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Southwell Business Park Area

Portland, Dorset


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The above image is copyright Dorset County Council 2000 and is reproduced here with permission

The area shown in the red square, includes most of the Sweethill Estate including the newer properties built since this aerial picture was taken in 1997.

These estates are rather anonymous and - to a large extent - provide accommodation for commuters and the retired. 

In the bottom left-hand corner is part of Southwell Business Park - the former Admiralty Underwater Weapon Establishment. A brief history of it is given below.

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An earth mound lies almost opposite Southwell School.

Is this the last visible remains of the huge shaft system dug under Southwell a century ago?

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Picture reproduced by kind permission of Stuart Morris from his book "Portland - An Illustrated History"  - see links for publication details.

This old photograph shows the well being dug. A shaft was driven down 200 feet and then shafts were cut horizontally out to as far as 170 feet all in the search for clean drinking water.

Sadly, the water in this shaft was contaminated by seawater and sewerage so the whole complex was sealed off and forgotten.

Work underway on the new Sweethill Estate in December 2002.

It was hoped that this large field would be set aside for the community to use. However, the builder cut roads - see the aerial photograph above - and the house building started soon afterwards.

Some completed houses bordering on to Reap Lane which originally followed a line to the right in this picture.

By June 2003 the fields to the north of Southwell Business Park (on the skyline of the above picture) were cleared and new houses were being built.

Below is the same scene in 2008.


(Copyright Southwell Business Park - reproduced by kind permission)

This huge building dominates the hill to the south-west of Southwell village. It was built in the mid-1950s as the Admiralty Gunnery Establishment. During the excavations for the foundations evidence was found of pre-Roman and Roman occupation.

To celebrate its opening a mural was painted above the main entrance doors and this still exists as an encapsulation of mid-1950s technology associated with gunnery and anti-aircraft missiles. These photographs were taken in October 2002 by kind permission of the Southwell Business Park management.

Unfortunately, two large pillars rise up in front of the mural so I have struggled to get together four pictures from various angles which together show the whole mural.

By 1960 it was decided to consolidate all minewarefare and torpedo research at Southwell; this work then being performed in establishments in Scotland (Alexandria, Dunfermline, Arrochar and Greenock) as well as in Cornwall (Helston), Hampshire (Havant), Surrey (Teddington) and Dorset (Portland Naval Base, Bincleaves and Holton Heath). The Southwell establishment was renamed the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment and it is still known as AUWE by older generations. 

Click here to locate the official archives of AUWE from 1959 - 1983.

After successive name changes to ARE, DRA and DERA the site was closed and the majority of workers transferred to Winfrith as QinetiQ. 

The Southwell site was taken over for commercial purposes and has been spectacularly successful as Southwell Business Park.

Memories of the building's naval past are scattered around as with this naval crest - the 'fouled anchor'  above the entrance doors.

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This was known to the workers at Southwell as the 'Gun Lab Corridor' right up until the naval presence left in the 1990s - a reminder that in the 1950s this had been a gunnery research station.

This building is now home to a diverse range of small and medium size enterprises, including various professional services, research and development, manufacturing, electrical, mechanical, light and heavy engineering, recruitment, design and publishing, art and craft studios and numerous niche activities. The Park also hosts a variety of business events, seminars and community activities throughout the year.

More than 100 businesses occupy a superb range of offices, workshops, studios, industrial and storage units, providing employment for almost 500 people.

The Southwell Business Park web site can be found at http://www.southwellbusinesspark.com/

As of March 2010 the Southwell Business Park and its hotel were both under new ownership. Compass Point Estates bought the park from administrators KPMG after it went into administrative receivership. A new company has taken over the running of the hotel complex, now called The Portland Hotel.

As someone who worked in this building for nearly thirty years, I recently paid a nostalgic visit to look around the Park. It was odd to see once highly-secret laboratories and offices housing sculptors, a nursing agency, artists, a maker of lead toy soldiers, etc. 

The most secret room in the old AUWE days was where all the really sensitive documents were held in a steel inner room within a locked office. Today that room is occupied by a small organisation offering, amongst many other services, Strippergrams!

How things have changed - for the better!

A nostalgic reminder of the days when the Southwell Business Park buildings were occupied by scientists and engineers working on underwater defence projects.

Here we see a sticker celebrating a collaborative programme between the Oceanographic Research Department and Space Shuttle Programme in the USA.

This has survived on one of the few office doors not to be painted bright blue after the military personnel left.


The 'New Torpedo Laboratory' is an out-building within Southwell Business Part and was built in the mid-1970s for - as its name suggests - carrying out research on torpedoes.

In fact, it was mainly used for office accommodation  - including my office from 1976 - 1983. 

Aaaah! Nostalgia is not what it used to be...

This very odd sign appears in several places around the security fence at Southwell Business Park. Can anyone explain how the gate is to be used if it must be locked at all times? Are users expected to squeeze through the gaps in the chain link fence? Weird...


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