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Former Wing Headquarters Building, Greenham Common

A Grade II* Listed Building in Greenham, West Berkshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.377 / 51°22'37"N

Longitude: -1.2905 / 1°17'25"W

OS Eastings: 449477

OS Northings: 164455

OS Grid: SU494644

Mapcode National: GBR 826.QJL

Mapcode Global: VHCZK.LN37

Entry Name: Former Wing Headquarters Building, Greenham Common

Listing Date: 1 September 2014

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1419593

Location: Greenham, West Berkshire, RG19

County: West Berkshire

Civil Parish: Greenham

Built-Up Area: New Greenham Park

Traditional County: Berkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Berkshire

Church of England Parish: Greenham

Church of England Diocese: Oxford

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Summary

Former Wing Headquarters Building, circa 1985 with more recent modifications.

Description

DATE: hardened wing headquarters building, constructed circa 1985, subsequently modified.

MATERIALS: reinforced concrete, stainless steel, external cladding of PVC-coated metal sheets, heavy steel doors.

PLAN: the Wing Headquarters Building is located to the south of the former runway in the technical area of the former airfield. It is located immediately south-west of the Combat Support Building (Building 273: this provided hardened accommodation for a rapid response force had the airbase been attacked) with which it is functionally related.

It is a bi-partite flat-roofed building. To the east is a rectangular two-storey structure with its long axis oriented west-east. To the west is a single-storey square structure (housing the decontamination suite and the western end of the bunker) with a lower single storey projection at the west end. Wrapping around the northern part of this structure is a deep concrete battered plinth. The main entrance to the building is in the north elevation, protected by a blast proof wall to its west, this then returns to the west to run parallel with the building. At the junction of the two parts of the building, on the south elevation, is an external concrete staircase, a further example can be found on the north elevation. On the south elevation there is a blast-proof protected corridor over an entrance with a large sliding door. To its west is a battered concrete projection. A further blast-proof corridor protects the eastern entrance into the decontamination suite. *Outside of the building envelope to its north, south and east are plant compounds and tanks, which are not part of the listing.

Internally the bunker, which occupies the ground floor of the western two-thirds of the building, has a double-loaded corridor. Circulation in the decontamination facilities, in the western extremity of the building, is arranged in a circular fashion.

EXTERIOR: the principal elevation is to the north. The main two-storey section of the building is clad in uPVC-coated metal sheet set vertically and running the full height of the building with a raised rib between each panel. The cladding is fixed over the hardened concrete structure. On the upper floor and to the east of the blast wall-protected entrance, windows occupy most panels; to the west on the ground floor, where the bunker is located internally, the elevation is blind. The main entrance is now through *modern aluminium-framed glazed double doors. Windows are rectangular units: those with rounded corners are the originals, but a number, particularly on the ground floor, are *replacement double-glazed units with squared corners. The centre of this elevation is dominated by a blast wall in a burnt sienna paint/render. The same colour treatment is applied to the blast wall to the decontamination suite. The two are joined by a *modern picket fence. The decontamination suite is clad in the same ribbed PVC-coated metal sheet above an exposed concrete plinth, and is largely blind. There are three original entrances here: one in its east elevation is protected by the aforementioned blast wall. The second is in its west elevation, within the lower projecting section (also in burnt sienna as are all other blast walls and external staircases) where a formerly open doorway has been fitted with a *modern grille; to its south the guardroom has a small observation port of armoured glass. Finally, in the south elevation there is an externally-mounted solid steel escape hatch door, now left open such that its internal mechanism is exposed, and immediately to its east, where the hatch would originally have closed, is now an enlarged opening and a *modern inserted doorway. The roof of this single-storey part of the building has been more recently converted to a *decked area with *timber balustrade.

At the junction of the single-storey and two-storey sections is an external dog-leg concrete stair with a curved profile. Windows are as before with those with rounded-corners the original form (the *replacements are not of interest). Broadly central to this elevation is a protected corridor with a solid steel sliding blast-proof door in its external face. Internally to the corridor are a series of large circular exhaust vents and a further large steel sliding blast-proof door on the internal face. This leads into the bunker and a redundant south plant room. It is understood from the CGMS report (2006) that similar features are present on the north elevation behind the blast wall, namely a hatch as per the south elevation and exhaust outlets; these were not inspected. To its west is the aforementioned battered concrete projection.

