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Tatsfield Remembered

Anne, 1966-9, via e-mail

After finding photos on this website regarding the BBC Tatsfield Receiving Station, I realise that I have become part of the history. As I started work there when I was 19 years of age in 1966, leaving in 1969, I am likely to be one of the few people left alive who could give any personal account of day-to-day life there. [...]

After a job interview with Mr L G Shuttleworth, the Engineer in Charge, I was employed in a clerical/shorthand typist position in the office. This meant a good increase in my salary and, living in Biggin Hill, I was able to walk three miles or so to work through hilly country lanes and across several deserted fields. Back then I was proud to gain employment with the good old BBC.

The Receiving Station was located down the narrow Beddlestead Lane and high in the countryside of the North Downs so the views were beautiful. On a clear day St Paul's Cathedral in London about 20 miles away could be seen in the distance. The main building which housed the control room, several smaller monitoring rooms, a workshop/laboratory and a kitchen/canteen were separate from the offices. These were accessed from the car park where the path led down under a rose arch, then was flanked by neat flower borders. Everything was kept neat and tidy. In winter the snow drifting was always bad. One winter it was so deep that the staff had to walk on the snow on top of the hedges to get into work.

There were four bright and cheerful offices all linked together. The main entrance to the offices, where the EiC's secretary Angela and I worked led into the EiC's office. The opposite side from the main office led to the Wages Office where Sheila the Wages Clerk and Sylvia inscribed the foreign jamming on daily band scanning charts sat. It then led on to Mr Martingell, the Assistant EiC's office. There were about 65 staff working at Tatsfield, including three shifts, a maintenance team, two gardener/labourers and four office girls. A little bus would bring some of the shift workers in from around the Croydon area. They were happy staff and we enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere in beautiful surroundings.

The day usually started in the kitchen where we had freshly baked scones and coffee. It wouldn't be long before a morning coffee break in the canteen and then lunch with home cooked dinners. There was always much noise and hilarity. Lunch times could also be spent with a walk in the countryside, an occasional trip to the clothes shop in Oxsted, but usually the girls made a visit to Bill Bellamy in the workshop who would welcome us in and jest saying 'come in, sit down and get your clothes off' before offering us chocolates. It was a different world then and probably a sacking offence these days. I had also met a young man at a party who worked in BBC Salaries in London so I was able to use the internal line to speak to him at lunch time. Then there was afternoon tea in the canteen and the EiC would have a silver tray of tea or coffee brought over by Ernie or Bunny wearing their white overalls.

My main duty was to keep the shortwave book updated, but first thing in the morning I would collect the night shift reports from the SME in the main building and walk through the control room where the BBC World Service theme Lilliburlero would be playing. I would also cover holiday and any sickness leave for Angela, the secretary. A daily report was dictated by the EiC, typed out on Angela's 'electric' typewriter and rolled off on a Banda machine to be sent to BH. Words that will forever stay in my head are HF Observations, C.A.U., Radio Free Europe, parasitic radiations, BBC Senders, spurious emissions, SSB, Propagation Reports, kHz and MHz. Sometimes we would receive a call from BH for a VoA relay.

Tatsfield also monitored the pirate radio stations Radio Caroline, Radio Esssex and Radio London. The girls in the office had the radio on all day and were instructed to make notes of all the advertisers that used the pirate stations. Although my maths was not too good, I eventually had a promotion to Wages Clerk when Sheila left. I remember Fridays being the bank run day when the EiC and A/EiC drove down to Oxted to do the banking.

The days at Tatsfield were full of fun for everyone. The girls in the office were always laughing and they were good days. There was always something going on and I remember various sagas, the missing clock from the canteen, the cow that appeared next to the office that was chased through the fields, the policeman who nobody knew why would turn up, to check the Russians hadn't taken over, or just for a cup of tea and the man trapped under the tractor. We also amused ourselves by taking down notes in shorthand of what people said unbeknown to them and typed the notes out in peals of laughter. We were young and the men loved to flirt with us. Those were different times that will sadly never be seen again. Staff felt safe, protected and happy.

These are just a few of the other names I remember from so long ago, Ray, Noddy, Mr Penfold, Mr Money, Mr Trenholme, Mr Atfield, George, Mr Daly, Alan Jones, Lew Hassall, Pam, Harold, Mr Dobson, Cyril.

