The RAF Air Defence Radar Museum, Norfolk
“It’s bigger than you think” proclaims the sign as you enter the Air Defence Radar Museum at RAF Neatishead in Norfolk. And indeed it is. We stopped by for a quick visit and came out two hours later. It turns out there's a lot to know about radar, and the museum staff (ex-RAF to a man) are only too glad to help you learn.
The museum traces the history of radar from early experiments like the sound mirrors still standing on the Kent coast, through Chain Home (the ring of coastal radar stations built by the British before and during World War II) to today's more sophisticated systems. RAF Neatishead is significant for radar enthusiasts (of which there are many) because it was home to the first secret defence system, built in 1941. It continued as a Sector Operations centre until 1993, protecting Britain through the nuclear threat of the Cold War.
The equipment used during World War II seems amazingly primitive. The Plotting Room (the room where they push things around with those big rake-type things) is staffed by dummy WAAFs (Women's Auxiliary Air Force). One thing the museum makes clear is women’s contribution to this end of the war effort. While the men were out fighting the women did their bit managing the information coming in over radar – plane positions, weather conditions. They counted them all out and counted fewer back. The museum shows complicated systems of charts, boards and obscure terminology. It must have been a demanding, relentless line of work.
Further along the corridor, there's a reconstructed Royal Observer Corps Nuclear Reporting Post complete with red telephone for conveying a 3 Minute Warning. Continue right to the end to hit the Cold War payload – a huge operations room full of blinking screens, like something out of Dr Strangelove. In the half-dark the blip-blip-blip is hypnotic and terrifying.
The museum has won many awards, the latest being Enjoy Englands' Best Small Visitor Attraction. Well deserved. I confess, I entered the museum feeling slightly flippant about radar but came out humbled and enlightened. If you're going to check it out make sure you have enough time to appreciate it.
Radar Museum photos
More of Anne's Radar Museum photos
How to get there
Royal Air Force Neatishead, Norwich, NR12 8YB, Norfolk.
The museum is off the A1062 Hoveton to Potter Heigham Road, approximately 10 miles from Norwich. It is well-signposted once you get close to it. It's a good idea to check the opening hours on the museum's website as they change according to the time of year.