Greenham Common Photograph Albums

This is a series of my photograph albums about Greenham Common, near Newbury, Berkshire, in central south England. I live in Newbury, and the Common is where I'm often to be found, invariably with one or more of my various cameras slung around my neck. It's a wonderful and often quite surprising place, and my intention here is to give you a flavour of what it is, what it was, and how it looks today. This is how I see and experience the Common.
If by any chance you've been to see my Greenham albums before, please note that the entire site was updated in early September 2019 with a redesign of the pages and loads of new pictures added.

A common? Isn't that just a big piece of land where people can go for a walk on Sunday afternoons? Trees, grass, bushes, caterpillars? A big No there for Greenham. Certainly, there are trees, bushes and caterpillars and whatever grass the commoners' cattle and the wild ponies haven't yet eaten. But there's an awful lot more. In short: it used to be an American nuclear airbase, until that closed, roughly at the same time as the Cold War was called off, and they ripped it up with big yellow tractors and things. But they left behind many many enticing clues and photogenic reminders of its past. So this is my acknowledgment and thanks to those who, when ripping up the former airbase, decided to leave us all these clues and reminders - and thus left lots of things for me to photograph. I'm not going to give you the history of Greenham here; there's no need to reinvent the wheel by merely repeating what is very highly documented on other websites, and you know to to use Google. What you'll see here is the present, not an account of the past.

It's a popular place to go, and on sunny Sunday afternoons it might be tricky to find a parking space at one of the several access points, due to the large number of visitors. The main car park, adjacent to the old control tower (yes, that's one of the remaining clues and reminders I referred to) can get pretty full, despite its generous size. But, depending on which part of the Common you want to see, there are other access points, most with adequate - if bumpy and possibly muddy - parking.

So, what follows are links to various photograph albums, all my own work! I've categorised the albums by subject, as you'll see. If you find this humble tribute to the Common interesting or enticing then please do try to return here from time to time, as this is a possibly never ending work in progress, and I may well be adding new categories, or new photographs to existing categories. I do, of course, welcome your views and opinions, your questions and your criticism, and to this end you'll get me by email at alansworld {at} gmail.com. And now, let's get started....

Credits: all photographs by me, except for some aerial photographs: directly vertical overhead views are from Google Earth, otherwise any oblique overhead shots were taken by me via quadcopter.



The albums:

The Control Tower 
Point A in the overhead. The Control Tower is another object that was left completely untouched when they decided to rip up the old US airbase. For years the powers that be who are concerned with such matters had been intending to do it up a bit and turn it into a visitors centre - cafe, toilets, screaming and unruly kids, and a view over the common from the glass thing at the top. This work must have started and stopped several times, and at one point it was shown as being on sale (no takers.) Meanwhile it remained securely padlocked and behind stout fences, impenetrable to even the most determined metal thief.

Then, early 2019, work had restarted, and it was finished and opened to the public. It opens at weekends, staffed by volunteers, and there is a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, plus access (via a steep and scary set of stairs) to the tower control room itself, which has been equipped with binoculars so that visitors can enjoy the good views.

The tower sits right in the main common car park and as such will be the first remaining evidence of the past that visitors see. There are, though, other access points to the common, and first-time visitors might be amazed and surprised to spot the tower off in the distance.
Fire Hydrants 
These remaining objects confirm beyond any shadow of a doubt that this was an American airbase - we simply do not use fire hydrants here in the UK. They’re everywhere, all over the common. You won’t walk very far without encountering one. Of course, they don’t work any more, and invariably souvenir hunters have taken the side screw-on caps.

They’re slowly rusting away, and the light beige paint is wearing away to reveal an original brown. I like them; I find them interesting yet wacky, and it amazes me that just about every time I go for a walk on the common I’ll spot one I’ve never noticed before. So here are a handful, just to give you an idea.
The Old Oil Depot 
Point F in the overhead. I call this the Old Oil Depot. It's situated at the edge of the common, right next to a road. In my Google Earth image of the common on the Greenham home page you can just make out the concrete circle at the extreme right of the image, just below the oval running track that is visible, which shows the overall location of the object.

I don't think there's any doubt that it was the point where deliveries of jet and other fuels were taken delivery of. The fixtures and fittings are in excellent condition, considering their age and the ravages of time and rain, not to mention metal thieves, who have stolen such odd bits and pieces that they could detach. Apart from the object in the first two pictures after the overhead image, all the objects you see here are situated on top of a large concrete circle, and I have no doubt that underneath this circle must lie an enormous storage tank. Who knows?

