Greenham Common

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 five 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.

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 opnions, your questions and your criticism, and to this end you'll find my feedback form on the CallMeAlan home page. And now, let's get started....

First, to set the scene, here is an overhead picture of today's Greenham Common, taken from Google Earth:

As you can see here, the Common is dominated by that runway. Over two miles in length, and able to accommodate, in its time, the most enormous of giant transport planes and nuclear bombers. A few quick initial points of interest:

» Top centre: control tower area, and main car park

» Lower centre: administrative buildings, many of which are now in the hands of private companies and remain in use today in a thriving commercial area

» Far left, below the runway: the GAMA area

» Between those two, a circular and a diamond shaped pair of parking aprons

» Slap-bang in the centre, the central runway crossover, the tarmac of which remains, though the rest of the runway has been ripped asunder

» Aviation enthusiasts might be able to spot where the original PAPI lights were, visible as offset pairs of white lines near each end of the runway. PAPI lights appeared in various combinations of red or white to indicate to pilots the correctness or otherwise of their approach altitudes.

That is the main part of Greenham Common. There are other off-site locations associated with the old airbase, some hidden away and secret, others not so; some accessible, others not so. I'll be telling you about these.

The Old Oil Depot

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?

Various Buildings

Of what must have been many many buildings on the original airbase site just a small handful remain. Here are some pictures of some of the survivors.

The GAMA Area

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, I'm sad to say, I can't bring you pictures of anything inside the GAMA area, as it's 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.

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.

The Firemen's Practice Plane

For some reason the demolishers of the old airbase chose to leave the firemens practice plane in situ - quite possibly because it was just too big and heavy to demolish. Whatever the reason, here it sits in virtually unspoilt glory. 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. Not much to see really, so just four pictures.

The Fenced Lake

This little lake - more of a pond really, I suppose - fascinates me. It’s very conveniently situated quite close to one of the common’s easy access points, where there’s always parking to be had, so it’s a great place to go if you have time only for maybe a short quick walk.

It’s also quite intriguing. As you’ll see in the pictures, it’s clearly not natural, the giveaway being the remnants of a road leading to it. The lake is obviously a hole left when something was dug up and removed by the airbase demolishers.

It’s also, in my view, a fine barometer of how much rain we’ve had recently, with its depth varying from zero during a hot period to over a metre when there’s been a lot of rain.

I’m starting the album off with a short video of the lake, shot from aloft with my Phantom quadcopter.

The Artesian Well and Chlorination Building

Either Newbury said No, get your own water, or perhaps the Americans simply wanted their own water is not now known. So they 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.

The Control Tower

The Control Tower is another object that was left completely untouched when they decided to rip up the old US airbase. For several years the powers have 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.)

At the current time, April 2018, it appears to be almost finished, at least cosmetically. Who knows what the internals offer.

The tower sits right in the main common car park and as such will be the first remaining evidence 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.

A Place of Mystery. What is it?

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.

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.

Antenna Guy Rope Supports

No, not aerial people, but the guy rope securing rings. These are situated atop just about the highest point of the airfield, and well away from flight paths. The four massive concrete blocks each hold an embedded iron ring, to which is attached another ring. In the aerial picture can be seen the central point between the four guying positions which will have borne the antenna mast itself. Nothing remains of the central point.

I have read speculation by others that these guy points were intended to be the support moorings for barrage balloons. I suggest that this is nonsense - there was no aerial threat to the base when it was in use, and anyway, why would you want to put 4 barrage balloons together in such close proximity? Furthermore, there would be lots of such supports dotted around, which there is not. No, they are antenna guy rope support points.

Miscellaneous and Unclassified

Herewith some pictures of various sights and scenes on the Common which don’t really merit their own album. Apart from the last few, which I include out of interest and scene setting of the modern common, most are relics and leftovers of the common’s airbase heritage.

The Secret Hidden Bomb Dump

I call this location the Secret Hidden Bomb Dump for good reasons. Certainly, it was most definitely secret back in the day; hidden, because unless you know where to look you will most definitely not find it; and Bomb Dump because that’s what it was.

Nowadays it’s well overgrown and nature is taking over. It’s situated right in the middle of dense and beautiful ancient woodland. As I said in my Greenham introduction, the old airbase consisted not only of the main airfield, which is clearly delineated, but there were also several off-site areas and compounds. This is one of those.