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MoD Aquila (Part Two)
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Most of the other rooms in this block were empty, painted the cheery yellow and blue colours most loved by the MOD.
Walking back along the corridor and nosing in all the empty offices and laboratories on the way, we found another enclosed environment, although this one was used for a different kind of testing.
Whilst initially sceptical, we were already impressed and this was just the first building...
Some rooms featured large power points, disconnected pipe work, and warning signs about chemicals Iâd only read about as rather dangerous. The equipment that was once used here was probably large, impressive and very specialized.
Blackened door panels and painted windows revealed a photographic development studio. As to what they were developing remains a secret. At the end of the corridor, lone doors lead out to the back of the site, protected by triple-wire barbed wire, lighting and security cameras. Peeling paint suggested that this block had been disused for a while, and cracks pointed to subsidence.
At the end of the block, the corridors were white, clean, shiny and sterile. The buildings were very, very cool; much colder than outside. But despite this, this location had a higher standard of finish and the offices were smaller and better decorated.
Dr. Bob showed us the bossesâ room. The carpet and light fittings suggested a modern office, but there was nothing else here of interest. PCs and printers could be found in other rooms, and I wondered if their hard discs had been formatted. In fact, we missed a trick as there was still power (as shown by the lights being on in the acoustic chamber â another of Aquilaâs still eccentricities that unnerved us a little). We couldâve plugged it in and checked â but we simply left it where it was.
Looking outside, small substation buildings were also subsiding. This wasnât the reason for the closure of Aquila, but the site was rather old and probably past its sell-by date.
A card punch machine cried for âHelpâ as we walked passed. We didnât come to its aid; just merely pointed and giggled at its predicament.
This article has been viewed 29732 times in the last 9 years
Catherine Penfold-Waxman: 8th Jun 2006 - 01:59 GMT
I'm reading the last pic as Help Plan Time. Which is odd, because it's 10pm and I'm still working and I really should plan time better. Once again, machines are talking to me.
Biff: 8th Jun 2006 - 02:28 GMT
What on earth is this. It's really scary and I live in terror town...
jack: 8th Jun 2006 - 04:38 GMT
out of an insane asylum and into the pit of dispair, they but rode through the now empty hallways that once many walked and talked, humans busy at work spending their life years in work that would eventually leave empty walls and halls. for simon cornwell to photo shoot hoping for a ghost to appear in the developing pic.
I.T.U.C.: 8th Jun 2006 - 08:16 GMT
Simon, your site and stuff on Citynoise is great, Keep it up. Im off to Cane Hill, this weekend; following a tip off from another one of your fans.
Jamie: 8th Jun 2006 - 09:00 GMT
Biff: essentially it was a secretive MOD (British Ministry of Defence) testing facility used to test military equipment and god knows what else.
www.mod.uk is a good place to not find any information about this place
I.T.U.C: Can i come, can i? can i?
I.T.U.C.: 8th Jun 2006 - 10:37 GMT
Jamie take it easy. As you'd better make sure you can walk the walk, before you start taking the piss!
Jamie: 8th Jun 2006 - 11:17 GMT
no urine extraction inteded. i'm hot for this urban exploration malarky and no doubt about it
Simon Cornwell: 28th Jun 2006 - 13:00 GMT
Thanks for the feedback I.T.U.C. - it's appreciated.
If you've been to Cane Hill recently, you'll understand that it's no longer the walk in the park it previously was. It has, unfortunately, become a victim of its own popularity.
Shbi: 23rd Jul 2006 - 23:03 GMT
Amazing photographs...i live in Bickley not too far from the old Aquila site and i still remember cycling down to the gate sometimes when i was younger, curious as to what it all was..i never went into the buildings but once crossed the train tracks from Petts Woods and looked at the site from a better vantage point..was an interesting experience...
Unfortunately, despite your great photography skills, I still haven't got a clue as to what the place actually did for the MOD, but some of the equipment sure looks interesting.
