Building the PORC (Adastral Park)

      Comments Off on Building the PORC (Adastral Park)
Laurence Burrows, retired chartered civil engineer, has lived in Martlesham Heath since 1989, when he came to work at Mid Suffolk District Council. He has been a Martlesham parish councillor since 1991 and was council chairman for 14 years. His association with Martlesham Heath goes back to 1970 though, when he spent two years with the team supervising construction of the new Post Office Research Centre (now Adastral Park). He also met and married his wife Maureen at that time. Laurence has kindly shared some of his photos of the earlier building work.

In September 1970 Laurence was a young graduate civil engineer working for the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works. Following some work at Orfordness and at RAF sites, he was was ‘posted’ to a major public-sector construction project at Martlesham Heath – the new purpose-built research centre for the Post Office.

Aerial view of the Post Office Research Centre main building complex under construction – early 1970s. * Photo: PO/BT

He describes it as a “£10M project” – a large construction with a large price-tag (for the time). The focus was on the main building complex; the multi-storey Main Laboratory Block, flanked by the iconic Radio Tower and Administration Building at the front and the Water Tower and Research Services block with loading bays at the rear. The Ministry men were housed in a complex of ex-RAF huts at the front of the site. Laurence remembers the importance of the telex (teleprinter) located there – the main way for important and urgent messages to be received and sent, in an era before fax machines and the internet.

The Post Office was a public corporation in the 1970s; later to be split into Post and Telecommunications with the telecommunications part (BT) privatised in 1984.  This was why the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works were supervising (project managing) the construction work at Martlesham Heath. It had it’s challenges; the Post Office changing its requirements as the building progressed, an inevitable increase in costs and the Mitchell Construction, the main contractor, getting into financial difficulties in 1973 and being acquired by Tarmac Construction. It all meant that construction took much longer than planned; with the main complex and the site not officially opened by the Queen until November 1975.

View of the Main Laboratory Block showing ground floor steelwork and tower cranes at the stairs/lift core at each end of the building. * Photo: L Burrows 18/09/1970

The building work used ‘pumped concrete’ extensively, then a relatively new construction method.

Concrete pump pumping concrete to the Research Services Building complex retaining wall. * Photo: L Burrows 18/9/1970

Another new building technique was the rubber pads used with the pre-cast floor beams used in the Main Laboratory Block, to isolate the floor from the main building frame.

Isolator pads – rubber based pads laid on the floor beams under the Main Laboratory Block suspended concrete floors. * Photo: L Burrows 15/10/1970

The complex was built to a high specification. The Main Laboratory Block balconies and facing were pre-fabricated in sections and fixed to the building on-site – so new and untested that a ‘mock-up’ building was built to test and monitor its performance.

Mock up Building showing the first prefabricated concrete balcony units. * Photo: L Burrows 15/10/1970

Precast balcony units on the Main Laboratory Block. * Photo: L Burrows 15/01/1971

Special techniques were devised to get aerials in position the top of the Radio Tower, in the relatively confined space between the Main Laboratory Block and the Administration Building.

Laurence was only involved for the first two years though. After that he moved onto other projects closer to London, including work at Maplin Sands at the mouth of the River Thames, for what was planned to be London’s third airport. He became a Chartered Civil Engineer in 1974.

Main Laboratory Block steelwork including the site concrete batcher (‘maker’), steel columns for Administration Building on the left. * Photo: L Burrows 15/01/1971 – taken from behind the MPBW site office.

Do you have anything to add to this story or know of any published material – please let us know via our Contribute! page?