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Page history last edited by Alan Hartley-Smith 10 years, 8 months ago

Roy Simons



Brief History of the Marconi Research Center at Great Baddow


Wikipedia entry



A very important paper was written by David Speake in 1985. It is a detailed exposition of the research carried out within the Marconi Company, ranging from Marconi's own work in 1897 right through to the Marconi Research Centre within the GEC Laboratories.


A reminiscence by Roy Simons


Baddow in 1943

My first impression on arriving at Baddow, was of the building covered in hessian camouflage and the gate entrance manned by RAF police.

There was only the one main building which is known as A Block, it was smaller at that time, as the western spur was shorter than at present.  The only other important building on the site was the carpenter’s shop, which was the place where the TV research staff were housed until the main building was ready.  In the surrounding fields were a number of huts, mostly occupied by either RAF or RN personnel, but others were used by the research staff in the development of DF systems.

The research staff at Baddow were all in A Block and mostly in the labs. To the south of Charing Cross, if one walked down the corridor, on the right one reached firstly Room 121 which was built as a lab for television development and had a dark room incorporated.  There was also a cupboard with a large selection of historic (in 1943) valves, which I suspect were never preserved.  This lab had become a workshop for use by the engineers in the other labs and there were the usual machine tools.

The next lab was Room 122.  This was Norman Lea’s lab and concentrated on Frequency Measurement etc.  The senior engineer was W. S. Mortley, (the inventor of the FMQ system) supported by Miller, Ince, Butcher, and Whitehead.  Whitehead had strong communist leanings and was later dismissed for ‘borrowing’ company equipment.  One seldom got inside this lab, as there was a high degree of secrecy attached to the work which included crystal calibrators for gunnery and radar.

The next two labs. Rooms 123A and 123B (mostly screened cages) and Room 102 opposite, were the Receiver Section under Armstrong.  This section developed the CR100 and CR150 receivers which were widely used by the services.  There were a number of engineers in this section who moved on to higher things in subsequent years, including Morgan, Grisdale and Sainsbury.  There was also Deeley, Samain and Easter.

Then came Room 124 a lab shared between R. J. Kemp (Section K) and T. L. Eckersley (Section E).   Section K was devoted to work on various forms of direction finding equipment from H. F. Adcock to Spaced Frame mobile systems.  There was an RAF detachment of WOM’s attached to the section who built and installed the designs in vehicles.

Two of the people Fl.Sgt Gill and Sgt Felton joined the company after the war as did Sid Cross the RAF driver, who remained a Marconi Chauffeur until his retirement.  Members of Section K included Fewings, (a great tennis player), O’Neill, Saltmarsh, Waring (who committee suicide), and myself, supported by Moss (who was a mixture of draughtsman and admin.) and Joan Parker (draughtswoman) who married Len Whitaker in 1953.  Plaistowe had been seconded to the Admiralty and other members had been called up.

Section E in the same lab. consisted of Agar (the organiser of company hockey, and the owner of an ancient car with a Meadows 6 engine), Whitaker, Van Rooyen, Isted, Gough, (who always shouted when wearing headphones, sang and played the viola) with Tremellen, Millington Prechner and Cox who had offices upstairs.  Attached to this section were a large number of RAF and WRNS personnel, who operated a continuous watch on transmissions using various receiving and D. F. equipment and measured the height of the various ionospheric layers.

Room 100 was under the management of N. M. Rust and F. M. Wright.  Many engineers operated in this large room, including Partington who became Manager of TV in MCSL, Gregory, who arrived to work on a horse and received the wrath of J. S. Swift the site Admin. Manager, Peter Brandon, (who became Chief of Research and then Professor of Electrical Engineering at Cambridge), Ramsey who was a world expert on antennas, C. G. Kemp, Goodenough, Lillicrap, Dawson and Oliver who had the unfortunate habit of turning off his car engine when free wheeling down Galleywood Hill.

On the other side of the corridor from Charing Cross there was a photographic lab, which was, latterly run by L. E. Q. Walker, when he was moved from St. Mary’s House and a lab for A. W. Lay, who worked on Diathermy equipment.  This operated at 45Mhz and hence was a serious problem subsequently with TV transmissions.  Lay eventually left the company as there was no further support for his system, set up LayLabs under the grandstand on Galleywood Racecourse.  I do not believe that this venture lasted very long.

