The time now in Ruislip
THE GOVERNMENT SITE AT EASTCOTE - ITS HISTORY
Note from Ruislip Online - This article was written by a visitor to the site for inclusion in an DTI staff magazine in around 1985. It has been very slightly edited.
As far as Ruislip Online, the writer and the writers direct superior are concerned there is nothing contained within it that is sensitive information. If you have any reason to think there is you are invited to contact Ruislip Online. The photographs were taken on 17th November 2005 and all from areas that are visible from the public highway/pathway. Permission was sought to take pictures "on site" but this was refused, and it was suggested that the "Press Office" in Blenhiem be contacted!
It is debateable as to if this is Ruislip or Eastcote but it is thought that the actual site is located in Eastcote. It is included here as it is still of local interest.
If you have any memories or pictures why not send them in...???
Further reading, Enigma and the Eastcote Connection
Local map showing general area
(If you are not familiar with the area the footpath mentioned below is not shown on the map. If you look for the "G" in Government you will see that there is a narrow "road" just below it. This is the road up to Highgrove House but the path runs more or less parallel to it until it gets to Kent Gardens where it turns and runs between the "Government Buildings" and through to The Sigers.)
...................................................................... Article now follows, remember it was written for MOD staff............................................
Many of our users have already visited this site, others are likely to come here at some time. Those who have may well have been surprised by the army-camp style of building we occupy, or by the location itself - some way from London, from a large town, and even some way from a main road.
The buildings themselves were built less than fifty years ago. The forty years prior to that witnessed the transformation of the sleepy villages of Eastcote, Ruislip, Ickenham, and Uxbridge into busy, developed suburbia.
The Domesday Book and the recently re-discovered 1565 Survey of the Manor of Ruislip give us an insight into Eastcote's more ancient history. Wlward Witt forfeited the Manor of Ruislip at the Norman Conquest. Ernulf de Hesdin (Hesdin Hall next to Sacred Heart Church named after him) then received the land (which included Eastcote - Ascott, as it was then known ) at the hand of William the Conqueror, but died 'before the walls of Antioch' in 1098, and the Manor passed into the hands of the Abbey of Bec. After the Hundred Years' war, the Bec lands were given to King's College, Cambridge in 1414, an association which lasted until modern times (1933), and by 1565 120 people held land in 'Ascott'.
Though London was only 15 miles away, roads were very poor and frequently flooded - even the coaching routes ignored Eastcote village. The end of the 19th century began to bring cyclists out to the area, and with them came tea-gardens, two of which were near to where the Black Horse pub stands. Developers began to take a liking to the area - and then came the railway..........
Eastcote station was opened (as a halt) in 1906 and from then till the 1920's tea gardens flourished as Londoners came in their hundreds to spend a day 'in the country'. Ruislip and Eastcote, prior to the first World War, were the two most popular stops on the Metropolitan line. In 1908, the Olympic marathon was run from Windsor to White City. The route passed through the village and past the gates of Eastcote House (which stood between the Black Horse and Case is Altered public houses). The summer of 1911 saw a series of cricket matches played by the Eastcote Institute on the site of the present Government buildings.
If 1904-14 was the heyday of Eastcote as a holiday resort, then the 1920's & '30s were the age of suburbia - of 'Metroland'. Between 1911 and 1936 the population of Eastcote more than trebled. Parcels of land were sold off for development, and the first bungalow was built at the Computer Centre end of Lime Grove in 1935.
A footpath which existed as long ago as 1565 runs from Eastcote High Road - west of the Black Horse pub, through the middle of the Government site, passes the end of the Sigers and ends not far away at Field End Road. This footpath would have run around the back of the old village. Now, it marks the boundary between Block 3 (the Computer Centre) and Blocks 1,2 & 4 (which are tenanted by American military and educational sections and other, non-DTI personnel).
