Monument record BNH 054 - Barnham Camp; Gorse Industrial Estate

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Barnham Camp was a military establishment used during the First, Second and Cold wars. Many of the structures, buildings and earthworks relating to the site still survive, and are also evident on aerial photographs. During the First World War the site was used as a temporary camp and training ground. During the Second World War it was a major munitions store, including for chemical weapons, and also a filling station for mustard gas bombs. In the 1950s it became a store for atomic bombs, and the pentagonal compound and structures associated with this phase of use are the most prominent survival at the site.


Grid reference Centred TL 856 801 (1716m by 1735m) (Centred on)
Map sheet TL88SE


Type and Period (13)

Full Description

2nd WW camp and ?munitions store (further research needed) - see 1945/46 AP showing layout of buildings and features.
Cold war military camp buildings and pentagonal enclosed top secret complex with linking tracks and railway sidings etc. Chemical & Nuclear. Not shown on 1958 OS 1:10560 map. Atomic store is a site of national importance. Plans & details in (S2,S3).
Scheduled area now Gorse Industrial Estate.
May 2003: atomic bomb store part of site scheduled. See scheduling information for details on atomic elements (though nothing recorded on 2nd WW use for chemical storage).
Associated mustard gas filling station to S nearby - see BNH 063.
The Bomb Store and servicing facility was one of two built in the mid-1950s, to coincide with the deployment by the RAF of its first operational atomic bomb - provides a good example of first generation nuclear bomb store, retaining evidence for its internal design and handling procedures. Many period features also survive, including watch towers, perimeter fencing, safety rails, lamp-posts, doors and some electrical fittings (S4).
Previously used in 1916 as training camp?
'Exclamation Mark plantation' (Aughton Spinney) still had visible remains of 1st WW use (e.g., a well and foundations of a water tower) during the 2nd WW according to individual stationed there at that time. He has since being attempting to find out its top secret use during the 1st WW without any luck. Though it was described as an ordnance store it has been suggested that it was actually used for the production of mustard gas (note BNH 063 to S). The area was certainly used for the development and training of the tank during the WW1 (again thought to centre on BNH 063) so exact use of the Spinney remains undetermined at present.
Aerial Photos of circa 1945 show Barnham Camp as a complex, including railway sidings, 3 blocks of 4 embanked compounds with associated huts (ammunition/bomb storage areas); an area of linear parallel banks and ditches (believed to have been used for burning off cordite removed from decommissioned armaments); a series of trackways with linear (shell?) stores alongside and a range of buildings at the camp itself (on the east side). Some elements survive.
In 1998, the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) undertook a survey of the atomic bomb stores, Special Storage Site, at former RAF Barnham, Suffolk. This comprised a photographic survey, and a site description based on a field visit and drawings made available by Mr Eldred (Cocroft 1998). The site was also briefly described and illustrated in Cold War Building for nuclear confrontation 1946-1989 (Cocroft and Thomas 2003, 29-34). Later, the site was protected as a Scheduled Monument and a number of its buildings listed. In 2008, Mr Eldred and English Heritage funded a Conservation Management Plan (ACTA Purcell Miller Tritton 2008), which has guided subsequent innovative work to conserve its 1950s steel and reinforced concrete structures. It was in the context of this work that the Operational Record Books of No.94 Maintenance Unit were investigated at the National Archives, Kew. This brief note provides a commentary on the entries in the Operational Record Books, in particular where they are able to clarify the chronology of the site and shed light on the storage of nuclear weapons. Building numbers referred to in this note correspond with those in the original site report (Cocroft 1998).
Forward Ammunition Supply Depot Barnham (S6).

February 2017. 'Brecks from Above' and Breckland National Mapping Programme.
The site of the First and Second World War and Cold War military establishment at Barnham Camp is visible on aerial photographs (S7-S13). The site was used as a temporary camp and training ground during the First World War and then as a major munitions store, including for chemical weapons, and as a filling station for mustard gas bombs in the Second World War. In the 1950s it became a store for atomic bombs, and the pentagonal compound and structures associated with this phase of use are the most prominent survival at the site.

The Cold War components of the site have not been mapped individually, as it was felt that these will be sufficiently recorded by military records and modern map evidence (see S14, for example). It was felt that the evidence on the historic aerial photographs relating to the First and Second World War activity at the site – of which less coherent remains exist – would be better recorded as part of this survey. The recording of individual overlapping military phases is not within the project scope, however this could be considered as a separate project.

It is worth noting that within the perimeter of the camp are several areas of possible earthworks and ‘disturbed’ ground. It is assumed that the majority of these relate to the numerous phases of military activity, training and activity at the site, but there remains a possibility that the some of the earthworks could relate to the pre-20th century use of the heath and the Little Ouse Valley.

