When Marconi's Wireless and Telegraph Company chose Essex as the home for their fast-expanding radio technology business, a key element was the availability of land on which to develop the various facets of its business.
Education and research were high priorities and in 1937 they chose Great Baddow as a suitable site to bring together their various radio, television and telephony research teams in a single location.
The site was ideal as it was far from potential sources of electrical interference and allowed all of their research work to be carried out problem free.
They enjoyed pleasant surroundings which were being populated with good quality housing – It was a quiet, tranquil environment with a growing range of amenities for their research staff to enjoy and occupation began in 1937.
Initially, there was only one main building simply called ‘A Block’. It was much smaller at the time and the western spur was much shorter to begin with. Another equally important smaller building on the site was ‘The Carpenter’s Shop’ which housed the TV Research Team from New Street, Chelmsford.
There were several wooden buildings and huts in the surrounding fields, mostly occupied by military service personnel although some were used by the Radio Direction-Finding (RDF) Systems research teams.
The first real projects at Great Baddow began in 1938, under the direction of J. G. Robb. The further completion of a number of the purpose-built facilities soon saw a greater integration of the previously scattered units, all engaged on a variety of research activities.
These included a Telephone Laboratory, primarily concerned with audio research and led by Section Chief Mr Murphy, who was sadly later lost at sea during the horrific sinking of the child evacuee ship City of Benares in September 1940.
Other teams were involved in wave propagation, low noise receivers, radio direction-finding, television and specialist component studies including quartz crystal development and gas discharge devices. Most of these were of potential wartime importance and so it was not surprising that these facilities disappeared under camouflage netting as they came under the control of the Ministry of Defence after the start of hostilities in 1939.
Under war conditions
In April 1940, the Royal Air Force took charge of the team dealing with radio propagation and direction-finding, who were being led by theoretical research engineer Thomas Eckersley.
By August 1941, and with the Admiralty Signal Establishment finally created, the rest of the laboratories were taken under the military control.
Production at sites around Chelmsford (like those featured above) continued at full pace as the UK communications industry grew during the 1940s and 1950s. The campus at Great Baddow expanded to include research into radar, general physics, high-voltage signals, vacuum physics and the use of semi-conductors. At its peak, the Great Baddow Research Centre employed more than 1,200 engineers, technicians, craftsmen and support staff. Eventually, and after the war clouds cleared, Great Baddow developed into a Centre of Excellence respected worldwide for its innovative and ground-breaking work.
During 1946, the whole of Marconi interests were acquired by the English Electric Company who wished to complement its other operations which included heavy electrical engineering, aircraft and railway traction engines.
This heralded the arrival of Dr Eric Eastwood (later Sir Eric) who joined the Laboratories in 1948.
Eastwood had served throughout the war in the RAF attaining the rank of Squadron Leader and he spent most of his time on the technical issues related to radar and its uses by the fighter defence forces.
In 1954, he was promoted to Director of Research of the Marconi Company and eventually became Research Director of the entire English Electric Group in 1962.
The advent of the transistor in 1948 had simply revolutionised electronics in all its forms and Dr Eastwood established a Semi-Conductor Laboratory which started developing germanium crystals and studying doping techniques.
By the late 1950's, the Laboratory had also extended its skills into the application and uses of silicon and gallium arsenide. Major expansion in the activities also took place during the 1950s and a new 2-storey building was completed in 1958.
This meant that the Director now had at his disposal a considerable technical force of engineers and scientists. These were unrivalled in the UK in terms in their breadth of experience and capability.
Because of this expertise, the Marconi Group were frequently approached when new national projects were announced, especially those demanding outstanding technical capabilities.
During 1965, another re-organisation within the Marconi Company took place and the Radar Division became independently responsible for its own development based on the research skills on offer at Great Baddow.
Some Technical Managers from the Research Laboratories were seconded to set up Micro-electronics, Space, Radar, Computer and Automation Divisions. This resulted in significant changes with the main laboratory activities reverting to purely scientific research.
