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RAF Spadeadam: Blue Streak Rocket

A Grade II Listed Building in Kingwater, Cumbria

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Latitude: 55.0263 / 55°1'34"N

Longitude: -2.6033 / 2°36'11"W

OS Eastings: 361528

OS Northings: 570358

OS Grid: NY615703

Mapcode National: GBR BB8B.50

Mapcode Global: WH90L.ZXHP

Entry Name: RAF Spadeadam: Blue Streak Rocket

Listing Date: 10 October 2013

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1413245

Location: Kingwater, Carlisle, Cumbria, CA8

County: Cumbria

District: Carlisle

Civil Parish: Kingwater

Traditional County: Cumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Gilsland St Mary Magdalene

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle

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Blue Streak rocket, 1959 by de Havilland.


Materials: stainless steel rocket on a steel handling frame.

The missile, or first stage rocket booster, with its engines was 60ft 4ins in length and was constructed from 0.019-0.025 inch thick stainless steel and had a weight of about 6 tons. The engine bay has been partly stripped and its engines removed. A number of pressurised bottles, associated pipe work and electrical components remain.

The rocket is supported by a braced, square section, steel carrying-frame, with pairs of small carrier wheels at its four corners. The carrying frames were unique to each rocket and were constructed at Spadeadam.


In 1955, the open and largely uninhabited moorland to the north of Gilsland, Cumbria, was selected as the site for the Spadeadam Rocket Establishment. Its role was to support the development of the intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) Blue Streak; this was based on the American Atlas missile, but wholly British built. It was to be a liquid fuelled missile tipped with a nuclear warhead with a range of around 1,500 nautical miles (2,413km), sufficient to reach Moscow from the United Kingdom. It was envisaged that from the mid-1960s that it would replace manned aircraft as the United Kingdom’s main nuclear deterrent. However, the missile project was cancelled in April 1960 and after a period of uncertainty by the mid-1960s Blue Streak was adopted as the first stage of the Europa 1 rocket being developed by the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO). In December 1971, Britain withdrew from ELDO and the project was finally cancelled in April 1972. The rocket test facilities were closed and the site was dismantled.

The establishment was designed and managed for the Ministry of Aviation by the project’s principal contractors, de Havilland, who were responsible for the missile’s airframe, and Rolls-Royce, who designed the engines. The British Oxygen Corporation also operated a plant on the site to produce liquid oxygen, and liquid and gaseous nitrogen. The test facilities were initially designed to assist in the development of the missile, they would then act as a proof facility, testing each of the 60 missiles it was planned to place in silos in eastern England. In its heyday the Rocket Establishment represented a world class rocket test facility and the most advanced in Europe. It was also the model for similar facilities at Woomera, South Australia, from where a number of successful launches of the Europa I rocket were undertaken.

The establishment occupied about 3240 hectares; most of this remained open providing the necessary safety distances between facilities. Construction work began in 1957 and represented a major civil engineering undertaking. A new road was constructed to the north of Gilsland and a large temporary navvy camp, of which few traces survive, was built to the south of the main entrance. An extensive road network supported across the boggy ground on brushwood fascines and embankments connects the various test areas.

The split in responsibilities between the various contractors and their different roles in the project is reflected in the layout of the facilities at Spadeadam. They may be broken down into five self-contained areas; administration and missile assembly, British Oxygen Corporation plant, component test area, Priorlancy Rigg engine test area, and the Greymare Hill missile test area. An innovative underground launcher facility was also begun, but cancelled.

The Blue Streak missile, later the 1st stage booster for the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) Europa 1 rocket, was manufactured by de Havilland at Stevenage, Hertfordshire. In total 18 operational units were constructed, although the last two were unfinished. Of these 11 were launched and therefore lost, although some components remain in an Australian desert. A further rocket was sent to French Guiana for launch, but was later broken up; four survive within museums. This particular example was constructed about 1959 and was used for testing electrical components before fitting them to an actual rocket assembly; at some time after the cancellation of the project the rocket was removed from RAF Spadeadam and held by the RAF Museum, Hendon before it was moved back to Spadeadam in 1988.

Reasons for Listing

The Blue Streak rocket in its steel handling frame, constructed in 1959, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Rarity: it is thought to be one of only two remaining parts of surviving missiles from the 18 operational units originally constructed;
* Technological interest: it was used as a model to measure electrical components and provides further evidence of the wide ranging testing carried out at the establishment;
* Military significance: it is a striking symbol of the Blue Streak project illustrating Britain's Cold War independent nuclear deterrent and its aspirations to superpower status;
* Group value: it has group value with the other elements of the site which taken together form a legible ensemble in which the functioning of various parts is strongly sensed;
* Historic interest: in the most tangible form possible, it embodies the striking and evocative symbolism of the period in which mutually assured nuclear destruction over shadowed all spheres of life.

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