FACILITIES


The Decca group was comprised of various divisions spread across numerous locations. Many of these locations often shared in part, some of the production or support functions so it is not always clear who did what and when. Often a Decca Radar facility would house some facet of a Navigator Company activity and vice-versa. In addition, they would often move around to accommodate growth or other changes. The introduction of the Decca Survey Company also added to the number and location of company facilities with many of them now being dotted around the UK coast to support the customers.

In April of 2008, David Jones (with additions from Walter Blanchard), recalls the various production and support facilities along with other divisions. These are not listed in any particular order.

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This map shows Decca's former manufacturing facilities at three main locations in New Malden.  Burlington House is still there and now boasts the name Northrop Grumman on the side. The roof is still adorned with various radar antennas while the old cinema building next door, long used as a general warehouse for unwanted Decca materials, is long gone having been knocked down in 1988. The area surrounding the main 247 Burlington Road site was full of smaller, satellite offices that housed all sorts of company facilities, some in small commercial buildings and others in just a single office. The Systems Planning Department, Drawing Offices, Chain Implementation Department, Transport, Packing & Shipping and the Travel Office could all be found in a nearby side street during the 1970’s and 1980’s.     (Locations identified by David Jones) 
David Jones also comments. "It is sometimes hard to wonder why the Navigator Company needed so many locations to produce such a small number of racks and transmitters. After all, their general sales and deployment quantities over the years could hardly be called mass production. I think much of it related to the fact that station equipment was often reclaimed and refurbished as was the case of a lot of the 820 Decca Navigator equipment. In addition, the need to maintain a continuous supply of spares and support for many years created a culture that kept as much usable material in stock ad infinitum. Many parts were long out of production so keeping large quantities of old parts around the country was the one way that they could assure support for all the chains around the world. It should also be remembered that  next generation station equipment would often be modified for a particular customer or location so it was even more important to have additional parts available should it be required to carry out further changes or to just cannibalize a part from an old rack".
LOCATIONS

Battersea / Wansdworth - SW London.
Not known to me personally, but listed elsewhere on original Decca documents, it was probably the first lab / production location for the fledgling Navigator equipment company. Perhaps it was part of an existing Decca radio or record facility.   In the 1970’s, Decca's TV and radio production facility was situated at Ingate Place, Battersea.

247 Burlington Road, New Malden, Surrey.  (SW London region).
It was a two story office building and assorted single story buildings that housed the research and development labs for Decca Navigator station equipment and marine receivers; manufacture of 820 series station equipment during the 1960’s (?); development lab for final generation 9950 series station equipment. Also housed here were the offices of company directors including Bill O’Brien, George Hawker and Dave Baker.

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247 Burlington Road in its heyday. (From the collection of Walter Blanchard)
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The building as it looks in 2006 - forlorn and abandoned. (Photo by Santiago Insua)

 
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A satellite image of the 247 Burlington Road property. (Image courtesy Microsoft Live Search Maps)

The buildings included the white faced building on the left, red brick faced building next to it and the white faced building after that (the one with the red truck backed up to the wall). It also included the long narrow building running left to right whose roof can be seen behind the brick chimney at the back of the main block. This rear building housed the transmitter lab, under Nigel Fenner, plus another lab and the canteen. The white faced building on the left front housed the lab of Rex Young, designer of the Phase Control Cabinets and a few other assorted labs. The center brick building,  housed company directors, Bill O’Brien’s lab and numerous other labs and offices. 

Burlington House,  New Malden, Surrey.  (SW London region)

Burlington House still sports an assortment of radar antennas from the days when Decca was in the radar business.  David Jones comments on this location. "Although not strictly a home to the Decca Navigator Company, Burlington House was originally a location used by the Decca Record Company and the radar division.. I think what happened was that as these operations shrank, space became available at the Burlington House site which was then taken over by other parts of the Decca group. This was the case in the early 1980’s when many sales and support people were relocated to Burlington House from Decca House from 9 Albert Embankment. Racal's acquisition of the Decca group resulted in the closure of Decca House, the consolidation of the group HQ at Racal's Bracknell offices and hence the movement of people to Burlington House and beyond. This building then housed sales and support groups from avionics, marine radar, navaids, aircraft charting and mapping and a few company directors. There was still some marine radar production and test going on there. In addition, the main building had a presentation room and equipment display area. As Racal moved these groups around, the original main chain labs and support group stayed at 247 Burlington Road, in addition to Dick Caddy’s facility at Wymondly".

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A satellite image of the front view of Burlington House now owned by Northrup Grumman.. (Image courtesy Microsoft Live Search Maps)

Much of the adjoining Decca buildings have been demolished and replaced with retail. Looking at the picture, to the left of Burlington House there is now a new Fire Station (red doors) and a stand alone retail unit where originally there was an old cinema that was used as a Decca warehouse and car park. All the parking spaces and new buildings behind Burlington House, and to the right of it were originally part of the record production, radar production and support offices.  There were Decca buildings all the way back to the Kingston Bypass and the adjacent side-street, (Albert Road).  The B&Q retail building has replaced the original collection of Decca buildings.