Evidence for the First World War use of the site is limited. An undated, but potentially 1920s aerial photograph (S7) shows remains of tracks and the location of former temporary structures within the northern part of the site and around Aughton Spinney. These traces are faint and fragmentary and have not been mapped. Some huts in the eastern part of the site during the 1940s appear to be of First World War date. To the northwest of the Spinney a bunker or defensive position (BNH 113) has possibly been dug into an existing post medieval bank (BNH 053; although this may be a post medieval feature, see record for discussion). A large area of First World War practice trenches is visible as faint traces in the 1940s (S9)-(S10) and 1950s (S11) largely to the west of the Spinney and central plantation belt, and to lesser extent to the east. They make up a system of front line, support and communication trenches and a number of defensive positions. Other First World War trenches may exist within the rough ground, but obscured by vegetation, or within the wooded areas. Fragments of these trenches only show on a relatively small number of the aerial photographs due to the differing levels of vegetation cover and it is suspected that they are more extensive than the brief assessment of the aerial photographs indicates. The identification of them is also made problematic by the presence of earthworks and vegetation marks relating to periglacial ‘patterned ground’ features. Scrutiny of Google Earth imagery would suggest that some elements of these trenches survive as earthworks. Recent aerial photographs show some trenches to southwest of the pentagonal atomic bomb storage facility surviving (S12). A small rifle range to the south of the Spinney may also have originated during the First World War, but continued in use during the Second World War.

The site was used mainly as a munitions storage and production site in the Second World War. Only the main structural elements, railway sidings and access roads of the Second World War site have been mapped to allow for the layout of the site to be ascertained. The majority of individual structures and defences have been omitted from the mapping but are depicted on readily accessible historical sources (S14, for example). The eastern and northern parts of the site consist of a looped network of access roads leading to bomb storage areas. Three main compounds are visible surrounded by blast walls, into which a railway siding approaches form the main line to the southeast. Only the western of these survives on the ground to any extent. A further chain of blast wall protected stores alongside another railway track are located to the east. Numerous pillboxes, gun emplacements and other defences protect the site; key parts of this defensive system have been included in the mapping, in particular the pillboxes, a combination of larger type 23s and type 22. Recent Google Earth imagery (S13) suggests that most of these survive, but obscuring tree and/or vegetation cover has resulted in some uncertainty in a few instances. Some are recorded individually (for example BNH 71-73).

The atomic bomb storage facilities were constructed in 1953 and are first visible on aerial photographs from 1956 (S11). Its layout and surviving structures are still clearly visible on modern Google Earth imagery (S13).
S. Horlock (Norfolk Historic Environment Service), 22nd February 2017.

Sources/Archives (16)

  • --- Unpublished document: Cocroft, W. and Adams, A.. 1998. Cold War Project Survey Report RAF Barnham.
  • <S1> (No record type): OS, APs 67 065 026 & 031, 1967.
  • <S2> (No record type): UK of GB & N Ireland Declaration of past activities relating to its former offensive chemical weapon.
  • <M2> Unpublished document: Suffolk Archaeological Service. Parish file. Parish file: (S2)(S3).
  • <S3> (No record type): Airfield Research Group, Airfield Review, November 1989, ill.
  • <S4> Digital archive: English Heritage. 2001. Cold War Monuments: an assessment by the Monuments Protection Programme.
  • <S5> Unpublished document: Cocroft, W, D., and Gregory, D.. 2011. Documentary Analysis of sources in the National Archieves: RAF Barnham Special Storage Site.
  • <S6> Digital archive: June 2012. List of sites recorded by Pillbox Study Group. Site ID: e27242.
  • <S7> Oblique Aerial Photograph: Oblique aerial photograph. CCC 11752/1555 XX-XXX-XXXX (HEA Laser Copy).
  • <S8> Vertical Aerial Photograph: Vertical aerial photograph. US/7GR/LOC348 FS 2212-2213 27-MAY-1944 (HEA Laser Copy).
  • <S9> Vertical Aerial Photograph: Vertical aerial photograph. RAF/106G/LA/129 FP 1097-1098 14-FEB-1945 (HEA Original Print).
  • <S10> Vertical Aerial Photograph: Vertical aerial photograph. RAF/CPE/UK/1801 RS 4287-4289 25-OCT-1946 (HEA Original Print).
  • <S11> Vertical Aerial Photograph: Vertical aerial photograph. RAF/540/1778 F21 0127-0129 16-JAN-1956 (HEA Original Print).
  • <S12> Oblique Aerial Photograph: Oblique aerial photograph. NMR 15897/12-14 09-MAR-1998 (HEA Original Print).
  • <S13> Vertical Aerial Photograph: Vertical aerial photograph. EARTH.GOOGLE.COM 25-JUL-2008 ACCESSED 18-SEP-2013 (Digital).
  • <S14> Web Page:

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Record last edited

Apr 28 2020 1:44AM

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