The east elevation is as before in terms of cladding and fenestration (*replacement fenestration is not of interest) with a large *sign indicating ‘Venture West’ affixed between floors and a further external concrete staircase to the north.

*A number of external air cooling fans, security cameras, external cabling and antennae are not part of the original building being very recent additions. *Modern plant compounds have been added to the site and are enclosed by *fencing.

INTERIORS:

OFFICES on the second floor and on the ground floor in the east of the building were not inspected but are understood to be standard office spaces with modern fittings and as such are not considered of special interest.

THE BUNKER is located in the west of the building, occupying approximately two-thirds of the floor space on the ground floor. It is accessed from a security lobby off the main entrance. The entrance to the bunker is via a massive solid-steel hinged blast door located at the east end of a double-loaded corridor. The corridor has a *modern suspended ceiling and *suspended floor above cable runs and is regularly interrupted by *modern fire doors. For security reasons it was not possible to inspect all rooms within the bunker but the following original features were noted. To the north of the corridor is the north plant room which retains original ceiling-suspended air-cooling plant. Room 116 contains original ribbed grey wall covering, set vertically, of unknown material but possibly some kind of plastic: this was also noted in other rooms within the bunker. Between it and its subsidiary room 117 is an original heavy door. Off the escort and security room is an original Faraday cage. At the end of the corridor is the battle operations room, accessed by a ramp down. Here survives the ‘stage’ against the west wall, above which the observation boards would have been hung (now gone) and in its east wall is the surviving observation window between this room and the battle room to its east. To the rear of the battle room, to the south of the spine corridor, is a narrow room which housed telecommunication cables. Further east is the south plant room which again has original ceiling-suspended ducting. Finally the redundant south plant room which houses the former plinth for the generator (removed) and the other sides of the exhaust outlets and massive sliding steel door noted on the exterior. *Within the bunker are computers, cabling, machinery and plant installed as part of its current use as a secure data store; as such are all modern additions and are excluded from the listing.

The DECONTAMINATION SUITE is located at the western end of the bunker and is essentially of stainless steel. Potentially contaminated personnel (from nuclear, chemical or biological attack) entered past the guard room and through the turnstiles in the western end of the building before entering the decontamination suite via an airlock with further thick steel blast-proof doors. Arrows on the floor (red for potentially contaminated; blue for clean) indicate the route via which personnel would travel. The first room contained initial wash down facilities with a steel ceiling with strip lights, a grilled floor for drainage and a container for Fuller’s Earth (to absorb and neutralise any remaining liquids). There are then a series of further rooms including a wet room (intact bar the missing shower heads) with a large covered steel hatch to dispose of contaminated clothing, then a drying-off room and a kit room, the latter equipped with a series of steel open lockers with hooks for individual clothing. In the centre of the complex is the laundry room. Glazed observation windows from the centre allowed observers oversight of the decontamination process, box-like steel projections from the ceilings of most rooms may be Geiger counters but this is unconfirmed. Operations were overseen from a command desk, located in a short corridor outside the decontamination rooms. This control panel of the desk has an external microphone and is set with Geiger counters. Off this corridor are two plant rooms which retain their original machinery and plant. The first is the water and sewage management room, the second houses the fresh air intake and oxygen bottles, six gas filters, and rams to prevent any blast entering the bunker. Throughout, the decontamination suite is essentially intact.

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 it is declared that the features marked with an asterisk are not of special architectural or historic interest.

History

Greenham Common was requisitioned by the Air Ministry in May 1941 as a satellite airfield for RAF Aldermaston, 10 miles to the east. RAF Greenham Common was associated with a number of key war-time events including Operation Torch, the 1942 invasion of North Africa. In 1943 the airfield became a United States Army Air Force (USAAF, later to become the United States Air Force or USAF) base accommodating two fighter groups and was involved in preparations for, and support for, the D-Day landings (specifically at Utah beach). Between 1945 and the closure of the base in June 1946 the airfield reverted to the RAF and was finally decommissioned in 1947. However, its Second World War association with the USAAF was to pave the way for its reoccupation of the site and the construction of the infamous Cold War base.

