80 years of Shropshire’s “golf ball” landmark on Titterstone Clee Hill

by | Sep 23, 2021 | Golf Balls

The Clee Hill Radar Station in September 1978 with a new 40-foot radome to replace one destroyed in a storm.

Because this is the 80th anniversary year of one of Shropshire’s more unusual landmarks, on one of the highest hills in the county.

The radar station on the summit of Titterstone Clee Hill will have been top secret when it was built in 1941 during some of the darkest days of the war.

And while that original station has long since disappeared, the more modern radar on the hill is now part of a national radar network and plays a key role in providing weather information to the Met Office.

The distinctive radomes seen here in 2011.

In the first chapter of the Clee Hill story, the equipment was looked after by a small group of RAF radar operators and mechanics.

Windswept and isolated, despite the breathtaking views, RAF Clee Hill may not have been a popular post for their 40 to 50 RAF members. It was a residential unit and until September 1956 they lived in huts upstairs.

After that they lived in Ludlow and only went to the train station during working hours.

While the hill was covered with sheep, the aviators told of one of their people who stupidly went “baa” one evening and arrived on duty like a pied piper, followed by a flock of 30 sheep.

A newspaper article about their work in June 1957 when the commanding officer was a Flight Lieutenant Hole said: “Life was not so comfortable when the men lived and worked on the hill. I remember being isolated in snowdrifts, and speak of times when the temperature has dropped to minus 10 degrees. “

The article would presumably measure in Fahrenheit at the time, so that minus 10 degrees means minus 23 degrees Celsius.

Another disadvantage was the cost of traveling to Ludlow. Senior Aircraftman John Taylor, one of those who lived on the premises, told our reporter that the cost of the bus was 2 seconds at the time. 6d. back (today around 1 p.m.).

Bert Hobby, a civilian who was a radar tinkerer on the unit for seven years, had grown fond of the hill and “will regret it very much when the station closes in October”.

It was then closed in October 1957.

After the unit closed, the BBC reportedly set up a portable mast on the hill to carry signals from Sutton Coldfield. We say supposedly because we wonder if the reporter made the usual mistake of confusing Titterstone Clee Hill with Shropshire’s other Clee Hill, Brown Clee Hill (which is Shropshire’s tallest hill).

In any case, in the summer of 1961 the Department of Aviation took a look at Titterstone Clee in order to set up a new radar station there.

And so the hill experienced a revival of its radar station function in 1964, this time with the commissioning of a radar station for the civil aviation authority. It was manned around the clock by at least two people and was part of a national air traffic service that advised and controlled civil aircraft.

It could still be a tough and lonely post at around 1,700 feet. For example, in January 1968, Roy Beachill of Ashford and Joe Hanlon of Ludlow found their Land Rover in Dhustone obstructed by snowdrifts and, despite the strong wind, ran the last three kilometers through five-foot-long drifts.

Upon arrival at least, they had some home comforts. The station was centrally heated and had supplies of emergency food, snowshoes and a hand-operated snow plow for cutting paths through the drifts.

The wake time was typically 16 hours, although 24 hours was not uncommon.

The radomes, unlike masts, appear to have appeared in the early 1970s. They were certainly there in 1977 because a storm in November 1977 destroyed one of the domes, although it happened to be empty as the equipment inside had been removed while the base was waiting for new equipment. A 40-foot spare radome appeared in 1978.

The Clee Hill Radar Station in September 1978 with a new 40-foot radome to replace one destroyed in a storm.

The technology has undoubtedly been updated more than once since then.

Today, the radomes, which are known to look like large golf balls, are part of the National Air Traffic Services radar network, which monitors civil and military aircraft within a 100 mile radius, and the Met Office weather radar network.

The devices are connected to a national radar network.