RAF Portland, site of Rotor early warning radar station


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Dorset (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SY 69548 73339

Reasons for Designation

The radar system of the United Kingdom was refurbished during the early 1950s by a project known as Rotor. This system made use of modified World War II radar technology and was accompanied by a massive infrastructure construction programme. It was characterised by the presence of large reinforced operation control rooms, or bunkers. In areas considered to be at 'high risk', the bunkers were situated underground, while elsewhere the bunkers were above ground. Rotor period radar stations were of five principal types: Centrimetric Early Warning (CEW), Chain Home (CH), Chain Home Extra Low (CHEL), Ground Control Intercept (GCI) and Sector Operation Centres (SOC). These were distinguished mainly according to the type of radar used, (although the SOCs did not have their own radar installations). The Rotor system included 54 main radar stations spread across England, with a concentration along the eastern and south eastern coasts, since the greatest threat was perceived to be from the east. However, the development of more powerful radar quickly reduced the need for such a large system. The Rotor scheme was also reduced by evolving defence policy, which recognised the threat posed by intercontinental ballistic missiles. In 1957, a Defence White Paper suggested that the defence of the UK would be best served by the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons and that guided weapons would be the most appropriate form of air defence. From this period on, resources for radar were reduced and instead directed at the protection of the nuclear deterrent. Archaeological remains dating from the Cold War period (1946-89) are the physical manifestation of the global division between capitalism and communism that shaped the history of the second half of the 20th century. Radar sites exemplify many of the themes of the Cold War, including the rapid evolution of information technology and the obsolescence of sites which resulted. These sites are also a direct reflection of contemporary air defence strategy. The bunkers at Rotor sites were among the first structures in England to be designed to accommodate computers. Other significant and distinctive features included the suspended floors; beneath which cabling could be carried, and large and complex air conditioning systems to remove the heat generated by the electronic valves used in the early control consoles. Rotor sites also reflect the influence of pre-war and wartime German military architecture on post-war design, with for example, the use of bungalow-like guardrooms and generator buildings resembling chapels. There were 54 radar stations within the Rotor scheme in England, of which about 35 were new constructions. There are now only eight surviving examples known nationally, a small group which serve to illustrate the different aspects of technological changes and developments throughout the Cold War.

The remains of RAF Portland represent the only example of a Rotor Centrimetric Early Warning (CEW) station to survive in a largely complete and original condition within the UK. This reflects the fact that the site was not remodelled to accomodate new technology in 1957 and the limited disturbance which has occurred at the site since its disuse in the 1980s. Above ground, ancillary structures such as the picket post and emergency exit are significant survivals, as both are intact and were uniquely faced in Portland stone in order to blend with the local landscape and to provide camouflage.

These are further complemented by the presence of the guardroom and the foundations and gantries of the full set of radar towers which served the site and are also an unusual survival.

Together with the underground bunker (which is the subject of a separate scheduling) these features form a uniquely complete survival. RAF Portland is also situated within an area of significant historical fortifications, including Victorian and World War II defences, which together reflect the technological and historical development of defences throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, as part of the strategic defence of a significant naval area.


The monument, which includes both above and below ground remains, contains the surviving remains of an early warning radar station of RAF Portland which was constructed between 1950-51. It formed part of a wider redevelopment of the United Kingdom's Air Defence System, known by the codename `Rotor 1'. This system, which made use of modified World War II radar technology, was characterised by a major programme of infrastructure construction and included the building of reinforced concrete bunkers to house radar operators and control staff. Where sites were considered to be at particular risk, the bunkers were sometimes constructed underground for added protection.

The Rotor site at Portland was of the Centrimetric Early Warning (CEW) type and was one of eight examples constructed across the UK during this period. The site is defined as an irregular shaped compound of about 12 acres (4.8ha), enclosed by fencing. The only entrance was situated on the western side and included an adjacent `Picket Post', or entrance guardhouse. This structure was of single storey and built of Portland stone, with a projecting porch and platform at the front. A single track runs for about 80m to the north east and led to the guardroom.

The main guardroom is a single storey structure constructed in the style of a bungalow in order to disguise its function as the principal entrance to the bunker. It is built of Portland stone and has a curved frontage, with a projecting porch and raised platform to the front. It originally contained a stairwell and liftshaft (since removed) which provided access into a subterranean corridor and led to an underground bunker. Access is now by means of a ladder mounted on the wall of the original stairwell.

The bunker contained the control centre for the Rotor site, situated on the northern side of the complex, within the outer ditch of the adjacent Verne Citadel (the subject of a separate scheduling). The bunker was excavated into the base of the existing ditch and sealed with reinforced concrete and covered in soil. The interior of the bunker was subdivided into various working areas. These included a workshop, radar office, intercept recorder, tracking room, areas for General Post Office (GPO) apparatus and air conditioning plant, as well as cloakrooms and rest-rooms. The floors were suspended in order to enable cabling to be carried underneath and there was also a lower chamber beneath the central floor area of the bunker. An emergency exit from the underground bunker was situated to the east. This included a stairwell (since infilled) which led to a single storey structure of Portland stone at ground level. This building is rectangular in plan and situated within the north eastern area of the compound.

There is a large reservoir situated within the south eastern area of the compound. This provided the original water supply for the control centre in the underground bunker. The compound also housed seven radar towers, which although now dismantled, are marked on the ground by the presence of a series of concrete gantry bases, plinths and footings which housed the turning mechanisms. There are also the foundations of an American radar platform and some associated building platforms within the compound which are all included within the scheduling.

The modern telecommunications mast and associated structures situated in the north east area, along with the modern buildings within the central western area are all excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Bennett, M, Catford, N, Rotor: RAF Portland R1 CEW, (2001)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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