Marvel of marvels. On YouTube, look up videos by IKS Explorations. He has a series on Greenham Common, including this oil depot. He lowers a camera down one of the broken off pipes you can see in my pics and, wow! There's an enoormous vaulted tank down there, with numerous steel supports, all looking as good as new. Do have a look.
The Runway 
As you can see from the satellite picture of the Common on the index page, the runway - or what remains of it - pretty well dominates the Common. Indeed, it would be a pretty odd airfield that wasn't dominated by its runway(s). The old runway was massive, over two miles in length, and very wide, and thus able to accommodate the most massive of cargo planes and bombers. There were extensive and large parking aprons dotted about.

When they decided, after the Cold War, to demolish the airbase, one of the objects they left behind undemolished was the central crossover of the runway, and that's what I'm going to try to show you here. I say try, because it's not that easy to photograph a large flat piece of the earth from just 6 feet above it, but I've tried.

I've included here a mention of the old PAPI light installations at points E on the overhead and a mysterious fenced-off area at the far left end of the runway. SOme would have it that this was where a nuclear device fell to earth when a huge aewroplane crashed. Hmmm.
Various buildings 
Apart from my specifically mentioned buildings, there is a small handful of other buildings dotted around the common.

Here is a view of some of them.
The Artesian Well and its Chlorination Building 
Either Newbury said No, get your own water, or perhaps the Americans simply wanted their own water - the answer is not now known. Either way, the Americans found a deep artesian well and built this infrastructure around it.

What we have is a building in which various pumps were installed, plus a chlorination plant. Attached to this building are an electrical substation, presumably to provide electricity to power the pumps and so on.

Once again, it is a mystery as to why the airbase demolishers opted to leave this installation undemolished. However, those who are without scruple or respect, and whose knuckles quite probably drag along the ground when they walk, have chosen to do their own demolition, and have taken things apart in the substation on the search for valuable scrap copper. In addition, these morons have bashed a hole in the wall in order to penetrate the pump building. I do wish people would leave valuable and interesting reminders of the past alone. Oh well.
Matters Electrical 
Of course, a huge air base would need masses of electricity. An assortment of electrical artefacts remain in place, including at least three substations, through which power arrived at the base, as well as bits of old cable mysteriously emerging from the ground.
The Fire Practice Plane 
Point D on the overhead. During its days as an airfield, firefighters practiced their art and science here at this massive iron aeroplane. Its easy to see why the demolishers chose to leave it in place rather than wrestle with tons of scrap iron.

Back in the day the plane would be loaded up with seats and pretend people, soaked in kerosene, and set fire to, so that the base firemen could put it out.
Cattle and Horses 
Greenham Common is a common in the true sense of the word: from Wikipedia:

Common land is land owned collectively by a number of persons, or by one person, but over which other people have certain traditional rights, such as to allow their livestock to graze upon it, to collect wood, or to cut turf for fuel.
A person who has a right in, or over, common land jointly with another or others is called a commoner.

Thus, commoners have the right to allow their livestock to graze upon it, and therefore you will spot cattle enjoying the place as much as we do. There is usually a good-sized herd of them to be seen somewhere on the common. Uncommonly laid-back and tolerant, even the bulls, they are really unconcerned by dogs or inquisitive children. In spring you might be lucky enough to spot tiny calves. You never know where they will be grazing from day to day, and you would be forgiven for thinking they operate to some sort of schedule. Right guys, today the round pond, then tomorrow we can check out the big lake and have a chat with the horses.

Yes, horses too. There is a group of four completely wild, though managed, horses to be seen.
Antenna guy rope foundations 
At roughly the highest point on the common - not very high at all since the terrain is quite flat - was situated the main communications antenna.

I say antenna because this is all this feature could possibly relate to. Nothing concrete (forgive the pun) is to be found online about this, though one source questioned what you see here were possibly barrage balloon guy rope bases. Unlikely - they are too close together for that.

However, what you see here are all that remains today: the five concrete foundations together with very solid metal loops. Quite difficult to tell their size, but those metal loops are a good 1.5 inches thick, so pretty damn strong I would say.
The Fenced Lake 
Point G on the overhead. Neither completely fenced nor really a lake, more a pond, this feature has fascinated me for years. It lies at a point which is fairly close to a convenient side of road parking spot and is perfect for a quick walk.

On careful examination it becomes clear that it is not a natural feature, but has been formed from human excavation of who knows what. Remains of a road can be seen. The fence keeps people away from an area of landslip.

The lake/pond is a good indicator of the amount of recent rainfall. During wet times it can be perhaps two or three feet in depth, but during a hot summer it dries up completely. If any water is present you will sometimes see cattle having a drink there.
The Hidden Pond 
I flew my drone one day at the common, as I often do, and upon examining the video footage later, I spotted a glint of reflection from the sun. This looked like a small pond in the video.