The presence of this footpath caused some loss of privacy to a certain BJ Hall, of Field End Farm (now Tudor Lodge Hotel), who requested permission to fence it off. The local council agreed to this on condition that Mr. Hall be responsible for making up the centre five feet of the footpath's breadth along its entire length - for ever. Mr. Hall, Council minutes reveal, actually agreed to this!
Above, the entrance to the footpath from Kent Gardens is just to the left of the garages
The footpath, where the recess just visible to the right is the spur off to Kent Gardens
|Another shot of the footpath, this time up towards where the MOD area crosses it||Locally stands Highgrove House|
the outbreak of World War II the Government acquired the site under the wartime
powers of requisition. At
this time it was a lovely meadow, with a five-barred gate at the Lime Grove
entrance, and a cattle trough in what
is now the gateway, for the
herd which grazed there. A row of
poplars have been replaced by the brick wall between the Assembly Hall and Kent
Gardens, which was then allotments.
The Eastcote buildings were erected as one of several emergency hospitals built in anticipation of heavy D-Day casualties. Luckily it was not needed for this purpose. Instead, the buildings were used as a barracks for WRENS. In 1947 the Crown purchased the site - a fairly unusual move. From then on the site has housed a variety of tenants. The Post Office used Block 3 from about 1950, and GCHQ used Block 2 and some spurs in Block 3 prior to their move to Cheltenham in 1954, but on the whole the work here at that time was kept fairly quiet. Then, in the mid-1950's the site became extremely busy. In order to move out of central London the American 3rd Air Force came to South Ruislip and established headquarters there. Nearly all their requirements were catered for within the South Ruislip base, but a US Services school was sited on the Eastcote site, close to the Eastcote Road. (According to various sources Victoria Principal, late of Dallas fame, was one of its pupils.)
The presence of the school encouraged the Americans to utilise the site still further, and for most of the sixties it also housed a zoonosis (veterinary) clinic, a dental clinic, a mental clinic and a morgue. The subject of some controversy and much rumour, the morgue was the last 'resting' place of American military personnel who died in Europe, prior to being flown back to the States.
Meanwhile, the Census Office was formed in about 1956 by the transfer to Block 3 of the Census of Distribution from Neville House, and the Census of Production from Osterley. The site began to fill up. GCHQ left, but the Census Office, part of the then Board of Trade, went from strength to strength. The area which is now The Sigers was then a farm and nursery. Staff, both local and from London took advantage of the availability of allotments, and each Autumn a show would be held in the Assembly Hall of flowers, fruit and vegetables produced by Census Office staff.There was, too, a thriving choir, led by a Mr. Archer, who entertained in the Assembly Hall, which was variously used for crafts exhibitions, carol services, concerts, dramatic productions and of course Christmas dances.
The picture which emerges of the site at that time is of a sociable, friendly set of units. The BOT staff canteen was in the area north of the footpath, now inaccessible because of the increase in security. A good 600 people worked here in the Census Office days, and the seeds were sown, in 1957, of the site's main purpose today, by the installation of an Elliot 405 computer. This machine, which employed first generation thermionic valve technology, was very large in size but small in capacity and power. Data was input via Power-Samas punched cards (with round holes instead of the more familiar rectangular ones, and only 45 columns). The first computer project ever undertaken here was the analysis of the weight and destination of parcels - a far cry from today's varied tasks.
(In 1947, under the inspiration of TR Thompson, Lyons, the firm of tea-shops, started - with remarkable foresight - to take a serious interest in applying digital computing to their accounting and office work generally. By 1954, LEO (Lyons Electrical Office) computers carried out 3 commercial jobs for Lyons - the bakeries' payroll, calculation of production and schedule dispatch to 150 tea shops, and the provision of management information.)
The Elliot was replaced in 1963 by the tenth LEO 3 ever built. It was housed in H Bay (thought by many to have been originally intended as the location for the Operating Theatre had D-Day proved more widely injurious), and, being a very advanced and powerful machine for its time, it aroused so much interest that a glass wall was built around it to allow for a viewing gallery. Data input was via Hollerith punched cards (rectangular holes, and 80 columns), and paper tape. At this stage the purpose of the site's computing power was purely for Census Office work, but later the Department's Payroll system was computerised and run on the LEO, a huge undertaking.
