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The Marconi Research Centre

Page history last edited by Alan Hartley-Smith 4 years, 3 months ago






Comment from Bernard de Neumann


The name Marconi definitely carried a cachet with it. When I was in Vancouver, BC, more than a few years ago, I met a manager from Mack Trucks who asked where I worked, and when I said "Marconi Research in England", he said "Wow, that's like working for Rolls Royce in my business!" He was very impressed.

[Editors note - this entry has been compiled mostly from extracts from G.D. Speake's paper - see link in the following entry - and other sources.]


Foundation to completion of the Baddow site pre-WW2

The seed from which the Marconl Research Laboratories (now the Marconl Research Centre, a unit of GEC Research Limited) were to grow came from the grounds of the Villa Griffone, near Bologna, where the young Marconi carried out his first experiments on the generation and transmission of wireless waves. Their existence had been predicted by pioneers such as Hertz, Lodge and Branly, but their potential for use ln communication and later in radio and television broadcasting was only established by many years of disciplined research by Marconi and others of his generation.


Marconi formed his company in London in 1897 with the name the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company, changed some three years later to Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company. For some years the research work was carried by Marconi himself with a number of colleagues amongst whom were C.S. Franklin, Captain H.J. Round and Dr J.A. Fleming (later Slr Ambrose Fleming), who was Scientific Adviser to the Company from 1900 until his retirement in 1931. All three were prolific inventors and many patents were registered in their names. Some appreciation of their contribution to the development of the Company in lts early years may be obtained from W.J. Bakers "A History of the Marconi Company" published by Methuen.


[Editors note - there is mention of a Broomfield Research Station, later known as Pottery Lane, established as a receiving station in 1903 and which by 1911 was a research station and part of the Marconi Apprentice Training Centre. In 1912 it consisted of a single hut and several aerials on masts.]


In 1912 a Research Department was formally constituted under Franklin in a small building near to the Company's Hali Street works in Chelmsford, but with the outbreak of the First World War it came under the direction of the Admiralty, to whom all the Company's activities were largely devoted until 1919. In 1921 the Research Department was reconstituted, this time under the direction of Captain Round, but the decision was taken to form a separate Research Department under Franklin, perhaps an indication that great minds do not always think alike!


In 1916 Marconi had carried out some early experiments on the generation and propagation of short waves and the topic was regarded as of such importance that Franklin and his small team were asked to devote most of their attention to it. In 1919 T.L. Eckersley, who was to become one of the world's foremost experts in the theory of propagation of electromagnetic waves joined the Company and the results obtained by his researchers encouraged Marconi to believe the use of short waves was practicable. Practical research carried out by Franklln and others confirmed (and often anticipated!) the theoretical predictions. A link using a wavelength of 15 metres was established between Hendon and Birmlngham ln the early l920s, and in 1923 signals radiated from Poldhu in Cornwall were received on Marconi's yacht Elettra ln the South Atlantic, on a wavelength of 97 metres and less. That this was possible, in spite of the fact that (as we now know) the experimenters were not using the optimum frequencies to achieve mlnlmum path attenuation, was due to the systematic research work which they had carried out on r.f. power generation and on antenna configurations. In 1924 the company received a contract from the Post Office and successfully put a worldwide system (the Empire system) into operation.


In 1930 a Television Research group was formed and in l931 research was formally separated from development, with the appointment of H.M. Dowsett as Research Manager. Dowsett was succeeded by J.G. Robb in 1935 and the following year the decision was taken to draw together the various research teams, located in and around Chelmsford, into a single laboratory and a site was purchased at Great Baddow, sufficiently far from possible sources of electrical interference to permit research work to be carried out on the detection and amplification of very small signals.


Building work began ln 1937 and as it progressed through 1938 research staff were brought from other sites in and around Chelmsford, some into temporary hutted accommodation and others into the new building as areas were made available for occupation. (The hut occupied by Eckersley and his propagation team in 1938 is still in use by the current generation of propagation specialists in 1985!)


