Site Records

Site Name: RAF Nethertbutton/BBC Netherbutton

Orkney Islands
OS Grid Ref: HY464045

Sub Brit site visit 8th June 2004

[Source: Nick Catford]

Television reception first came to the Orkneys in October 1955 when a new transmitter opened at Meldrum in Aberdeenshire. The Orkneys were never intended to be in the service area for this new transmitter and reception on the island was very unreliable, varying in quality according to weather conditions.

A year later there were only 36 television licences issued to Orkney residents and those that did have sets complained of interference from a station in Russia. In order to improve reception on the island the redundant radar station at Netherbutton was selected as a suitable site for a relay station early in 1957 and with the final closure of the radar station in 1958 the site became available.

Photo:The picket post at the start of the short drive to the transmitter block.
Photo by Nick Catford

Much of the land was sold back to the original landowners but the transmitter block and the four transmitter towers were sold to the BBC for use as a relay station for the Orkney Islands.

Only two of the steel masts were required, one of these was extended to 411 feet. Radio and television transmitters were installed in the transmitter block providing the Orkney Islands with 405 line TV reception and better radio reception. The two redundant masts were demolished at this time.

The new relay came on line with limited power in December 1958 and there was a pre-Christmas rush to buy sets. By December 1959 the station was on full power and there were nearly 2000 licenced television sets on the Islands, about one in every four households.

In 1986 the relay station became redundant when the BBC moved to a new location at Keelyang. The masts were sold for scrap and the land was auctioned. The transmitter block was later turned into a dwelling house.

The two remaining masts were dismantles by J.L. Eve Construction, the same firm that had erected them 47 years earlier.

RAF Netherbutton today

The technical site at Netherbutton is bisected by the A961. The transmitter block still stands on the west side of the road at the end of a short access drive. There is a derelict picket post at the end of the drive.

Photo:The receiver block at Netherbutton was converted to a dwelling in 2003
Photo by Nick Catford

The transmitter block has been greatly altered, first for its use as a BBC transmitting station and then by its conversion to a dwelling. The earth traverse has been removed but three side of the blast wall surrounding the original brick building are still standing. It is difficult to say how much of the current building is original; it would appear that the shell of the building has now been incorporated into the new two storey dwelling.

The two warden's cottages still stand on the A961 and are now in private occupation. In the field behind the cottages there is a blast wall running around three sides of a square it is assumed a building once stood in the centre.

The receiver block stands on the opposite side of the road at the end of a drive; it too has recently been converted into a dwelling. It would appear that the blast wall itself now forms the building and the internal brick structure has probably been demolished. The bases of the wooden receiver tower can be seen in an adjacent field. The stand-by set house could not be found so it is assumed this has been demolished.

Photo:The transmitter buried reserve with the four mast bases to the rear
Photo by Nick Catford

The buried reserve is located on the south side of Northfield Farm house, 400 yards north east of the receiver block. Both bunkers can still be seen together with their adjacent mast bases but only the stubs of the ventilation shafts are still extant.

The transmitter reserve is flooded; the level of the water varies between 2' and 8' depending on weather conditions and the time of year. The internal walls are faced with red glazed bricks. Some ventilation trunking can be seen lying on the floor beneath the water level. The main transmitter room has been completely stripped; even the doors into the lobby and toilet have been removed.

Plan of the receiver buried reserve, the toilet and rest room partition walls have been demolished

The receiver block is dry but strewn with rubble, much of it glazed bricks from the demolished internal partition walls. Both the toilet wall and the crew room walls have been demolished. The ventilation plant room has been stripped leaving only the concrete plinths where the plant was mounted. Both reserves still retain their three flat reinforced concrete covers on steel rollers and running rails.

Photo:The receiver buried reserve
Photo by Nick Catford

The two larger covers were for plant access and the smaller cover gives access to a steel staircase down 17' 5" into the bunker. All the hatches are closed but can be opened using farm machinery. The receiver reserve was entered by this method for this report.

Both reserves still retain their emergency escape shafts with their double interlocking waterproof hatches still in good condition. There is an eight foot vertical shaft giving access to a low passage that runs for 13 feet to a blast door (now removed) half way up the wall at the back of the operations room. A second offset ladder is fixed to the wall.


For further pictures of RAF Netherbutton click here

[Source: Nick Catford]

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