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RAF Portland, site of Rotor early warning radar station

A Scheduled Monument in Portland, Dorset

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Latitude: 50.5592 / 50°33'32"N

Longitude: -2.431 / 2°25'51"W

OS Eastings: 369568.608748

OS Northings: 73355.974108

OS Grid: SY695733

Mapcode National: GBR PZ.2X6N

Mapcode Global: FRA 57SL.BRM

Entry Name: RAF Portland, site of Rotor early warning radar station

Scheduled Date: 2 November 2004

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021302

English Heritage Legacy ID: 35242

County: Dorset

Civil Parish: Portland

Traditional County: Dorset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Dorset

Church of England Parish: Portland All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Salisbury


The monument, which includes both above and below ground remains, contains
the surviving remains of an early warning radar station of RAF Portland
which was constructed between 1950-51. It formed part of a wider
redevelopment of the United Kingdom's Air Defence System, known by the
codename `Rotor 1'. This system, which made use of modified World War II
radar technology, was characterised by a major programme of infrastructure
construction and included the building of reinforced concrete bunkers to
house radar operators and control staff. Where sites were considered to be
at particular risk, the bunkers were sometimes constructed underground for
added protection.

The Rotor site at Portland was of the Centrimetric Early Warning (CEW)
type and was one of eight examples constructed across the UK during this
period. The site is defined as an irregular shaped compound of about 12
acres (4.8ha), enclosed by fencing. The only entrance was situated on the
western side and included an adjacent `Picket Post', or entrance
guardhouse. This structure was of single storey and built of Portland
stone, with a projecting porch and platform at the front. A single track
runs for about 80m to the north east and led to the guardroom.

The main guardroom is a single storey structure constructed in the style
of a bungalow in order to disguise its function as the principal entrance
to the bunker. It is built of Portland stone and has a curved frontage,
with a projecting porch and raised platform to the front. It originally
contained a stairwell and liftshaft (since removed) which provided access
into a subterranean corridor and led to an underground bunker. Access is
now by means of a ladder mounted on the wall of the original stairwell.

The bunker contained the control centre for the Rotor site, situated on
the northern side of the complex, within the outer ditch of the adjacent
Verne Citadel (the subject of a separate scheduling). The bunker was
excavated into the base of the existing ditch and sealed with reinforced
concrete and covered in soil. The interior of the bunker was subdivided
into various working areas. These included a workshop, radar office,
intercept recorder, tracking room, areas for General Post Office (GPO)
apparatus and air conditioning plant, as well as cloakrooms and
rest-rooms. The floors were suspended in order to enable cabling to be
carried underneath and there was also a lower chamber beneath the central
floor area of the bunker. An emergency exit from the underground bunker
was situated to the east. This included a stairwell (since infilled)
which led to a single storey structure of Portland stone at ground level.
This building is rectangular in plan and situated within the north eastern
area of the compound.

There is a large reservoir situated within the south eastern area of the
compound. This provided the original water supply for the control centre
in the underground bunker. The compound also housed seven radar towers,
which although now dismantled, are marked on the ground by the presence of
a series of concrete gantry bases, plinths and footings which housed the
turning mechanisms. There are also the foundations of an American radar
platform and some associated building platforms within the compound which
are all included within the scheduling.

The modern telecommunications mast and associated structures situated in
the north east area, along with the modern buildings within the central
western area are all excluded from the scheduling, although the ground
beneath them is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The radar system of the United Kingdom was refurbished during the
early 1950s by a project known as Rotor. This system made use of
modified World War II radar technology and was accompanied by a
massive infrastructure construction programme. It was characterised
by the presence of large reinforced operation control rooms, or
bunkers. In areas considered to be at 'high risk', the bunkers were
situated underground, while elsewhere the bunkers were above ground.
Rotor period radar stations were of five principal types:
Centrimetric Early Warning (CEW), Chain Home (CH), Chain Home Extra
Low (CHEL), Ground Control Intercept (GCI) and Sector Operation
Centres (SOC). These were distinguished mainly according to the type
of radar used, (although the SOCs did not have their own radar
installations). The Rotor system included 54 main radar stations
spread across England, with a concentration along the eastern and
south eastern coasts, since the greatest threat was perceived to be
from the east. However, the development of more powerful radar
quickly reduced the need for such a large system. The Rotor scheme
was also reduced by evolving defence policy, which recognised the
threat posed by intercontinental ballistic missiles. In 1957, a
Defence White Paper suggested that the defence of the UK would be
best served by the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons and that
guided weapons would be the most appropriate form of air defence.
From this period on, resources for radar were reduced and instead
directed at the protection of the nuclear deterrent.
Archaeological remains dating from the Cold War period (1946-89) are
the physical manifestation of the global division between capitalism
and communism that shaped the history of the second half of the 20th
century. Radar sites exemplify many of the themes of the Cold War,
including the rapid evolution of information technology and the
obsolescence of sites which resulted. These sites are also a direct
reflection of contemporary air defence strategy. The bunkers at
Rotor sites were among the first structures in England to be designed
to accommodate computers. Other significant and distinctive features
included the suspended floors; beneath which cabling could be
carried, and large and complex air conditioning systems to remove the
heat generated by the electronic valves used in the early control
consoles. Rotor sites also reflect the influence of pre-war and
wartime German military architecture on post-war design, with for
example, the use of bungalow-like guardrooms and generator buildings
resembling chapels.
There were 54 radar stations within the Rotor scheme in England, of
which about 35 were new constructions. There are now only eight
surviving examples known nationally, a small group which serve to
illustrate the different aspects of technological changes and
developments throughout the Cold War.

The remains of RAF Portland represent the only example of a Rotor
Centrimetric Early Warning (CEW) station to survive in a largely complete
and original condition within the UK. This reflects the fact that the site
was not remodelled to accomodate new technology in 1957 and the limited
disturbance which has occurred at the site since its disuse in the 1980s.
Above ground, ancillary structures such as the picket post and emergency
exit are significant survivals, as both are intact and were uniquely faced
in Portland stone in order to blend with the local landscape and to
provide camouflage.

These are further complemented by the presence of the guardroom and the
foundations and gantries of the full set of radar towers which served the
site and are also an unusual survival.

Together with the underground bunker (which is the subject of a separate
scheduling) these features form a uniquely complete survival. RAF Portland
is also situated within an area of significant historical fortifications,
including Victorian and World War II defences, which together reflect the
technological and historical development of defences throughout the 19th
and 20th centuries, as part of the strategic defence of a significant
naval area.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Bennett, M, Catford, N, Rotor: RAF Portland R1 CEW, (2001)

Source: Historic England

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