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Orford Ness: former Royal Flying Corps barrack block

A Grade II Listed Building in Orford, Suffolk

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Latitude: 52.0841 / 52°5'2"N

Longitude: 1.554 / 1°33'14"E

OS Eastings: 643594

OS Northings: 248822

OS Grid: TM435488

Mapcode National: GBR XS0.9QK

Mapcode Global: VHM88.WWF6

Entry Name: Orford Ness: former Royal Flying Corps barrack block

Listing Date: 10 April 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1416866

Location: Orford, Suffolk Coastal, Suffolk, IP12

County: Suffolk

District: Suffolk Coastal

Civil Parish: Orford

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Suffolk

Church of England Parish: Orford St Bartholomew

Church of England Diocese: St.Edmundsbury and Ipswich

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A Royal Flying Corps barrack building built c.1917/18.


The building is constructed of concrete with a timber frame and a C20 corrugated metal roof covering.

The building has a rectangular plan of 10 bays long and 3 wide.

The barrack has a central gable roof section, with a shallow pitch and lights beneath the eaves, flanked by outshots to either side with pent roofs and pier divisions. The contemporary metal framed windows in the outshots generally survive intact. At the east end, double doors have been inserted into the central section, flanked by metal framed casements.

The roof is felt-clad over timber planking and supported on timber posts and metal columns (some timber posts have been replaced). The conduits and some light fittings remain.


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 Barrack Block is located on the south side of 'The Street', close to its junction with the road leading back to the jetty and approximately 300m to the north-east of the Officers' Mess. 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 its 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. Other experimental work continued into 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 barrack block is not shown on an aerial photograph of the site taken in 1917/18 and was thus erected after that date. The National Trust have used the barrack block for storage. Some alterations to the building have occurred. Small external doors and their frames were renewed, and the mid-C20 double doors, discovered elsewhere on the site, were replaced by The National Trust in the mid-1990s. Internally, metal support columns and bracing were inserted at the east end in c.1999 and some timber posts have been replaced; the corrugated metal roof is a later C20 replacement.

Reasons for Listing

The former Royal Flying Corps (RFC) barrack block at Orford Ness, of c.1917/18, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: the former RFC barrack block is a rare, little altered example of its type;
* Historic interest: national historic interest as a building associated with the earliest 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 barrack block has considerable group value with the other listed Orford buildings and with the scheduled Atomic Weapons Research Establishment test structures on Orford Beach.

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