CT: 18th Jul 2007 - 11:30 GMT
I am an estate agent locally and have been informed (maybe true or not, I do not know!) that the Aquila site used to have 100' deep water tanks where they used to test-dive to practise rescues from sunken submarines or ships.
VVW: 21st Aug 2007 - 21:30 GMT
I live on the Aquila Housing developement, which used to be MOD Aquila. Your articles are exellent and very interesting. I believe my house is situated on the site of the X-ray block. I have lived in the surrounding areas all my life and Aquila has always been shrouded in mystery.
My mum had a friend who worked there as clerical staff I think + I cant remeber exactly when, but she said there was a huge missile there and that she and some others got into trouble for writting on it. And I knew someone who was a trainee electricion there in the mid 90's.
Aquila has always been well sign posted though, even when it was MOD. right next to Aquila used to be lodgings for hundreds of soldiers to man the half dozen large guns that they had there during the world wars. There are alot of airfields around here but I get the feeling they were protecting something?
The underground water thing is interesting. The other side of the rail track is farm land, public walkways and hundreds of acres of national trust land. There has always been a large underground sewage and flooding problem in the area and I'm not sure what you'd call it but there is vast underground tanks etc.. A sign went up last year that the national trust had given permission for work to be done there to combat the problems.
Hope to find out more and your site has given me a great start. Thanks
David Kruger: 22nd Aug 2007 - 13:07 GMT
Hi. Very interesting to see these photos. My late father worked for the MOD (R.E.M.E.) and would very occasionally visit this place.
Norman Watkins: 31st Dec 2007 - 15:40 GMT
My uncle worked at Aquila for the Ministry of Supply upto 1954 on something to do with anti-aircraft missiles. He was killed in a road accident in 1954 and the briefcase he had with him vanished - very mysterious!
Keith: 8th Nov 2008 - 16:21 GMT
I went to school a few miles from the Aquila site in Bickley and visited there in 1975. We were told that they did testing for electronic equipment that was purchased for the MOD. They offered training in electronics for students who might like to go and work there. I doubt that they had missiles there. I had a school friend whose father was an engineer at another MOD site - Fort Halstead in Sevenoaks, which seemed to be much more interesting.
Paul Davies: 16th Nov 2008 - 19:57 GMT
I completed a 4 year apprenticeship in electronic engineering between
Brian Bezzant (Bizzy): 9th Nov 2009 - 14:29 GMT
I remember flashing an AA book whilst driving out of the Aquila site (I never did it whilst driving into the site)- unfortunately I had to stop as one of the other apprentices in my car had a temporary pass and had to give it back. The security guard told me off about the AA book. I was one of the '64 intake of apprentices and after the apprenticeship worked in RF calibration, the wiring shop, ground radar (on the regions) and lastly the power lab. I spent all my apprenticeship in the "Coed Bel" hostel (the telephone number of "Imperial 1628" is etched into my mind forever). Happy days.
David Marks: 7th Jan 2010 - 03:03 GMT
I attended the apprenticeship from 1972 through 1977, stayed at the old Coed Bel in Lubbock Road before it was condemned! I remember the people there, the old testing labs, the "1 Volt Battery", photo labs. I remember discovering how much the Brigadeer knew about our escapades; even as lowly apprentices they had their eyes on us!! It's very true that the "Deeds" were well respected when it came to getting a job, even in Canada.
Martin Smith (Smudger): 2nd Mar 2010 - 23:47 GMT
I was an apprentice at Aquila from 1984 to 1988 and worked in a few of the sections around the site. I also helped out in the apprentice training centre and the student engineer training centre when they became short-staffed.
Bill Morris: 28th Mar 2010 - 20:48 GMT
Thanks for your great pictures of the old Aquila site before it was bulldozed into oblivion. Nearly 30 years of my working life was spent in and around the place starting as a junior technician/inspector in the early 1950's when it was newly built and ending when I left the Civil Service as a Principal Professional Technical Officer (PPTO) for a new career in Industry.
