In 1947 S.R. Tanner headed a small team of design engineers who occupied the top floor of the Decca Record building in Southwark Bridge Road Brixton. The fledgling’ Decca Radar Company’, as it was to become, rapidly outgrew the space allocated to it and its first expansion was into the Read & Seagrist premises at Shannons Corner, New Malden. Then in 1951 the company expanded into a two storey building on the A3 at Tolworth, Surrey, which had been owned by Fox & Nichols, a car construction company.
The ground floor of the Tolworth building housed the RADAR DEVEVELOPMENT team, known as RADAR DEV. and mainly responsible for marine radar developments, whereas the team on the first floor, RADAR RESEARCH LABORATORY (known as RADAR LAB.) was engaged in specific microwave projects, PPI/Display developments and other activities that led to the beginning of Decca Radar's involvement in Surveillance Radar's for both Air Traffic Control and Military Defence. In 1952 Decca Radar acquired the premises of the Panel Fittings Company at 9 Davis Road Chessington (to become known as Davis Road No.1), and it was there that much of the groundwork was carried out for future designs of Defence, ATC and Marine Radars.
Late in 1952 Systems Installation Design (SID) was being carried out in rooms above a group of shops and the Blue Star Garage in Ewell Road, Tolworth. SID later moved to work alongside HID (Heavy Installation Division) in the ‘Winthrop House’ building adjacent to Surbiton Railway station. In 1953, Decca Radar took over the buildings of the Young Accumulator / Crompton Parkinson Motor Co. on the A3 at Shannons Corner, New Malden. This site mainly housed GRPU (General Radar Production Unit), but in 1954 a new building was erected, to house a ‘Heavy Radar’ engineering design team. This building became affectionately known by the staff as the ‘White City’. 1955 saw another move for this ever-growing design team, lasting just a year or so, spent at Hersham, before they again moved back along the A3 to a premises attached to Davis Road No.1, previously owned by the Stygal Container Company. By the spring of 1958, the Heavy Radar design team moved yet again to another building in Davis Road, this having been owned by The Marine Paints Company, and was to be known as ‘Davis Road No.2’.
The site at Davis Road then comprised two separate buildings, Davis Road No.1 housed a team under the direction of M.H. Easy, whose remit was to design and develop new marine and weather radars. The Davis Road No.2 team, however, concentrated on the design of Air Traffic Control and Air Defence Radars. This team, which previously had reported to M.H. Easy was to separate from his control and came under the direct management of R.L Burr; the group taking on the title of Heavy Radar Laboratory (HRL). At a later date (c1962) a new five-storey building was constructed on open land between Davis Road No.1 and Davis Road No.2, to allow expansion of development activities, and was effectively Davis Road No.3.
By Government directive there was to be no more expansion of the Company in the South London/Surrey area. Other alternative sites offered were the Craven‘A’ cigarette factory at Crawley, or premises in Swansea, South Wales. However, 1stApril 1959 saw Decca Radar acquire the old Somerton Airport site at Cowes. The Government had designated The Isle of Wight a ‘depressed-employment area’ as the J. Samuel White and Saunders-Roe companies were both being run down from respectively manufacturing warships and military aircraft, leaving skilled craftsmen and engineers needing employment. The decision to locate at Cowes was based on two main factors. Firstly, the site was available with clear radar horizons suitable for radar testing, and secondly the depressed area status resulted in the provision of attractive settlement terms. The company then had a two-storey building constructed at Somerton to provide a co-located radar design and manufacturing facility on the site.
Prior to the availability of the new building, radar production was carried-out at Somerton, from 1959 to 1964, in some of the existing buildings on the site and others across the Island. 17thJuly1964 saw the new building formally opened by Mr. Julian Amery, the then Minister of Aviation. In the following year the ‘Heavy Radar Group’ and the ‘Display Systems Group’ of the Decca Company were purchased by the Plessey Company, and merged with its Plessey Automation Division (based at Liverpool, Cheapside) after which it would be known as Plessey Radar. The headquarters element (Sales and Commercial) of the new Plessey Radar Company was moved from Decca House at Vauxhall to a new five storey building in Davis Road, Chessington where it remained for 2 years before moving to Addlestone.