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A satellite image of the rear view of Burlington House. Decca did not use a street address for this location. It was simply known as Burlington House. The roof is still adorned with various radar antennas. One can still see the remnant of the small canal which bisected the site, just to the left  side of Burlington House. (Image courtesy Microsoft Live Search Maps)

 
 
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Burlington House main entrance as seen in February 2008. (Photographer unknown)
Little Wymondly, Hertfordshire. – (near Stevenage, 30 miles north of London).

Little Wymondly is a small village in England, just north of London and was for many years, was  the base of operations for Decca Navigator’s chain support, spares and light assembly. It was also was the office base of OPD, the department that supplied staff to the overseas chains. The building was in fact a very large old country house with several acres of land, making it ideal for storage of mast sections, old boxes, racks and all kinds of other material. The house itself was a mixture of large and small rooms. Some were used for offices, with others for assembly and spares storage. The move from Wymondly to a location in nearby Stevenage and the process of fitting out the small containers that were to become the last generation of UK main chain equipment.

Dick Caddy provides additional details about Little Wymondley. "We closed down the Little Wymondley facility in the early nineties probably around 1991. The closure coincided with a massive increase in the rent and the need for a suitable location for the installation of our containerized stations with 5454 equipment.

I found a vacant warehouse/office facility at Pin Green in Stevenage and after a brief viewing appraised Lindsay Buchanan, our Director in Charge, of this 'find'. He agreed that it was perfect for our future work so Racal-Decca Marine Navigation took out a 3 year lease on the premises.

At these premises we built some equipment and installed some 20 odd containerized Decca Stations. We borrowed John McGairy from UK Main Chains who spent nearly 3 years, almost single handily, installing these containers and I must say he did a first class job. At the same time John Humphries from Pin Green continued to run the Main Chain Stores in addition to the complete buy for the modernization programme. I continued my overseeing of the Overseas Chains and played an active part in the design and production of some equipment whilst John Green, our inspector ensured that everything was done properly.

With our 3 year lease on Pin Green about to expire and all containers operational it was time for another move for Chain Ops Dept (me) and Stores (John Humphries). R-DMNL owned the Puckeridge station so after a major refurbishment of a building removed of all transmitting equipment, to suit its new needs we moved once again. It was fitting that this happened as it went back to where it all began. When we first moved to Puckeridge we were five strong but retirement and redundancy soon reduced the numbers to John and me.

It was from these premises that UK Chains and a few Overseas Chains operated until March 31st 2000 when the big switch off occurred. For a while after closure the coil house and mast were used by Wally Blanchard and his  ham radio enthusiasts with great success as they were blessed with a 325 ft mast instead of a piece of wet string"

Maidenhead, Berkshire. -  (30 miles west of London)
Modern, single story production and storage facility used for manufacture of antenna coil systems and support frames. Also overhaul of 820 station equipment and related hardware, (battery chargers, switchgear, etc.). Active during the 1970’s.  Later use of the facility unknown. Other related group facilities were located nearby.

Hersham, Surrey  (SW London region).
Development labs and production facility for Doppler velocity sensor systems used in fixed wing and rotary aircraft. Doppler series products listed by year or introduction i.e., Doppler 67, Doppler 72, Doppler MRCA (Tornado variant), Doppler 80, etc.

Chessington, Surrey  (SW London region)
Marine radar development labs.- Ship simulator systems. - EW systems development and production - Rapier missile guidance radar development and production.

Croydon, Surrey   (SW London region).
This was the base from which engineers went out to various  Decca Radar fitted ships to service their equipment and it was also a training facility.

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At the Service Division in Croydon,  there were 11 classrooms fitted with equipment and courses were in  constant progress. (Courtesy Decca Navigator News April, 1972)
Feltham  (near London)
The Decca Navigator facility at Feltham which originally served London (Heathrow) airport. This small support and service facility was very near to the airport and handled the flight logs and other related aircraft systems. Its later use was a mixture of support for Racal Avionics ground and airborne systems. It was run by a very dedicated, close knit group that had grown up knowing the importance of keeping commercial aircraft flying.

London , Decca House, 9 Albert Embankment
This was the Decca group headquarters and as such housed the chairman and all the support staff  (group accountants and such). It was also the base for the sales staff until many of them were moved out in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s to some of the regional locations. Burlington House at New Malden was one recipient of the airborne and ground systems sales staff. The Albert Embankment address is the one that is shown on most of the original Decca documents. It was vacated by Decca when Racal bought the company in 1982. The property has now been greatly enlarged, refurbished and is now a block of up-market flats, but the original facade still remains.

