NCB Coal Research Establishment, Stoke Orchard

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clebby

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After hearing about this through a friend, me and Da-Mop decided to check out this little-documented site. We cycled into the heart of the sleepy Gloucestershire countryside, and soon the various chimneys, water towers and warehouses loomed on the horizon. However, despite being surrounded by glorious counrtryside and at the heart of the pretty hamlet of Stoke Orchard, the does not stick out like a sore thumb as you would imagine. The only way to realise its derelict is to venture on to the site, or for those with a keen eye the drab, dreary and rusting corrugated walls are a giveaway.

Opened in 1950 by British Coals Jacob Brownowski, the CRE's main objective was to improve the efficiency of burning coal, whilst also trying to keep emissions down. In its later years, the CRE ventured into producing crude oil from coal, but unfortunately the process was expensive and inefficient and so never caught on. However, the method did actually produce oil and the CRE housed an experimental 1970's Ford Torino that run on this new oil. The Coal Liquefaction facilities are still located on the site, run down and derelict, and were operational until the last days of the CRE. The scientists working there obviously though they could make the process economically viable.

When the British Coal Industry was privatised in 1994, the government refused to fund the CRE, and so it closed its doors. Almost all of the site remains, with just one building being converted into a trading estate, which still houses a division of the NCB.

The first thing you stumble across when you access the site are some testing houses that were used to test and experiment with heating equipment. They look like a normal pair of 1970's semi's, until you notice the obscene number of chimneys. This is because every single room, even the garages, were equipped with fireplaces and flu's.

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With so much more to see, we couldn't afford to spend much time here (and there was no sign of the Ford Torino!) So we continued to the Gasification area. When turning coal into oil, it first had to be turned into gas, all done at the CRE.

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Apart from a lot of weeds and rust, the entire site is in excellent condition, especially after 14 years of abandonment. Apart from the odd broken window and a hell of a lot of pigeon crap, some areas remain untouched, as they were when the facility closed all those years ago.

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In a small, normal looking store room there was an assortment of shelves that housed coal samples. On the shelves were the names of coillery's from around the country, and I don't have a clue about the coal industry but even I recognised the importance; names like Ellington and Navigation Deep. Ellington's shelf still held a few lumps of coal.

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Also in this room, rather bizarrely, was a pillar drill

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Seeing as pipes criss-crossed around the entire site, pressure gauges, valves and switches could be found around every corner.

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The Coal Liquefaction Facilities were where the coal gas was turned into the new oil. They were unfortunately locked up tight, but I will certainly return in the future if anyone is up for it?

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I peered in through one of the windows on the Coal Liquefaction Facilities. There was a complete laboratory with fume cupboards, gas taps and machines. Damn the lack of access points!

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Then we discovered this warehouse; it housed the main furnaces. These even had vast conveyor belts and fodders to feed coal into the fire.

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Then we reached the furnace room, housing three colossal ovens and large control panels, some of which still used paper and a needle to plot temperature graphs. These rolls of graph paper showed the furnaces reached well over 1500 degrees centigrade.

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This beautiful device (I think it was a themometer) used different shaped, elagant glass baubles to plot information on a computer graph. It still had the ink pot, still full, ready to plot more information after all these years. A priceless relic, and I'm so glad it's not been vandalised.

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After navigating the maze of rooms and ladders that took you to all different levels of the complex, I stumbled across this, which I had been looking forward to seeing for real after seeing it on www.forlornbritain.co.uk. It is a beautiful Hartley and Sugden sectional boiler, with an English rose cast into each door.

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We then "tackled" the water tower, which is actually suprisingly high, but the highlight was the stunning views of the surrounding countryside, and out towards Cheltenham.

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Obviously, with coal comes combustion, and with combustion comes fire, so the site had a 3 berth fire station. I wonder if it had those firemans poles...

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I will certainly be returning in the future to check out the Coal Liquefaction Facilities, the office blocks (which also had labs; yay!) and an incredible looking store room with gas masks and glass jars filled with all sorts of things!

