Research Paper

An investigation into the manifestation of theories of collective memory and social space as embodied and embedded actions and events through an outline multi-disciplinary comparative exploration of the communities of The Reading Room, Croughton and RAF Croughton, Northamptonshire.

Rhiannon Evans, MA Fine Art Digital, Camberwell College of Art and Design, 13.10.2015


This paper introduces an investigation into two geographically adjacent but culturally distinct communities in rural Northamptonshire; The Reading Room, Croughton and RAF Croughton. It discusses these communities from historical and anthropological perspectives considering collective memory, communications and boundaries. The paper introduces an anthropological archaeological concept of time perspectivism and palimpsest. Theories of social space and interrelations are also presented and related to the communities described. It concludes that collective events, individual action and embedded practice act through embodied memory and both material and immaterial remains, as manifestations of previous actions and relations. These act reflexively in a continuing atemporal narrative process of actions, events, interrelations and subjective experience. The paper includes performative text informed by subjective experience and recollection to further exemplify the topics under discussion.


Collective memory, Social space, Temporality, Communications, Action


Originally attracted to this location by the visual and technological incongruity of RAF Croughton within the rural Northamptonshire countryside, a quality of semi-permeablity between two apparently culturally distinct communities was subsequentley experienced and observed. This paper focuses on RAF Croughton, a Royal Air Force station currently used for US Air Force communications and The Reading Room, Croughton, an early 20th century building within the village, now used as a community venue. Sources include visits, conversations with residents, local government records, on-line journals, official and unofficial military websites, and national press. Theories of collective memory are analysed through Halbwach’s On Collective Memory (1952) and Pierre Nora’s Les Lieux de Memoire (1989). Bailey’s (2007) concept of time perspectivism and palimpsest, social geographic philosophy of space production and relations through Massey’s for space (2005) and Lefebvre’s The Production of Space (1991) ) are also introduced. Flintham’s thesis (2010) is key to exploring the role of military sites in the UK. Enclosure is introduced as event and concept but not analysed due to the length of this paper.

The paper takes a multi-disciplinary approach and attempts to combine subjective personal recollections, elements of performative text1 and academic analysis to illustrate the manifestations of embodied collective memory and embedded action in the communities, both within and without Croughton village, to produce ‘ a simultaneity of stories so far’ (D. Massey 2005 p12).

The Reading Room                                                                present

Sun through stained glass produces refracted colour on the unpolished herringbone floor. Clingfilm covers inside the windows, loosened at the base to let out trapped flies. Funds were raised to supply the pink ’Sanderson’ heat- retaining curtains.

Controversial renovations removed panelling to expose original beams and replaced a central smoke vent with a fan. Large red brick fireplaces now house convector heaters.

A fabric Union Jack dominates; ‘WELCOME”, a multi-coloured paper cut out, curves above it. Local artists watercolours and vintage village photographs decorate. A quarry-tiled corridor offers books for exchange; above them, a large colour portrait of the Queen and smaller historic local team successes. A mythical ghost moves a mirror in the adjacent bar. The pink-tiled ‘Ladies’ has ‘Crinoline lady’ sanitary bags and a hand drier marked ‘Out of Order’.

For weekly coffee mornings, pastel – yellow seersucker cloths cover ‘cottage’ tables, decorated with Foster’s glasses containing pink fabric flowers and replaced with Sports Direct playing cards for the bi-monthly whist- drives.

Hot water is supplied from a boiler, and home-baked cakes offered over a wooden counter.

As villagers gather, rooks call, and the sound of Aunt Sally (Masters, 1997) next door at ‘The Blackbird’ echoes the past.

The hum of a light aircraft, from nearby Hinton-in-the-Hedges, constantly ebbs and flows, a single drone overhead (Evans, 2015).

Built with stone quarried from a local farm in 1903, the Reading Room was a ‘gift’ from village landowner, Edward Ramsay ( D. Franklin, 2015, pers. comm.2 Sept.). Women were admitted when it became a ‘social club’ in the 1970’s (D. Franklin, 2015, pers. comm, 2 Sept.).

