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Control Tower at Former Greenham Common Airbase, Greenham

Description: Control Tower at Former Greenham Common Airbase

Grade: II
Date Listed: 13 January 2012
English Heritage Building ID: 1403764

OS Grid Reference: SU4990065034
OS Grid Coordinates: 449900, 165033
Latitude/Longitude: 51.3822, -1.2844

Locality: Greenham
County: West Berkshire
Country: England
Postcode: RG19 8DB

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Listing Text


Former Control Tower, 1951-3 with 1980s modifications.

Reason for Listing

The control tower for the former Greenham Common airbase is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Historic interest: a key building of an internationally significant Cold War airbase which controlled the base’s aircraft activity;
* Rarity: a rare control tower type of which only seven examples were built nationally and only six of which survive. Unlike the others in this group, Greenham has not been used since the base ceased to be operational and therefore retains more of its original character;
* Date and fabric: a control tower which reflects through its architecture the two key phases of Cold War development at the Greenham Common airbase of the 1950s and 1980s;
* Group value: with the scheduled 1950s bomb stores and 1980s cruise missile shelters and support buildings of the Ground launched Cruise Missile Alert and Maintenance Area (GAMA).


Greenham Common was requisitioned by the Air Ministry in May 1941 as a satellite airfield for RAF Aldermaston, 10 miles to the east. Three concrete runways were constructed across the heathland, glider marshalling areas, bomb stores and dispersal areas were located around the field with hangars and the administrative and training functions located to the south along the Newbury-Basingstoke Road. RAF Greenham Common was associated with a number of key war-time events including Operation Torch, the 1942 invasion of North Africa. In 1943 the airfield became a United States Army Air Force base (USAAF, later to become the United States Air Force or USAF) accommodating two fighter groups. Greenham was involved in preparations for, and support to, the D-Day landings (specifically at Utah beach). Between 1945 and the closure of the base in June 1946 the airfield reverted to the RAF and was finally decommissioned in 1947. However, its Second World War association with the USAAF was to pave the way for its reoccupation of the site and the construction of the infamous Cold War base.

During the late 1940s political tensions between east and west increased dramatically. Against this background, and particularly prompted by the Korean War (which began in 1950) and a consequent re-armament programme, the Air Ministry announced its intention to re-requisition land at Greenham Common in 1951. The worsening international situation prompted the USAF to deploy aircraft in Britain and the base was reconstructed in preparation for the arrival of USAF Strategic Air Command (SAC) B-47 Stratojet bombers and KC-97 tankers. The Second World War airfield had to be substantially rebuilt, the principal development being a runway capable of servicing these large aircraft. The single landing strip, at 10,000 feet (3,048m) was one of the longest military runways in the world. Also constructed were new dispersal areas and a new administrative and technical area, built on a U.S. grid pattern. A new control tower was built at the same time, begun in 1951 (the remodelling of the base concluded in September 1953) and located to the north of the new runway. Its form was identical to that built at all of the SAC main bases in England/Britain. Paul Francis (1993) confirms that this was a type 5223a/51 design of tower with seven built nationally, the others being located at the fighter bases at Biggin Hill and North Weald, the very heavy bomber bases at Brize Norton, Fairford and Upper Heyford (also Greenham), and at the Mildenhall tanker air base.

Various different units were stationed at Greenham in the 1950s and from January 1958 until the closure of the base in 1964 it was part of the Reflex Alert Scheme whereby B-47 Stratojets, armed with nuclear weapons, were held on constant standby. The base returned to the RAF between 1964 and 1968 when it again re-opened as a USAF stand-by base in response to the French decision to leave NATO and the subsequent withdrawal of U.S troops from France. In 1979, in response to the USSR’s increased nuclear capability, NATO decided to deploy intermediate range weapons in Europe. In June 1980 it was announced that Tomahawk Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCM) were to be deployed at six sites in Europe including Molesworth in Cambridgeshire and at Greenham Common. At both sites this necessitated the construction of new storage facilities with that at Greenham known as the GLCM Alert and Maintenance Area or GAMA. (The national importance of this part of the site has been recognised by its inclusion on the Schedule of Monuments.) The longest commissioned of the six European bases to house cruise missiles, Greenham Common and GAMA in particular provided a national focus for the peace movement. Peace camps were established around the base perimeter fence and the Greenham women, in opposition to the deployment of cruise missiles, used non-violent protest to bring the nuclear capability of Greenham Common airbase and the campaign for nuclear disarmament to the attention of the world. It is for this reason that Greenham Common is a name which is internationally infamous; a site which is symbolic of international anti-nuclear protest.