The LEO worked on until 1971, when the Census Office had begun its move to the BSO at Newport. By this time, blind programmers were working here, punching programs onto cards by means of brailler keyboard machines. Naturally, the guide dogs who have 'worked' here over the years have become firm favourites with the staff. The blind programmers still needed someone to read the output back to them, however, and this situation was only relieved in about 1977, when it became possible to print Braille at Eastcote on the ICL 1905E. A Civil Service course for blind programmers at Slough College used the Braille-adapted printer at Eastcote in helping to train other programmers.
A new computer hall housed an ICL 1905E, with an initial 32K words of store, from 1969 onwards. The big card handling machines, tabulators, collators and sorters, which had taken up much of the bay were shifted to one side, and the computer was at the back of the bay, where Eastcote 2 now stands. Paper tape punching was moved to E Bay - now Reception - using a new type of punching-verifying machine.
In 1967 all the typing pools except that for the Census Office moved out of the Eastcote site. There had been typing pools here since the mid-50's, employing over 100 staff. They returned in force, however, in 1973. There were nine pools, with 150 - 175 typists. Currently, three pools exist at Eastcote for Insolvency work, and there are three pools for London overflow work, with fewer than 100 typists in all.
Responsibility for the management of the Computer Centre went to EO division (now MSM) in 1971, and whilst the BSO at Newport went from strength to strength, the Eastcote site seemed for a while to be very much the poor relation. Even with the acquisition of the ICL 1904S in 1976 the future of the centre was sometimes in doubt. Rumours abounded throughout much of the late seventies that Eastcote would be closed down.
Fortunately however, from a small handful of non-BSO users in 1971 the number of Departmental systems grew to its current total of 20-plus.
The 1904S was a stout workhorse, and was the unsung hero of several important activities, including daily Export Intelligence Service runs, the major Trade Mark and Patent Office systems and the analysis of Home Accident statistics. It was run by a master program known as EXEC,under the GEORGE 3 (GEneral ORGanised Environment) operating system. This allowed programmers remote access to the computer. Programs at this time still tended to be initially punched onto paper tape, but were then amended by the programmer at the terminal. The Job Control Programs were held on punched cards. The 1904S boasted 192K words of store, (Eastcote 4 has 96 megabytes - 600 times as much) and had 6 dial-up lines, of which only 2 were Visual Display Units.
Various emergency units have been housed at this site over the years. Remote bays have held a Flood Warning Centre (until the completion of the Thames Barrier), and Petrol Rationing Units on two occasions.
In the latter half of the 'seventies the wooded area south of the footpath was fenced off as part of a conservation experiment with a woodland interest. An expert from a Nature Research Laboratory pronounced it to be a potential haven for the Snakeshead Fritallery, planted seeds of some wild flowers, and left instructions for the tending of the area.
1982 witnessed an affirmation of faith in the Centre's future with the purchase of a 2900 series computer - the 2955. In 1983, the 1904S was dismantled and replaced by a 2966. As one of his first acts as Joint Permanent Secretary of the new Dept. of Trade and Industry, Sir Brian Hayes formally declared the 2966 operational. He spoke then of the buoyant and optimistic spirit which pervaded the centre.
most people will be aware, since 1982 the Centre's capacity has grown
dramatically, and Eastcote has a number of large ICL mainframes, the most recent
- the multinode 3980 -being the largest and newest available.
Alas, the Operators can no longer afford to take a one hour lunch break at two in the morning to devour curries superbly cooked by other operators. Gone are those midnight feasts in the company of most of the rest of the Centre, which were held in the room now occupied by the PSS team. We no longer have a netball team - there's no time, but at least we know we have a future. If your prints should go missing. Heaven forbid, don't blame the poor, hardworking souls who pound the corridors these days, remember the morgue and blame the ghosts instead. We'd like to!