It sits on raised ground behind a bus shelter, described by the local Planning and Heritage department as ‘unsympathetic’ (South Northamptonshire Council, 2015).

Superseded by a new Village Hall (funds donated by the nearby Tusmore Estate) it is ‘To Let’ as office space.

Jane and Richard, the caretakers, settled in Croughton after searching on-line for a home equidistant from both their families.

Meeting in the Facebook RPG game Farmland, they now keep bees and enjoy GEOcache. (Croughton Parish Council, 2013 p1)( J. Cross, 2015, pers. comm, 2 April)

Community and Memory                                                     past and present

Concepts of community may vary in any locality. ‘Attachment’ to a site determines its significance within a local community, but this connection does not necessarily depend upon location or geographical proximity but rather on connections in time and space (Gentry, 2013 p517). Individuals living close to a place may have little or no attachment to it, while others with no geographical connection, may have strong but imagined links (Anderson (1983) as cited in Gentry, 2013 p 517). Similarly, an individual’s network of social relations may be bound to a particular place or extend far beyond it, (Gentry, 2013 p 517) with a community existing in the minds of its members rather than having geographic or sociographic boundaries. Any boundaries exist in attached meaning rather than structural form (Cohen (1985) p98). Halbwachs (1992) recognized the significance of spatial frameworks in collective memory; how the memory of a group or community exists beyond that of an individual and links the individual’s understanding of the past with the group consciousness.

Sentiment and local knowledge affect the preservation of buildings such as the Reading Room, which are perceived as maintaining national and imperial values of morality, respectability and civil duty (Gentry, 2013 pp 509-510). As awareness of the fragility of such buildings grew, so did sentimental attachment to them. In the 20th century their importance in community identity, and their role as cultural anchors and markers of change also became apparent ( Gentry, 2013 p509). Yi-Fu Tuan (Patricios, 1979 p 251) describes how ‘place’ is made through sentiment and experience; with places and objects defining a ‘space’.

The everyday practice of actions and conversation provide spatial coordinates of identity that transform objective spaces into subjective places of narrative.

Pierre Nora argues that ‘sites of memory’ such as The Reading Room do not simply arise out of lived experience but are created to embody a memorial consciousness. These sites still mark rituals which he believes, act as boundaries to the past and as ‘illusions ‘of eternity (Nora, 1989 p 12) in an otherwise de-ritualised society.

However, the Reading Room requires the ‘external scaffolding’ (Nora, 1989 p 13) of regular fundraising activities as necessary support. This demonstrates the lack of actively experienced spontaneous memory in the village, co-existing with the 21st century obsession with conserving ‘present’ as well as ‘past’(Nora, 1989 p 13).

The whist drives and coffee mornings act as unspontaneous commemorative preserves of memory, without which the history would cease to exist (Nora, 1989 p 12).

Gentry (2013 p 514) suggests that places make memories cohere in complex ways, with people’s material, social and imagined experiences of a landscape enmeshing sense of place and the politics of space.

Reading Rooms                                                                   past and present

Reading Rooms, during the 19th and 20th century, provided places where local working men could read newspapers and periodicals free, or for small subscription; and read aloud to the illiterate. They were usually funded by local philanthropists (Kirby, 2015)(South Northamptonshire Council, 2013). Working class reading matter was otherwise out of date and expensive (Rose, 2001 as cited in Flint, 2003 p169). Reading Rooms provided rural further education and an alternative to the pub and gambling (Kirby, 2015).

Philanthropic gifts, they also confirmed class divide; imposed on communities by the church and local landowners for their ‘self-improvement’. (Kirby, 2015). They declined as libraries, education and transport developed and newspapers became more readily available (South Northamptonshire Council, 2013)(King, 2009 p 163).

Gruffydd Jones describes the subversive and political nature of Reading Rooms; they were spaces of quiet contemplation but where the act of collective reading, learning and engagement generated conversation, action and created an alternative public (Gruffydd Jones, 2014). This caused concern as, in addition to providing access to printed material, they became ’environments where certain kinds of politics could proliferate’ (Gruffydd Jones, 2014).

