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Working on an air interception radar system


Moving to Worth Matravers in Dorset
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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Now, that was marvellous. We left this horrible aerodrome at St. Athan and that dreadful winter through the beautiful spring of the Dorset coastline, and in fact I had commandeered as it turned out a lot of equipment which didn't really belong to us, but it belonged to the Air Force. So I arrived at Worth Matravers with two great trailer, RAF trailer loads of equipment and test equipment and I think I arrived there before the main lot from Dundee, and went along with the head of workshops to, who had been ordered there to put up the buildings and so on.

Well, it was... I think it must have been April and early May when we all assembled at this place in Worth Matravers. This remote headland, extremely beautiful and wild, and I was told that we would use... the airborne group would use the aerodrome at Christchurch, so I remember going with the head of the workshops one day to Christchurch and finding out... remember going into, I think, into a sweet shop or tobacconist and saying, 'Please, could you tell me where the aerodrome is?' Chap said, 'The aerodrome? There's not aerodrome here. The only thing we've got is a small flying field, private flying field'. Well, this is the aerodrome we were supposed to have.

I was taken to this place. It was simply a field. It was a field with a hut in it which contained a small Gypsy Moth and this was the place where we... to which we transferred our Blenheim's with all their equipment. And I remember I was a very young and very junior person, and I... I telephoned the director of communications development in London. And you see, I hadn't got used to the... the hierarchy then, and I told him that there was no aerodrome at Christchurch and where was the aerodrome, we could only find a flying field? And he became very, very angry that an unknown young man should tell him there was no aerodrome at Christchurch. In fact, one was being built at Herne, but that did not materialise really for another year.

Well, now, in Worth Matravers, again everything was transformed. We were allocated a small... they were all temporary buildings, all wooden huts and there the entire establishment assembled. We were given a small hut, rather... two or three fields remote from the main centre of the establishment and quite close to the... quite close to the sea, where the coastline dropped a few hundred feet into the English Channel, and it was extraordinarily beautiful there. We... to begin with there were very few of us and slowly during those early spring months of 1940, more senior people arrived. In particular, there was Phillip Dee from one of Rutherford's staff, and HWB Skinner, who had been one of my lecturers in Bristol, so... And there were I suppose three or four others who slowly began to build up this group, and it was Dee who emerged as the leader of this group.

Bernard Lovell (1913-2012), British radio astronomer and founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, received an OBE in 1946 for his work on radar, and was knighted in 1961 for his contribution to the development of radio astronomy. He obtained a PhD in 1936 at the University of Bristol. His steerable radio telescope, which tracked Sputnik across the sky, is now named the Lovell telescope.

Listeners: Alastair Gunn Megan Argo

Alastair Gunn is an astrophysicist at Jodrell Bank Observatory, University of Manchester. He is responsible for the coordination and execution of international radio astronomical observations at the institute and his professional research concerns the extended atmospheres of highly active binary stars. Alastair has a deep interest and knowledge of the history of radio astronomy in general and of Jodrell Bank in particular. He has written extensively about Jodrell Bank's history.

Megan Argo is an astronomer at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory researching supernovae and star formation in nearby starburst galaxies. As well as research, she is involved with events in the Observatory's Visitor Centre explaining both astronomy and the history of the Observatory to the public.

Tags: St Athan, Dorset, Royal Air Force, Worth Matravers, Dundee, de Havilland DH 60 Moth, Christchurch, Bristol Blenheim, London, English Channel, Bristol, Phillip Dee, H W B Skinner, Ernest Rutherford

Duration: 4 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008