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Orford Ness: Bomb Ballistics Building, Orford

Description: Orford Ness: Bomb Ballistics Building

Grade: II
Date Listed: 10 April 2014
Building ID: 1416869

OS Grid Reference: TM4455449209
OS Grid Coordinates: 644554, 249209
Latitude/Longitude: 52.0872, 1.5683

Locality: Orford
Local Authority: Suffolk Coastal
County: Suffolk

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Listing Text


A Bomb Ballistics building, constructed 1933, modified by the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in the 1950s.

Reason for Listing

The Bomb Ballistics building of 1933 is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: the building is a bespoke, perhaps unique, example of an inter-war military experimental structure and little altered;
* Historic interest: national historic interest as a building associated with the inter-war military activity on Orford Ness where innovative, experimental military technologies were developed throughout the C20 and which contributed immeasurably to the nation's history;
* Group value: the Bomb Ballistics building has considerable group value with the other listed Orford buildings and with the scheduled Atomic Weapons Research Establishment test structures on Orford Beach.


Orford Ness is sited on the Suffolk coast; it is the largest vegetated shingle spit in Europe and stretches for about 10 miles (16 km) with a maximum height above sea level of around 4m (13ft). To the west the spit is separated from the mainland by the River Alde-Ore. The spit is divided into two by a channel known as Stoney Ditch, aligned east-west. Prior to the C20, Orford Ness was a rarely visited place; the main economic activity was animal grazing on reclaimed marsh land.

In 1915 the Armament and Experimental Flight of the Royal Flying Corps (later known formally as the Aircraft Armament and Gunnery Experimental Establishment) established a flying field on King’s Marshes to the west of the ditch, now known as the Airfield Marshes, serviced by a range of ancillary buildings arranged along a single track known since 1993 as ‘The Street’, on which ran a narrow-gauge light railway which led back to the jetty. Its main areas of investigation were machine guns and gun sights, bombs and bomb sights, navigation and aerial photography. The largest buildings were two Bessonneau-type aeroplane sheds, or hangars, (demolished) but there were a number of temporary hangars along the southern edge of the flying field. To protect the station from flooding a Chinese labour battalion was drafted in to construct a seawall; German prisoners of war were also held on the spit and used in construction work. By the end of the war the establishment numbered about 600, but after the signing of the armistice the establishment was closed and placed on a care and maintenance regime.

From 1924 the airfield was re-occupied as a satellite station of the Airplane and Armament Experimental Establishment based at Martlesham Heath. During their tenure, a number of structures were constructed on Orford Beach. Due to its remoteness one of the main activities at Orford Ness was the investigation of bomb ballistics; the study of the flight of objects moving under their own momentum and the force of gravity. The Bomb Ballistics building was constructed in 1933 to monitor the fall of bombs on the range to the east, as part of these experiments. The building contained a Vinten HS camera mounted on a plinth, a camera obscura and plotting table to record results. Other experimental work continued during the inter-war period. In 1935, a small experimental radar team arrived and conducted experiments that were critical in proving the value of this technology.

Between 1953 and 1971, the spit was occupied by the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. Its primary task was environmental testing to simulate the conditions that nuclear weapons and their components might experience during trials and in service use. Here science and high politics merged, with investigations that were crucial to the credibility of the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent forces, the cornerstone of Cold War defence policy. The last trial took place on 9 June 1971 and the establishment closed on Friday 1 October 1971. On 24 July 1972 Orford Ness formally passed from AWRE to No.2 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit of the RAF. In the following decades they worked to clear the range of unexploded munitions and brought other munitions onto the spit for destruction. This work ceased about 1986, although many unexploded munitions still remain on Orford Ness. Following negotiations with the Ministry of Defence, the National Trust acquired Orford Ness in 1993.


The Bomb Ballistics building comprises a mass concrete ground floor storey with brick observation room above.

The building has a square plan, with a smaller observation room at first floor.

Measuring c. 8m x 4m , the Bomb Ballistics building stands nearly 7m in height. The ground floor of the building comprises a single room open to the north. Its door jambs are infilled with brick and probably originally held a double wooden door. Above is the flat-roofed observation room approached by a modern, galvanised steel staircase leading to double doors in the east elevation. Its south east corner is cut away and there is an angled wooden observation window. In the west wall there is a steel-framed window, probably dating to the 1950s, in its north wall is a 12 light, metal framed window with concrete sill and lintel. The stairs also give access to the roof observation platform. On the south west corner of the roof is an armoured steel observation point.

On the interior of the ground floor there are two large concrete plinths on which were mounted a ground speed camera and a camera obscura with plotting table (no longer present). Two original RSJ’s and two, galvanised steel frames of 1995 support the upper storey.

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