Martin Smith (Smudger): 3rd Apr 2010 - 22:28 GMT
Bill, you must post the details of your book on here as I would love to read it and there must be many other similarly-opinioned people.
John Rowsell: 9th Jul 2010 - 13:12 GMT
As a small contribution to this dialogue I attach a photo of an original brass or bronze badge I recently acquired. It carries the Kings crown, so must have been made pre-1952. The motto reads AQUILAE OCULO (note the E in Aquilae). Can anyone suggest a suitable museum or organisation which might want this badge for others to se? Please contact me email@example.com
Bob Hutt: 12th Jan 2011 - 19:17 GMT
Came accross this site - fascinated! I was an apprentice at Aquila from 72 to 76 and also lived for a while in Blackbrook Lane when the MoD converted the empty laboratories there to a hostel while the facility at Foxbury was being finished. Some disturbing memories :-) Attached is the class of 72 picture taken in Aug/Sep 76. Anyone recognize anyone?
Brian Ball: 28th Jan 2011 - 22:59 GMT
I was one of the original 'first five' of the apprentices at Aquila. We had 3 years engineering training at ROF Nottingham (1955-1958) before the last two years at Aquila (1958-1960). First 18 months of this was around all the departments of Aquila followed by 6 months 'outstation' at various factories. One of these was Elliott Bros @ Borehamwood, where I started after my apprenticeship finished.
Trying hard to remember the names, Mike Meredith from Wales, 'Ginger', who lived in Lewisham, there was another from Lewisham, plus one other. Mike and I stayed at the apprentice hostel, Coed-Bel.
Mark Handley: 31st Jan 2011 - 20:28 GMT
I was an apprentice at Aquila in the mid 70's and worked in the optics labs up to the mid 80's. I recently walked around the new housing estate and tried to find out the fate of the labs in Block 10, there are now 3 large detached houses over its footprint. Interestingly one of the web satellite images shows superimposed images of both the part demolished site and the part built housing estate merged together.
Brian Ball: 1st Feb 2011 - 23:49 GMT
"there was another from Lewisham,"
Just remembered who it was, Mike Orford. I believe he stayed on at EQD until its closure.
Brian Ball: 5th Feb 2011 - 21:55 GMT
Ok, just to keep it going the fourth name remembered of the 'Famous First Five' is 'Ginger' Hobbs. Gosh my old tired brain is working overtime!
Andy Slattery: 29th Mar 2011 - 07:41 GMT
I started with EQD Aquila, as a humble apprentice, on 13th September, 1971, now almost forty years ago. Great memories and good people, but it all seems such a long time ago; happy days! I remember getting told off for riding my motorcycle combination at great speed from the apprentice school up to the car park and back, but it was a Tuesday night, 'hobbies night', so Johnny Deal had a twinkle in his eye when he spoke to me about it.
BRIZ: 30th Mar 2011 - 10:42 GMT
John Deal? That has just taken me back. What a nice bloke with such a dry sense of humour. He was OIC of the welding shop. Boy could he weld. I blew the fuses one time as I had the arc welder plugged into a socket extension with the wire coiled round it. Of course with the current being drawn by the welder the wires all heated up, melted and there was a loud bang. Hysterical. He was not impressed. He also told loads of war storiies with that dead pan face like the time Dunkirk was evacuated and he hadn't been told and was stuck in France. Happy days.
TERRY STAINER: 4th Apr 2011 - 16:44 GMT
served as a apprentice at aquila,in the late 70s,and then then as a electritian in the 80s.
Colin Prentice: 9th Jun 2011 - 01:37 GMT
From reading the stories from the 1st group of Five Apprentice's, I was one of the last groups to pass through under the MOD before it was taken over by DRA (Defence Research Agency) and the apprenticeship scheme was scrapped. My Apprenticeship was for 4 years and the year below me was the Last intake. I completed my final years under the DRA. I was there from 89-93. It seems that some things never changed. I also stayed in the MOD hostel in Chislehurst, Also drove that route from the ATC to the rear carpark on my motorcycle - one morning traveling too quickly over the ramp between the 1st and second level, taking off and crashing on the other side. I also attended the hobbies night every Tuesday, mainly to make parts for or to repair my Motorcycle.
