Site Name: RAF Sopley ('AVO') R3 GCI ROTOR Station
OS Grid Ref: SZ162978
RSG site visit 23rd May 2000
[Source: Nick Catford]
RAF Sopley was put up for sale in 1993, the original landowner Lord Manners had first refusal to buy back all the domestic site as it was requisitioned from his father. He chose to buy back just the large area of open ground at the back of the domestic site for forestry and agriculture. The camp itself was sold to a local partnership under the name Merryfield Park. The technical site including the R3 bunker was sold for £150,000 to a document storage company and it has been sold on several times since then. It is currently owned by an American company who don't allow any visits. They have recently tidied up the bunker site and repainted the guardhouse in bright white paint again.
In order to provide communication between the controllers in the R3 bunker at RAF Sopley and the intercepting aircraft, two large VHF/UHF multi-channel radio transmitter and receiver blocks were at built at remote sites. The blocks were remotely sited to stop interference and swamping of the radio signals by the radar arrays.
Rotor transmitter and receiver blocks come in two sizes, designated 'small' and 'large'; those at Sopley, which have both now been demolished were 'large'. Each block would have had a 90' wooden aerial tower alongside.
Each site consisted of two buildings, the operations building and a standby set house. The transmitter building was located on Dur Hill Down (SU195013), 3.5 miles northeast of the technical site; the building comprised the transmitter hall, mechanical and electrical room, store, workshop, staff room and toilet.
The smaller receiver building was at next to the old
WW2 bomb dump on Holmsley airfield, a further mile to the northeast
and comprised a receiver room, mechanical and electrical room, store,
workshop, staff room and toilet.
Photo:The standby set house on the domestic site
Photo by Nick Catford
The station was connected to mains electricity but in the event of a failure of the mains supply and emergency generator was provided. This was housed in a building called a 'standby set house' (this is an RAF only term) which was located within the domestic camp; the building is still extant.
All the horses and riders spent a couple of weeks at Sopley in rotation as a break from the increased amount of ceremonial duties in London. They were very popular locally and the experience was apparently good for the Cavalry too. As a result the Cavalry sought permission from Ministry of Defence to take over the site, but were turned down.
The site is licenced as a training and rest camp and a number of huts have been refurbished with all the amenities needed for this. They have newly fitted kitchenettes, shower-rooms and space for use as overnight accommodation for residential training courses or even for owners to stay overnight.
Two huts have already been sold as the first phase of the 27 unit development but planning regulations say that residential use is limited to occasional overnight stays for people involved in training or recreational courses.
Photo:Aerial view of Sopley camp in the late 1990's clearly shows all the buildings are still intact
RAF SOPLEY TODAY
The guardhouse is not the standard Rotor bungalow design; it has an overhanging flat roof, similar to that at Portland and is painted white. The only other buildings on the site are the former generator house alongside which has now been stripped out and is used as a garage and a small blockhouse near the south west corner of the compound which houses the emergency exit. There is no indication on the property as to who owns it and what business is conducted.
In May 2000, two members of Subterranea Britannica were
allowed into the bunker by the previous owner. We were given a full
tour of the bunker but were only allowed to photograph those areas
and rooms that did not show any evidence of document storage.
Photo:The air conditioning plant room with the three cylinder compressors for compressing the refrigerant. The two doors on the right lead to the main air conditioning fan and gas filters. The plant room floor is the 'true' bottom of the bunker. Steps lead up to the lower spine corridor. All the other rooms on the lower floor are at this raised level with the exception of the operations room.
Photo by Nick Catford
We descended the stairs to the lower floor where the main plant room still in excellent condition and fully functional with an impressive array of 1950's plant. This is a very complex room divided into several distinct areas with partition walls. The plant and electrical switchgear is largely unaltered from Rotor days and is probably one of the best preserved AC plant rooms, in its original condition in any of the remaining R3 bunkers, (Holmpton is in a similar condition). The room is entered through double doors and down a short flight of steps. On the right is the control equipment for the air conditioning plant. This takes the form of large electrical control cabinets. On the left are two 3 cylinder compressors. These compress the refrigerant (originally the toxic anesthetic liquid, Methyl Chloride). Mounted on the wall behind there are two cylindrical horizontal tanks where the cooled water from the air cooled heat exchangers cools the refrigerant.
Between the two compressors are the oil separators Number
1 and 2; these separate the compressors lubricating oil from the refrigerant
for compressors number 1 and 2 respectively. At the back of the room
there is a panel showing the temperature and humidity in the system
and various rooms. There were wet bulb hygrometers for this located
in various places in the bunker. In the centre is a black dial this
is used this to select what is monitored and the various parameters
are displayed on the dials above.
Click here to continue the history of RAF Sopley
[Source: Nick Catford]
Last updated 7th September 2006
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