Alum Bay Rocket Site
Did you know that the Isle of Wight was actually in one stage involved with the production of and testing of top secret rockets!?
On April 1956, work began on the construction of a very secret missle base. The "High Down Test Site", was constructed around the exisiting area of the needles battery fort. It was considered an ideal location to test rockets, due to remoteness from the local population. The Rockets themselves 'The Black Knights' - were built by the local East Cowes company, Saunders Roe - under contract with the Royal Aircraft Establishment.
These 60 foot rockets would be transported by lorry across the island to the testing site, where modifications for the final launch could be carried out. The first test fire of an actual rocket was on 16th of April 1957. Look hard enough in the launching pod rooms and you can still see the existing scorch marks. The rocket firings carried out here at the base were known as 'Static Test Firings'. Every controlled test possible was performed apart from an actual launch.
Once the rockets had past the necessary testing, they where shipped by boat and plane to a top secret missile base at Woomera in the heart of the Australian desert.
28th October 1971 marked a proud day for the British as the first all-British made satellite 'Prospero' was launched at Woomera. It still orbits the earth and transmits signals as it passes overhead twice a day.
The site itself contains many underground surprises, unfortunately - as you can see - alot of the complex is quite unsafe to be in, without a lot of restoration.
In its day the site could boast laboratories, offices, control rooms, stores, workshops and even a dining room - all underground!.
A total of 240 people would work long shifts in these underground caverns. The plans you can see here, are the actual blueprints for the whole complex - 50 years ago, I would have been shot for being a spy!
Although more than 50 years old, the rooms you can access really give you a feel for the place. We felt no active spirit activity while we were there.. although you can feel a real electrical charge in the air.
You can almost guarantee that contained within the fabric of the buildings, residual playback energy's ensure that this missle base is still operating!
National Trust are currently working very hard to restore the whole complex, but as you can guess - with a site so large, its going to be a long job!.