The USA-USSR Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 and which came into force in 1988 saw the last cruise missiles removed from Europe by mid-1991. The airbase was again surplus to requirements and finally closed in 1992. Much of the common was purchased by the local authority in 1995 and since then has been restored to heathland with open public access. The control tower has therefore been redundant since 1992, other than for very occasional uses for art installations (a large timber advertising hoarding erected c 2005 on the east side of the tower is an example of such a use but is not a feature of special interest).


The Greenham control tower is located to the north of the former runway in a roughly central position to its length. This was known as Area A during the Cold War and additionally housed a number of dispersed buildings including some occupied by the Bomb Squadron but now demolished.

The control tower is a type 5223a/51 design. These have a central two-storey tower, almost square in plan (33ft 6in by 32 ft 6in) surmounted by a roof-mounted visual control room; essentially an extra floor. To each side was a single storey wing (measuring 25ft by 23ft). The façade had three metal-framed windows to each floor of the tower and a further three windows to each wing. Plant and storage were found to the rear. The towers were brick built (here in Stretcher bond) with cavity walls and concrete floors, that to the first floor having suspended floorboards supported on concrete dwarf walls, allowing cable runs to be concealed in the void beneath.

The internal layout of all 5223a/51 towers followed a regulation plan. The main entrance was in the north-west of the building with a pyro store (for the storage of flares etc.) and a ventilating plant room in the north-west of the building and a roofless transformer enclosure (with access usually through external steel gates) to the north-east. The main double-doored entrance led into a west-east corridor with stairs to the upper floors in the centre rear (north) of the tower flanked by WCs for both sexes and storage. The technical rooms at ground floor level included a room housing GPO equipment (identifiable by under-floor ducting), one for radio equipment, a signals workshop, the medium voltage switchgear room (usually with a steel door), a battery room, and the ‘A’ Centre equipment with access from the side of the building. Most of the first floor was occupied by a large southern radar control room with access through double doors and via steel stairs onto the flat roofs of the side wings. Also on the first floor was the Senior Air Traffic Control Officer’s office and a rest room. The top floor comprised a single octagonal visual control room or observation floor which had a steel frame with single glazing. Heating ducts were arranged below the windows to stop them from misting up and the interior was clad with sound proof tiles. An escape hatch doorway provided access to the upper roof with a vertical escape ladder to the rear (north). All flat roofs were edged with steel safety railings.
The Greenham Control tower has not been operational since the closure of the base and although it has experienced some vandalism, survives largely as it was left. The original 1950s staircase survives with a curving metal balustrade. There are internal solid wooden doors, some with Bakelite handles which would be consistent with a 1950s date, some later replaced in metal. There are under-window electric heaters with heater guards, also lighting cables, sockets and switches. There are also remnants of the switchgear and cabling for the control tower’s operation, some running within substantial in-wall or under-floor cable ducts. There is also some internal signage for example identifying the junction box for the Active Runway Identifier and a military badge applied to a ground floor doorway. The second floor steel frame survives (although the glazing does not) and here are also sound proof tiles and under window wood-clad heating ducts.

There have been some modifications to the original form including the insertion of suspended ceilings and the replacement of the majority of the original window frames in brown plastic (a pair of 1950s metal-framed casement windows do survive in situ in the south-west corner room of the ground floor). These changes are historic, however, and date to the 1980s cruise missile era on the base. There is also evidence of the re-decoration of parts of the interior, over-painting an earlier blue-green scheme with the brown and cream colours of the USAF.

Externally steel safety railings and the roof-top escape ladder survive although the latter is damaged. There are also some original cast iron rainwater goods.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.