Site Records

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 (SU209002) 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.

The dispersed Sopley Camp is on the north side of Derritt Lane has had many uses over the years. With the closure of RAF Sopley in 1974 the camp was vacated by service personnel and for many years the site was used as an adventure training camp by the ATC.

During the Queen's Silver Jubilee year in 1977 the domestic camp was taken over for twelve months as a rest and recreation centre for the Household Cavalry.

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.

Between 1979 - 1982 the camp was used as a reception and resettlement centre for Vietnamese refugees fleeing from the oppressive regime in their country. More recently the camp has been used as a training centre for the Wessex Fire and Rescue Service.

Most of the buildings are largely intact and in good condition considering their age. a few have now been put to industrial use.

In the early 2000's part of the site was used for a variation of paintball known as Urban Airsoft involving close combat this use ceased in August 2004.

In November 2003 there was a proposal to return the site to forest and in March 2006 Merryfield Park who own the camp began market some of the huts as 'freehold investment suites where owners can reside work and rest' with prices between £60,000 and £120,000.

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

Most of the surface buildings of RAF Sopley have been demolished with no evidence of their location remaining; these include the happidrome, radar plinths and the Type 80 modulator building. The R3 bunker is still in use as a secure storage facility and the guardhouse and associated buildings still stand on the west side of a minor road half a mile north of Sopley village within a large secure compound with a very low mound giving little evidence to the unsuspecting passer-by that there is a bunker beneath.

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]

home.gif Home Page
Last updated 7th September 2006

© 1998-2006 Subterranea Britannica