Mark Pitts: 10th Jun 2011 - 16:22 GMT
I was at EQD Aquila from 1977 to 1981 and would like to see some old friends from that period. There was 77 in our year, but only 2 jobs at the end of the apprenticeship. firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve McClean: 13th Jun 2011 - 08:40 GMT
Considering the number of people that must have passed through the gates of EQD Aquila there does not seem to be a great deal of info on the net about it. I like the fact that the hostel was still there in 89-93, home from home, although I hope that they had changed the warden by then!!! My photo is from the '74 class.
Russell Brett (known as \\\'Spike\\\' Sept \\\'65-\\\'69): 17th Jun 2011 - 16:51 GMT
I can relate well to much of what the other ex appentices say.
Mike Lloyd: 9th Aug 2011 - 11:56 GMT
There is a lot of other Aquila apprentice photos here:
I was in the 75 intake and finished in 79. I had some great times there and stayed in the hostel for the first 3 years until I got kicked out for owing 5 quid in back fees.
Brian Ball: 12th Aug 2011 - 21:50 GMT
Peter Shefford: 4th Sep 2011 - 17:07 GMT
John Slater: 28th Sep 2011 - 20:41 GMT
Just to confirm what Bill said the story of the underground water tank is nonsense. There was however a pool for testing sonar buoys. This was about 12 feet in diameter and tapered down to about 1 ft deep. In the middle there was a nine inch hole that then went down about ten feet.
However what is really interesting is the building that housed the stores, workshop and drawing office. This building had four levels and I would guess in plan view it measured 150ft by 80ft. It was built in what one can only call a bog and running through the middle of the bog was a stream. The stream was put into a concrete culvert and the foundations perched on top of it. This sort of worked most of the time. The exception was at 1pm when a 50 unit cement train ran by the site on the railway line. As the train was very long and moving at a slow constant speed the vibration moved through the ground and the building oscillated. My office was on the top floor and at the peak of oscillation the desktop would rock by 2 inches, enough to spill the coffee over my papers.
My understanding of the origin of the main buildings was that they were built as a hospital in advance of the Berlin air lift (24 June 1948-12 May 1949. Although the site was sloping the units were on one level with a ramp corridor joining the levels. There were three units which in plan view looked like 2 capital "E" back to back with joining corridor connecting the long sides of the "E".
There were many interesting characters at Aquila, brilliant in their field. For example a chap called Bernard Williams invented the Williams bridge which enabled admittance to be measured very accurately.
Matt Day: 18th Nov 2011 - 17:14 GMT
My grandfather Alan Meddemmen taught apprentice electricians at Aquila
Simon Evans: 8th Feb 2012 - 20:29 GMT
It was a very strange feeling to see the picture of the MTF measurement lab full of leaves and the once pristine surfaces of the air bearings on the lens carriers all rusty. I looked after this lab and made this machine work when it was first installed. Sitting on an 18 ton slab of green granite that was originally carved out of the Colarado Mountains, honed so flat that the massive cross bench just glided effortlessly across it on nitrogen gas bearings. I got this up and running to measure the MTF of germanium infra red lenses, developing special targets heated by warm water held constant to a fraction of a degree. The sensors were cooled with liquid nitrogen. that's me in the pic circa 1977 I guess setting up a conventional glass lens.
John F Mills: 18th Mar 2012 - 17:10 GMT
Just found this site.
RMS: 19th Mar 2012 - 00:24 GMT
John Slater - The building you refer to is Block 6 and had only 3 floors.
Gary Smith: 28th Mar 2012 - 23:37 GMT
I served my apprenticeship from 1984 to 1988. After finishing I stayed on at Aquila and worked in the Optics Lab, headed up by Alan Emery. The above two photos are of the EROS 4 lens testing rig. This was used for measuring the resolution of lenses. This all seems such a long time ago.
