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'It was powerful enough to wipe out Norwich' - Britain's nuclear weapons hidden in village

PUBLISHED: 12:45 24 September 2019 | UPDATED: 14:33 25 September 2019

Former atomic weapons factory which is now Gorse Industrial Estate at Barnham. Owner Keith Eldred.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Former atomic weapons factory which is now Gorse Industrial Estate at Barnham. Owner Keith Eldred. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

Just one would cause a searing fire ball and blast powerful enough to wipe out Norwich.

Former atomic weapons factory which is now Gorse Industrial Estate at Barnham. Owner Keith Eldred.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYFormer atomic weapons factory which is now Gorse Industrial Estate at Barnham. Owner Keith Eldred. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

At the height of the Cold War much of our nuclear arsenal was tucked away in the Suffolk countryside.

RAF Barnham, two miles south of Thetford, was where Blue Danube, Britain's first free-falling nuclear bomb was stored in the 1950s.

If Russia declared a nuclear attack, they would be rushed to bases including RAF Honington, from where Britain's V-bomber force would take off to launch a devastating return blow.

When Danube was superseded by even more powerful weapons, it closed and fell into disrepair until it was bought by Keith Eldred and his wife in 1966.

A plutonium core storage building at at the site of RAF Barnham, which was a Nuclear Storage Site. Picture: Jamie HoneywoodA plutonium core storage building at at the site of RAF Barnham, which was a Nuclear Storage Site. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

Today at the age of 84, Mr Eldred has been taking cold war enthusiasts on tours around what is now part of the Gorse Industrial estate to see the restored structures of what used to be a nuclear weapons maintenance unit.

"English Heritage, Historic England and I have spent the past ten years trying to get this site back to what it was in the 50's," said Mr Eldred.

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"The whole of this conservation finished last month and I am thrilled we have been able to preserve this unique site which was the start of Britain's involvement in the Cold War."

RAF Barnham Nuclear Storage Site (NSS) was active during the early part of the Cold War and was one of only two such facilities built in the UK to store the BLUE DANUBE. Picture: Jamie Honeywood RAF Barnham Nuclear Storage Site (NSS) was active during the early part of the Cold War and was one of only two such facilities built in the UK to store the BLUE DANUBE. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

Now a wealth of knowledge on Barnham, Mr Eldred is passing on what he knows to anyone who wants to listen.

As visitors walk around they are reminded of uncertain times and the destruction which faced the world not so long ago, a place where nuclear bombs were kept ready to be deployed as world leaders had their fingers over the buttons.

Military officers, radiation signs on doors, plutonium hidden in lead lined cylinders, high explosives, guard dogs and watch towers is what used to reside here.

But Mr Eldred ensures visitors that they are safe as Geiger Counters brought in to detect any left over radiation have never picked up a trace.

RAF Barnham Nuclear Storage Site (NSS) was active during the early part of the Cold War and was one of only two such facilities built in the UK to store the BLUE DANUBE. Picture: Jamie HoneywoodRAF Barnham Nuclear Storage Site (NSS) was active during the early part of the Cold War and was one of only two such facilities built in the UK to store the BLUE DANUBE. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

Mr Eldred added: "A siren would sound and the whole site would have to freeze as a lead lined cylinder was pulled out from a safe in the floor and inside was a deadly radioactive substance.

"The whole point of this site was maintenance, looking at the high explosives regularly and changing the fissile core in the bomb to make sure it was ready for the V bombers."

Free tours around the site can be arranged by emailing Mr Eldred at kw.eldred@btinternet.com.

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