December 27, 2013 | Posted in ARE, Cordite, DERA, DRA, DSTL, ExploreMobile, Holton Heath, MoD, portland, Qinetiq, RAE, Red Bull, Reservoir, RNCF, Royal Navy, RSRE, Underground, water, WW1, WW2 | By sYnc
It was six in the evening and I was hanging, I’d been awake for 2 days and no amount of Red Bull or caffeine was going to improve the situation. My synapses were popping slowly and muffled, as if in the distance….in my brain everything was going 5 frames a second instead of 40 and I think I piloted the ExploreMobile the 30 miles to the final site using Jedi Power alone.
We parked up in a layby carpeted with broken glass waiting for Newage’s crew to arrive, eating anything and everything we had left to try and boost the energy reserves. I really really needed to go home and sleep but we were here and home was a solid 4-5 hour drive. ‘Here’ was RNCF Holton Heath with the sole purpose of exploring the 3.5 million gallon underground reservoir in the middle of this vast complex. The RNCF was setup during WW1 to manufacture cordite for the Royal Navy, it then closed briefly but was brought back into service during WW2 and then after the war the explosives manufacturing areas were shut down and the remainder of the site used by the Admiralty Research Establishment in the 1980’s. The Admiralty Research Establishment (ARE) then became the DRA (Defence Research Agency) and eventually in the late 1990’s the entire site closed down.
Unrelated for this site but of possible interest is that the DRA, which also contained the RAE, A&AEE, RARDE, RSRE became the Defense Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) in 1995 (with other agencies) who in turn evolved into DSTL (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) and Qinetiq.
A massive amount of the RNCF site still survives with many interesting structures still standing but this visit was just a quickie, maybe one day we will return.
We fought our way through gorse and other thick undergrowth to spend and hour shooting the pair of resi’s, both curiously of slightly different design before staggering back to the ExploreMobile and pointing it north, finally getting home just before midnight.
Been meaning to hit this place up for a little while, each time I’ve been there in the past there was much less water and some rather large rats mooching around inside.
In fact on my first visit one dark night I waved a P7 around and caught sight of a very large rat I dubbed Splinter. He stopped for a second and looked at me before carrying on about his business in a Devil May Care kind of way, he didn’t care that I was watching him nor that I was hitting him with 200 lumens.
Yesterday was so boring after a day of Jet Washing the patio I decided to go back to Splinters Lair with a camera and fire off a few shots. It’s not a big place, just three arches and with much of the original pipework still intact. Still trying to pin an exact date on it, at first (at night) I thought it was Victorian but now I doubt that.
Last night there was about a foot of water inside and no sign of Splinter or his mates, I’m sure he will be back when it dries out though 🙂
We strode out of our hiding place and walked straight towards the waiting van, then in an instant I realised something was not right, the driver was sat with his head down, not looking at us (or anything else for that matter), shit, no turning back now, we were in open ground and committed so carried on. At the last second the driver looked up shocked and said “Where the hell did you come from?”
I knew in an instant he wasn’t secca so it was blag time…fast…
B) Get up close and personal with monster green lasers that were flying around the night sky.
No Photoshop wizardry here and no taking the red pill, staying in Wonderland and seeing how deep the rabbit-hole goes, this shit really happened.
The two beams in shot six are coming from 5 miles away and form a 5 mile x 5.2 mile x 2.2 mile triangle. A total of six 7.8w lasers were being used.
This pair of towers were built around 1975 and are 35m high, the fat one that I topped holds 3.41 million litres and its skinnier neighbour holds 1.14 million litres.
As usual the clock was ticking and it was pitch black but I did manage to crack off the following shots…
Wrong Way Down
If Brick Arch Porn floats your boat then get ready for a nice fat slice…
The 5th July 1894 was the ceremony for the cutting of the first sod in the presence of 2-300 invited spectators and Swithland Reservoir and Water Works was completed two years later in 1896 to the designs of architects J B Everard and Everard and Pick.
Our sole interest on this visit however was the hexagonal Victorian underground reservoir underneath an elaborate octagonal stone gazebo. This sits on a large stone plinth and has 8 Doric Roman columns supporting arches, entablature and a lead dome with a carved stone lantern on top, surrounded by six further hexagonal Filter Beds which cleaned the water from the open reservoir before supplying the City of Leicester.
The sole purpose of the gazebo was that of an air vent for the underground reservoir and is typical of the over the top, detailed Victorian architecture found everywhere at these waterworks…Everywhere you look is red and blue brick, dressed stone and wrought iron!!
The hexagonal shaped underground reservoir is split into two sections which could be controlled independently by way of complex piping and Penstocks, both sides are a mirror image of each other and share the central airvent. This was quite a challenging location to light due to the structure and some ingress of daylight through the five small arched windows, hopefully I have done it justice…
The underground reservoir could be discharged out into the small river behind the waterworks by way of buried cast iron pipes leading to an ornate octagonal Excess Fountain built from blue brick and two small, stepped, overflow channels reached via a dressed stone bridge with carved Renaissance obelisks running over a granite lined stream. Also amongst the woods is a large pond with sluice gates.
The rest of the site is worthy of mention and might form part of a report on a return visit. There is an amazingly ornate Draw Off Tower at the edge of the open reservoir and some incredible brickwork arches forming part of the overflow and huge granite lined Spillway. Large cast iron pipes are visible all over the place and and we came across some beautiful Victorian Penstocks in the woods.
The original pump house is still intact but sadly today is full of modern electronics, previously it would have looked like this:
The entire site is now grade 2 listed and owned by Severn Trent water works.
Also running across the reservoir is the Great Central Railway and we saw several steam loco’s flying across the viaduct while we inserted and extracted from the site dodging the throngs of tourists.
In 1893, the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway received the Royal Assent for the construction of the new mainline from Annesley, 12 miles north of Nottingham, to London Marylebone. The line opened for coal traffic in July 1898. The following March, the Great Central Railway ran its first passenger train from Marylebone Station, and soon lived up to its slogan, `Rapid Travel in Luxury’. However, the motor car began to have a serious effect on the railways in the 1950’s and long stretches of the line were closed in 1966.
Today, the Great Central Railway is one of the few railways in the world where scheduled full size steam trains pass in motion on a double track. In 1969, a group of enthusiasts decided to recreate for future generations the magic and nostalgia of the great British age of steam. Eventually it is hoped to link Nottingham and Leicester.