Monument record ORF 161 - Laboratory 1 Large Vibration, circa 1956

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Laboratory 1 Large Vibration, circa 1956. A large rectangular central structure oriented southeast to northwest protected by a substantial shingle traverse.


Grid reference Centred TM 4407 4856 (73m by 62m)
Map sheet TM44NW


Type and Period (2)

Full Description

2007: Field survey of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment by Historic England (S1).
Structure F3: The Large Vibration Laboratory, Laboratory 1, comprises a large rectangular central structure oriented southeast to northwest protected by a substantial shingle traverse. To the north west is a plant room and a detached store (127)and to the northeast an electrical switch room. The main chamber is entered through a substantial concrete passage to the southeast and another at its northern end and entering from the southwest. The main bay is 30.69m (100ft)x 9.13m (30ft)and is divided into two unequal portions, the larger Vibration Laboratory to the southeast, length 17.32m (57ft)and the smaller bay to the north west, lenghth 12.15m (40ft)that housed a Drop Test Laboratory. The dividing wall is 1.22m (4ft) thick with a 3m (9ft 9ins)wide opening connecting the two parts of the bay. There is a pit (now water filled)running almost the full length of the bay along the northern side. The pit is 3.18m (10ft 5in) wide and 2.74m (9ft)deep, there is an access ledge at its southern end and running along the north wall. The pit passes beneath the dividing wall and fittings on its surface indicate that both openings had some form of sliding screen closures. Coupled with the separate entrances it probably indicates that discrete tests could be carried out in either bay. At the southern end of the pit is a flight of concrete steps leading down into the pit and a steel ladder. On the pit walls there are numerous mounting plates, rings and electrical switch boxes. In the north east corner is the remains of an air-conditioning type duct which may have connected to ducts above that run through the east wall and out of the bay. Roughly centrally placed within the pit, just to the E of the dividing wall, are two small projecting platforms about 1.1m (4ft) below the main floor level. Immediately to their east on the main floor, on either side of the pit, are numerous large mounting bolts. Attached to the walls of the bay are numerous small bore pipes that contained the electical wiring for lights and wall mounted sockets. Also mounted on the walls are slightly larger bore pipes with occasional gauges and glass bulbs perhaps for the delivery of hydraulic fluids. Painted signs on the walls ‘VAC AND AIR’ mark the position of removed pipes. There are also painted ‘EMERGENCY STOP’ and ‘CO2 STOP’ signs with associated switches by the southern entrance. At the eastern end of the north wall are numerous openings leading into the plant room to the north. On wall of the bay there is an iron ladder leading up to overhead walkways allowing access to air conditioning ducts and lighting. The shallow pitched roof is constructed from angle iron and comprises nine W-shaped trusses, raised slightly above the wall top, forming 7 roof bays. The roof was clad in pressed aluminum sheeting and externally insulated with 0.05m (2ins) cork panels stuck to the cladding with bitumen and covered by felt sheeting, the raised vertical sides were similarly treated. From the northwest plant room two large square ducts enter the main bay through the northwest gable. One of these runs along the centre of the roof space supported within the trusses and had 4 vertical square ducts dropping down from it, two of which survive. The other duct entering the main chamber divides
into two and these then run along the sides of the chamber also supported within the roof space. These lateral ducts had regular rectangular downward facing vents. These two systems presumably combined to circulate air within the bay. On the north wall of the main chamber, just to the east of the dividing wall is a large diameter, heavy gauge iron pipe, which has been closed off by a similar gauge end plate. This ran outside and the other end is open, but covered by a circular baffle plate.

Three rows of double flourescent tube lights run longitudinally along the bays. There was also a secondary system
of pendant light fittings some of which remain within the roof space and some of which reach down into the bay.

At a height of 4.58m on the north and south walls of the main chamber are ledges marking the position of rails for overhead travelling cranes.

The small bore electrical conduits described above are also in the smaller bay. The appear to originate here with three square junction boxes on the west wall, possibly running through into the northwest plant room. A fourth larger junction box on the west wall appears to be part of a different system. The main conduits from this run along the north wall and end in a mass of connectors half way along the smaller bay. There are also several other ducts in the west wall that probably run through to the same plant room. On the north face of the partition wall above both of the openings are pairs of vertical battens, pulleys and rotating catch plates, probably indicating the presence of screens to conceal
the activities within the bays. Just before the nor th west end of the pit it widens on both sides for 2.55m (8ft 4in) to a 4.34m (14ft 3in)total width. At this end the pit finishes flush with the end wall, unlike the east end where there is an access ledge around the end).

The south eastern entrance comprises a main entrance passage 15.50m long (51ft)by 3.35m (11ft) wide and 3.19m (10ft 6ins)high. Originally it was closed by two hinged externally opening wooden doors (the inner having counterweights), giving a central bay of 10.10m (33ft)which was lit by three lights set in ceiling recesses. On its north side are two rooms which may have contained switch and monitoring equipment. The western of these two rooms had double wooden doors, now missing. There is a painted notice to the east of these doors ‘ROOM 7 RAC...SUP’ above this a switch box
and below is another painted sign : ‘AIR 60 PSI’. Also on its wall is a large entry or alarm bell. A blocked door gave access from the northwest corner of this room into the main Bay. The eastern room had a single wooden door, also now mising. A duct runs through both rooms from the main chamber bay to the exterior. The eastern end of the entry passage is closed by a crude steel gate.

