Royal Navy wireless station primarily used for intercepting enemy communications during the First World War. Converted for domestic use.
Reasons for Designation
The former Royal Navy Wireless Station, 19 Marley Close, Stockton on Tees is listed Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Military history: thought to have been the Admiralty’s only dedicated wireless interception station that was operational at the outbreak of the First World War, and to have played a key role in intelligence gathering effecting the outcome of the war, such as its contribution to the Battle of Jutland in 1916;
* Technological interest: as a nationally rare surviving wireless station from the early days of the development of wireless technology, retaining a range of structures and features.
* Planning: the arrangement and design of the wireless station is still legible from the remaining structures, informing our understanding of the use of the site.
Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian pioneer of wireless communications, forged strong links with the Admiralty from his arrival into England in 1896. From 1903 the Royal Navy used Marconi’s radio station at Poldhu, Cornwall. The Navy started building its own land based wireless stations from 1907, initially for ship-shore communication. The house, 19 Marley Close, was originally built as the main building of a wireless station established by the Royal Navy in 1912-1913. The original principal role of this station was to monitor Royal Navy wireless transmissions to ensure signallers were following regulation procedures. By the outbreak of the First World War, the potential use of wireless technology for intelligence gathering was also realised, both for listening into enemy messages and also the monitoring of communications of enemy ships and Zeppelins, allowing their position and course to be tracked. The station was operational from 1913 and is thought to have been the only dedicated intercept station operated by the Navy at the outbreak of the war, immediately pre-dating at least 15 similar new intercept stations established around Britain by August 1915, this number rising to 22 by the close of the war.
In its interception role it was known as Y Station, Stockton-on-Tees; its official call sign being BYT. Intelligence gathered by these stations allowed fighter aircraft to be guided to intercept Zeppelins and other airships conducting bombing raids, but more crucially gave early warning of the movement of the German High Seas Fleet immediately before the Battle of Jutland in 1916. The station BYT was ideally sited to monitor transmissions from the North Sea area and to intercept communications from the German Naval Airship Divisional HQ at Fulsbattel, and later from the new HQ at Nordholtz, Cuxhaven, as well as from the main Naval HQ at Kiel.
The house at 19 Marley Close was built as the operations centre of the station which was originally set in an enclosure just over 3 acres (1.2ha) extending east of a railway branch line to Castle Eden. The current garden consists of the north east part of this enclosure, retaining a run of original iron boundary railings to the east and north east, the rest, along with the former railway line, having been developed for housing in the late C20. The surviving outbuilding to the south of the main building was the generator house used for charging the batteries that powered the equipment. Set into the ground, just beyond the south west gable of the house, is the base for a mast, with three of its substantial ground anchor points for cable stays being distributed around the garden. At least two further, much smaller, ground anchor points also survive, these being just north of the base of the mast. This mast is thought to have been used to support cabling between the operations building and four radio masts which lay to the south and west in areas now covered by late C20 housing.
After the war the station was listed as being temporarily closed in 1920, however a log book found within the attic of the house shows that it was operational again by at least November 1921. Station BYT was decommissioned and subsequently sold as a smallholding in 1926, the operations building being converted into a house. Plans of the buildings at that time allow an understanding of the original layout and functions of rooms. The house has undergone a number of alterations subsequently, including the reconfiguration of the interior, the insertion of a staircase and an extension from the north east gable end.
Research published in 2015 into First World War wireless stations has highlighted that along with those established by the Admiralty, wireless stations were also operated by other branches of the military, by the Post Office, and by Marconi and other private companies, all contributing to the war effort. Despite the original large number of wireless stations, very few are thought to survive with no more than a dozen identified in England that may still retain any surviving buildings. Of these, all appear to have undergone a degree of alteration.
Wireless station, now a domestic property, operational by April 1913 for the Royal Navy.
MATERIALS: tall plinth of red brick in English Bond to window sill level, pebble-dashed render above, plain tile roof.
EXTERIOR: the original building is of four irregular bays, facing south east, with a gabled roof, projecting eaves and verges. From the left there is a large window formerly lighting the operations room; then a window with a raised sill lighting a corridor; next is the entrance which has an inset door and a lancet window to the right, both covered by an extension to the roof forming a canopy; last is a window lighting the original kitchen. Beyond to the right there is a late-C20 brick extension with a lowered roof, this forming an additional bay, this not being of special interest*. There is a squat, square chimney stack set on the ridge between bays three and four, and a second just behind the ridge between bays one and two. A third chimney stack between these two has been removed. The south east gable has a late-C20 inserted ground floor window and an original semi-circular attic window retaining original joinery. At attic floor level there is a line of four square patches within the render that mark the original openings for cabling from the radio masts. The rear retains four original window openings (formerly lighting the operations room, an office, officers’ bunk room and ratings’ bunk room); the former pantry window (at the left, north east end of the elevation) is enlarged into a back door. The roof of the central two bays has been heightened to form a flat-roofed attic extension of three windows. All of the external joinery (apart from that to the gable ends of the attic) are later replacements which are not of special interest*.
INTERIOR: the ground floor is thought to largely retain parquet flooring partly designed to provide electrical insulation. The original attic window and doorway to the north east gable is preserved within the roof space covered by the north east extension to the house.
GENERATOR HOUSE: this is a small, three-bay building with a hipped roof, a fourth bay extending under a catslide roof at the south east end. It is similarly detailed to the main building, but retains its original, small-paned casement windows and planked doors, the three main rooms being accessed from an open porch inside a round arched opening central to the north east side. The central section to the south east end has been bricked up.
MAST BASE: this is just beyond the south west end of the main building, consisting of a square concrete base (c 2.5m across) surrounding a central iron base originally for a mast, with a further smaller square concrete base (c 1.2m) extending from the south west corner. Two smaller concrete anchor points (c 0.3m) lie just to the north and north west.
GROUND ANCHORS FOR CABLE STAYS: lining up with the mast base are three rectangular bases (c 1m by 3m) each holding a vertical metal plate lying to the north, east and south east of the main building.
PERIMETER RAILINGS: standard 7 feet (2.1m) tall spiked railings mark the garden boundaries to the north and north east. The concrete bases to at least some of the uprights are reported to be marked with the Admiralty anchor symbol.
* Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.