As a result, Reading Rooms became, just like the thousands of new publications published at the time, highly precarious and very temporary. The political

influence of introducing ‘news’ to working men is highlighted by journalist, WT Stead’s suggestion of government by journalism; that reading, writing and editing of newspapers formed part of a new democracy.

Gruffydd Jones (2014) tells how in 1858, Sir George Grey claimed, in the Liverpool Mercury, that newspapers taught political science and that:

“Free access to… public journals is the working mans best security against the arts of the demagogue and the illusions of political fanaticism.”

( Sir George Grey as cited in Jones, 2014)

Communication and connection                                       past and present

Both broadband and mobile phone connections are unavailable in the Reading Room. There is no telephone landline. An analogue radio successfully tunes into the local station, if the aerial is extended in the appropriate direction. (Evans, 2015)

The Parish Council highlighted the village’s poor mobile phone signals and the need for Superfast broadband but no public funds were available for this (Croughton Parish Council, 2014b pp8-9)(Croughton Parish Council, 2014a p1). By August 2014 electronics communications company, Gigaclear, showed interest in providing the service (Croughton Parish Council, 2014a p1).

Laying the fibre optic cable commenced in June 2015, but by October, work was uncompleted.

RAF Croughton is situated east of the High Street from the Reading Room. In 2013 The Independent newspaper reported activity at the air-base and the hacking of Angela Merkel’s phone.

“Talk along Croughton’s honey-stoned High Street was about high-speed communications networks and their impact on village life. But rather than raising questions about the vast amounts of secret data sucked through the adjoining American-manned RAF Croughton air base from US embassy spy bases around the world, the debate was instead about efforts to bring high-speed broadband to the pretty Northamptonshire village.”

(Campbell and Milmo, 2013)

A tour of the base, conducted in the same year, left local visitors ‘amazed’ at the professionalism and organization. The Satellite Communications Officer who organized the tour said we “told them exactly what we can do at RAF Croughton” (Stives, 2103).

A community relations adviser promotes friendship, understanding and integration between locals and the base personnel with regular British-American

quiz nights (Campbell and Milmo, 2013) and an Independence Day celebration Barbeque held at the Reading Room in 2015 (Evans, 2015).

Lefebvre discusses the complexity and contradictions of ‘places’ as space; how they are infused with social relations that support and produce them; and reflexively go on to produce the social relations within them (Lefebvre, 1991 pp68-168).

Samuel, 1998 as cited in Gentry, 2013 p. 513) describes the nationalistic nature of local history and queries this in a global and rapidly changing world. Place is important as locale, but so are connections, their developments and implications between local and the wider world.

Doreen Massey argues that locale ‘ is a product of wider contacts: the local is always already a product in part of “ global forces”’ or the ‘ world beyond the place itself’ (Massey, 1995 in Gentry, 2013). ‘Superfast’ connection, however, produces its own locale.

The emergent digital social infrastructure can be seen as a highly centralized system, with its own physicality and material presence. Monopolies concentrate access to bandwidth and global networks through relatively few service providers, so global connections create local disconnections, boundaries and enclosures; areas and populations outside are virtually non-existent as far as the network and the dominant world economy is concerned (Ling (2005) as cited in Varnelis and Friedberg, 2012 p 19). Although the public sphere can be considered as a type of commons (Hardin, 1968), mobile connections allow but also create a contradictory physical withdrawal (Ling (2005) as cited in Varnelis and Friedberg, 2012 p19 ).

The on-line access necessary in a contemporary concept of a Reading Room is only seemingly open; statistically predominantly male, rural access is also restricted requiring private subscription(Gruffydd Jones, 2014).

Although ‘reading rooms’ exist as a virtual network community; with reading, reflecting and arguing plus access to news, online papers on subscription and crowd- sourced material, Jones suspects the digital model will be as precarious as the previous one. He believes that society in general is not yet fully aware of the concept of communal subversive space in what he perceives as a transitional contemporary phase (Gruffydd Jones, 2014).