If you want to tag along PM me or add me on MSN at [email protected]
 
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sinnerman

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looks like you got to see a little more of the place than i did it was really secure back when i visited towards the start of the year still no sign of the coal powered car though ;)
 

clebby

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ncb stoke orchard

looks like you got to see a little more of the place than i did it was really secure back when i visited towards the start of the year still no sign of the coal powered car though ;)

ahhhh you run forlorn britain! i love that website!
thats what inspired me to visit the site
i've gotta do the forest of dean site, where in lydbrook is it?
cheers
 
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BigLoada

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Brilliant explore mate. Good to see all the different aspects of the complex, but best of all is the coal from Ellington, one of my local collieries and Northumberland's last ever deep pit.
 

sinnerman

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Cheers glad you like the site, have to be perfectly honest with you i havent got a clue exactly where it is i didnt drive when i went there and wasnt paying any attention, isnt a very big place though so shouldnt be to hard to track down.
 

Reaperman

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Good to see the CRE again, I did notice notice a mistake in your write up though...
the British Coal Industry was nationalised in 1994,

Actually the coal industry was Nationalised in 1947 and Privatised in 1994!

I think the CRE site was formerly a MOD site and converted to be the home for the CRE after the war though I cant be 100 sure. The CRE also did not close until sometime after Privatisation though off the top of my head I cant remember when.

The Liquefaction programme tends to be the CRE project that most captures the imagination but it wasn't actually a technology that was invented at the CRE. Petroleum was first produced from coal in 1913 and during the latter part of the second world war the majority of German forces were running on fuel produced this way (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bergius_process for more info)

When looking at the CRE site it's important to make the distinction between coal Fluidisation and Liquefaction which are totally different, and were both researched on site. Liquefaction is the process where you are actually creating liquid fuel. At the CRE Fluidisation resarch related to fluidised bed combustion which involved pulverized coal being blown into the bed of the furnace allowing combustion similar to that of a liquid fuel.

I have some archive footage from the CRE in operation on 16mm film I've got some stills from the film kicking around which I will post if i can find them.
 
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clebby

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Good to see the CRE again, I did notice notice a mistake in your write up though...

Actually the coal industry was Nationalised in 1947 and Privatised in 1994!

I think the CRE site was formerly a MOD site and converted to be the home for the CRE after the war though I cant be 100 sure. The CRE also did not close until sometime after Privatisation though off the top of my head I cant remember when.

The Liquefaction programme tends to be the CRE project that most captures the imagination but it wasn't actually a technology that was invented at the CRE. Petroleum was first produced from coal in 1913 and during the latter part of the second world war the majority of German forces were running on fuel produced this way (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bergius_process for more info)

When looking at the CRE site it's important to make the distinction between coal Fluidisation and Liquefaction which are totally different, and were both researched on site. Liquefaction is the process where you are actually creating liquid fuel. At the CRE Fluidisation resarch related to fluidised bed combustion which involved pulverized coal being blown into the bed of the furnace allowing combustion similar to that of a liquid fuel.

I have some archive footage from the CRE in operation on 16mm film I've got some stills from the film kicking around which I will post if i can find them.

ooops! :( i'll change it now. I believe it was built around the military site of stoke orchard airbase, but that is a landfill site now :mad: I did see the fluidised bed combustion facility, but i knew that wasn't making the fuel.

cheers
 

ricasso

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ooops! :( i'll change it now. I believe it was built around the military site of stoke orchard airbase, but that is a landfill site now :mad: I did see the fluidised bed combustion facility, but i knew that wasn't making the fuel.

cheers

The landfill isnt on the airfield site,its very close but doesnt touch the field. you can still identify the landing field [complete with part of the peri track],also the last of the three hangers,and obviously the ROC post and seagull trench,sorry,dont mean to sound picky :)
 

snoopin about

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I could walk to this site ! so if in future you plan a revisit please get in touch and ill come pick you up ! :)
 
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