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RAF Wittering: Electrical testing building A08

A Grade II Listed Building in Easton on the Hill, Northamptonshire

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Latitude: 52.6036 / 52°36'13"N

Longitude: -0.5027 / 0°30'9"W

OS Eastings: 501497

OS Northings: 301700

OS Grid: TF014017

Mapcode National: GBR FW9.RQX

Mapcode Global: WHGM3.7TVC

Entry Name: RAF Wittering: Electrical testing building A08

Listing Date: 11 July 2011

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1402772

Location: Easton on the Hill, East Northamptonshire, Northamptonshire, PE8

County: Northamptonshire

District: East Northamptonshire

Civil Parish: Easton on the Hill

Traditional County: Northamptonshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northamptonshire

Church of England Parish: Easton-on-the-Hill All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Peterborough

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Nuclear bomb electrical testing building of October to November 1952 designed by the Air Ministry Works Department as part of the United Kingdom and NATO strategic airborne nuclear deterrent.


MATERIALS: The building is constructed of reinforced concrete and brick under an earth mound roof.

PLAN: There is a U-shaped plan with the base of the U facing east and the uprights running west from each end, and internally the room layout is nearly symmetrical.

The building has only one elevation, to the east, of one storey terminating at the north and south ends by a projecting sloping screen wall which revets the mound of earth containing the building. There were originally six doors in this elevation, the outer two double timber doors being the entry and exit points under louvered vents, and the two inner single timber doors led into the plant room. Separating each doorway were two two-light steel casement windows, but at Wittering the southern of these centre doors has been blocked with brick, as have all the windows. Rising over the low concrete parapet are two symmetrically-placed extractor fan outlets, the one to the south retaining its louvers.

INTERIOR: Each upright of the `U' contains at the west end the reception and packing and the assembly departments, with the testing and dressing sections to their east. Immediately south of this is a north-south corridor running the length of the building with double doors at intervals, and at the front of the building are the instrument servicing and standards departments, each with two east windows between the double doors. These facilities are exactly duplicated to the north and south. East of the long corridor and lit from the remaining east windows are the records office to the south and a storeroom to the north, separated by an unlit plant room. The internal walls are of stretcher bond brick and each area has high-level ventilation grilles. The front windows remain in situ, protected by internal steel security grilles.


RAF Wittering was established in 1916 for the Royal Flying Corps and saw considerable service in both World Wars; after a period as the main RAF flying school, it became a fighter aerodrome in 1935. The advent of the Cold War and the development of the atomic bomb resulted in the selection of ten existing military airfields in the early 1950s as the main bases for the V-force, which carried Britain's airborne nuclear deterrent from 1953 to 1969. This formed a central part of Britain's and NATO's policy of preventing nuclear war by the threat of utilising the nuclear bomber force.

Wittering is the pre-eminent example of an airfield landscape that was completely reconstructed in the second half of 1952 for the deployment of Britain's principal deterrent force. It was also the home of the Bomber Command Armament School. The main runway, 2,743 metres long was re-laid in concrete, replacing the existing asphalt runway created in 1940-42 when the neighbouring runway of Collyweston airfield was incorporated into an unusually long overall lay-out. A wide-span Gaydon hangar for the Canberra B2 bombers was constructed along with a new control tower, avionics building and nuclear storage and maintenance facilities. The first British operational atomic bomb, the Blue Danube, was deployed to RAF Wittering in November 1953. The first V-bombers (the Vickers Valiant, the Handley Page Victor and the Avro Vulcan) were delivered in July 1955. In 1957-58 tests were carried out at Wittering of the first British hydrogen bomb which was fitted into the existing Blue Danube casing. Four Valiant bombers flew out of Wittering to Christmas Island in the Pacific, one of them dropping the first device on 15 May 1957.

To counter improved Soviet air defences and to extend the life of the V-force a rocket-propelled stand-off missile, the Blue Steel, was developed in 1966 and fitted to Victor bombers. Wittering and RAF Scampton were the only two V-bomber bases to house this weapon. For this purpose new ground facilities were built for its storage and maintenance, and these facilities, with the other nine V-bomber bases, constituted Britain's principal nuclear deterrent through the 1960s. However, in the late 1960s, NATO's nuclear deterrent policy changed to that of a submarine-based force, and the requirement for airborne-delivered nuclear weapons disappeared. Accordingly the V-force was disbanded and in 1969 RAF Wittering became the principal base for the Harrier VTOL aircraft.

The electrical testing building was required for the maintenance of the various components of the atomic bomb, all stored in the immediate vicinity, which in the case of the first generation of fission bombs was a virtually continuous process. Examination of the firing devices, accumulators, instrumentation and several other procedures took place in the building, and it also doubled as the fallout shelter, in which event the windows and doors were sealed. Ventilation was provided by two roof-mounted extractor fans.

Reasons for Listing

The Electrical Testing Building at RAF Wittering, erected in 1952, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* RARITY- It is a rare survival of a highly-specialised testing building specifically designed for the maintenance of first generation nuclear bombs during the Cold War.
* INTACTNESS- The building is little altered.
* HISTORIC INTEREST- It is the earliest such structure built on an operating airfield in Britain and highlights the instability of the first generation of nuclear bombs. It housed the Bomber Command Armament School and was where the atomic bomb became operational in Britain.
* LANDSCAPE: It is an early example of a fall-out shelter, a nuclear development of the contamination centres and air raid shelters found on earlier aerodromes. The building is a component of the pre-eminent airfield landscape that was completely reconstructed for the deployment of Britain's principal deterrent force in the post-war years.
* GROUP VALUE- It forms a group with four other buildings on the site which together provided the means of maintenance, preparation and delivery of the nuclear deterrent. Of the ten former British V-bomber bases Wittering is the only one which retains all of these elements.

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