Copyright exists on all of the article above and it may not be reproduced or copied without permission from the writer, and that is NOT Ruislip Online
Footnote: - The whole site has now been demolished, houses are built on the site
Views of those that have read this page: -
I attended the USAF school at Eastcote 1954-1955. My father was a USAF officer stationed at High Wycombe, while we resided in Pembroke Road in Ruislip. I remember a large field across from the main Eastcote entrance, where American dependent students played sports, and the school hosted athletic contests. (It has been suggested that actually this was King College Playing Fields, s short walk from the school - ROL)
One afternoon after school, I explored unoccupied buildings on the site: row upon row of long-halled buildings, empty of furnishings, quiet, solemn. I wondered what had occurred there, what forces caused their birth. As I left the way I came, and looked back one more time, their history beckoned even more, and I felt that I was leaving a place of importance. Today, fifty years later, I still wonder about that place. To learn of its history from the Norman Conquest, these are enchanting memories indeed.
I remember as a small boy (probably when I was at Coteford, so 1966 - 70 ish) the place was a school for American children. My mother worked in the canteen providing school lunches and we (my brother and 3 sisters) were allowed to stay in a room during school holidays whilst my Mum worked. We were allowed in the playground only when adjacent classrooms weren't being used.
Later in life, the place became a base for USMC personnel who were deployed to guard the US Embassy in London. They used to drink at the Manor House in Eastcote and it was there that John Harrison, Jon Andrews and myself met them. There may have been others but my memory isn't that good. Time went by and we were invited into the base where they had a very good bar, cheap! which sold cigarettes at about a 10th of UK prices and we spent many a night in drinking games. Jon Andrews taught them rugby (after telling them that US football was for 'girls' wearing all that armour etc.) which they loved and they later formed a team which took on the Met Police, etc. I still reckon that Jon was the person responsible for introducing the Yanks to rugby - he now lives over there (as does one of his sisters) and until recently was still a ref....
I can remember as a boy growing up in Eastcote bits and pieces about the Gov Buildings.
We lived the other side of Field End Road so we could only go with an adult to Warrender Park.
I remember always seeing a guard on duty at the entrance ( I assumed he was American because of his uniform – we also had several US Service people living near us so I did not consider a US guard unusual.)
Now several years on I’ve discovered my late Uncle worked for the GPO there – but alas I don’t know what he did there.
I’d really like to know from a family history point of view.
I worked here as a Civil Servant - my first full-time job when I left Bishop Ramsey/Manor Secondary Modern School in 1977. I would have stayed for the full term of the 6th form but the transition from Manor to BS C of E School along with the merger with St Martins from West Drayton meant that we were not the Education Authority's priority.
It wasn't just the MoD there - I worked as a typist for the Departments of Industry, Trade, Prices and Consumer Protection (Price Commission) in Spur 6, one of the several huts that were joined together by a gloomy corridor. The Americans appeared to have the part closest to Eastcote Road and the Property Services Agency (PSA) were also there. I used to walk there from my home in Ruislip Manor and at lunchtimes we would walk down the pathway via The Sigers to Eastcote, to get something to eat in the Co-op or Budgens, once a week the Wimpy Bar and occasionally to The Manor House pub.
Today (Sept 2007) I walked my dog from Highgrove Pool carpark to have a look at Highgrove House which is a sorry sight, being all boarded-up. The Council never cease to disappoint me with their treatment of our history. I also walked up the path alongside the house to Kent Gardens, a few of the really old huts are still there at the perimeter of the MoD site, but the remainder has been flattened. It was never a particularly attractive property but I will miss it. Always get a sad feeling when something familiar goes!
