Gilsland – Spadeadam

Gilsland – Spadeadam

Location Gilsland, Bewcastle

Grid Ref NY 615702


RAF Spadeadam is an electronic warfare training base, where aircraft attempt to approach without being picked up on various kinds of radar. There is a bombing range, although this is rarely used now. There is also a company which blows things up (very loudly) on a regular basis.


The Spadeadam Rocket Establishment, near Carlisle, was opened in the late 1950s as a test area for the British Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM). The research program was split between Rolls Royce and Dehavilland (later Hawker Siddley). Dehavilland were responsible for the airframe and Rolls Royce for the RZ 2 rocket engines.The first rocket firing took place in August 1959, but by this time the Fixed Site Ballistic Missile (FSBM) was being phased out. The British program was cancelled in 1958 after the deployment of American THOR missile sites in eastern England.


Spadeadam was split into 5 areas:

  • Administration including assembly hangars.
  • Liquid oxygen factory – owned and run by the British Oxygen Company.
  • Component test area situated at Rushy Knowe.
  • Engine test area situated at Prior Lancy.
  • Rocket test area situated at Greymare Hill.



Following cancellation as a weapons programme it continued under the auspices of the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO), Blue Streak becoming the first stage of Europa I launcher with French and German second and third stages.


Many of the buildings were demolished in the years following the project’s end but the remaining buildings, such as the rocket plinths at Greymare Hill, engine test plinths at Prior Lancy and the control bunkers at both sites may be scheduled as historic monuments by the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments in England.


Spread all around the 900 acres of military base are remnants from previous conflicts. These are used as realistic decoys and to make the area appear to be a live base from the air.



The Solway Aviation Museum near Brampton has a display on the Blue Streak project. The engines that powered the Blue Streak Rocket are on display.


Although the Spadeadam site is in regular use, visits by community groups, clubs and other organisations to the historic areas of the site are possible although restricted, as this is an active training area. Public visits are usually only permitted in the evening and on a handful of dates each year.


English Heritage has recently identified the remains at Spadeadam as being of national importance and has recommended that they are protected as a Scheduled Monument.


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