Catalogue description Records of the Atomic Weapons Establishment, predecessors and successors

Details of ES
Reference: ES
Title: Records of the Atomic Weapons Establishment, predecessors and successors

Records of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) and predecessors concerning research and development and testing of Britain's atomic weapons.

For series created for regularly archived websites, please see the separate Websites Division .

Files relating to the development of the Aldermaston site and to early work on Britain's first generation weapons are in ES 1 (Rowley Collection).

AWE generated a number of different report series covering a wide range of activities. Reports on bombs are in ES 2; reports on the structural effects of atomic weapons are in ES 3; reports on bomb trials are in ES 5; Ordinary Reports are in ES 4; Nuclear Research Reports are in ES 6 ; Feasibility Reports for new systems are in ES 7; Intelligence Reports on foreign tests are in ES 8; Reactor Reports are in ES 9; Theoretical Physics Notes are in ES 10; Explosive Research Notes are in ES 11.

Aldermaston also produced a number of miscellaneous reports covering a wide range of subjects, these are to be found in ES 12.

Records relating to policy and relations with Whitehall are to be found in the Director's Private Office Papers ES 13.

Unregistered papers covering a wide range of topics are found in ES 14.

The implementation of policy and development at Aldermaston was conducted via a number of committees. Records detailing the work of these committees are to be found in ES 15.

A significant aspect of the work undertaken at AWE was conducted in collaboration with the United States. Records detailing the scope of Anglo-American collaboration are found in ES 16.

AWE also managed an outstation at Foulness at which test trials were conducted. Records relating to the Foulness test site are in ES 17.

Papers and reports relating to atmospheric trials are in ES 18.

Records relating to the main Aldermaston site are in ES 19.

Other record series are as follows:

Non-weapon Projects, ES 20;

Public Relations, ES 22;

Computers - Acquisition and Development, ES 23;

Underground Weapon Tests files and reports, ES 25;

Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Explosions files and reports, ES 26;

Use of Specialist Materials records, ES 27;

Accident and Emergency Exercises files and reports, ES 28;

Outstations - Acquisition, Management and Disposal ES 29;

Lasers - development and use, ES 30;

Infrastructure, ES 32.

The following series have been raised in preparation for transfer of records: Environment, Health and Safety files and reports ES 21; Monitoring of International Tests files and reports ES 24; Anglo-French relations files ES 31; Threat Reduction files and reports ES 33; Important Visitors files and photographs ES 34; and Nuclear Weapons Development files and reports ES 35.

Date: 1944-2004

From the inception of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) until 1953 all official documents were put into several HER series. In 1953 AWRE started to issue its own documents. Manuscripts were prepared by staff in all Divisions and the series to which that report would be allocated was selected by the AWRE Reports Editor based primarily on the subject content of the document. The Editor ensured a consistency of format and layout.

Where report numbers are not present in the numerical sequence it is because those particular numbers were not used. The use of brackets in the description denotes the area from which sensitive words have been removed. When the piece is released the missing words from the title will be inserted. This practice has been used, where necessary, in all ES series.

Related material:

For the Australian Royal Commission into United Kingdom Nuclear Weapons Testing in Australia, see:



Photocopies of evidence given to the Australian Royal Commission into United Kingdom Nuclear Weapons Testing in Australia: DEFE 16

Records of the UK Atomic Energy Authority: AB

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Atomic Weapons Establishment, 1987-

Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, 1954-1973

Ministry of Defence, Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, 1973-1987

Ministry of Supply, Armament Research Department, 1942-1954

Physical description: 36 series
Access conditions: Subject to 30 year closure unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

Atomic Weapons Establishment

Publication note:

For further information on the first five series of tests, see Lorna Arnold, 'A Very Special Relationship: British Atomic Weapons Trials in Australia' (London, 1987). For details of the post-war project see, Margaret Gowing, 'Independence and Deterrence: Britain and Atomic Energy 1945-1952' (London: Macmillan, 1974) 2 volumes.

Administrative / biographical background:

The Atomic Weapons Research Establishment was set up in the late 1940s by the Ministry of Supply. The functions of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment were scientific and technical research into atomic weapons and the testing of Britain's atomic bombs.

Initially, early scientific and technical work on the British atomic weapons project was the responsibility of the Ministry of Supply Research Division at Woolwich and the Armament Research Establishment [ARE] at Fort Halstead in Kent, the latter being the overall headquarters.

On 1 April 1950, high explosive research [HER] work (the expression used to signify atomic weapons research) was moved from ARE Fort Halstead to a new site at Aldermaston, near Reading in Berkshire (previously an aircrew holding centre for the Royal Canadian Air Force). Other research on the British atomic weapons programme, carried out at the Armament Research Establishment in Kent, was transferred to Aldermaston in the same year.

In 1954, the Aldermaston site was constituted as the headquarters of the Weapons Group of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority by the UK Atomic Energy Authority Act 1954. Outstations to the Aldermaston HQ were at Woolwich Common, Foulness and Orfordness.

Early tests were carried out in Australia and the Pacific, and after 1958, in accordance with the 1958 US/UK Agreement for Co-operation in the use of Atomic Energy for Mutual Defence Purposes, at the underground test site in Nevada, USA.

In 1957, following the report of the Grigg Committee on Public Records, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) decided to appoint an archivist/historian to its London office, with a view to initiating a records policy and co-ordinating the work of the records officers at each site. At Aldermaston, the archives were placed under the control of the security officer, Air Commodore H V Rowley, who had been involved with the weapons project since the early HER days.

Under the Atomic Energy Authority (Weapons Group) Act 1973, the Weapons Group became the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence.

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