I read the article about the history of what I knew as the MOD complex at
Eastcote with interest. I worked there from 1986 until 1993 as a US civil
servant for an organization called the Department of Defense Dependents
Schools - Atlantic Region. I was in charge of staffing and benefits for
American schools on military bases in Bermuda, Cuba, Newfoundland
(Canada), Scotland, England, Norway, The Netherlands and Belgium. I have never enjoyed myself as much as I did when my family and I lived and worked in England!
Each year we would take a British person and read about their lives and
then go to visit as many places connected to that person. We studied Mary,
Queen of Scots, Winston Churchill, Thomas Hardy, the Brontes, Henry the
VIIIth, Anne Boleyn and others. We lived in Chalfont St. Giles in a house
built in in the same year that Mary Queen of Scots
was executed. There was not a right angle in it anywhere. I loved that house. It had an Aga and exposed beams and an inglenook fireplace. As a matter of fact, the house had three fireplaces. When I had to leave that house, I hugged its big old half-timbered walls. We lived there when there was the big "hurricane." It toppled an ancient apple tree in the back
garden. In spite of being half uprooted, apples grew on the big old tree the following summer.
One day, the Queen was to visit Chalfont St. Giles. The village had the road she was to take freshly surfaced and all of the people came out to waive small Union Jacks and cheer for the Queen. Our son was at home for the summer and we had a lovely neighbor, Clarice. She and our son went out to see the Queen with all of the other people who lined her route. He tells me that she was wearing a very pretty lemony colored suit. After she had passed by, all of the people looked at each other and shrugged and said, "Well, that's that."
Back to Eastcote. The building in which I worked had a main hallway and
there were smaller hallways branching off from it called "Spurs." For the
first time in my working life I had my own office, one with walls and a
door. I worked with
an elderly British lady, Dora Onions (who died, unfortunately) and an American girl, Laurie Techmeier who now works for the Air Force in procurement. We worked for a lovely man, Jim Singleton, who has retired and lives in New Mexico. The glass in the windows of our offices was very streaky and had bubbles in it so I was surprised to hear that the buildings were much "younger" than I thought. When we moved to England, we stayed at the Tudor Lodge and I used to walk to work down the footpath shown in the pictures. It was rather spooky so I was very glad when we found the house (Old Beams) in Chalfont St. Giles.
Just thought that I would drop you a line about the old GCHQ buildings in
Eastcote. I remember them well, my dad worked there for a number of years
from the late 60’s to the late 70’s.
Block 2 was the main section with one long corridor with twelve spurs branching of to various sections; I won’t go into detail about them. Block 4 was occupied by a contingent of the American Navy at the time. 1and 3 were still MOD.
Access to block 2 was through a large metal green gate which was the side door next to two large wire gates for vehicle access. There was a security lodge just inside the gate on the right as you went in. It was a wonderful place out of the way and quiet, in the early days it was the CESG (communications electronic security group) and the JSRU (Joint speech research unit) all now GCHQ, MOD, Echelon or whatever you want to call them these days. There are not too many staff left that used to work there still in Eastcote. Many have now died or are no longer in the area. It is sad to think that the people and what was the place are fading slowly the buildings are now gone. I will always have fond memories of the area. I still talk to my dad about his days with GCHQ at Lime Grove he remembers them well.
I was stationed (USN) at Eastcote from 1981 until 1986 with Human
Resource Management Center (HRMC Code 016) London as part of (CINCUSNAVEUR
London UK). There were other USN commands there including Military Sealift
Command, Navy Investigative Service, COMNAVACTS London Security Dept., US
Civil Service Personnel detachment, NavCommUnit London Detachment, amongst
During the '80s when protestors were picketing all the bases in the UK, Eastcote was overlooked as it didn't resemble a military base so that was a benefit. The only problem was that a few local civilian drivers used the base as a shortcut, resulting in gates being erected and closed during week-days with a secure walk through gate for pedestrians, and MOD police as security.
HRMC was decommissioned when the CINC moved to Naples Italy in 1986.
