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Fort Halstead is a research site of Dstl, an Executive Agency of the UK Ministry of Defence. It is situated on the crest of the Kentish North Downs, overlooking the town of Sevenoaks. Originally constructed in 1892 as one of a ring of fortresses around London, Fort Halstead was to be manned by volunteers in the event of a crisis.

The base went on to become home to the Ministry of Supply, from which it became the headquarters of the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE).[1]

History of RARDE

Two departments, the "Research Department" and the "Design Department", were established in 1922 at Woolwich Arsenal. During the Second World War, the Design Department moved to Fort Halstead, followed by the Research Department. It is believed that Britain's development of the atomic bomb, hidden under the name High Explosive Research ("HER") was initially based at Fort Halstead, where the first atomic bomb was developed under the directorship of William George Penney,[1] who had been appointed Chief Superintendent Armament Research ("CSAR", called "Caesar") by C. P. Snow. Operation Hurricane saw the bomb conveyed by frigate to Australia and successfully exploded in the Montebello Islands.[1] In 1950, it is thought that the "HER" research was moved to a new site at Atomic Weapons Establishment, Aldermaston in Berkshire.

In 1955, the two departments were merged to give the Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE), which was granted the title "Royal" in February 1962.[2] In the 1980s, RARDE was amalgamated with the Military Vehicles and Engineering Establishment (MVEE) – formerly the Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE) – with sites at Chertsey and Christchurch, and the Propellants, Explosives and Rocket Motor Establishment based at Waltham Abbey and Westcott.

Following the December 1988 Lockerbie bombing, forensic experts from RARDE's explosives laboratory examined material recovered from the crash scene, and subsequently testified as expert witnesses at the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial.

Evolution to DERA

On 1 April 1991, the Defence Research Agency (DRA) was set up by bringing together Royal Aerospace Establishment (RAE), Admiralty Research Establishment (ARE), RARDE, and the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment (RSRE). It was an executive Agency of the Ministry of Defence. Four years later, when DRA was itself merged to form the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA), the forensic explosives laboratory came under media and scientific scrutiny. In 1996, amid allegations that contaminated equipment had been used in the testing of forensic evidence, an inquiry was set up under Professor Brian Caddy of Strathclyde University to investigate the laboratory's alleged shortcomings.[3]


Following the split of DERA in 2001, the Fort Halstead site was given to QinetiQ who leased part of the site back to Dstl. Its most recent principal functions have been research and forensic analysis into explosives, and the site's explosives laboratory was again used in the investigation following the attempted 21 July 2005 London bombings.[4] The facility has been the largest employer in the Sevenoaks district, with 1,300 personnel working on the site in 2000.

In March 2006, QinetiQ sold the Fort Halstead site to Armstrong Kent LLP for an undisclosed sum.[5] On 17 June 2011 Dstl announced that its facilities at Fort Halstead are to close following a review of operations at the site.[6][7]

Distinguished former staff

  • Richard, Baron Beeching of East Grinstead,[8] "Dr Beeching", author of the report The Reshaping of British Railways
  • Sir Alwyn Crow,[9] developer of the Unrotated Projectile
  • Sir Frank Ewart Smith[10]
  • Dr Douglas Hartree,[11] after whom the Hartree unit of atomic energy is named, and the Hartree–Fock method of approximating n-body wavefunctions
  • Sir John Lennard-Jones,[11] devisor of the Lennard-Jones potential description of atomic attraction
  • Dr J.W. Maccoll,[12][13] of Taylor-Maccoll theory of supersonic flow over a cone
  • Sir Nevill Mott,[14] Nobel Laureate in Physics
  • William, Baron Penney of East Hendred,[15] a principal scientist on the Manhattan Project, and leader of Britain's High Explosive Research project

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ogley, Bob (12 April 2006). "Off the beaten track: Halstead". BBC. Retrieved 19 February 2007. 
  2. "Royal" Armament Research and Development Establishment[dead link]
  3. Robert Verkaik (22 May 1996). "Innocent beyond doubt". The Independent. London. 
  4. "21 July suspect admits making bombs". The Guardian. London. 24 January 2007.,,1997687,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=1. Retrieved 20 February 2007. 
  5. "Fort Halstead". Retrieved 13 May 2009. 
  6. "Kent's Fort Halstead research laboratory to close". BBC News. 17 June 2011. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  8. Hardy, R. Beeching, champion of the railway?, Ian Allen, ISBN 0-7110-1855-3. Retrieved 21/5/2009 (extract only).
  9. Stop-gap weapons of 1940:the concept of the aerial minefield.. Retrieved 12-05-2009.
  10. gb 679710, Hugh Desmond Lucas & Ronald Alexander Newman, "Automatic electrical switching device", published 1952-09-24, issued 1952-09-03 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Mary Croarken, Computing in Britain During World War II p6. Retrieved 12-05-2009.
  12. Davis, E. A.. Nevill Mott. Taylor and Francis. p. 36. ISBN 0748497901. 
  13. Challens, John (28 October 2012). "Obituary: John Corner". 
  14. Dennis Grady (2006), Fragmentation of Rings and Shells: The Legacy of N.F. Mott (Shock Wave and High Pressure Phenomena), Springerlink, ISBN 978-3-540-27144-4. Amazon. Retrieved 12-05-2009.
  15. Our History. AWE. Retrieved 12-05-2009.
  • Hamilton-Baillie, J.R.E, "Fort Halstead & the London Defence Positions", Fort (Fortress Study Group), 1977, (3), pp31–35

External links

Coordinates: 51°18′42″N 0°08′58″E / 51.31171°N 0.14936°E / 51.31171; 0.14936

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