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Building 61, former RAF Barnham atomic bomb store

A Grade II* Listed Building in Barnham, Suffolk

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.3854 / 52°23'7"N

Longitude: 0.7207 / 0°43'14"E

OS Eastings: 585250

OS Northings: 279857

OS Grid: TL852798

Mapcode National: GBR QC8.H06

Mapcode Global: VHKCK.F9VP

Entry Name: Building 61, former RAF Barnham atomic bomb store

Listing Date: 24 June 2011

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1402479

Location: Barnham, St. Edmundsbury, Suffolk, IP24

County: Suffolk

District: St. Edmundsbury

Civil Parish: Barnham

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Suffolk

Church of England Parish: Barnham St Gregory

Church of England Diocese: St.Edmundsbury and Ipswich

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Summary

Building 61 is a non-Nuclear store with attached concrete gantry on four columns projecting over the road to the front (west).

Description

MATERIALS
A reinforced concrete frame and blockwork walls, and a flat concrete roof.

PLAN
Rectangular, aligned approximately east-west.

EXTERIOR
Building 61 is surrounded by substantial earth bunds. It has a central recessed entrance flanked by two projecting two storey, flat roofed plant and switch rooms which originally contained plant to maintain a stable environment. The original steel doors remain. The rear elevation has a central door and there are crittall windows to the rear and sides.

INTERIOR
Originally sub-divided internally into compartments of 11 x 3 bays allowing the storage of up to 66 bombs, Building 61 has been partitioned internally to create smaller work units.


History

Although the site was in use for storage of Mustard Gas and explosives during World War II, it was not until after the end of hostilities that the depot was constructed in its current form. In the early 1950s, the Air Ministry had a continuing need for high explosive bombs and storage facilities for them and was looking ahead to 'future war in which atomic and thermo-nuclear weapons would be used by both sides.' It is within this historic context that the Special Storage Unit at RAF Barnham was constructed following the issuing of Blue Danube, Britain's first nuclear bomb, to the RAF in November 1953. The bombs were held in clutches in V bomber airfields such as RAF Scampton and RAF Wittering and the purpose of the store at RAF Barnham, and the almost identical site at RAF Faldingwoth in Lincolnshire, was to provide maintenance and refurbishment to support the airfields and hold spare warheads.

The Air Ministry plan for the Store is dated May 1953, although planning for the facility almost certainly had started before this, and it was fully operational by July 1954. In the first phase of works, the fences, earthworks, fissile core storage hutches, inspection buildings and gantries were built by August 1955. The small arms and pyrotechnics store, barrack accommodation, gymnasium, telephone exchange, meat preparation store and dog compound were erected shortly after to strengthen security. By mid 1955 the double fence was in place, later augmented by the current observation towers erected in early 1959 replacing smaller structures. The Special Storage Unit remained the main holding place for the Mark 1 atomic bomb, under control of Bomber Command until November 1956 when an independent Unit (95 Commanding Maintenance Unit) was formed. During the operational life of the site, second and third generation British nuclear weapons such as Red Beard and Yellow Sun were introduced on the site. By 1962, the site was in decline and the maintenance unit ceased to exist on 31 July 1963. The closure of the station is probably linked to the operational deployment of Blue Steel from late 1962.

The site was sold to the current owners in 1966 and let out for light industrial use. Some of the buildings have been altered and most significantly, one of the non nuclear stores burnt down in the 1980s, but there has been an on-going maintenance and repair programme agreed with English Heritage resulting in the preservation of the site.

Non Nuclear stores buildings 60 and 61, held the high explosive part of the bomb and its outer casing. The central section of the casing held the high explosive lenses assembled into a large ball with forward sections containing electronics and radars. Owing to the weight and size of Blue Danube, the gantry at the entrance was required to manoeuvre the bomb onto a trolley for storage. Building 61 is currently used as small work units and has blockwork partitioning which is reversible.

Reasons for Listing

Building 61 is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* RARITY: A rare building on a unique site designed to accommodate and service Britain's first nuclear weapon, the Blue Danube. It is the only such surviving facility in the country.
* HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION: The building has outstanding national and international interest for its historical associations with the development of the earliest British nuclear weapons technology during the Cold War, which helped shape Britain's post-war history.
* GROUP VALUE: The building has strong group value with other buildings at RAF Barnham, and was part of the national deployment of nuclear weapons.
* INTACTNESS: Building 61 is largely intact.

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