Of course I had to investigate. Could it be that in all my years of wandering around on the common there was a pond I didn`t know about?

Sure enough, there it was. No wonder I didn`t know about it - it`s hidden away behind dense vegetation and small trees, and it was quite a task to get down to it.

It`s of no great size or depth, yet has a strange air of mystery about it. Like the Fenced Lake, about which I`ve also written here, it`s a barometer of climate, varying between two or three feet in depth and completely dried up. There is evidence that it has at times been of a much more considerable depth, maybe ten or twelve feet, but that would need an enormously extended period of rain, rain, rain.
The GAMA area 
Point C on the overhead. The abbreviation GAMA is an acronym within an acronym. GAMA is GLCM Alert and Maintenance Area, and GLCM is Ground Launched Cruise Missile. The GAMA area contains, within its generous ground area, various administrative and storage buildings but also, most notably, six large above ground shelters in which fully operational cruise missiles were stored.

These shelters were specially designed and constructed to protect the GLCMs and crews against nuclear and conventional strikes. They are about 10 m high, with a reinforced 2 metre thick concrete ceiling. Below was a massive titanium plate, 3 m of sand and a reinforced concrete plate. The shelters were completely covered with tons of clay. They were designed to withstand the blast of an air-bursting nuclear explosion above the base or a direct hit from a 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) conventional bomb.

The GAMA area is far and away the biggest and most notable artefact remaining of the former air base. Yet, sad to say, I can not bring you pictures of anything inside the GAMA area, as it is VERY out of bounds to the public, and is protected under the Official Secrets Act. But most of all, it's triple-fenced. All I can do is bring you pictures of said fence in an attempt to show you why I can't show you inside the GAMA.

In quite recent years I understand that, while still a protected place, it has gone into private hands, and is being used for the storage of hundreds of cars and other vehicles.

Most recently the area has been used by filmmakers. A Star Wars film was partially shot here, as well as some Fast and Furious footage. Jeremy Clarkson and his team recorded some car footage here too.
A Place of Mystery 
Just a short album this one.

Right next to the main road entrance to the common car park, near the control tower, is a short bit of road, which leads nowhere at one end, and to this place at the other. I cannot guess what it is or was, and it is securely fenced and locked. The only possibility I can think of is that it was somehow electrical in nature. The last picture says it all.
The Secret Hidden Bomp Dump 
In my aerial view of the common, seen at the top of these album pages, you will not see what I call The Secret Hidden Bomb Dump - its location is outside the boundaries of the old airfield, presumably for isolation from major installations should it blow up.

I choose to keep its location secret as its a place of beauty, with its ancient woodlands, and its few remaining artefacts from its days as an ammunition storage site are slowly crumbling away, and should be preserved from the clutches of souvenir hunters.
Waterlily Lake 
Just near the control tower, and behind the main car park, is what I call Waterlily Lake.

One of the deepest lakes on the common, this is almost alone in never drying up during spells of hot dry weather. But, inexplicably in my view, every year when the sun decides to show its face for a while, a reasonably large crop of waterlilies appears in one corner.

These pictures show the lake at various times during the seasons.
The Secret Hidden Artefact Valley 
There is a place on the common which you will never find unless you know where to look. I was told about it and went to investigate.

I followed my instructions and thought, this can`t be right, this is just an impenetrable wall of trees and undergrowth! But I persevered and finally found my access point, gathering numerous thorn injuries as I entered.

And there, below me, in a hidden valley, was this horde of 50 or 60 year old memories of the airbase.

There is much more to see beyond what I show you here but you are going to need serious waterproof footwear to get to it, as this is a VERY damp and sloppy valley once you go further downhill.

Please don`t ask me for directions, and you won`t spot it on Google Earth. This place needs to be allowed to continue to deteriorate gracefully.
Another Secret Location 
Just like the Secret Hidden Bomb Dump, we have another secret hidden little place, also outside the bounds of the main common.

There is not a lot left to see here, and it is clear that the only recent visitors have been cows. Not easy to find, nor easy to see a way into the area, it is yet more evidence that the old airbase was very extensive. The visible artefacts are barely visible, and will surely disappear, victims to nature, within the next few years. However, I will include this small album here for the sake of completeness.
Autumn on the Common 
As summer fades away (Summer 2019 that is) the Common becomes a very colourful place. The photographs here were taken beginning in the last week of August, which is quite early in the year to be seeing autumnal colours.

The first flora to start settling in for winter are the blackberry bushes, always good candidates for colourfulness, with yellows, oranges, golds and reds in evidence.
Just Miscellaneous 
Every time I go for a walk on the common I spot something different.

Herewith some pictures of various sights and scenes on the common which don`t really merit their own album.