Completion of the buildings permitted the integration on one site and under the direction of Robb, of a number of previously scattered units engaged on a variety of research activities. These included a telephone laboratory primarily concerned with audio research, and led by Murphy who was later lost at sea when his ship was sunk by enemy action. Other teams were involved ln propagation, low noise receivers, radio direction finding, television and specialist component studies, the latter including quartz crystal development and gas discharge devices. Most of these were of potential importance in wartime and it was not surprising therefore that very soon after the commencement of hostilities in 1939 the laboratories disappeared under camouflage netting and came again under the control of the fighting services.


Interpolation - a reminiscence of the war years

Post-WW2 to the end of GEC ownership
In 1946 the Marconi Company was acquired by the English Electric Company (EE) and this brought Dr. Eric Eastwood to the Research Laboratories in 1948, as Deputy to R J. Kemp who had succeeded Robb as Chief of Research. His first major task was a study of the UK ground radar defence system carried out on behalf of the RAF. Most of his recommendations were accepted by the Air Ministry and much of the redesign and manufacture was entrusted to what later became the Radar Division.


The advent of the transistor in 1948 revolutionised the electronics industry and, by 1951, Dr. Eastwood had established a semi-conductor research laboratory which began to grow germanium crystals and study doping techniques. By the late 1950s the semi-conductor laboratory had extended its skills to the uses of silicon and gallium arsenide.


In 1954 Dr. Eastwood was appointed Chief of Research.  D.G. Speake was given direction of a new Vacuum Physics Section.


Major expansion in activities at the laboratories took place during the 1950s and a new two-storey building was completed in 1958. This meant that the Director had at his disposal a considerable technical force, probably unrivalled in the UK in terms of its breadth of experience and capability. The laboratories were often approached when new national projects, demanding outstanding technical capabilities were being considered.


In 1962 D.G. Speake succeeded Dr. Eastwood as Chief of Research when the latter became Director of Research for the English Electric Group.


In 1965 a major re-organisation of the Marconi Company took place. Radar development, which had been absorbed into the research laboratories under Dr. Eastwood's direction, was devolved again to the Radar Division, it becoming responsible for its own development but calling upon the central laboratories for research. Technical Managers from the research laboratories were transferred out to set up Microelectronics, Space, Radar and Automation Divisions. Thus the size, composition and terms of reference of the laboratories were considerably changed, with the main emphasis thereafter being on research and on the  provision of certain specialised services, notably the electrical design of antennas. D.G. Speake became Director of Research.


Following the transfer of the entire semi-conductor team to the Microelectronics Division a small team composed almost entirely from newly recruited graduates was set up under the direction of D.W.G. Byatt to study materials other than silicon. By 1967 work was in progress on III-V semi-conductor materials, on chalcogenide glasses and on liquid crystal displays. Over several years many displays were made against specific requirements, often for the MOD but also for Marconi Divisions and for civil customers. A particular strength was built up in high intensity light emitting diodes arranged in configurations to meet an operational need, a good example being the display of data from a runway approach radar in an airfield control tower where the ambient light level is often very high. A prototype system was successfully installed at Gatwick Airport in 1972.


The Microcircuit Assembly Techniques (MAT) Laboratory was also set up in 1965. Its initial purpose was to carry out research into interconnection techniques appropriate to the microelectronic packages which were now becoming commonplace in electronic circuitry. Amongst the techniques studied were printed circuit boards, "thin" evaporated films and "thick" printed films, soldering, welding and electro-deposition.


In 1968 P.S. Brandon took over management of the laboratories, and in addition the merger of General Electric and English Electric companies brought the two previously competing research laboratories at Wembley and Baddow into partnership.


In 1970 D.G. Speake, now Technical Director of the Marconi Group, returned to Baddow to also act as Director of the Laboratories.

In 1982 Dr. J.C. Williams took over as Director of Research.


