Admiralty Research Laboratory, Queens Road, Teddington : History from its founding in 1921 to 1977

Porpoise Class Conventional Submarine

PORPOISE Class Diesel-Electric Submarine embodied leading stealth and long range sonar, from ARL research. See ARL Projects KNOUT & SOAP, Sonar Types 186 & 2007, respectively.

Conventional submarine sonar type 2007

Conventional submarine Sonar Type 2007, processor for Flank Arrays, developed from ARL passive sonar research into digital processing techniques for low frequency acoustic signals from long hydrophone arrays. See ARL Projects DICE & SOAP.

Underwater viewing systems using CCTV

ARL's research into underwater viewing systems using CCTV culminated in one capable of operation to 1000ft; initial version was hastily constructed to speed-up the search for HMS/M AFFRAY in 1951.

Specially constructed equipment installations

ARL's sonar research involved some large, specially constructed equipment installations e.g. at AES Unst, Shetlands

Purpose-built underwater transducers

ARL's sonar research included the design & construction of purpose-built underwater transducers.

ARL's research ensured that UK Nuclear submarines were decades ahead

ARL's research ensured that UK Nuclear submarines were decades ahead of their contemporaries in terms of stealth, sensors & weapons.


The history of the past, highly classified centre of
physical research, problem-solving and operational improvements for the Royal Navy:-

ADMIRALTY RESEARCH LABORATORY (ARL)
Queens Road, Teddington, Middx TW11 0LN        Tel: Teddington Lock (01-977) 3231

1921 to 1977


SECRET
No longer secret but certain work areas were classified even higher and remain so!

The Admiralty Research Laboratory (ARL) was established in 1921, as the centre for Royal Naval physical research, in response to the Board of the Admiralty aspirations to expand upon the technological advances in naval warfare made during the First World War; occupying the eastern end of Queens Road in Teddington, it was well placed to take advantage of the standardisation and testing facilities developed by staff at the (separate) establishment next-door,  the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).

ARL work areas were organised by group and included: Underwater Sound Transmission, Propagation & Reception; Acoustic & Non-Acoustic Submarine Detection; Vessel Radiated Noise Measurement  and Reduction; Hydrodynamics &  Hydro-Ballistics; Chemistry & Chemical Engineering; Optics; Maritime Mine Countermeasures; Special Problems; Infra-Red Sensors; Solid-State Physics; (Gunnery) Fire Control & Stabilised Platforms; Radiological Defence & Monitoring; Military Oceanography; Mathematics; Human Factors; Assessment; Instrumentation and Engineering Design.

Such was the highly classified nature of ARL's work that practically nothing was generally known before the latter-day release of Admiralty documents under the Freedom of Information Act. There are now thousands of documents available to the general public, relating to ARL, held by The National Archives at Kew; principle references are ADM212 “Correspondence and Letters”, and ADM204 “Reports and Notes”.


Post-1969 view of Centre Block, ARL Queens Road site, from the top of Maths Block

The fact that there is now little trace that ARL ever existed should not belittle the essential contribution made by the staff at ARL to the Royal Navy's capability and performance throughout the Cold War.

 

Introduction

ARL’s remit as the centre for Royal Naval science was first to determine, and then develop expertise in, the underlying science of virtually all aspects of Royal Navy operations, and subsequently master the many processes involved in ensuring that science is applied effectively. The fact that ARL quickly became effective in its role is a remarkable testimony to the calibre of scientists, experimenters, technicians and engineers that were attracted to the challenge, over the years.

Indeed, rapid progress was made as ARL developed the capability of constructing bespoke, high-technology test and measurement equipment for themselves. Generally, the specially-made equipment supported the process of problem solving by identifying the nature and cause, as a prelude to ARL evolving a practical and invariably ground-breaking solution.

As a consequence, the greater proportion of modern naval warfare technology stems from the research and problem solving conducted by the staff of the Admiralty  Research Laboratory, Teddington over the period 1921 to 1977. For example, some of this work enabled major advances in submarine stealth, weapons and sonar. These advances included streamlining, machinery noise reduction, faster and quieter Pump-Jet propulsion, and Towed Array long-range Surveillance (passive) sonar. Certain aspects of these work areas remain highly classified!

Site Expansion

ARL underwent two expansions in the Teddington area.
In 1939 further Crown land within Bushy Park was acquired for a new laboratory block, officially named "Centre Block" it became known as 'Fire Control', and beyond it was built the 'Orlit Hut'. In 1945 ARL acquired a site in Bushy Park known as Upper Lodge that had been used by the Air Ministry during WWII. See menu for further details.

What happened to ARL

In 1977-8 the majority of the underwater acoustics work was transferred to Portland, Dorset. This move came in the wake of a renaming of the establishment to "Admiralty Marine Technology Establishment [ARL]", later just: "AMTE Teddington".

The main site in Queens Road was closed in 1988 and by then what was formerly ARL was simply: "Admiralty Research Establishment (ARE) Teddington".

With the formation (in 1991) of the tri-services Defence Research Agency, the remaining former ARL site at Upper Lodge became "DRA Teddington", only to be closed on Christmas Eve 1993 bringing to a complete end 72 years of ground-breaking scientific research that was of immense benefit to the Royal Navy.

At midday on 23rd Dec 1993 Pipe Major John Haynes (77th Highlanders), RN Piping Society, and former Site Manager piped the last staff from Upper Lodge. Site Manager Brian Moses and Head Patrolman George Bullen locked the gates. For the record, John piped "The Lament For The Dead".

‘Perhaps the most important thing we had achieved had been to help in preventing another world war' - from the journal of Alec Mitchell, final Director of the Admiralty Research Laboratory, and Hydrodynamist that led the development of Pump-jet Propulsion.

 


About this website

A view shared by most ex-colleagues of mine from ARL days, was that ARL, with its progressive asset-stripping, rundown and closure commencing in 1977, had all but been forgotten! Of particular concern was the distortion of history by those (who ought to know better or at least check the facts) consulted and writing about Naval R & D and wrongly attributing ARL research to others e.g. HMUDE / AUWE. Consequently,  in 2005, with knowledge acquired as a member of ARL's Submarine Detection Group from Oct 1963 to Dec 1973...

 

... I commenced documenting the achievements of ARL staff, primarily so that they may have the recognition they so rightly deserve.

Every effort has been taken to ensure the information on this website is as accurate as possible. However, any amendment, comment or suggestion will be gratefully received.

I would like to record here my thanks to all who have provided information to date.

Nigel Godsell
Royal Naval Scientific Service: Scientific Officer

Important

These ARL webpages are formatted for display with a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels minimum. Further, they were developed using MSIE 11, although earlier versions e.g. MSIE 8 has no problems other than blocking JavaScript, which can be allowed in complete safety for these webpages; they use some very basic JavaScript that is totally benign, and is mistakenly determined as potentially harmful Active X, by MSIE 8.


WEBSITE STATUS

2nd December 2018: This website is now established on its own server and all intended webpages are accessible. However, most webpages are in an early, embryonic form and will be progressed as time allows.

Last update: December 2018

Recent Events

Additional information plaques for Bushy Park


Updated ARL monument at Upper Lodge - photo: Bill Swan, Assistant Park Manager


Yours truly admiring the finished result of many months of collaboration with Bill Swan - photo taken in The Stockyard by Keith Strickland.

For details see Site contents >> 'Monuments'


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