Tranquil corner of Banburyshire used for wartime atomic secrets spy handovers could be swamped by industrial development - villagers mount campaign

Residents of the tiny hamlet of Nethercote, used by wartime Soviet spies as a spot to hand over top secret atomic documents, are fighting to save their rural idyll from being swamped by industrial development.

By Roseanne Edwards
Monday, 17th January 2022, 1:11 pm
Updated Monday, 17th January 2022, 2:08 pm
A plan of the speculative proposal for an industrial estate over the hamlet of Nethercote
A plan of the speculative proposal for an industrial estate over the hamlet of Nethercote

Scenes of Nethercote today show it might be situated deep in the heart of the countryside, were it not for the proximity of the busy M40 and A422 Banbury to Brackley Road in one of the fastest growing areas of England.

Still cultivated and grazed, the land is recorded as being home to Banbury’s largest flocks of sheep in the 17th century. Medieval ridge and furrow landform survives there.

But this beautiful and untouched area is set to become a battleground between residents and Cherwell District Council which has published a speculative plan to cover Nethercote's fields with industrial buildings in its draft Local Plan.

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An aerial view of the area subject to a speculative plan for an industrial estate on the east side of the M40 at Banbury

"Developers have made a speculative proposal that would see the entire hamlet concreted over and turned into an industrial estate if their proposal were to be supported by Cherwell District Council," said Keep Nethercote Rural campaign member Lisa Phipps.

A single-track road, Banbury Lane, runs right through the hamlet which has around a dozen residential properties along the lane. It is here, on an isolated bench, in the early 1940s that German spy Klaus Fuchs (codenamed Rest) met fellow Russian military intelligence agent Ursula Beurton (codenamed Sonya), to whom he passed secret atomic research. The two met regularly for secret documents to be passed to the Soviets.

"As well as Banbury Lane itself, there are numerous public footpaths running through Nethercote all regularly enjoyed by residents, dog walkers and hikers. It is also in walking distance of Banbury, Overthorpe and Middleton Cheney and many people come to enjoy the scenery and quiet," said Mrs Phipps.

"The area is a natural habitat for much wildlife such as Muntjac deer, foxes, badgers, bats, hedgehogs, birds of prey including owls, woodpeckers, insects and bees along with many species of small mammals."

A sunset over farmland at Nethercote. Villagers are fighting early plan intentions to build on the fields

The hamlet's small population and their many supporters have formed a campaign group, Keep Nethercote Rural and are demanding that Cherwell District Council commits to retaining the rural nature of this area by designating it a Conservation Area and designating the hamlet a Local Green Space.

They say by this step would not only protect the area from unwanted development into the future but preserve it as a space for recreational use as well as protecting wildlife habitats.

"Building warehouses on Nethercote's farmland would see an increase in traffic volumes when the current infrastructure already cannot cope. One minor incident or roadworks in the vicinity sees the whole area gridlocked and grinds to a halt," said Mrs Phipps.

"Developing Nethercote for commercial use would have a hugely negative impact on our countryside. It would increase traffic and place further pressure on the M40 roundabout which is already insufficient for the volume. It would increase noise from alarms and machinery, remove the natural habitat for wildlife and birds and increase flooding risks by removing permeable surfaces."

Klaus Fuchs, who met Soviet secret agent 'Sonya' on a bench at Nethercote for the handover of top secret documents relating to atomic weapons

Those wishing to support the Nethercote campaign can sign their petition here.

* Originally Nethercote fell within Northamptonshire, forming part of the Warkworth parish, along with Grimsbury which was then a hamlet. In 1889 both hamlets became part of Banbury and fell within the boundary of Oxfordshire. The Grimsbury area is already designated a conservation area.

A Nethercote Bioblitz has been established in iRecord that everyone can contribute to, to build up accurate data that can be used to help protect Nethercote wildlife and plant life in the future. To join see and scroll to the bottom of the page for a link.

The quiet lane running from the A422 to Overthorpe through Nethercote
Fields that would be concreted over for industrial use if a speculative plan for development were accepted
The site of a speculative plan for development at Nethercote
Farmland that was once grazed by the largest flocks of sheep in the Banbury area in the seventeenth century
The tranquil nature of the hamlet of Nethercote, on the edge of Banbury