RAF Croughton                                                                   past, present and future

RAF Croughton is the most important US military base in Europe, dealing with more than 30% of American communication operations (military, 2015).

Its “vast golf-ball-shaped radomes “ stick out like giant marbles in the surrounding landscape ” (Campbell and Milmo, 2013).

For more than 60 years, RAF Croughton has been an integral part of the community, formed in the RAF’s pre-war expansion, in 1938, from three relocated farms (Military Installations, 2014)(Historic England, 2015).

An emergency landing site during the Battle of Britain, it was bombed several times in 1941 (Historic England, 2015) and used as for glider training for D-Day and the Battle of Arnhem. The base was inactivated after WWII and used for ammunitions storage until it was leased to the USAF in 1951 (Historic England, 2015) and possibly used to relay nuclear bomber communications in the 1950’s (Campbell and Milmo, 2013).

Geographically ideally located for US military communications in Europe, (Military Installations, 2014), it was involved in Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, it is responsible for “full force and communicational support to serve the interests of the country, regardless of the location and mission objectives”(military, 2015).

In 2013, RAF Croughton was identified as a relay centre for CIA clandestine and agent communications information, including phone and Wi-Fi data captured by America’s “Stateroom” system of listening stations. Edward Snowden also named RAF Croughton as supporting National Security Agency (NSA) embassy-based spying

“data from the global network of US embassy spy posts implicated in the eavesdropping on Angela Merkel’s mobile phone is funnelled back to Washington through a secret hub in Northamptonshire, RAF Croughton”

(Campbell and Milmo, 2013)

Writing for The Independent, Campbell and Milmo claimed that RAF Croughton, which operates under British law, supports the network of listening posts linking with GCHQ and the joint CIA/NSA facility (Campbell and Milmo, 2013).The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), opened an investigation into a secure fibre-optic communication cable, laid under contract by British Telecom (BT) between RAF Croughton and Camp Lemonnier – a secretive drone base in Djibouti. Apparently it was tailored to meet special NSA requirements consistent with the launching of drone strikes and civilian deaths in Yemen and Somalia (Reprieve, 2013). As the US is not at war with these countries this violates international and domestic law. Law charity, Reprieve, believe the link between communication, intelligence and operations makes BT partly responsible for the deaths (Ballard, 2013).

By 2022, 1,300 military personnel and all US/UK air intelligence operations will be transferred to Croughton. A spokesman said, “We aim to be as transparent as possible throughout this process” ( RAFA Leicester, 2015).

Halbwachs (1925 p 48) describes how by recollection of home, groups remain united; both place and group each receive the imprint of the other.

At this new intelligence centre UK software will interface with the US system, combining defence and intelligence systems into one seamless, global military network, part of Nato intelligence-sharing initiatives of network-centric warfare. (Ballard, 2014)

The controversial BT fibre-optic backbone is part of that network, and therefore the transformation of intelligence priorities from “need to know” to “need to share”. This sharing ensures simultaneous viewing by the entire chain of command and significantly improves ‘the capability to detect, identify and geo-locate time-critical targets’ – people, according to the Nato Communications Information Agency (Ballard, 2014). Flintham, (2010 p 55, p 171) discusses this transformation into a ‘ capability’ of digital, social networks and remote technologies striving for total situational awareness and Full Spectrum Dominance. Virilio, (1986 p133 cited in Flintham, 2010 p13 ) describes the resulting reduction of distance and consequent negation of space as a strategic reality with incalculable economic and political consequences. Flintham, however, argues that it is duration rather than distance that has been reduced (Flintham, 2010 p13). He highlights links between corporate and military involvement, and capitalism and describes (Flintham, 2010 p 86) how a process of delineation, segregation and concealment of military spaces from civil society (similar to enclosure) also covers volumes of controlled air-space. The atmosphere hosts these invisible and immaterial orders of space, determined only by co-ordinates.