The area round Charing Cross housed the maintenance section run by Bill Warner, the stores under the eagle eye of ‘Yorkie’ Smith and the Medical Room with Nurse Nice, whose husband was also a telephone exchange operator with Phyllis Chubb. (I played the organ for her wedding at Baddow Church and was reprimanded by Kemp for being away for too long)

To the north of Charing Cross, there was a considerable area given over to the manufacture of quartz crystals.  This was a two shift operation, run by Fairweather, (he moved the facility to Hackbridge after the war).  This was supported by a lab run by Parkin with Pratley and Churcher, a skilled craftsman.  Much time was spent ‘growing’ crystals in the basement.

Adjacent to Parkin was Section C (Christopher Colchester) which was the remains of the Telephone lab. disbanded early in the war.  Murphy, the original Section Chief, was torpedoed in the City of Benares and lost.  The Section which included Parkinson, Goodchild, Tweed, Beck, Baxter and others, developed special aerials for warship use.

Next to this was the remains of the Valve lab, the majority having been moved to new premises at Waterhouse Lane.  Banks, Cope, (who became the next Librarian) and Herriot, the glassblower remained.

One small lab. was that of Dr. Fagan, the chemist.  A man of untidy appearance and who liked his liquor.  He collaborated with Pratley and Churcher in waylaying the girls from the crystal section when they passed down the corridor.  He also produced a periodical called the Baddow Clarion, which contained licentious material about the ‘goings on’ on the site.

The administration of the site was under J. G. Robb, (his brother F. G. Robb was Chief of Test at New Street) and J. S. Swift supported by John Keating (a champion chess player) who was a form of PA and Norman Knight (an athletics judge and timekeeper), the Cashier/Accountant.

The Library was situated to the right of the front door (Francis was the Hall Porter) with Mrs Willkie in charge.  She also drove the shuttle service to and from New Street.

One activity, which was kept quiet, was the testing of magnetrons.  This was a remnant of the valve lab. Work and was carried out in an upstairs front office by Oldbury and Joan Kemp (neé Swift).

The Patent Department had been evacuated to Baddow from London, and Nottage (who wore a wing collar and pince nez), was typical of his calling.

Room 9 (the conference room) was set up as the Ionospheric Bureau, where the results of the observations made by the on site service personnel were digested and reported on the hour, every hour, throughout the war. This was staffed by serving officers who reported directly to the RAF and the Royal Navy.  (Later the US was represented by Major Kojan who became a long term member of the Radar Company and became very English in his outlook.)

The west arm of the ‘T’ housed the two canteens (staff and works), the kitchen, and the site workshops which were under Kingdon in the day and Bill Bush at night.  There was a bar (run by Underhill, the caretaker who lived on site in the flat) in the staff canteen, which had considerable use by the senior management, some of whom could be seen moving in that direction at unusual times.

Most of the staff were either in the Home Guard or the Fire Service, some were also in the Baddow Village Fire Brigade and would have to cycle rapidly to the fire station at the end of West Hanningfield Road every time there was an alarm.  

The Home Guard was under the command of Norman Knight, assisted by Sergeants Brandon and Underhill and had regular training sessions.

Others were in the Site Fire Brigade under O’Neill, (I was immediately recruited as I worked for O’Neill).  There were three full time ‘professional’ firemen to provide training and guidance.  Every day the trailer pump was started, to ensure good working and every night at least two of the firemen kept watch (slept) in the decontamination shelter, in case they were needed.   There was actually no real need for a pump as the mains water pressure was sufficient to throw water over the whole building.  One regular annual feature was the ‘Competition’, when all local works fire crews ran against each other, often down the area at the front of the Baddow site as this was a convenient straight clear area.

A Block was built over pond at the south end and for a great many years there was a residual flooding problem, which required the use of a water pump in the basement below Room 100.



Roy Simons



Comments (1)

Ian Gillis said

at 4:24 pm on Feb 10, 2016

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