OSO Crabwood

Site plan of all the huts at OSO Crabwood

A complex of temporary buildings near Crabwood House was erected in the 1940s and was mainly used for medium- and small-scale reproduction. Some of the huts were demolished immediately after the occupation of the new Maybush buildings in 1968 or 1969 but others lasted until the late 1990s.

The OSO Crabwood site plan

Legend:

  • Blue = Spraying Huts
  • Green = Green Lane Block/Temporary Office Building
  • Purple = Romsey Road Block
  • Pink = Crabwood House
  • Yellow = South West Block/H Block
  • Red = The Lodge
  • Orange = Nissen huts

Until recently, there was no known record of the exact location of
the temporary buildings near Crabwood House (the site being known
officially as ‘OSO Crabwood). I was recently delighted to recieve some
‘technical slides’ containing various maps, mainly from the 1960s but
some older. These are over 50 years old so not in too good a condition
but, as the buildings are long gone, there are no security issues in
publishing the detailed maps on these slides.

There are hundreds of slides in the box but as scanning them at a
usable resolution takes 5 minutes per slide I have only been able to do
a few. The main map is, in my opinion, the best of the slides so I have
scanned and digitally remastered it. This process includes some
generalisation (necessary as the image files are over 5000 pixels
wide!), blanking out dirt/rips etc but also some artistic license (as to
me, these maps are definitely a work of art).

Apparently, the map was created in Feb 1967 but I don’t know what
purpose it was created for. It is certainly more detailed (showing the
interior layout of buildings) than even the most large-scale OS map, but
then again, seeing as the OSHQ is probably the most surveyed location
in the world, may be just a training exercise for carto/surveyors – or
perhaps a way of remembering the old buildings, as in 1967, their days
were very much numbered,

The building layout on this map is interesting. I imagine the
place must have resembled a huge barracks or military hospital. It was a
huge complex of single-storey huts, with the only exception being
Crabwood House itself. The Romsey Road block was originally individual
wings off a very long corridor but over time, various extensions were
made and some of the gaps filled in (as can be seen at the far North of
the map). There are several buildings that don’t appear to belong with
any of the aforementioned blocks; I think some of these must have been
used for storage of maps or glass plates.

The building layout on this map is interesting. I imagine the
place must have resembled a huge barracks or military hospital. It was a
huge complex of single-storey huts, with the only exception being
Crabwood House itself. The Romsey Road block was originally individual
wings off a very long corridor but over time, various extensions were
made and some of the gaps filled in (as can be seen at the far North of
the map). There are several buildings that don’t appear to belong with
any of the aforementioned blocks; I think some of these must have been
used for storage of maps or glass plates.

Finally, I accept no liability for inaccuracy of the map!

Romsey Road block

A long row of single-storey huts were put up along Romsey Road –
between Green Lane and where North Block is now. These huts had a
central corridor ‘spine’ with huts branching off both sides. These
appear to have been used mainly for production activities – printing and
Helio,
and many of the wings were joined together and extended to create a
large production floor. At the SE end of this block was a small canteen.
There were at least 24 huts here – the central corridor must have been
very long indeed.

The Romsey Road block was the first section of the temporary
buildings to be demolished – fairly soon after the opening of the new
head office building. The SE part of the site was demolished to make way
for the North Block car parks. The NW end was demolished around the
same time (according to historical 1:2500 scale maps) but nothing was
done with it for a while. In the 1980s, a smaller temporary building
complex was erected at that end, at the corner of Green Lane and Romsey
Road. The maps show this as being ‘Government buildings’ but I have also
heard rumours that it was used as a temporary court; see below for more
info on that.

In the mid 1990s, the NW end of the site was replaced by housing –
known as Kern Close, an appropriate name as kerning is a term relating
to printing. Land Registry data suggests these houses/flats were put up
around 1996/97.

An alternative theory about the road names given to the
residential closes built on the site of the huts is that they are
related to surveying equipment manufacturers – Watts, Cowley and of Kern.htm Kern.
It is perhaps surprising that there is not a Wild Close either,
although perhaps Ordnance Survey did not use any of their equipment.

The Lodge

Where the car park in front of North Block is now, there was a lodge,
or gatehouse. This would presumably have been part of the Crabwood
House estate. Unfortunately, it was demolished shortly after opening of
the new head office building and so were the adjacent houses.

