Performance – Dead Air (Ghost of Orford Ness)


Alistair Gentry, 2016.

Orford Ness is the former military testing site on the Suffolk coast. In the 1930s it was one of the places where the technology that became known as RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging, now normalised as an actual word, “radar”) was developed, then it was a base for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, and finally it was a powerful radio installation responsible until 2012 for broadcasting the BBC World Service to Europe. It’s now owned by the National Trust. Access is severely restricted and visitor numbers are strictly controlled because of the danger from unexploded munitions, and to protect an extremely rare and fragile habitat of vegetated shingle. It’s also situated on a long spit that has to be accessed by boat. As you’ll see from the pictures, probably the only way to describe it if you’ve not been there is as a kind of temperate maritime desert. I was there on an extremely rare hot, dry and sunny day when you could walk around without being blown over sideways.

The so-called “pagodas” seen here are actually ordnance (including nuclear ordnance) testing bunkers. The pillars were designed to collapse or be deliberately blown out in the event of an uncontrollable accident, causing the concrete roof or lid to fall into the pit below and seal it, thereby permanently entombing anything dangerous, along with any personnel who couldn’t escape in time.


Pagodas of the former WWII and Cold War weapons testing facility at Orford Ness, Suffolk, UK in a photo taken by me in 2012.

Read my 2012 blog post about Orford Ness here.