During the late 1940s political tensions between east and west increased dramatically. Against this background, and particularly prompted by the Korean War (which began in 1950) and a consequent re-armament programme, the Air Ministry announced its intention to re-requisition land at Greenham Common in 1951. The worsening international situation prompted the USAF to deploy aircraft in Britain and the base was reconstructed in preparation for the arrival of USAF Strategic Air Command (SAC) B-47 Stratojet bombers and KC-97 tankers. The Second World War airfield had to be substantially rebuilt, the principal development being a runway capable of servicing these large aircraft. The single landing strip, at circa 10,000 feet (3,051m) was one of the longest military runways in the world. Also constructed were new dispersal areas and a new administrative and technical area, built on a U.S. grid pattern.

The base returned to the RAF between 1964 and 1968 when it again re-opened as a USAF stand-by base in response to the French decision to leave NATO and the subsequent withdrawal of U.S troops from France. In 1979, in response to the USSR’s increased nuclear capability, NATO decided to deploy intermediate range weapons in Europe. In June 1980 it was announced that Tomahawk Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCM) were to be deployed at six sites in Europe including Molesworth in Cambridgeshire and at Greenham Common. At both sites this necessitated the construction of new storage facilities for cruise with that at Greenham known as the GLCM Alert and Maintenance Area or GAMA. (The significance of this part of the site has been recognised by its inclusion on the Schedule of monuments.) Other buildings, such as the Wing Headquarters Building, were also required. The first cruise missiles were delivered in November 1983 and by 1986 there were 96 missiles and five spares made up into six mobile cruise missile flights housed at GAMA. The longest commissioned of the six European bases to house cruise missiles, Greenham Common and GAMA in particular provided a national focus for the peace movement. Peace camps were established around the base perimeter fence and the Greenham women, in opposition to the deployment of cruise missiles, used non-violent protest to bring the nuclear capability of Greenham Common airbase and the campaign for nuclear disarmament to the attention of the world. It is for this reason that Greenham Common is a name which is internationally infamous; a site which is symbolic of international anti-nuclear protest.

The Wing Headquarters Building reflects NATO concerns to harden its infrastructure against first strike conventional, biological and chemical attack. This building was the command centre for the base, controlling the cruise missile forces at Greenham Common, receiving instruction from higher command to deploy and launch missiles, which it relayed to its mobile forces. It illustrates the complex command and control structure necessary to wage modern war; also, through its decontamination suite, the necessary precautions required to secure its personnel after nuclear, chemical or biological attack.

The USA-USSR Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 and which came into force in 1988 saw the last cruise missiles removed from Europe by mid-1991. The airbase was again surplus to requirements and finally closed in 1992. It was purchased by Greenham Common Community Trust in 1997, and the majority of the airbase gifted by the Trust to the local authority, together with substantial financial contributions for restoration, the Trust retaining only the ‘Technical Area’ for development. The airfield has subsequently been restored to heathland with open public access. The Wing Headquarters Building, which is in the Technical Area, is now (2014) in use for secure data storage with associated office facilities.

Reasons for Listing

The Wing Headquarters building of the former Greenham Common airbase, built circa 1985 as part of the Cold War redevelopment of the base to accommodate cruise missiles, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Political interest: one of a group of buildings at Greenham Common specifically constructed as part of the USAF redevelopment of the base to accommodate cruise missiles in the 1980s: a key component of NATO’s strategy to maintain nuclear parity with the Warsaw Pact countries and one of only two bases nationally (the other being Molesworth in Cambridgeshire) where cruise missiles were deployed;
* Historic interest: the command and control building for an internationally significant Cold War airbase, designed as a conduit for orders from High Command to deploy Greenham’s cruise missiles. The decontamination suite and Battle Room in particular reflect the building’s central mission to the cruise programme. The briefing room is also part of the disarmament story following the signing by the USSR and the USA of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This allowed the Russians to inspect key NATO sites, including this one, until the expiry of the treaty in June 2001;
* Architectural interest: a structure which reflects NATO’s policy of hardened and camouflaged specialist buildings during the Second Cold War of the 1980s. Of particular note, given its scale and remarkable completeness, is the decontamination suite, which is one of the two best (the other being within the Avionics Building at Alconbury airfield, Cambridgeshire) nationally in terms of scale and preservation;
* Group value: with the 1980s cruise missile shelters and support buildings of the scheduled ground-launched Cruise Missile Alert and Maintenance Area (GAMA), also with the Grade II-listed control tower and the Grade-II listed adjacent Combat Support Building, all of which reflect the nationally significant development of the base to accommodate cruise missiles.

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