RAF Croughton is one of the MOD sites protected under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCAP) (Defence Infrastructure Organisation, 2012) and the Terrorism Act 2006. Altitude restrictions for trespass are also covered.Tim Ingold suggests that any division of earth from the sky in the landscape is, in any case, illusory (Ingold, 2007 p S25).

Croughton                                                                                  past

Pre-history and history of the area are experienced through material remains. Within 3 miles lie the deserted village of Newbottle and Rainsborough Camp, an oval earthwork; site of an Iron Age hill fort (British History Online, 1982b). Roman occupation is demonstrated through finds of gold coins (British History Online, 1982b), an iron arrow-head (PSA,1(1861), JBAA17(1861) as cited in British History Online, 1982b) and pieces of helmet (J.Morton (1712) as cited in British History Online, 1982b). Settlement continued here until the medieval period (British History Online, 1982a).

In Croughton itself, excavations found Roman pottery (Oxoniensia,1972, as cited in British History Online, 1982a), exposed a mosaic pavement at the site of a Roman villa and revealed an extensive significant village settlement (Current Archaeology, 2007).

Circular forts, such as Rainsborough Camp, imply protection whereas square Roman forts indicate fortified linear frontiers and warfare. Military barracks, often elevated for surveillance and symbolic dominance over communities,

developed from these (Flintham, 2010 pp 58-65). Contemporary battlefield surveillance is remote but still elevated, through the use of aircraft, satellites and drones.

Pre-medieval open field systems (Fairlie, 2009) are not visible in the landscape but, until the signing of the Magna Carta (1215) avoided civil war with dissenting landowners, feudalism defined the livelihoods of the peasantry. The original document defended the ownership of the nobility and the Church, however, the 1225 version subjected the crown to the laws of government and inspired global rights and reform still evident in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and US Constitution (BBC, 2015).

Partition by enclosure came to areas around Croughton in the 15th century (K.J. Allison et al(1966), British History Online, 1982b) p43) despite countrywide rebellion and the Peasants’ Revolt a century earlier (Fairlie, 2009). Enclosure and protest continued countrywide over centuries, a landless working class arising from ‘commoners’. The Midland Revolt (1607) began as the Newton Rebellion, 25 miles from Croughton, when James I ordered landowners to command servants to prevent ditch filling and destruction of fences. 40 people died (Padwick, no date) (Northamptonshire County Council, 2011a)(Judge, 2015)

Significant Civil War (1642-1649) conflict surrounded Croughton; from the inconclusive battle at Edgehill, (now the site of the largest munitions depot in Europe (Ministry of Defence, 2012)), and the Royalist victory of Cropredy Bridge (The Battlefields Trust, 2015a) to Charles’ defeat at Naseby by Parliament’s New Model Army, some 40 miles from Croughton (The Battlefields Trust, 2015b). Charles became the first English King to be tried for High Treason referencing the Magna Carta, found guilty and beheaded in 1649, when a republican regime was established (Stoyle, 2011).

McLuhan describes the citizen army of Cromwell as an ideal manifestation of the new technology of the time (McLuhan 1962 p 222).

Enforced enclosure by Act of Parliament began in 1750 and in 1765, a protest was instigated, north of Croughton, when the Northampton Mercury newspaper, advertised a “football game” to gather support (Northamptonshire County Council, 2011b).

Today, local Quakers conduct a monthly peace vigil at the site of RAF Croughton (Mobbs, 2015a) and Mobbs (2015b) provides information for on-line protest.

Croughton, primarily an agricultural community until Parliamentary enclosure of village common fields in 1807, then lost public grazing rights and sufficient land for agriculture to continue as primary labour (British History Online, 1982a). Workers sought employment in industry until the construction of RAF Croughton provided civilian employment that continues today.

Flintham describes how the British landscape has been transformed through enclosure of the land by the state, the monarchy and industrialization (Flintham, 2010 p 82) with the military segregated in dominating barracks, then as landowners, now extended to include worldwide digital networks.