Owen Baldock: 9th Apr 2012 - 13:13 GMT
Apprentice, 1972-73. Have also just come across this site, nice to see some of the old gang are still alive and kicking. I moved back to Fort Halstead in 1973 to complete my apprenticeship, returning to Aquila in 1976 working in special weapons Div in block3 wing G, returning once again to F/H in 1992 as instrumentation officer on one of the firing ranges eventually becoming the range manager as an SPTO. I also retired early in 2009. Memories are such precious things.
Audrey Perkins 22/4/12-16;45 GMT: 22nd May 2012 - 15:53 GMT
I started working at Foxbury in 1952 in the Tropical Section, later transferring to Aquila where I met my husband Jim Perkins. We have now been married for 52 years. Foxbury had an indoor 25yds rifle range where I spent many hours firing my .22 Vickers rifle. Anyone remember me?
paul primarolo: 25th May 2012 - 09:08 GMT
Wow I was an apprentice in Aquila from 69 -73. Then worked in RF and later Material section. Wonderful time, best was going off to hawkwood at lunchtime and smoking a big joint
Aaron Gibbs: 25th Jul 2012 - 01:08 GMT
I worked at Aquila on and off between 1987 as apprentice up to about 1991 then Woolwich Arsenal West then back to Aquila, Block 6 , from about 1992 to roughly 1997 (I think) and I'm still not sure what went on there!
Adrian Jones: 4th Aug 2012 - 18:10 GMT
Great to see so many familiar names and faces - Owen, you old git, how are you? :-) I joined as your appo in about 1983-ish We used to share a lab with the irascible Uncle Bill. Happy days.
Adrian Jones: 4th Aug 2012 - 18:16 GMT
If anyone is interested, I managed to recreate the Aquila crest from an old copy of my apprentice notes. The quality's not brilliant, but I hope it helps bring back some happy memories
Audrey Perkins: 7th Aug 2012 - 15:05 GMT
More names from the Tropical Section at Foxbury late 50's. Ron Jelly,
Ron Henner: 10th Nov 2012 - 10:37 GMT
Hi to the many names here I know from the 1965 intake and beyond! We had a get together about fifteen years ago. Andy Blake initiated it when he was on a visit from South Africa . He was in contact with Pete Rich who in turn managed to contact probably about ten of us and we met up in London. Not to be outdone by subsequent intakes our year photograph.
Dr Barry Titmarsh: 27th Jan 2013 - 23:40 GMT
John F Mills: thats a name I Cant forget you took me to Bromley Hospital in a small RED Landrover Fire truck when My Appendix Burst when I was in a workshop this was back in 1972? I think. Im now In North Norfolk and working for MOD still but mostly spending my time at Molesworth and Lakenheath/Mildenhall. as I said in another posting Now working on some Interesting projects for the USAF
So Im still about: Thanks John, for that Ride to Hospital in the Aquilla Fire Truck Grin.
Gill: 22nd Feb 2013 - 14:37 GMT
John Mills, well I remember that name so well. You used to organise many extra curricular events such as ice skating at Streatham, weekends at St Mary's Bay and house parties at your friend Martin's home. Sadly I believe he died very young.Good to hear an update of you. I believe you are in possession of the grasshopper from Martin's bank but I believe I have the final relic from Aquila. A simple road sign which now adorns my back garden. BTW I was the blonde office employee, not an apprentice.
Robin Sharpe: 1st Mar 2013 - 21:27 GMT
Hope someone reads this, just looking into my Fathers life. Robert (Bob) Sharpe, who started his career with the MOD at Aquila about 60-65 ?then from there to Kidbrook and then to Woolwich.I know there were other places in between. Dad died in November 2012. Would love to hear from people who worked with him. Thanks. Rob.
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John F Mills: 17th Apr 2013 - 20:48 GMT
Andy Blake: 20th Apr 2013 - 09:27 GMT
Just stumbled on this site by accident what memories.I am in the picture of the 1965 intake second row to the left of Jeff Shrimpton.