Green Lane Block

The Green Lane Block, or ‘TOB’ (Temporary Office Building; at least
that’s what I assume it stands for) was a large single-storey building
used for offices. The main entrance to this was roughly where the
driving test centre is now. A corridor perpendicular to the main
entrance and on both sides of the entrance hall led to three long office
spurs on each side. I am not aware of any photos that exist of the TOB
but the entrance hall at least appears to be of an attractive design,
unlike most of the very utilitarian huts surrounding it.

The TOB front entrance was in an Art Deco style and looked more
like the entrance to a cinema than an office; the boiler house chimney
was even disguised as a central tower that brought symmetry to the
entrance. If anyone has any memories of the TOB then I would love to
hear from you.

While I originally thought that the TOB was demolished at some
time between 1969 and the 1980s, it actually appears to have been much
later than that, with it remaining until the mid 1990s according to
historical maps.
It has now been replaced by the driving test centre and houses (Watts
Close), both of which appear to date back to around 1997. The driving
test centre was originally housed in a different building but I am not
sure exactly where. One interesting fact though, is the gates to the
driving test centre look exactly the same as the gates to the OS site –
this was obviously once an entrance to the OS complex that was here.

Spraying complex

Further along Green Lane and next to the TOB was a complex of
buildings described as ‘Spraying rooms’. I’m not sure what these were
used for (well, spraying obviously, but for what?). These were adjacent
to the large electrical substation that is still there but the rest of
the buildings have gone to make way for Cowley Close, circa the late
1990s.

Nissen Huts

Six army-style Nissen huts were located behind the Spraying complex.
It is believed that they were originally used by the Ministry of Food as
a depot of some kind (wartime probably), but they do appear on plans of
the OS buildings at Maybush and were subsequent used by Ordnance Survey
as site maintenance workshops. They were also, more notably, used for
constructing the floats Ordnance Survey staff used to make for the
Southampton Carnival. It appears that they were demolished in the early
1970s, although the concrete floor slabs were left for some years
afterwards.

H Blocks (South-West Block)

These were one of the more recent additions to the temporary
buldings. Located behind the TOB, these two adjacent ‘H’ shaped
buildings were used as a drawing office. In later years, they were
apparently occupied by the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic
Monuments (RCAHM). The H blocks themselves were not ancient or
particularly historic, although they probably hold some memories. They
were the last of the main temporary structures to be built and the last
to be demolished – in the late 1990s. The site is now occupied by the
Green Car Park, however, you can still see the concrete floor slabs.

Other buildings

There were numerous smaller buildings around the large complex
already mentioned, including an ‘Open Fuel Dump’ (I hope a suitable risk
assessment was carried out!), several air-raid shelters and various
stores, workshops and plant rooms. Also, many of the buildings were
connected by a covered way, although this was probably a corrugated
sheet fabrication rather than the grand concrete port cochere in the new
head office building.

It may not be a building, but it is also noted that the
rectangular(ish) field between the ‘H’ blocks and Crabwood House was
known to many as ‘The Orchard’. Originally an extension of the car park
(with the parking spaces between the trees!), this area was later
enclosed and until recently was used by the Little Explorers’
Nursery/Playscheme as a play area for the kids.

Temporary courts

In the early 1970s, there was a lack of Crown Court capacity in Southampton as the two courtrooms in the Civic Centre were shared by Magistrates courts. Due to an ever-increasing case load, the Property Services Agency (PSA), the government agency that managed Crown property was asked by the Lord Chancellor’s Department was asked to identify sites in Southampton that would be suitable for temporary court buildings. The plan was to build a new courts complex in London Road eventually but as that was not expected to be complete until the 1980s then the NW corner of the former Romsey Road Block site was identified as “the only suitable site”.

The court was on the site of part of the old Romsey Road huts complex, right at the junction with Green Lane. The main courtroom accommodation wings were temporary buildings but the link block was meant to be more permanent as there had to secure accommodation for persons in custody. These buildings were (not surprisingly) very utilitarian.

Acknowledgements

The photos on this page are from the Ordnance Survey Picture
Collection with thanks.
The maps and plans are from various sources, including the HMA, and are
the basis of much of my research into this. If anyone has any
information or memories of OSO Crabwood, I would be very grateful for
it.