The US Navy Resale Office took over our block (9) Wing 2 (I believe) when we left. It became part of the Marine Barracks when the US Marines (FMFEUR) took over the spaces after they moved out of St John's Wood London.
I didn't realize the connection Eascote had with Bletchley Park (of Enigma German decoding fame) until I toured there, saw the identical buildings and also a poem "Oh to be at Eastcote" there about the rotating of personnel between both places.
I never thought I'd see the day that Eastcote and RAF West Ruislip would be demolished however. Very sad indeed, as they played an important part of the local history of WWII. I am thankful I had the opportunity to be a part of RAF Eastcote during my Navy career.
ADCS Bill Thompson USN (Ret)
My family lived in London, Twickenham from 1963 to 1965 and Stanmore from 1965 to 1967, as my father worked for the USN Facilities Engineering Command at 7 N. Audley St near the US Embassy in London. We children, myself and two younger brothers, were picked up by chartered tour buses, along with other American dependant children from all over Greater London, every school day and driven to Eastcote School. My impression was that it was operated by the USAF as were most of the facilities (PX, Commissary, Movie Theater and Medical Facilities) for American military families. I went to Eastcote for grades 3 through 8 and remember recesses playing between and behind the buildings serving as our classrooms in the area closest to Eastcote Road.
Our buses would enter through the Lime Grove entrance and wind their way through the facility, drop us off for the school day and then exit to Eastcote Road. At the end of classes the buses (around eight of them, most in a crème and burgundy paint scheme as I recall) would be lined up waiting to take us home.
I had no idea what went on concurrently in the rest of the facility or the history behind it. That the USAF had a veterinary clinic, dental clinic, mental clinic and a morgue nearby was news to me as was the original purpose as a hospital. Using Google Earth to "revisit" places of my childhood I was pleased to find Eastcote School on the satellite view but was dismayed when going to the "Street view" to see my old school had been demolished. Further research led me to the amazing discovery that Eastcote had been an adjunct to the Bletchley Park code breaking unit and had a quite interesting history. I am saddened it will not be there for me to visit should I ever get the chance to return to England but then the house at 23 Cliffden Rd Twickenham and the USAF facilities at South Ruislip are gone as well.
Progress marches on and at least, so far, our old house at 1 Kerry Ave in Stanmore still stands for me to pilgrimage to.
I lived in London from 1954-57. My family actually lived in Belgravia, in a mews immediately adjacent to Eaton Place. My father, who was a Captain in the US Army, was assigned to the Rootes Group as part of a NATO project to rebuild the trucks left after the war by the American forces.
My sister and I attended the American School in London (ASL) on Grosvenor Square in 1954, and 1955. But in early 1956, for financial reasons, we had to leave ASL, and attend US military schools. We were enrolled at Eastcote, which we began to attend in the spring of 1956. We rode the underground daily from Knightsbridge to Ruislip, and then took a bus the rest of the way to the school. The school was quite non descript, and quite modest compared to attending school in a large and lovely old home in downtown London. The classes were pleasant, and the children were very American. I can remember attending a party or two where we played spin the bottle and listened to beginnings of rock and roll. I recall coming to school on a Monday to learn that one of the children had died over the weekend from some sort of a very deadly virus. That was very traumatic to me as a child. The school lacked the sort of grief counseling and support that we now offer when tragedies strike.
Again, for unrecalled reasons, by the fall of 1956 we were transferred to Bushey Park, which seemed to be closer to downtown London, was much larger, and which we reached by private coach each day.
I have returned to England on several occasions since my childhood, and almost always go by my old house in the mews in Belgravia, but have never seen Eastcote again. It seems so very long ago, and very far away.
From the spring of
1948 until May 1952, I served as a Sgt in a small Military unit within
GCHQ Lime Grove, Eastcote. To-day there are very few of us around that
can recall those busy times. We try and meet once year and share
memories of those days and recall the many friendly people of Eastcote.
Click picture for enlarged view