The Decca Marine Radar Division was also still at Davis Road (No. 1 building) continuing with the design and manufacture of marine radars until being taken over by the Racal Company in 1979. After further re-structuring that company became part of the American Northrup Grumman, Sperry Marine Group.
Early in 1967, the Plessey Radar Headquarters Unit at Chessington and the Display and Data Processing Design and Production group at Tolworth moved to Addlestone, occupying a site originally used by ‘Bleriot’ for WW1 aircraft production and more recently used by Weymanns to manufacture vehicles, mainly buses. Plessey built additional accommodation on the site and made extensive improvements to the existing facilities. These were principally used for the design, construction, testing and servicing of Radar Displays along with associated Signal Processing Systems. The site also acted as the sales and management headquarters for Plessey Radar. At a later date when ‘Radar’ and ‘Displays’ at Addlestone had been divided into two separate companies ‘Radar’ moved to Oakcroft Road, Chessington to occupy two new buildings on the ‘Gala Cosmetics Factory Site’. When GEC/Siemens took over Plessey Radar in 1989 the Addlestone site became part of GEC and the Chessington and Cowes sites became part of the Siemens Group .The Addlestone site was eventually closed by GEC/Marconi and has subsequently been extensively redeveloped with new office buildings and a new road structure.
At the Cowes site on the Isle of Wight, however, events did not follow the same pattern as that at Addlestone, for when GEC/Siemens took over in 1989, some 1300 employees at Cowes were engaged on the design and manufacture of radar or related tasks, and this continued with the company then operating under the name ‘Siemens Plessey Radar Ltd’. In 1990 the company name was changed yet again, this time to Siemens-Plessey Systems. During 1998 the ATC element of the business, inclusive of the Cowes based activities and the Headquarters and Display Systems element at Chessington, was transferred to Thomson CSF in France, thus ending the Cowes involvement in the design and supply of ATC radars. In 1999, GEC sold Marconi to the British Aerospace Company (Alenia also departing the scene) and the parent company became known as BAE Systems. Today the number of employees at Cowes totals some 400, who are mainly design staff.
After the Thomson CFS takeover, part of the ATC business was moved to Ferndown in Dorset. However, like Chessington the facilities at Ferndown were run down after Thales assumed control and the site was vacated.
After the Displays Systems Group left Tolworth there was a large road-widening scheme (underpass etc.) when the building was demolished. New offices, further back from the road, were built.
The original Radar Development building at Davis Road no longer exists. The site has been redeveloped. The development of Marine Radars having been transferred to Burlington Road, New Malden, to a building previously occupied by the Decca Navigator Company. Northrop Grumman, until recently, as Sperry, producing Decca Marine Radars (used by the RNLI), owns the building.
The original ‘Marine Paints’ building, which became the home of the Heavy Radar Laboratory no longer, exists. The site is now a car park for what was Davis Road No.3.
The five-storey building that was erected at Davis Road is still in use. It is now called ‘Compass House’ and is the HQ for the Thales Organisation.
The Chessington site (at the junction of the A3 and Oakcroft Road) was originally used as a satellite to Addlestone for the production of display systems. The site had previously been occupied by several companies such as Gala (cosmetics), UIC (capacitors) and the BICC cable company. It was at this site that ‘Command and Control’/‘Operations Room’ Systems started to be designed. No longer linked to the Addlestone based Display and Signal Processing design function, the selection of radar displays went to the open market. (At the time of writing such display system activities are undertaken under the BAE Systems flag at Christchurch, Dorset, thus leaving the operation at Cowes to design only the radar sensors). After demolition of the old Gala and BICC buildings two new units were constructed which became the HQ of Plessey Radar (along with Marketing, Sales and Commercial functions). After its separation from ‘Plessey Displays’ it continued as the HQ of Plessey Radar when the Siemens take-over happened. At Chessington, after the acquisition by Thomson (THALES), the business was steadily run down with eventual closure. A few of the employees continued in Thales employment and were moved to Davis Road, into the five- story building, to join with ex Racal employees who were now also part of Thales.