Andy Blake: 20th Apr 2013 - 09:37 GMT
just had another look at the photo and i see it was uploaded by Ron Henner. Hi Ron have tried to contact both you and Nigel Taylor but it seems your e mail addresses have changed
Clive Standen: 11th May 2013 - 17:17 GMT
I might have posted my two previous messages on the wrong page (part 1 )?.
Clive Standen: 11th May 2013 - 17:35 GMT
I don't wish to be morbid..and hopefully it doesn't come across as that but the one thing that I have remembered from my Aquila days and has been ingrained in my grey cells all these years was the ,I believe, 2nd or 3rd year apprentice , a biker nicknamed 'Jinxie' or 'Jinksy' that was killed on his motorbike one weekend in 74 or 75?.
Allan Plummer .. 1965 -1969: 14th May 2013 - 06:21 GMT
Just found the site. My God, talk about sending shivers down one's spine.
Spike .. I seem to remember that we were adjacent in Coed Bel, and used to roar back from the pub in Chislehurst on a 1950 5 pound Arial motocycle that needed a good push to get going! John and lot of you I rembember the names, and as a senile old 65 year old can still remember faces, personalities and freindships. Am now a 65 year old granddad.
boring history .. after completing the time, worked in the US for 4 years and then returned to the UK. Worked for about a year, got bored and bought a 75 pound old camper van. My Brother and I then took about 8 months travelling to Australia from the UK all the way by land visititing all the wonderful little exotic places that I don't think are on the current favorites touriststs guides. Mind you at that time it was different!!
eventually arrived in Darwin out of Timor with 9 pounds in my pocket.
f any of you come to Perth, look us up .. We have spare accomadation as in a self contained flat here, and it would be our pleasure for any you to stay totally as our guests if it is not in use.
All the best .. Let's keep in touch
Allan and Alison Plummer
6 Shelley Place
(ph) (061) 8 9307 3973
G8BiB / G3YMZ /G3YMZ/w2 VK2BIB VK6BAP and now VK6APP and still active!
Bob Green: 29th Sep 2014 - 15:58 GMT
I spent a very happy student period at Aquila, Woolwich Arsenal, Kidbrooke and Foxbury from 1961 to 1967 when I went off to join two colleagues from LS2 who had gone to Roband in the Power Supply design lab. I am now semi-retired near Egham in Surrey having enjoyed a life in the electronics industry and travelled widely. I remember John Hudson, John Burleigh, Paddy Parry and used to join in social events at Coed Bel but was living at home a few miles away. Anyone remember me?....bob_greentiscali.co.uk
Ian Bell: 10th Dec 2014 - 15:15 GMT
My post of last year seems to have gone missing so at the risk of repeating myself, I was an Aquila apprentice from 1971 to 1977. I subsequently did various jobs at Aquila before transferring to London (Fleetbank House, Empress State Building) before relocating to Abbey Wood (Bristol) in 1996. I took slightly early retirement in December 2012. I always felt lucky and privileged to have got on to the apprentice training scheme and I look back at those days, and the people, with much affection. John Mills: You were kind enough to 'phone me at home several years ago and I promptly lost your number. If you still have mine, I would be delighted to hear from you again. (I don't suppose it's wise to post it on a public site).
colin dore: 28th Jan 2015 - 15:23 GMT
Just read with interest the articles and comments as i was a 1979-83 apprentice.
Andy Brewer: 29th Jan 2015 - 17:51 GMT
I was an apprentice from 73-77 and then worked in the Labs (Active components) for about 2 years afterward. A great apprenticeship and a great place to work.
Chris Moss: 22nd Mar 2015 - 18:26 GMT
I was an apprentice at Aquila from 69 to 71, first two years of my apprenticeship seconded from ERDE Waltham Abbey.
I was billeted at the Coed Bel annexe, 25 Lower Camden during this time.
I'm sure I remember the name John Mills, also I've seen posts here for Biff. There was a guy in my year that went by the nickname 'Biffo'. Same person? I think his name was Brendan and was a skinhead.
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