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Southwell Business Park and Atlantic Academy

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This area includes most of the Sweethill Estate including the newer properties built in the last decade or two.

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

Included is the Southwell Business Park. This was formerly the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment between 1959 and 1997. The history of this military establishment can be read here.

In the late 1990s the site was converted into Southwell Business Park before becoming the main campus for the Atlantic Academy (formerly IPACA) in 2016.

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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?


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 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 went in cut roads 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.


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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.

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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, Holton Heath). The Southwell establishment was renamed the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment and it is still known as AUWE by older generations who worked there as I did (1966 - 1992).

Click here to locate the official archives of AUWE from 1959 - 1985 located at the National Archives.

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

Ashley Smith has written an informative article on the military establishment which can be read here.



All members of staff at the time of the conversion to the Defence Research Agency were presented with a commemorative mug as illustrated here.





The Southwell site was taken over for commercial purposes after the military staff had been dispersed; mainly to Winfrith. It became 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.


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.


On a visit in September 2016 this corridor was found to be in much better condition with plants in tubs and a fresh coat of paint on the walls.


When the building was constructed in the late 1950s a flat roof was included for cheapness and to provide some degree of heat insulation. This design fault was a disaster with many leaks resulting in buckets being scattered over the entire establishment catching floods from the roof. This picture shows that the problem has not yet been entirely solved after seven decades.


The hotel entrance built after the the Southwell Business Park. The hotel’s website can be reached here.

As a business park this building was 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.

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

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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.








As someone who worked in this building for nearly thirty years, I paid a nostalgic visit in 2013 to look around the site. 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 militarily sensitive documents were held in a steel inner room within a locked office. That room was 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, photographed in 2016, celebrating a collaborative programme between the Oceanographic Research Department and Space Shuttle Programme in the USA in the mid-1980s.

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


These building from the 1960s were built especially for making measurements of the magnetic fields of ships and weapons. The buildings are aligned North-South and East-West in the Earth’s magnetic field - hence the rather odd appearance.

The buildings were built entirely of non-magnetic materials such as aluminium and brass with iron and steel being banned.

When the buildings were completed a sensitive magnetic survey was carried out to ensure that the Earth’s magnetic field was not being distorted. Unfortunately an anomaly was detected in the middle of one of these building and the entire concrete floor had to be dug up - revealing a workman’s shovel embedded in the concrete!

The right-hand building is now a nursery.


The 'New Torpedo Laboratory' was 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...


My office in the 1980s was on the upper floor shown above to the right of the spiral staircase. This had amazing views all along the Jurassic Coast from Chiswell to Lyme Regis - even to Beer and Seaton on a good day. However, a huge ugly warehouse was built which obliterated my view.

Security SignLR

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...

I sent this picture to New Scientist magazine and they reproduced it with a very funny comment about its absurdity.

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In 2016 a building programme was completed at a cost of �14 million to bring together most of Portland’s schools into two campuses; the largest at Southwell and a smaller one at Chiswell - see here for details of the latter. The sites of the abandoned schools were sold off commercially.

These campuses together make up the Atlantic Academy (formerly IPACA) whose website can be reached here.




Part of the main building has been occupied by the Atlantic Academy (formerly IPACA) as well as the purpose-built hall on the right. Stuart Morris has posted online a video tour of the Southwell facilities which can be seen here.

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Seven Cover Picture

Age of 75 I started a new hobby - writing and publishing books. These are available as paperbacks from Amazon - please click here for details. Their overall star rating from readers is Four Stars



Keywords portland business park Atlantic Academy Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment Portland Dorset