News Article

GCHQ Scarborough receives HRH The Prince of Wales in its centenary year

Last Updated: 30 Jul 2014
Prince Charles, Royal Patron of the Intelligence Services, pays his first visit to the oldest continually-operating signals intelligence station in the world.


Scarborough HRH Bunker
©GCHQ. The Prince emerges from Scarborough’s original World War Two ‘bunker’ home.

News article - 30 July 2014

On Wednesday 30 July 2014, The Prince of Wales, Royal Patron of the Intelligence Services, paid his first visit to GCHQ’s station at Scarborough on the occasion of the North Yorkshire site’s centenary.

Local dignitaries, and past and present members of GCHQ, were able to meet the Prince and talk to him as he was given a tour of the secret facility at Irton Moor, on the outskirts of Scarborough, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year and is the oldest continually operating signals intelligence site in the world.

Among the items the Prince saw was the original World War Two "bunker" which acted as the main operations building for GCHQ Scarborough up until the mid-70s, and the sites very own museum where he was able to find out about Scarborough’s role in tackling the German Enigma machine and tracking the battleship Bismarck.

Bringing things up to date, the Prince was then given a tour of the site’s current operations building where he was briefed on some of Scarborough’s crucial work in countering serious and organized crime and cyber threats.

Taking time aside to talk to staff the Prince was able to hear about the many and varied charity and volunteering efforts that GCHQ Scarborough staff get involved in, demonstrating that the site and its people see themselves as very much part of the local community.

Before he left, the Prince was able to address staff and express his support and admiration for the work they do in countering threats to the nation.

Rounding off his visit he unveiled a plaque commemorating his time there and formally opening new facilities at the station, demonstrating that GCHQ Scarborough has an exciting future as well as a proud and distinguished past in helping protect the national security of the UK.

The Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, Lord Crathorne KCVO, who accompanied the Prince throughout his tour, said:

'I was delighted to accompany The Prince of Wales as He visited GCHQ Scarborough.  The men and women of GCHQ and their predecessors have worked tirelessly over the last 100 years at this location protecting the UK's interests.  It is entirely fitting to have His Royal Highness visit this low key but immensely important organisation in their centenary year.'

A GCHQ spokesman said:

'It is a real pleasure for us to host a visit by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales to our Scarborough site in this centenary year so that He can meet staff and see firsthand the vital work they do in keeping the country safe. The Prince has long been a strong supporter of the work of the intelligence agencies and His presence here today is a reminder of that.' 

History of GCHQ Scarborough

GCHQ Scarborough was originally a Royal Navy wireless telegraphy station which since 1914 has provided signals intelligence (Sigint) in support of the defence of the UK and our armed forces.

During The Great War the station’s role was to monitor the German High Seas Fleet which was making harassing attacks on the East Coast of England. Following the cessation of hostilities in 1918, Scarborough’s mission widened to include diplomatic communications, with resources eventually being evenly split between Naval and diplomatic intercepts.

During the Second World War Scarborough intercepted German Naval and Naval Air communications, and controlled a Direction-Finding network.

During May 1941, the station at Scarborough played a key role in the location and subsequent destruction of the German battleship Bismarck and, more importantly, passed intercepted Enigma traffic to Bletchley Park.

In 1943 the station moved to its current location and used as its main building a half-buried bomb-proof bunker covered in hundreds of tons of earth. The working conditions in the bunker were far from ideal. Space, heating and water supplies were inadequate, and rainwater would seep into the building.

Following the end of the Second World War, and the start of the Cold War period, Scarborough turned its attention to the collection of Soviet armed forces communications with a particular emphasis on Soviet naval traffic.

In 1965, operations at the site were transferred to GCHQ and it was renamed Composite Signals Organisation Station Irton Moor.

Work on the present building began in 1972 and all operations had transferred from the ‘bunker’ by 1974.

The fall of the Iron Curtain in the early 1990s resulted in the reduction of the UK’s interception. The missions of our sister stations at Cheadle and Culmhead were transferred to Scarborough in 1995 and 1998 respectively and in July 2001 the site received its current name of GCHQ Scarborough.

Over two hundred people currently work at the station, forming part of the overall GCHQ workforce. Like GCHQ generally, the Scarborough site is very much part of the local community and its staff take part in a wide variety of volunteering and charitable work.


Scarborough HRH enigma
©GCHQ. The Prince learns about the German wartime Enigma encryption machine at GCHQ Scarborough’s 'secret' museum.