Like the similar sounding Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire, the place-name is of Danish origin and so hints at a time of conflict in the distant past. For most of its history however Sculthorpe has been far removed from the events that have shaped the destiny of Europe. Sculthorpe is a village north-west of Fakenham in Norfolk. It has a small population of under 1000 and would not feature in this blog but for the fact that at the height of the Cold War it was the site of Norfolk’s principal US airbase.
RAF Sculthorpe had been constructed in 1942 and hosted a succession of foreign airmen, starting with the Free French. It subsequently saw both the New Zealand and Australian Airforce before becoming a US airbase in 1949.
The skies over East Anglia were full of military jets in the 1950s. Among many others RAF Coltishall, St Faith’s, Swanton Morley and Marham flew regular sorties of British aircraft, and RAF Sculthorpe supplied the USAF quota. In those days you could always tell which were which just by glancing up. The fuel used by RAF burned clean and the aircraft left just a white vapour trail, but that burnt by the Americans was less refined, and left a brown exhaust.
RAF Sculthorpe was on our route from Norwich to Snettisham where my Aunt had her holiday home. Our journey took us through Fakenham (which in those days had two railway stations but no bypass) and then out on the A148. We soon left this road and turned right onto the B1454 which went near the runways. Just past the turning on the main road was the Four Winds cafe and filling station. This cafe was frequented by the USAF personnel from Sculthorpe airbase.
My Dad liked to call in at the Four Winds to buy me a Coke. After parking our little British car among the huge American automobiles we would sit at a table and watch these strange foreign servicemen in their fatigues. These were very informal compared to the way British servicemen were then dressed. One feature which tickled my father was the fact that their names were displayed above their breast pockets. This enabled him to address complete strangers by name; “Hi Macdonald” he could call out as we passed. This made me squirm with embarrassment of course.
The Four Winds had a jukebox; these were up-to-date items in the fifties, but they were not common. There was coffee bar at the top of Bridge Street in Bungay where the local Teddy Boys congregated that had a jukebox, but that and the one at the Four Winds were the only two I knew. My father would put in his sixpence and get me to select one of the 45s. The elaborate mechanical arm would move round, pick the record out and transfer it to the turntable. The loudspeaker was turned up on the bass and the throbbing sound was all part of the experience. It was all straight out the Mid-West of America, and nothing like sleepy rural Norfolk.
Large scale deployment of American bombers to RAF Sculthorpe ceased in 1962 and although the base remains Ministry of Defence property to this day, and is still used occasionally for training purposes, it is normally deserted. Without its customers the Four Winds closed. From being the major centre of American bombers in Europe the village of Sculthorpe returned to the peaceful non-entity of the Norfolk countryside.