Monument record MYO5248 - Canon Testing Butts, RAF Clifton


The butts are formed by a c.11m long brick structure standing over 4m tall, supporting a sand scarp or bank to the south side. Some 13m to the south of the butts is the north end of a square hardstanding area. The hard-standing formed an aircraft tethering apron, where the fighter plane using the butts would have been positioned. A taxi-way to the south runs to within 3m of the modern post and rail fence/hedge marking the north side of the A1237. A brick-lined drain or sump to the west may also date to the Second World War.


Grid reference Centred SE 5913 5575 (1m by 0m)
Map sheet SE55NE


Type and Period (0)

Full Description

This part of the airfield is not visible on the slide copy of the vertical aerial photograph taken in June 1942, and it is not known precisely when this site was built. It is not shown on the 1942 camouflage plan but, as previously noted, this plan may have been simplified. It is depicted on the 1945 airfield plan, and shown as extending beyond the northern edge of the airfield. This area is divided into two parts, the eastern part (numbered ‘22’) is identified in the key as ‘M.G. (machine gun) Range (6 Point)’, whilst the western part (numbered ‘24’) is labelled as ‘NFE (night fighter equipment) Store’. This is actually an error, as the Night Fighter Equipment Store would more normally be located within the main part of the airfield, near the Watch Office and close to the floodlight trailer and tractor shed, and there is another number ‘24’ on the southern edge of the airfield; this site should actually be numbered ‘23’ which the key identifies as ‘Canon Test Butt’ (Roger Thomas, Conflict Archaeologist, pers. comm.)

To the immediate east of the butts, there is a north-east/south-west aligned earth bank, running as far as the machine gun range (MYO5249] to the east. The bank is c.26m long, 6m wide and up to 1.5m high; it has steeply scarped sides and a flat top. The bank was presumably meant to catch stray ammunition from either of the adjoining butts, although in its current form it does not seem tall enough for this purpose

The 1945 airfield plan depicts the cannon testing butts as comprising a narrow rectangular structure at the north end, aligned almost east-west, with two conjoined rectangles to the south (see figure 5A). The track to Rawcliffe Moor Farm lies along the northern side of the buildings, beyond the airfield boundary, and there is also a track along the west side of the site leading north from a taxi-way and a dispersal pit to the south. A branch runs off this from the dispersal pits to the east, ending in an apparent turning circle. The more detailed Ordnance Survey 25” map of 1967-69 shows the site to lie at the north end of a square-ended hard-standing area (more commonly called a ‘T-stand’), connected by a short length of taxi-way to the airfield perimeter track to the south, along which are a number of aircraft dispersal pens. Just to the north of the ‘T-stand’, a linear structure is shown with an earthwork bank parallel to its southern side. Cannon testing butts, also known as ‘shooting-in butts’, were used to test or harmonise machine guns or cannons while still in fighter planes, with both machine gun ammunition and cannon shells being used.

After clearance, the structure forming the main part of the cannon butts could be seen to be aligned north-east/south-west, although in the following description they are considered to be aligned east-west. The structure has maximum external dimensions of 11.10m eastwest by 4.20m north-south, and it stands up to 4.10m in height. It is built of light red machine-made bricks laid in English Garden Wall bond and set with a cement mortar. The main structural part of the butts comprises the rear (north) wall. This stands over 4.0m tall and appears to survive to its full height. The north face has a chamfered inset set approximately half way up its height. At either end, the rear wall returns to the south to form the side walls; these are of very similar form and height.

The upper part of the south side comprises a structure divided into five bays of equal size; each bay is 1.50m wide by 3.65m deep, and stands 2.50m in height and is floored with a concrete slab. The ends of the walls separating the bays are rebated from 0.50m to 1.60m above ground level; each rebate has two horizontal bolts, with a single horizontal bolt projecting from the front of the wall separating the third and fourth bays from the west end. Each wall once had three concrete blocks to the top, although these only now survive in full to the easternmost bay. Each block has a small square recess to the side, into which a horizontal bolt projects. The bolts were used to secure timbers or other fittings running at this height across the top of the bays. These would have almost certainly formed part of the roof structure, as the butts would originally have been covered by a roof. The bays would originally have contained sand or perhaps gravel, into which the cannon shells would have been fired, although no evidence for any of this former material was now visible. To the immediate east of the easternmost bay, metal fittings to the wall face may once have held a flagpole in place, used to fly a flag when live firing was taking place. The base of the south side of the butts is formed by a 1.50m high south-facing sand and earth scarp, which extends over 4.0m from the brickwork structure; the top of the scarp is set at 15.80m AOD.

Some 13m to the south of the butts is the north end of the square ‘T-stand’ area of hard-standing. The hard-standing measures 18m square, with a surface set at 14.60m AOD. The taxi-way to the south runs to within 3m of the modern post and rail fence/hedge marking the north side of the A1237. Both taxi-way and hard-standing are of sectional construction, using parallel lines of rectangular concrete panels, some of which retain traces of their bitumen coating [4/795]; the average width of the panels is 4.50m, although the joints between them remained difficult to discern, even after clearance. There was no evidence for any tethering rings or similar for securing the fighter aircraft. Some 9m to the west of the hard-standing, within an area of scrub which was not cleared, there is a large drain or soakaway. The drain is sub-rectangular in plan, wider across the east end (1.70m) than the west end. It is built of light red machine-made bricks and is over 1m in depth [3/618, 3/619]. There is a concrete slab laid across the west end, with a modern trench excavated for c.3m to the east. The size and form of the drain suggests that it may belong to the Second World War use of the airfield.

Ed Dennison, 2020, A1237 York Northern Outer Ring Road (Unpublished document). SYO2595.

Sources/Archives (1)

  • --- Unpublished document: Ed Dennison. 2020. A1237 York Northern Outer Ring Road.

Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

Related Events/Activities (1)

Record last edited

Nov 24 2021 11:06AM


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