The entrance from the southwest is 14.15m (46ft 6ins)by 3.35m (11ft)wide and 3.19m (10ft 6ins)high. It was originally closed by a pair of wooden swing doors, the internal door again counterweighted, giving an internal bay 9.20m (30ft) in length. Within the passage way is large entry or alarm bell there are also numerous cable conduits leading from a fuse box recessed into the wall close to the entrance. This entrance passage was also lit by three lights set within ceiling recesses. Subsequently, and during AWRE occupancy the southern end of the passage was sealed by a crude steel gate and is respected by the latest interior painting. This was later partially removed and replaced by a concrete block wall infill and modern steel gate. On the southeast side of the passageway is single door to perhaps a former staff room and beyond two toilet cubicles. In the southwest wall, the larger room is lit by a 30-light metal framed window, now replaced by steel grill, and the two toilet cubicles are each lit by 6-light metal framed windows with wired opaque glass.

To the northwest of the large chamber is a selfcontained rectangular reinforced concrete plant room, dimensions 21m (69ft)x 6.14m (20ft)and 3.89m (12ft 8ins)high, with a flat bitumen covered roof. On the three sides abutting the main chamber is an external brick skin wall to act as damp course against the shingle traverse. The plant block is divided into two uneven rooms. At the southwest end the room was originally from the north through a large opening closed with a roller shutter, which survives on the interior. Subsequently this large opening was blocked by a brick cavity wall with a 15
light metal framed window and a double wooden outward opening door. The room was also lit by a 15 light metal framed window in the southeast wall. Outside to the south is a small free-standing brick locker housing a centrifugal pump by Holden & Brooke. Returning to the main plant room, the interior is partitioned by a brick wall with a blocked doorway at its west end. The large plant room is lit by one 9-light and two 15-light metal framed windows in the northwest wall. It was originally entered by two double doors at each end which were subsequently blocked by breeze blocks. In the centre is a large breeze block in-filled opening that may have contained a vent. An iron ladder fixed to the wall gives access to the roof, also attached to the wall is external electrical lighting and an emergency bell. In the north east wall is a single small louvred vent. It was not possible to gain access to the main plant room, but it was seen to contain the remains of a filter unit. This was connected through large square ducts in the ceiling to the ducting system in the main laboratory chamber.

To the north of the main chamber is another self-contained plant room that was probably devoted to electrical switch gear. This building is 15.88m (52ft) by 6.12m (20ft) and 3.85m (12ft 6ins) high. It is constructed of reinforced concrete with a brick skin on its southeast, southwest and northwest sides where it abuts the shingle traverse. It too is divided into two rooms by a single brick thick wall laid to stretched bond with an inseted central wooden connecting door. The bay to the east is slightly smaller and is entered through a double door opening formerly sealed with wooden louvred doors. It was lit by one 6-light window with a louver beneath and to the east a 9-light window with a large louvre beneath. There is also a ceiling vent with a metal louve. Internally there is the remains of the central heating system. Rectangular metal cable ducts connecting back to the main laboratory run around the east and south walls. Air conditioning ducts mounted on the south wall also connect through to the main laboratory chamber. There is a wall mounted electrical fuse box and electrical lighting. In the southwest corner is a stand for five CO2 bottles which connect to a fire suppressant system of red metal pipes. An adjacent sign reads ‘CO2 ISOLATING SWITCH’. A red pipe also runs to an externally mounted box containing a pull handle attached to a wire. Above this is a small red painted alarm bell. Another red pipe connects to the air conditioning ducts and there is a conector for another CO2 cylinder. Roughly in the centre of the room is a concrete machine plinth 3.10m (10ft) by 1.02m (3ft 4ins) with fixing bolts at one end and brick footings. Stencilled signs on the walls record ‘V1 PLANT
EMERGENCY STOP’ and ‘V2 PLANT EMERGENCY STOP’. The northwestern, and slightly larger bay, was entered by a tall central double door in the north wall flanked by two 15-light metal framed windows. Inserted into one light of the west window is a large ducted extractor fan. Attached to the walls are various rectagular section metal cable ducts running to several switching and fuse boxes in the northwest corner. There is also a large junction box on the dividing wall to the north of the door. Red piping runs around the room from the five cylinder CO2 rack in the adjacent bay to several outlet points around the walls. On the south wall is a metal box with a plate reading ‘GOODMANS INDUSTRIES LIMITED DC SUPPLY SET FOR VIBRATION GENERATOR TYPE 10B INPUT 400/440VOLTS 3 PHASE PT NO N0.7620-S WEMBLEY ENGLAND’. In the east and west walls, centrally placed at a height of 2.78m (9ft) (to top) are the cut off stumps of an I section lifting beam. The room was heated by two radiators. At its east and west end are two cable gullies in the floor. Pendant electric lights were used throughout. At the east end of the building is a round alarm button mounted externally.


Sources/Archives (2)

  • <S1> Unpublished document: Cocroft, W. and Alexander, M.. 2009. Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Orford Ness, Suffolk Cold War Research & Development Site Survey Report. 10-2009. Structure No. F3.
  • <S2> Digital archive: Historic England. The National Heritage List for England. List entry Number: 1416933.

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Record last edited

Mar 16 2018 12:51PM

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