Former RAF Faldingworth atomic bomb store: Proof Range

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II
List Entry Number:
1462836
Date first listed:
12-Apr-2019
Statutory Address:
Faldingworth Base, Spridlington Road, Faldingworth, Market Rasen, LN8 3SQ

Map

Ordnance survey map of Former RAF Faldingworth atomic bomb store: Proof Range
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Location

Statutory Address:
Faldingworth Base, Spridlington Road, Faldingworth, Market Rasen, LN8 3SQ

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

County:
Lincolnshire
District:
West Lindsey (District Authority)
Parish:
Faldingworth
County:
Lincolnshire
District:
West Lindsey (District Authority)
Parish:
Spridlington
National Grid Reference:
TF0298785221, TF0302885234

Summary

A firing and proof range dating to the 1960s.

Reasons for Designation

The proof range at former RAF Faldingworth, dating to the 1960s, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * as a distinctive and large-scale example of mid-C20 military architecture; * as the most significant building of the munitions factory.

Historic interest: * as surviving evidence of mid-C20 military technological advancement.

History

The built and archaeological remains of the Cold War (1946-1989) are the physical manifestation of the global division between capitalism and communism that shaped the history of the late C20. Nuclear weapons were the defining technology of the Cold War, firstly as atomic fission weapons, and later as more powerful hydrogen fusion weapons. Both types are technologically complex, expensive and dangerous products which required specialised, secure storage and handling facilities. These took the form of purpose built storage and maintenance units and special storage areas, on airfields where aircraft cleared to carry nuclear weapons were permanently stationed or might be deployed in time of war.

The evolution of nuclear bomb stores in England illustrates changing deployment strategies throughout the Cold War by the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force - both by its Strategic Air Command deterrent forces and by its tactical forces committed to NATO. The siting of nuclear bomb stores on airfields, for example, demonstrates NATO's willingness to store nuclear weapons close to the units that would use them. Initial RAF plans to hold atomic bombs at two central stores were quickly overtaken by the need for faster response times, and small atomic bomb stores were instead provided on nine of the ten main V-bomber nuclear strike airfields. These stores were initially supported by other central stores and so were configured to hold no more than twelve bombs. In the first generation of atomic bomb stores there is a close correlation between the physical infrastructure and the bombs they were designed to house, and the relative crudity of early atomic bombs is reflected in the design and size of their stores.

The Blue Danube was the first dedicated British atomic bomb programme, as well as the colloquial name for the bombs themselves. With the increasing tensions of the late 1940s and early 1950s between the USSR and the USA, the decision was taken to instigate and develop the United Kingdom’s own atomic programme. As well as the huge technical challenges that would bring, there were also extensive logistics issues to tackle, not least because the weaponry being dealt with was both entirely unknown and very unpredictable in the early days. As part of the programme therefore, a significant expansion of existing airfields was required in the early years of the 1950s, in order to both store safely, and if required to deploy the new weaponry.

In the early days of the UK atomic programme there was a great deal of learning by trial and error as there was no precedent for handling weapons of this type or magnitude. From the 1950s sites were selected to be the dedicated storage and maintenance facilities for the new weapons. The first of these was the former RAF Faldingworth in Lincolnshire. A second central storage facility was established at RAF Barnham in Suffolk. Five further supplementary storage facilities were subsequently established at Wittering, Coningbsy, Waddington, Scrampton and Gaydon.

RAF Faldingworth had been established in 1936 as part of the airfield expansion programme in the years before the Second World War. Initially a decoy airfield it became a weapons store following the war, prior to being selected as one of the central stores for Britain’s nuclear arsenal. It was also the operational storage base for nearby RAF Scrampton where there was insufficient space to establish a storage facility there. Faldingworth was under the operational control of No 2 Maintenance Unit. Both Faldingworth and Barnham have similar layouts, with the inner compound being a five sided space protected by an outer metal fence and an inner concrete panel fence, both topped with razor wire. The outer compound contained ancillary and support buildings. These were mainly occupied by the RAF Police, who were the only permanent presence on the storage sites. Dogs were allowed to run free within the inner compound, which was also guarded by 22 observation towers.

The first British Nuclear weapons were free fall bombs, produced to Air Ministry operational requirement OR.1001; the original issue date was August 1946. The very first bombs used a type of fissile core comprising Plutonium with a Polonium initiator. For safety reasons they were stored separately from the other bomb components. This led to the creation of dedicated ‘hutches’ to store the fissile cores which can be found surviving at the central and early airfield bomb stores. At Faldingworth two of the hutches survive. These are ‘Type B’ which means they were built to house two cores in each hutch. The compound has areas of tree planting, which helped to conceal the core stores. The remaining components were stored in large storage bays also within the inner compound which were designated as DD. As the weaponry developed the handling became more assured and the facilities were developed and adapted as required to take account of the changes. On other bases such as Coningsby this involved the construction of new storage bays designated respectively as D2 followed by D3. The central storage bays at Faldingworth continued in use during the 1950s and 1960s.

In the late 1960s the UK changed its nuclear deterrent from bombs to ballistic missiles. This made the storage facilities at Faldingworth redundant. The base was closed by the RAF in 1972. Following its disposal by the MoD the site was acquired by BMARC (British Manufacture and Research Company) weapons manufacturers and subsequently owned by Royal Ordnance, a division of BAE Systems. They occupied the site as an ammunitions production and testing facility before its sale to commercial owners. The munitions production buildings, testing and storage facilities, including the proofing range, were constructed at this time. The range remains in use, as do the magazines constructed to store the ammunition which and are used for secure storage.

Details

A firing and proof range dating to the 1960s.

MATERIALS: the range is constructed of reinforced concrete and profile metal sheeting. Train sleepers are used within the firing range for sound deadening.

PLAN: the building has a very long rectangular footprint. There is a mid-section which is a near square workshop area. The arms of the proofing ranges extend to the east and west. The eastern arm is three times longer than the western one.

DESCRIPTION: the range is low and long and made up of reinforced concrete. The middle section of the range contains a large workshop. It has breeze-block dwarf walls, the upper sections of the walls are clad in profile metal sheeting supported by steel framing. It has a low pitched saw-tooth roof. There is a further flat roofed block to the north of that which is of two storeys and contains offices and other facilities. The eastern arm of the range is 225 metres long, the western range is 75 metres long. Towards the ends of each range the building extends to form larger blocks with projecting sections which contain the target areas and monitoring and testing rooms, as well as other machinery. These are all flat roofed with louvred and boarded openings, and overhang in places.

INTERIOR: the workshop area has an industrial character with the metal structure exposed. The roof is covered with panels and has profiled plastic roof-lights. The tunnels are accessed by large reinforced metal doors, and are lined with shuttered concrete. The longer tunnel to the western side can be used in different sections of either 75 metres, 150 metres or its full length of 225 metres. The target areas have large bins behind the targets which are lined with railway sleepers. The whole target zone of the eastern range is lined with railway sleepers. The firing is recorded by cameras which are set in recessed panels with flanking flood lights. The target of the eastern range contains a panel supposedly from the German battleship Tirpitz.

Sources

Books and journals
Cocroft, W D, Thomas, R J C, Cold War - Building for Nuclear Confrontation 1946-1989, (2003)

Legal

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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