History of Orford Ness

Discover the history of Orford Ness from the 16th century to the present day.

Orford Castle and King's Marsh Orford Ness

Early History 

Man first used the spit and its marshes for food - gathering eggs, fishing and grazing sheep and cattle. Later it became a haunt of smugglers and home to lighthouse keepers and coastguards.

Early days

17th -19th century on Orford Ness 

The strategic position of the Ness came to prominence in the naval wars with the Dutch and the French. The threat from Napoleon prompted defensive construction while cattle and sheep continued to graze.

Aerial view of airfield on Orford Ness

First World War on Orford Ness 

In 1913 the War Department acquired a large part of the Ness to develop into airfields. This was to start a 70-year period of intense military experimentation. At the pioneering edge of early military aviation, Orford Ness was a hive of activity, working on all aspects of how to use a plane as a weapon.

Bomb Ballistics on Orford Ness

Between the wars on Orford Ness 

Bomb ballistics, homing beacons and radar. Work during this period almost certainly influenced the course of the Second World War.

Lethality and vulnerability trials Orford Ness

Second World War on Orford Ness 

Despite its airfield moving to Wiltshire the bombing range continued ballistics testing. Firing trials took place to determine the vulnerability of aircraft and their components. The information gathered was used to improve aircraft and munitions design and helped many aircrew to make it home.

Cobra Mist across Kings Marsh

After 1945 - rockets and long range radar 

Lethality and vulnerability trials continued and also work on the aerodynamics of ammunition. Ballistics testing was extended to include rockets with jets firing from almost no altitude into the King's Marsh. Later on the Ness hosted one of its largest secrets, the huge Cobra Mist radar project.

The pagodas on Orford Ness

AWRE on Orford Ness 

At the height of the Cold War the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment and the Royal Aircraft Establishment (AWRE) used Orford Ness for development work on the atomic bomb. Continuing all the way through the 1960s ominous half-buried concrete structures were built to contain these most lethal of weapons.

Unexplded Ordnance sign Orford Ness

Recent History on Orford Ness 

The bombs are cleared and the National Trust takes over.

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