Greenham common

A little introduction

Location

Greenham is now a civil and ecclesiastical parish on the south-eastern border of Newbury. Despite the village's ancient allegiance to Thatcham, of which it was a tithing, Newbury has twice taken bites from the parish to swell its own conurbation. (On the first occasion, in 1878, a group of regulars at the Adam and Eve pub in Stroud Green elected their own mock mayor and council in protest.)

Today the civil parish of Greenham extends from the Kennet to the Enborne, and from the back of the Andover Road eastwards to a dotted line which meanders through Bowdown Woods, across the common to the A339.

Local place names include Bury's Bank, Bowdown, Crookham, Stroud Green, Pyle Hill and Pigeon Farm.

Statistics

  • Size: 2,564 acres in 1851 (1,038 hectares)
  • Population: 3,628 in 2011; 1,182 in 1851
  • Registration district: Newbury
  • Present-day local authority: West Berkshire (unitary)
  • Grid reference: SU 484 646
  • Adjoining parishes: (1851) Speen, Shaw cum Donnington, Newbury, Thatcham, Sandleford and in Hants: Newtown, Burghclere, Sydmonton

Census returns

West Berkshire Library has census returns for Greenham on microfilm/fiche and an index to the 1851 census.

Fun facts

Star Wars - Part of Star Wars VII was filmed using the Greenham common bunkers.

Flying over the common

Rumours - On 28 February 1958, a B-47E of the 310th Bomb Wing developed problems shortly after takeoff and jettisoned its two 1,700 gallon external fuel tanks. They missed their designated safe impact area, and one hit a hangar whilst the other struck the ground 65 feet (20 m) behind a parked B-47E. The parked plane, which was fuelled, had a pilot on board, and was carrying a 1.1 megaton (4.6 PJ) B28 nuclear bomb, was engulfed by flames. The conflagration took sixteen hours and over a million gallons of water to extinguish, partly because of the magnesium alloys used in the aircraft. Although two men were killed and eight injured, the US and UK governments kept the accident secret: as late as 1985, the British government claimed that a taxiing aircraft had struck a parked one and that no fire was involved.

Two scientists, F. H. Cripps and A. Stimson, who both worked for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, alleged in a secret 1961 report, released by the CND in 1996, that the fire detonated the high explosives in the nuclear weapon, that plutonium and uranium oxides were spread over a wide area (foliage up to 8 mi (13 km) away was contaminated with uranium-235) and that they had discovered high concentrations of radioactive contamination around the air base.

However, a radiological survey commissioned in 1997 by Newbury District Council and Basingstoke and Deane found no evidence of a nuclear accident at Greenham Common, suggesting that Cripps and Stimson's claims were false. The seven-month long survey was carried out by the Geosciences Advisory Unit of Southampton University and combined a helicopter-mounted gamma ray detector survey with a ground-based survey. The team analysed nearly 600 samples taken from soil, lake sediment, borehole water, house dust, runway tarmac and concrete, looking for uranium and plutonium isotopes. No evidence of an accident involving nuclear weapons damage was found at the former air force base although the ground survey detected some low-level uranium contamination around the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston thought to be derived from that facility, and the helicopter survey found some anomalies around Harwell Laboratory.

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