Nora (1989 p. 15) links the collapse of rural society and disruption of social equilibria with the growing emphasis on memory in 20th century philosophical thinking, seen in the work of Bergson, Freud and Proust. He describes (Nora, 1989 p 17 ) how the discontinuity of modern memory has lead to a longing for the physically rooted sensation of land under our feet and coincides with an explosive emergence of a process of memory preservation.

Palimpsest and Social Space                                        past and present

Bailey (2007 pp198-223) shows how the past history of landscape, and the actions within it, co-exist with actions occurring within the existing space today. He analyses the concept of archaeological and anthropological palimpsests and ‘the arbitrary nature of boundary between ‘past’ and ‘present’ they reveal. He struggles with the ambiguity of ‘ time- scales’, where small-scale phenomena, such as the actions of an individual on one day are limited in time and space but large-scale phenomena occur over a larger temporal and geographical span. For him, actions accumulate and transform; successive, partially preserved activities produce a whole greater than the sum of its parts (Bailey, 2007 pp 199-201). These actions overlap, repeat and deposit material in the same, or similar locations, cumulatively whereas interlinked series of actions or processes produce spatial palimpsests, creating a larger composite palimpsest of palimpsests (Bailey, 2007 pp205-208 ).

A palimpsest of meaning may also be acquired as subjective experience through discourse or by objects, contexts and associations (Lucas, 20015 as cited in Bailey, 2007).

Bailey also introduces a concept of perspective within time rather space. Temporal boundaries between present and past are arbitrary; the boundary is an ‘illusory’ horizon similar to the perceived physicality of the visual horizon. Past, present and future are dependant on the time perspective of the viewer (Bailey, 2007 p202, p216)). He emphasizes the differential duration and history of phenomena by describing a ‘ durational present’ that highlights the ‘pastness’ of the present and sees multiple temporalities inherent in present-day experience that accentuate the ‘ presentness’ of the past (Bailey, 2007 p 218).

For Doreen Massey the concept of palimpsest is a problematic metaphor that implies domination and disruption of space; a series of transforming removals and re- writings (Massey, 2005 p210 ). The imagining of layers implies history of space rather than contemporaneity. Instead she understands space in terms of relations and interrelations of embedded practices and interactions (Massey, 2005 p10 ) ‘from the immensity of the global to the intimately tiny’ (Massey, 2005 p9), traces which are non-representational and self-enclosing but rhizomatous.

She states:

space is always under construction, a product of relations between, relations embedded in material practices in the process of being made, never closed or finished.’

(Massey, 2005 p9)

Lefebvre’s ideas on space regard places of social space as combined, superimposed and colliding; the local never absorbed regionally, nationally or globally (Lefebvre, 1991 p 88). He states that nothing disappears completely, earlier actions remain to underpin what follows; not just traces, memories or relics are left behind, instead, preconditions of social space endure and remaining real within that space (Lefebvre, 1991 p229).


Baileys extended theory of action and events, within perspectives of time and space, challenges the traditional archaeological concept of two-dimensional topographic layering of palimpsest which Massey disputes. His theory begins to resemble her understandings of interrelations, interactions and embedded practices within a temporal landscape especially as it expands into subjective experience and perception. There is similarity, also, to Lefebvre’s concept of spaces produced through local and global actions accumulating over time, colliding and coalescing.

This paper discusses through historical and academic analysis, and subjective reflection presented as performative text,1 how collective events, individual actions and embedded practice act through embodied memory and both material and immaterial remains – manifestations of previous actions and relations reflexively producing interrelations which occur within and between the communities of RAF Croughton and the Reading Room.

Rather than being distinct, they are interwoven and accumulated in a continuing process of interrelations and material remains occurring within a durational present free from temporal boundaries. Subjective experience, individual small actions and larger events contribute to a narrative and constructed environment with equivalent significance in a cumulative continuum.

Footnote :

1 Performative text is used in this academic paper to exemplify the content and context i.e. memory, subjective experience, communications and relations; and the interrelations and actions they produce and are produced by.

See Warren (2009), performance theory of Richard Schechner and Victor Turner (Schechner, 2001) and Rebecca Schneider (Schneider, 2012).


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