Liquid propellant test stand and ancillary structures at the former Royal Ordnance site Westcott, mid-late 1950s with later modifications.
Reason for Listing
E site, a test site for liquid propellant engines at the Westcott former Royal Ordnance Establishment, of mid-late 1950s date and modified in the mid-1970s to '80s, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Fabric: a test-site which retains its test-stand with plume channel, detached control room/electronics block (with surviving control panel), pump house, plunge bath (for the treatment of chemical spills) and large angled blast wall;
* Rarity: although one of the second generation test stands at Westcott, its 1950s date makes this nationally rare with only a handful of examples surviving;
* Technological significance: a test-stand designed specifically for the Blue Steel missile programme (a stand-off missile designed to extend the life of the nuclear deterrent V-Force by providing a missile that could be launched from an aircraft about 100 miles from its target.) It was subsequently modified for the research and the development of the top-secret Chevaline (a more mobile and sophisticated successor to the Polaris missile) development programme. The test rig for the latter survives inside the firing bay;
* Group value: with other earlier liquid test-stands and later solid stands. Westcott is the most significant site nationally for rocket propulsion research and development and the test stands collectively express through their form the technological advances in this field in the second half of the C20.
Westcott has been synonymous with rocket research and development since the mid 1940s. The Second World War saw this work take on a new urgency given Germany’s success in developing the devastating V1 and V2 rockets. After the cessation of hostilities, the importance of German rocket research was fully realised and incorporated into British programmes. The Guided Projectile Establishment opened at Westcott in 1946 and, until 1948, German scientists, classed as special internees, were relocated there to continue their research into liquid propellants alongside their British counterparts. Early research concentrated on liquid bipropellants for rocket engines (using liquid oxygen, hydrogen peroxide and nitric acid oxidisers) with solid propellant research beginning in 1949 (using solid fuels such as extruded cordite and plastic propellants).
In the early post-war years and renamed the Rocket Propulsion Department of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), Westcott continued research into liquid propellants alongside the Waltham Abbey experimental station. In the early 1950s all work connected with this programme was transferred to Westcott as the large remote site with its specialised and purpose-built facilities allowed rockets to be tested and fired, although not launched.
In the late 1950s the liquid propellant motor for the Blue Streak missile (the RZ2) was developed at Westcott and went on to be used in the Europa-1 space rocket launch vehicle. Naming most of their rocket motors after birds the scientists at Westcott developed many successful engines which were used variously in upper atmosphere research programmes (the Raven) and for the Black Knight research rocket testing re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere (the Cuckoo). Smaller missile programmes were designed and built in Westcott between the 1960s and 1980s including Blowpipe and Seawolf. Large missile programmes, such as Polaris in the 1960s and Chevaline in the early 1970s, were also developed there and are perhaps more widely known. In 1977 Westcott and the Waltham Abbey research station were merged to form the Propellants, Explosives and Rocket Motor Establishment.
Westcott remains at the forefront of liquid propellant rocket motor research and development with, for example, its LEROS liquid engine used in the Mars missions of the late 1990s.
E-site is a test stand of the mid-late 1950s, designed as part of the Blue Steel missile development programme. This was the stand-off missile designed to extend the life of the nuclear deterrent V-Force by providing a missile that could be launched from an aircraft about 100 miles from its target. The test stand is also referred to as Anstey Test House 60. A proposed layout drawing for the site in the Westcott archive is dated July 1956 and designed by Armstrong Siddeley Motors Limited, Parkside (Anstey), Coventry, the firm responsible for the Stentor bi-propellant (kerosene and High Test Peroxide) propulsion unit for Blue Steel which was tested here. This stand reflects the close co-operation between a private company and a government establishment that was typical of this era. This company was also associated with the High Down Test Site on the Isle of Wight (now owned by the National Trust); it built its engines in Coventry for assembly and testing at both Westcott and the Isle of Wight.
E stand is clearly visible on an aerial photograph of August 1961 and a photograph dated a month earlier in the site archive shows it testing a Bristol Siddeley Stentor Engine, from which its 1961 form can be discerned. A small rectangular building, to the east of the control room, is marked as the switch room on the 1956 layout plan with fuel tanks to its south. Although visible on an aerial photograph of 1994, these no longer survive. The site can be seen as a second generation of test stands using High Test Peroxide, drawing on wartime German technologies.
This stand was later modified for work on engines for the Chevaline Twin Chamber Propulsion Unit (TCPU), developing and testing the complex manoeuvring rocket engines associated with the Chevaline post-boost bus. The research and development for Chevaline was top-secret, and E-site was therefore a highly restricted area. The surviving internal rig relates to this programme of the mid-1970s to 1980s. A photograph of a TCPU test firing in the mid-1980s is held in the site archive.
E-site is no longer a functioning test stand but has an industrial workshop/storage use.
MATERIALS: reinforced concrete, steel, brick, plastic corrugated sheeting.
TEST STAND: E site is located in isolation in the middle of the northern test area at SP 71032 16961. It comprises a series of structures built on a concrete apron.
The test building itself is a large shed oriented north-west to south-east and built of concrete and steel. It has a hipped corrugated plastic sheet roof overlying a chain mail torpedo net supported on a grid frame of trusses and steel cables. The main elevation is the north-west entrance elevation which has corrugated sheet at the gable and large metal double doors, with a pedestrian door cut in, flanked by concrete blast walls. There is also an attached metal frame to the north-west. This was a loading gantry to aid the movement of the rocket motor for testing. A raised cable conduit joins the gantry and test stand with the control room. The test stand also has small extensions to the south-west and north-east. Inside the stand is a single space containing a metal framework with ladders and gantries for accessing and lifting the motor. A test photograph of July 1961 indicates that the loading gantry and lean-to lying to the south-west are original features; that the chain mail 'roof' was also original but was covered in corrugated sheet at a later date; that the south lean-to is a later addition and that the enclosure of the north-west elevation is also later, as it did not originally have an end wall here but was an open-ended structure. There is a concrete flume ramp to the north-west.
CONTROL ROOM: a rectangular concrete control building with a flat roof is located to the north of the test building. This has two paired pedestrian entrances in the north elevation which are solid metal doors reached by concrete steps. The interior is divided into an office and a control room by brick dividing walls, the latter retaining its control panel. The join between the walls and ceiling is chamfered, in concrete, for reinforcement. The 1956 layout plan indicates that the control room was to the west and the eastern room originally housed electronics. There is also a small rectangular brick building with a flat roof (no 59) to the south-east of the test stand which is shown as a pump house on the 1956 layout plan.
ANCILLARY STRUCTURES: there is a substantial angled concrete blast wall to the east of the site, which has been built in sections, and a plunge bath for use in case of accident (for the operators to wash off any accidental spillage of the liquid propellant).
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.