norrell lived near what is now the roundabout on the A27 and has also told us tales of what it was like in what was then a very rural village. Some of Phyl’s memories will be added to the website as audio files shortly.
Tangmere dates back to at least AD680, when Caedwalla, King of Wessex, is recorded as giving 10 hides of land (about 1200 acres) at Tangmere to the church of St. Andrew at Pagham. The Domesday Book (1086) records that Tangmere had a population of around 120, with the stone church of St Andrew built after the Norman conquest. Originally built of timber, the Saxon church was replaced in 1100 by a stone and timber building. In 1341 Edward II granted Tangmere the right to hold an annual fair on St. Andrew’s Day.
The manor of Tangmere was held by the Archbishop of Canterbury until 1542, when Henry VIII seized it for the crown. It was later granted by Elizabeth I to Sir Richard Sackville (a cousin of Anne Boleyn). In 1579 the manor became part of the Halnaker estate which was later acquired by the 3rd Duke of Richmond. Goodwood maintained ownership of Tangmere land until the 1930s.
The village name originates from “tang” meaning a fork and “mere” meaning a pond. The pond was situated at the junction of Tangmere Road and Chestnut Walk, and was filled in some years ago.
Tangmere Airfield was established in 1917 by the RAF, but construction had only just been completed by the end of the war in 1918. 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. 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.
After the war, the RAF High Speed Flight was based at Tangmere. In September 1953, Squadron Leader Neville Duke flew a Hawker Hunter at 727 miles per hour flying from the airfield over a course off Rustington. In June 1958, Fighter Command left Tangmere, but the airfield remained operational until 16th October 1970.
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.
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.
The Parish Council was established in 1966, since when the village has slowly resumed its development as a rural community rather than a military one. The population in the 2011 census was 2625.