Transparencies reproduced by kind permission

Hughie, 1971-4, via DerelictPlaces

There are still a few around who worked at BBC Tatsfield including some like myself who transferred to Caversham/Crowsley Park when Tatsfield closed. I arrived in 1971 aged 18 after three months initial training at Wood Norton in Worcestershire - another interesting BBC site the history and details of which are documented (and speculated about) elsewhere on the web. Things had moved on a bit since Anne [q.v] left, her boss Les/Len(?) Shuttleworth had died at his desk not long before I arrived and some of the other engineering staff had been temporarily promoted as a result. Many of the other names she mentions were still there. Being young, free and single the tiny canteen at Tatsfield was a godsend - a day shift meant a cheap, home-cooked lunch and the scones mid-morning were enormous which was just as well as, living in a bedsit near Croydon with a shared kitchen, I could rarely organise breakfast before leaving home. For evening shifts and night shifts you could use the kitchen to cook your own food. A BBC contract minibus operated by George Bowser Coaches in Westerham ran from outside the Fairfield Halls in Croydon to ferry staff to/from the site at shift changeover times.

One building on the site that never seems to get a mention is the BBC Tatsfield Club. On the site map linked to from the BBCeng website this was the unlabelled building close to the tennis court. I think it was a Nissen hut or similar pre-fabricated structure so was possibly erected during the war when staff numbers at Tatsfield were significantly higher than in its later days. During my time there it housed a table tennis table which got some use at lunchtimes but it was evident that in its heyday it must have been quite a social hub – having a bar, a dance floor and (I think) a stage for a band. Officially it was part of the main BBC Club in London but as the facilities available on-site were minimal the subscription was a fraction of what you would have to pay in W1 or W12. However, your membership card gave you access to the London clubs’ bars so on occasion another young engineer and I would go to the BBC Club bar at TV Centre on the evening when Top of the Pops was recorded to see who we could meet while propping up the bar with Pans People etc. The beer was cheap too! Shortly before Tatsfield closed the club had a swansong in the form of a dinner-dance – it recreated what social events must have been like in the glory days of the site.

Although a specialist engineering site a number of ex-Tatsfield staff went on to careers in other parts of the BBC and elsewhere including a BAFTA-winning TV editor and even a Controller of Radio 1. I jumped ship too, moving into journalism and production but remember Tatsfield fondly as my first taste of the BBC.

"Goodlife", 1970s, via DerelictPlaces

In the early 1970's my family lived in Selsdon, I went to Riddlesdown school and friends there lived at Chelsham which is nearby to Tatsfield, the BBC receiving station was known to them but it had sinister overtones! The boys claimed it belonged to the MOD, armed soldiers patrolled the grounds with attack dogs and passing vehicular traffic was forbidden to stop, anyone found there without good reason was detained and some people didn't come back! It was all nonsense of course, we were young boys blessed with over active imaginations and a hunger and fascination for anything that we ought not to be interested in, especially if adults had warned us off. Needless to say none of us had ever visited the site, we didn’t need to, we already knew quite enough about it and what knowledge we lacked we made up.

Bordering Chelsham is Worms Heath, we used to cycle there from home some weekends, it was once home to a working gravel and aggregates quarry operated by Hooveringham. Young men and boys used to ride motorcycles around Worms Heath, the young men were experienced road going motorcyclists but practiced there on their scramblers, now called motocross. Some of the riders were boys of my age whose parents allowed them motorcycles to ride around the Heath, it was quite isolated and they were not troubled by the police or quarry owners......I was in awe! Of equal fascination was the quarry, its flooded gravel pits, older unused abandoned machinery, signs, history, a harsh environment, an unwelcoming forbidding place, I took to going there on my own, explore, simply to look on, an observer. I credit these experiences as being the ignition of my interest in abandoned places and of course motorcycles. About 5 years ago I looked on Google Earth to find the Worms Heath gravel pits but they were not there, they'd completely vanished, I scrutinised but there wasn't, isn't a solitary sign of them........landfill. This was confirmed by The Bourne Society, their local history officer submitted to me the quarry's entire operating history and ownership, I am very grateful, it must have meant a lot of work. This site features an MOD gun emplacement nearby to the Tatsfield receiving station.

Thanks to those who shared the above stories, especially to those who took the time to contact me with their recollections. If you have memories of Tatsfield you'd like to share, why not contribute?

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