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Decca's headquarters at 9 Albert Embankment was officially opened for business on March 10, 1958. Located in Decca House was Decca's chairman (Sir Edward Lewis) and all the support staff (ie group accountants ). It was also the base for the sales staff until many of them were moved out in the late ‘70’s early 80’s to some of the regional locations. (From the collection of Walter Blanchard)
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9 Albert Embankment in 2008. The white stone features which match the 1950's b/w photo can be clearly seen. Windows have been enlarged. Three stories of penthouses have been added to the roof and at this angle, the balconies partially obscure the top row of windows of the original building. The building to the left was the headquarters of the London Fire Brigade. Although headquarters moved, the building is still used as a fire station. (Image courtesy Microsoft Live Search Maps)
3 Brixton Rd , SW London
This was originally the premises of a Decca Records distributor called Selecta. It was hit by a bomb in 1941 and badly damaged but when repaired, the first Decca sets were made there in 1944. When Decca Navigator was formed in 1945 it became the company headquarters. In 1958, a new building on the Albert Embankment (in London) was built for Decca and everything to do with administration was moved there. Mk V receivers and other Navigator equipment was also made at this location.

Webber Street, London

This was the Decca Marine Service and Maintenance Department. It was originally set up for Decca Navigator but afterwards for radar products as well.

88 Bushey Road, New Malden, Surrey.   (SW London region).
This modern, five story production facility was used for the manufacture of marine and airborne receivers and also the primary manufacturing point for 1880 series ground station equipment in the 1970’s (?). Housed here, were the development labs for avionics receivers and flight navigation computers.  Active from 1965 until 2006, when it was definitely closed following the acquisition of Racal/Thompson CSF assets by Thales. As of December 31/15, the building has just been demolished in order to build a "Next" Home Furnishings store.

Dungeness Beach

This site consisted of a wooden hut surrounded by a high fence. This hut had radar mounting platforms on the roof and the site was used for testing radars in uncluttered surroundings not available in New Malden or even Chessington.

 
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OPENING: As a result of an ever increasing demand for Decca Navigator equipment, a new manufacturing facility was opened at 88 Bushey Road in 1965, close to the Burlington Road premises. This building provided an additional 34,000 square feet of space. In the mid 1960's,  production of Navigator Mk 12 receivers was running at some 35-40 units per week and would remain at Malden Rd. In a later time frame, the Bushey Road complex had a new, multi-story building facing the road while behind it was a larger, single story building housing test and manufacturing plus assorted outbuildings. In March 2008, it was reported that the main building still has a “For Let” sign posted in front. (Decca Company photo)
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Above and below: The production line at 88 Bushey Road. This location was dedicated to the avionics group although manufacture and production of the last generation of station equipment was probably carried out by the Bushey Road unit (Decca Company photos)
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A 2008 satellite image of 88 Bushey Road. (Image courtesy Microsoft Live Search Maps)

The main Decca-Racal building is the four level square building that faces Bushey Road. The older, two story white building to the right was perhaps a food distributor. Decca’s facility included the newer flat fronted square block close to Bushey Road, and went back about halfway down the main site. The ridged roofing behind the new block was all Decca. The last third of the entire block was taken by another company. Now, the older brick building that is seen on the left side, facing Beverly Way is the original production building described in Decca Navigator News.  It is of brick construction and has a central tower complete with flagpole. 

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The original red brick building at 88 Bushey Road as seen in a satellite image.  (Image courtesy Microsoft Live Search Maps)
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
John Molloy-Vickers  adds his recollections of Decca's facilities. "Burlington Road covered two locations -  the most important being 247 Burlington Road, New Malden, Surrey (about ten miles south of London). This housed most of the development and research labs and prior to Bushey Road . It also housed the executive directors such as Harvey Schwarz,  Bill O'Brien, George Hawker and  Dave Baker. The other directors for Sales and Marketing etc were located at Decca House, 9 Albert Embankment, London.

About two hundred yards up the road from number 247 was the record company factory  and various offices, some of which were used by Navigator eg (CID) Chain Implementation Department in later years. CID were also located for some years at Seaforth Avenue near the Motspur Park rail station about 1/4 mile from 247. There was another part of Navigator at Davis Road, Chessington about three miles south of 247 which had more manufacturing along with the Packing & Despatch department.

In New Malden, was the Systems Planning section which was rather isolated. Transmitters, tank units and in later years power supply distribution boards etc were made at Maidenhead, Buckinghamshire  headed by Ray Allen and his wife and subsequently Jimmy Walker. The Overseas Projects Division was at Stevenage, Hertfordshire and they supplied a variety of equipment and of course people for the overseas chains. Mk V receivers etc were made at Brixton Road, London. Training and UK chains HQ was at Brixham in Devonshire. They used a small motor trawler, UBEROUS,  located at Dartmouth, Devonshire to show the Navigator system in action".


Credits and  References:

1) Santiago Insua <hwasp(at)hotmail.com>
2) David Jones <djones(at)litramfg.com>
3) John Molloy-Vickers <johnmv(at)sympatico.ca>
4) Walter Blanchard <wblanch(at)ntlworld.com>
5) Paul Meddemmen <p_meddemmen(at)yahoo.com>
6) Decca Navigator News -  April 1958
7) Nick Arnold <nickarnolddidcot(at)googlemail.com>
 
 

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