The link became even closer in 1985 when GEC Research Limited was launched under the direction of Dr. Williams, drawing together as one company the Marconi Research Centre, Hirst Research Centre and the two GEC Engineering Research Centres at Whetstone and Stafford. [Editors note - two more names have come to light as being associated with the Centre after Dr.Williams - W.J.R ("Nobby") Clark from Basildon and Mike Ginn. Can anyone provide more details].


Although successful as an enterprise the decision was taken in 1988 to dissolve GEC Research and the Marconi Research Centre became primarily the central applied research and development resource to the GEC-Marconi Companies. These companies offered challenges for the application of technology and inventiveness from microcircuits to warships; from infra-red sensors to surveillance radar; from hand-held communications to earth-observing satellites; from micro-manipulation to control of the world's latest civil transport system. In 1989 the GEC-Marconi Research Centre's Director was J.M.Colston 


1992 saw another change in the management of the Centre. With the formation of Marconi Radar and Control Systems Limited, and the decision to erect a new building to house part of the Radar Systems Division on the Great Baddow site, the Centre now reported to the Director of the Radar Systems Division, D. A. Overton, but this did not affect the independence of the Research Laboratories. [Editors note - the Radar move never took place, instead it went to Eastwood House in New Street]


The wide experience and expertise of the skilled Marconi Research Centre employees was unique within GEC and enabled the most flexible and inventive solutions for the benefit and competitive advantage of all GEC Companies.


The Successors

In 1999 the Research Centre became part of BAE Systems and is now known as the AI Laboratories and up to date continues to provide the same type of services albeit on a different scale.



The Marconi Research Centre - Great Baddow, Essex

This very important paper written by David Speake in 1985 is a detailed exposition of the research carried out within the Marconi Company, ranging from Marconi's own work in 1897 right through to the Marconi Research Centre within the GEC Laboratories.


It shows the extremely wide range of theoretical research and practical work carried out for "blue sky" investigations of potential development assets for the company, for the complete gamut of requirements presented by the divisions of the companies, related to the science and technology of communications and radar, and also for many external organisations during peace and war, and is a testimony to the remarkable capability, probably unique in British industry, which the Company possessed.


To quote Sir Eric Eastwood " Baddow was the Mecca of research".


[Editors note: The paper is 63 pages long and is therefore a large file  - to ease download time this set of links is to each of four parts 1234.]


This is slightly later article from the GEC REview

Wikipedia entry


Location and Facilities




Address:                West Hanningfield Road, Great Baddow

Location:               TL 728 038

Links:                  SMR 15672   Plan of site   Other Wiki pages    CH Tower    Pastscape      Wikipedia

Site Type:              MultipleUse

Dates:                    1937 - present

Current State:        Extant and still in use by BAE Systems.[Editors note - see The End}

Divisions:              Broadcast, Radar, Microelectronic,



Research facilities. Site was purchased in 1937 and operating by March 1939. The main office block is built of brick, two storeys, with a projecting central entrance with some limestone details. It appears that some structures on the site were referred to as Buildings and others as Blocks (eg A Building and M Block). No reason for this is known.


A Building

Built in 1938 it was  the first permanent building on the site (the first was a wooden hut used for TV development where D block is now. It became the carpenter's shop before being dismantled)


During WW2 the car park end (the north end) was devoted to the manufacture of special valves, magnetrons, and quartz crystals. Latterly magnetrons went to Waterhouse Lane.


The other end (the south end) housed on the ground floor a selection of laboratories (details in the RMS note on Baddow in 1942), the Drawing Office, Chemistry lab, the Library, and the Patents Department evacuated from London  The upper floor was used for admin offices, magnetron testing and Theoretical sciences (Mathematics). Propagation prediction and the Interservice Bureau.


At the time of the plan, most of the north end was devoted to microelectronics research and associated techniques. The rest of this end and the south end was almost exclusively radar.


The spur to the west originally housed the stores, two canteens and the workshop, which was about half the length shown. At the time of the plan it was all workshops.


