For Sale: The Site of Where B-17 ‘Sharon Belle’ Went Down in 1943

By Doug Williams
Publish Date:
 
 
Credit: www.knightfrank.co.uk
Credit: www.knightfrank.co.uk
 
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Everyone wants to live like a king and now it’s possible. A fifteenth century and seventeenth century incorporated manor house, Astwell Castle.

 

Complete with spiral staircases leading up turrets, gables, huge fireplaces and a carved wood tympanum over a window that carries the date of 1638 is for sale in the Northamptonshire parish of Helmdon in England.

Yours for a mere £1.5 million (almost two million USD) – taxes not included. The problem is that it needs a lot of work.

 
Credit: www.knightfrank.co.uk
Credit: www.knightfrank.co.uk

According to Knight Frank, the real estate company that is offering the historic property, the three story house has four bedrooms, two bathrooms, three reception rooms, updated windows and utilities, a greenhouse, about thirty acres of land, horse stables, an equestrian arena, and several farm buildings.

It is listed as a Grade II Scheduled Ancient Monument in need of structural repair. The tower is cracking and the north store roof has partially collapsed, according to Northamptonshire Telegraph. It is also on Historic England’s Heritage At Risk register.

Originally the building was a gatehouse to a fifteenth century courtyard house complete with a moat.

Gatehouse Gazetteer tells us the original manor was probably built by Thomas Lovett whose son George had the original house demolished about 1600 and enlarged the gatehouse into a home.

Credit: www.knightfrank.co.uk
Credit: www.knightfrank.co.uk

In 1763, Earl Temple of Stowe bought the property and demolished part of the building, according to Historic England, but it was restored in 1958 by Northampton Record Society founder and historian, Joan Wake, who was a fierce advocate for historical buildings. The history this castle home has seen is remarkable.

The building was completed in 1606 just three years after the death of Queen Elizabeth I and the gunpowder plot which included Guy Fawkes in 1605; it’s seen the death of William Shakespeare in 1616 and the English Civil War in 1642.

It has been there through seventeen monarchs and one usurper on the throne of England and will see many more if the property is taken care of by the new owners.

This property probably has many stories to tell, and one we know about. According to 501st Combat Support Wing, on November 30, 1943 during the Second World War, young Derek Ratledge who was living in a cottage on the Astwell Castle grounds was finishing his breakfast when a group of B-17 bombers came flying low overhead.

Crew members of B-17 Sharon Belle, sadly all lost. Credit: www.americanairmuseum.com
Crew members of B-17 Sharon Belle, sadly all lost. Credit: www.americanairmuseum.com

One of the planes caught on fire, and, as Ratledge and his father watched the plane come down, it seemed to be headed directly toward the house and barns.

At the last moment the plane veered off to the side and crashed just past the buildings. With the bombs and other munitions on board the plane burst into multiple explosions making any chance of survival impossible.

The senior Ratledge insisted to his last day that the pilot intentionally turned to miss the buildings.

Pilot Lt Wm Murray Holland. Credit: www.americanairmuseum.com
Pilot Lt Wm Murray Holland. Credit: www.americanairmuseum.com

Derek and his mother searched for years to find out who the airmen were but were unable to find anything until 2007 when he found the great niece of a man who had died in the crash on a military website.

Beth Pugh had the crash report that named the pilot of the B-17 from the 327th Bombardment Squadron, VIII Bomber Command, from RAF Podington that had been flying with ten men on board headed for a bombing mission in Germany.

The plane that crashed, the Sharon Belle, was being flown by 1st Lieutenant William Holland.

Ratledge organized a memorial service for the men on the fateful flight with the 422nd Air Base Group from RAF Croughton, United Kingdom

HELMDON, United Kingdom – The 422nd Air Base Group Honor Guard salutes the memorial for 10 Airmen killed when their B-17 bomber crashed in at the Astwell Castle Farms in 1943 during a memorial service in the Parish Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Helmdon Nov. 2. The ceremony honored the 327th Bombardment Squadron, VIII Bomber Command, Airmen killed Nov. 30, 1943, when they left RAF Poddington on a bombing mission to Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Stives)
HELMDON, United Kingdom – The 422nd Air Base Group Honor Guard salutes the memorial for 10 Airmen killed when their B-17 bomber crashed in at the Astwell Castle Farms in 1943 during a memorial service in the Parish Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Helmdon Nov. 2. The ceremony honored the 327th Bombardment Squadron, VIII Bomber Command, Airmen killed Nov. 30, 1943, when they left RAF Poddington on a bombing mission to Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Stives)

Some of the locals assembled in the Parish Church of St. Mary Magdalene where a plaque was placed with the names, ranks, and positions of each man with the verse, “In the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.”

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Almost all of the families of the soldiers have been notified and have expressed interest in coming to Astwell Castle, so the lucky buyer may have visitors.

 
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