6th June 2003
Army Tank Delivers a Foretaste of Airport Devastation
A 500-year-old pub at Mole Hill Green in Essex today came ‘under fire’ from a tank in the latest round of the battle against expansion of Stansted Airport.
The Three Horseshoes, which dates back to the 15th Century, was selected by airport protestors to symbolise the potential destruction of whole villages – more than 300 homes, over 60 Grade 2 listed buildings, two scheduled ancient monuments and thousands of acres of countryside and protected ancient woodlands. They would all disappear under concrete – including the Three Horseshoes – if the Government’s proposals for up to three more runways at Stansted went ahead.
The ‘attack’ heralds the start of a month-long campaign to draw attention to what protesters have described as the biggest threat since the Blitz.
The pub was ‘attacked’ by an Abbot SPG tank, which trained its 105 mm howitzer gun on the pub and fired a smoke round, creating only a fraction of the dust that would fill the air if the pub, with its thatched roof, red brick chimneys and half a millennium of history, was bulldozed.
The pub survived thanks to confusion among the tank crew, and stalwart defence by a platoon of the local ‘Home Guard’, comprising members of Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) and others opposed to expansion.
The tank crew bore a striking resemblance to Tony Blair at the controls, John Prescott in the gun turret, and transport secretary Alistair Darling directing the fire.
The ‘Home Guard’ was led by Norman Mead, chairman of SSE and a former member of the Home Guard, and libel lawyer, Peter Carter-Ruck, a former Captain in the Royal Artillery and later a major in the Home Guard, who now heads SSE’s legal team. Members of the ‘platoon’ included several residents who would lose their homes under airport expansion plans.
The ‘Home Guard’ also successfully defended replicas of three listed houses, one of which dates back to 1549.
The tank was finally beaten off by the ‘Home Guard’ brandishing a formidable armoury of banners with powerful sentiments such as ‘Heritage’, ‘Countryside’, ‘Our Future’, and ‘Common Sense’.
‘Vanishing Villages’, four weeks of events to draw attention to the potential devastation to the area, culminate on 29 June when Terry Waite CBE, who has pledged his support for SSE’s campaign, will join with residents from threatened communities in a series of visits to homes and buildings that would be affected by airport expansion.
“Expansion of Stansted on the scale suggested by the Government’s plans would literally destroy life as we know it in this quintessentially English part of the country,” said Norman Mead. “As if the threat from noise and pollution was not enough, whole villages will be literally bulldozed and much of our priceless heritage destroyed for ever.
“A great many of the threatened buildings are listed and steeped in history, but others are typical family homes and village halls. The bulldozer won’t discriminate.
“And the biggest tragedy of all is that it is totally unnecessary. Removal of unjustified aviation tax subsidies would result in fairer ticket prices and this would dampen demand. The South East already handles two thirds of all UK air travel – a situation which many people in the rest of the UK consider illogical and unhelpful to the other regions.”
About buildings in the photo-call:
The Three Horseshoes, run by licensee Trevor Johnson, dates back to the 15th Century and is rumoured to have been frequented by Dick Turpin.
Peartrees is a late 16th Century timber framed house, originally three farm workers’ cottages.
Tudor Cottage was built in 1549 and was originally two gamekeepers’ cottages.
Knowles Cottage dates back to 1626. Under airport plans it would become a car park.
About the tank:
An Abbot SPG with 105 mm howitzer gun (eight rounds per minute and a range of 17 kms. With its 7.5 litre Vickers Leyland engine, it is capable of 33 mph. Abbot SPGs saw service on the Russian border in the 60s Cold War. It was provided by Barry Knee of B&B Autos of Takeley, a keen collector of military vehicles, which have starred in film and TV productions.