There were many moves between WW2 and the time of the plan. Too many to list. The plan does not show the building attached to the north end which housed the Deuce computer, moved from the drawing office space.. The computer staff occupied the space that was the D.O and the library, which was moved temporarily to the canteen. 


B Building

 Built to deal with the expansion of research activities and to house the drawing office which occupied the whole of the north end upper floor.  Physics, Communications, Radar and Materials research labs were established, (see the article on Baddow by David Speake).


This use continued to the time of the plan.  Much changed when radar moved out.


C Building

 For a period Room 100 in A block was used to house an IBM computer.  The replacement outgrew the space and the lower floor of C block became the computer building.  The upper floor was for a period one of the radar development labs.


D Block

 Second-hand buildings used as offices by radar, engineering services and patents


E Block

 Sheet metal shop.  Built as an air raid shelter. (RWS - I slept in it on many nights).


F Block

 The modulator building built to develop and test the proposed large L-Band klystron for new radar. The building has a lead lined cellar to keep the X-rays in. Subsequently used for radar research


G Block

 Built as the garage for the cars of senior staff. Became a store.


H Building

 Known as the high voltage lab. Built at the time of Blue Streak, then used for Type 11 work and then with the transfer of RDG from Broomfield was the home of all Radar Transmitter Engineering until the move to Crompton’s


J Block

 The Winkle hut. Moved from Bard Hill to continue the passive detection work. Subsequently used for a variety of purposes from Quality assurance to the GEC archives.


K Block

Built to house the expansion of the microwave work and opened by a government minister. This did not last. Became the home of the Marconi archives until they went to Oxford 


L Block

 The last home for the library


M Block 

Microelectronic assembly lab. Developing new methods for use in the factory


Hut 17/18

 A WW2 RAF hut, used by RAF personnel to assemble D.F equipment.  In its heyday during the 1960's and 70's, was the home of the TID Drawing Office. Latterly one end used by the site gardener and the other end as a store


Hut 30

 An old Field Services installation group hut. Initially the ground base for the passive detection work that used the 200’ platform on the tower. Then used by H block as a store



 Built to house two canteens, moved from A block and to deal with the very large increase in site personnel.  A senior staff room and a visitor’s lunch room were also included.


For a period the library was in part of the building.  With the reduction in personnel, after radar moved out, the ‘works’ canteen part was converted into the Telford Lecture theatre.



 The wartime gatehouse, plus a new temporary building



In the 1950s, one Chain Home metal Tx mast from RAF Canewdon was taken down and rebuilt at Gt Baddow for various communications tests and links. It has been suggested that the Planning Committee thought that the request was for a 36ft mast rather than the complete 360ft one that arrived!


Other Huts

There were many other huts in the field to the south of the site. These do not appear on the plan.  Some were used during WW2 and others much more recently, by radar development people.


Input by Ian Gillis

Reading the latest state of this Baddow write-up reminded me that "The Wheel Hut" hasn't been mentioned. As I remember it this hut once contained a large rotating wheel - the objective being the development and test of a speed measuring device for a metal strip mill - it worked on the frequency of scintillation of crystals in the surface of the steel passing a grid. It was also applied, I believe, to a speedometer working on the reflections from the road surface. Does anyone remember it in more detail?


Input by Dan Halstead

Some Display and Data Handling staff (Group C) will remember (the late) Ivor Baxter, a very cheerful and clever engineer who enjoyed many a continental train holiday with (again, the late) John Rogers. Rather than staying with D&DH/Radar Division Ivor stayed as a Research Lab man and I believe that the last time I met up with him in an office in Baddow B Block, possibly around the late sixties, he was working on the design of such a contactless speed measuring device, and I could easily be persuaded that one use he foresaw was in steel mills. I imagine David Speake will know all about it.




Comments (2)

Ian Gillis said

at 9:35 pm on Nov 30, 2012

In the site picture, why is there a caravan behind the Winkle Hut?

Alan Hartley-Smith said

at 11:30 pm on Nov 30, 2012

I don't know - I think I got the pic from the MOGS collection so there may be a note of who posted it.

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