Overall however, Great Baddow retained the provision for involvement in certain specialised services such as antenna design and installation.
With a wholesale move of the Semi-Conductor Research Team to the Micro-Electronics Division, a small group of newly recruited graduates was gathered together, reporting to D.W.G. Byatt to carry out studies on materials other than silicon.
By 1967, work was in progress on a varied range of techniques and technologies including the development of new liquid crystal displays. Over several years, many bespoke displays were used against specific requirements, often for the Ministry of Defence as well as civil customers.
These included runway approach radar displays, sited within Airport Control Towers where the high level of ambient light can be make interpretation very difficult. In 1972, a Great Baddow designed prototype system was successfully installed at Gatwick Airport.
A Micro-circuit Assembly Techniques (MAT) Laboratory had been created back in 1965 to carry out research into interconnection techniques that were included within micro-electronic packages and circuits.
Other techniques were being developed in connection with the initial design and manufacture of printed circuit boards which included revolutionary processes such as ‘thin’ evaporated films and ‘thick’ printed films together with thin soldering and welding practices and electrodeposition (EPD) and electroplating technologies.
Amalgamation with GEC
With the merger of the General Electric Company (GEC) and the English Electric Valve Company in 1968, two previously competing research laboratories at Wembley and Baddow were drawn together in partnership.
The link between Great Baddow and Wembley grew even closer when GEC Research Limited was formed in 1985, under the direction of Dr John Williams. This created a single company (GEC Research Limited) combining Great Baddow with Wembley (GEC’s Hirst Research Centre) together with two smaller GEC Engineering Research Centres at Whetstone and Stafford.
Although this was initially a successful consortium, by 1988 the decision had been made to dissolve GEC Research Limited and dispose of the outlying facilities, consolidating everything around Great Baddow which became the applied research and development resource for all GEC-Marconi Companies.
These provided additional challenges for the laboratories who now needed wide-ranging skills, stretching from microcircuits to Warships and from infra-red sensors to radar.
Other areas of expertise included hand-held communications devices and earth-observing satellites.
By 1992 however, another change in the management at Great Baddow occurred through the formation of Marconi Radar and Control Systems Limited. This planned change led to a need for a completely new building to accommodate various departments of the newly created Radar Division. In the event however, it was never built with staff being accommodated at Eastwood House, New Street.
One change that did occur at Great Baddow was a change of reporting structure although despite now reporting to the Managing Director of the Radar Division, this did not really affect the day-to-day independent working nature of the Research Laboratories.
GEC continued to use the Marconi name for trading and the Great Baddow Research Laboratories were subsequently renamed as the GEC-Marconi Research Centre. This was relatively short-lived as soon after it became part of Marconi Electronic Systems (MES) in September 1998.
Present Day Great Baddow
In 1999, GEC underwent another major transformation when Marconi Electronic Systems, which included its wireless assets, was demerged from GEC and then merged with British Aerospace.
This merger led to the formation of BAE Systems and the Research Centre became part of the Advanced Technology Centre.
In 2015, Great Baddow joined the BAE Systems Applied Intelligence Business Unit and became the BAE Systems Applied Intelligence Laboratories.
Their work includes:
• Radio frequency, electronic and optical systems
• Antennas and electromagnetics
• High power RF source design
• Ultrasonic acoustic techniques
• Communication and information systems
• Cyber & Information Intelligence
• Prototype design, manufacture and verification
The Great Baddow site still includes a prominent local landmark, a former WW2 Chain Home Radar Tower which at 360 feet / 110mt high is visible across the surrounding countryside.
It is the last remaining such tower maintaining all its platforms and was granted a Grade II listing by Historic England in October 2019.
|1937||Marconi Research Laboratory - First buildings opened|
|1946||Merger with English Electric|
|1968||Merger with GEC|
|2000||Merger with BAE Systems|
|2015||Renamed BAE Systems Applied Intelligence Laboratories|