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Pyestock Diaries


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"[Pyestock was] the oldest, continuously operating, gas turbine research community in the world" - Ian Mckenzie

This website is about Pyestock, the former National Gas Turbine Establishment, located in Farnborough, UK. Conceived in the build up to World War Two, and realised in the post-war paranoia of the opening virtual salvos of the cold war, Pyestock was one of a number of top-secret sites which would bolster the UKs standing during the austere 1950s; and become a vital component of the White Heat of Technology in the twitchy 1960s.

It was arguably the world's leading research facility into the research and design of gas turbines (or jet engines). "V" bomber, Harrier and Tornado engines were designed and refined in its custom test facilities; the air plant and custom cells could fly a Concorde engine at Mach 2 from the safety of the ground; all the gas turbines used by the Navy were put through harsh, enduring sea-worthiness tests; and the hush-hush top-secret captured Soviet engines were discretely tested for performance and reverse engineered.

By the turn of the new millennium, the world had changed. The theory behind the technology was well understood and tests could be simulated on computer rather than physically run in power-hungry, resource-sapping testing cells. Personnel gradually moved to new facilities and Pyestock slowly emptied and eventually stood down.

Documentation about the site was scant. Photographs were largely forbidden during its lifetime. Due to its secrecy, it often merited no more than a footnote in the historic record, as only a tiny amount of information was forthcoming. And finally the physical structures themselves were threatened with demolition as new uses for this rusting, polluted, decaying monolith to 1950s technology stood empty, unused and forgotten.

These places, such as Pyestock, were magnets to an emerging generation of urban explorers. Newly organised through the emergence of the Internet, groups of like-minded individuals creep into abandoned asylums, decaying defence infrastructures, top secret cold war bases, derelict airfields, lost lidos and any manner of redundant, unused places armed only with digital cameras.

In its last years, Pyestock became an unofficial museum. Dexterity, intelligence and courage were some of the necessary attributes required by this small number of uninvited individuals, who crept in unobserved, took a plethora of photographs, and then quietly disappeared again.

I was one of those uninvited, unwanted visitors. And this website is the result: a thorough photographic and historical record of Pyestock; plus the necessary trials and tribulations I went through to get the photographs of this amazing piece of forgotten history.

Simon Cornwell
4th February 2010