Broadmoor Sirens

Andrew wrote: 

I've always been interested in the Broadmoor sirens and I'd be interested to know if anyone has any information about them.  The present Bagshot one is on the A30 opposite the Cricketers pub but I remember there used to be one at the top of Freemantle Road about 20 or so years ago.  I'd also be interested if anyone has any recollection of any air raid sirens in Bagshot during WWII or afterwards. 

When I moved to the village in 1973 the siren was indeed at the end of Freemantle Road in the grounds of the old telephone exchange. When that site was sold off for redevelopment (the office block with the circular tower outside) the alarm was moved to the grounds of the council depot on the A30 (where it still is).

Dave replied: 

In answer to Broadmoor Sirens. Andrew. I lived in Bagshot during the war, there was a siren, I believe, on the roof of the council offices, I lived just round the corner in Half Moon Street, I think there were three sirens in the Bagshot area, one near the Cricketers pub, and one in Church Lane somewhere. 

Dave's reference to the council offices would be to the building in the High Street that now houses the library.

Another Dave, Dave Harrison, wrote about his memories, and provides some details about the sirens themselves

Although I now live in North Staffordshire, My Grandparents lived in Sandhurst, and one of my earliest memories of staying there, is that eerie low wail of the Broadmoor siren being tested at 10:00 each Monday. 
As the years went on, I too became interested in the siren system, and thru persistence and patience have amassed some info and hope I can help your enquirer. 
The system became active in 1952, after an escape which involved the murder of a young girl in Arborfield. A main siren was installed at the complex, followed by several repeaters from Bagshot to Wokingham (easily viewed opposite the church at the junction with Holt Lane in the latter case) and Bracknell. 
Basically, these are the same as the old air raid/fire sirens, manufactured by Carter powered by a 3 phase motor with an audio signal injected into the supply for control. The fundamental difference with the Broadmoor sirens is that the sirens have a Shutter control to give that unique alternating high/low note, and I believe the units are run to speed before the mechanism is activated. 
I think that during the 70's an experiment was carried out with another type of signal, involving a more "electronic" sounding "Beep-Beep" but his later reverted to the original. Can anyone shed light on this? 

Andrew added:

I have a little more information to add myself - I've now come across 10 sirens in the area:

And from Jamie:

I am not entirely sure on how many sirens there are in the area. But having been interested in them myself I asked my partner about them who works in Broadmoor Hospital and I even found out that he presses the button to do the tests sometimes! It is done at 10am every Monday morning. There is a first alarm which would be the escape alarm (if someone did escape) and then a second alarm which is the ''all clear''. They are all on 'high masts' around the area and I think there is a 25 mile radius! Having seen a few of them they look a lot like mobile phone masts. Any other stuff anyone is interested in about just ask and I'll try to find out!

Rob writes from Northamptonshire

I lived my early days in Crowthorne and later Bracknell. I too remember the sirens, something we took for granted, never knowing any better. By the way what does IDR stand for (Andrew said there is a siren in Bracknell located there)?.

Jon has written

I know of two further Broadmoor repeater sirens. One in Ascot (Chavey Down) at what I think is, or was, a council depot on Longhill Road - there is now a skate park there. Also another in Wokingham, on a tower hidden in the trees just off Reading Road. I discovered this one by chance as I was once stuck in a traffic jam adjacent to it when it went off!!

There are 2 sirens to my knowledge in Bracknell, one in the car park of offices just next to the station (on the other side of the tracks) and another behind Safeway near The Point.

I can't remember what IDR stands for either, but I know that what is referred to as the IDR in Reading is the main ring road around the town centre.

Helen writes to tell us that the "IDR" is the Inner Distribution Road that runs around the outside of Reading Town Centre. I suspect Andrew's use of "IDR" in Bracknell is to refer to one of the ring roads.

Dan asks,

Does anyone in the area have or able to get a recording of the Sirens doing the alert signal?  I am not local and am interested in what the Sirens look and sound like.  
Please see here for the sound.

Rupert Butcher tells us:

It seems to have been standard practise for psychiatric hospitals to test the sirens every week or morning. I grew up very close to Banstead Hospital in Surrey and the siren, yes it was the same as an old air raid one, was tested every morning. I was never sure whether this was to be used in case someone went missing or as a fire warning. Later when at college, I worked during the summer at the hospital (closed in '87 and now the site of Downview and Highdown Prisons) as a nursing assistant, I was a man in a white coat, and was told that the siren was used in case of a fire, but may have been used in the past as an alert to missing patients. Although Banstead was not a special or secure hospital like Broadmoor, it did have a series of locked and secure wards so this may indeed have been true.

The Broadmoor siren was mentioned in the song, released as a single "sound of the suburbs" by the new wave band "The Members" around 1978/79.

From former Sandhurst resident Barry

When I went to the old Scotland Hill Primary school between Little Sandhurst and Sandhurst there was a siren situated in the corner of our playground. This was back in 1963, the school is no longer there but the siren still is as I saw it a few weeks ago but it is fairly hidden by shrubbery.

Alec adds I was a pupil at Scotland Hill School from `61 to `67 and I remember every Monday morning, how a man (presumably a technician),would poke his head round the classroom door to ask if the siren had sounded that morning. 680.506

Luke tells us that there is a picture of one of the Broadmoor sirens at www.airraidsirens.com/images/bracknell_360x600.jpg and adds that the siren is deafening in Sandhurst Comprehensive when it is tested on a Monday morning, especially if outdoors on the Astro Turf as the siren is in an enclosed area on its edge.

From Danny:

I think there could be a siren at Ascot station also.  I seem to remember, when I was a kid in the 70's quite a few escapes, but for some reason they always got caught drinking in pubs in Aldershot. So if you hear the sirens never go drinking in Aldershot.

Dr Gosseyn points out that many people are unaware of the sirens:

I live in Bracknell and it is striking how many people I speak to about the siren who don't know what it is for. Some don't even know of its existence because they're out at work when its tested. It seems pointless to persist with the siren unless the authorities embark on some kind of public education campaign.

Dave Harrison, an earlier correspondent on this theme, writes again:

Nice to see this thread still developing. The 'All Clear' is, as stated, just a constant tone from the same sirens - but with the shutter system isolating the 'low' tone.

An employee at Broadmoor wrote to reminds us of the role of the sirens:

The sirens are tested every Monday morning. They are to alert the general public of any escapes. If you hear the alarm any time other than Monday there has been an escape. To prevent an escape happening during the test period all patients are accounted for and locked in their rooms before testing.

From Tim

There is a siren in the old sewage works at Finchampstead just north west of the River Blackwater opposite the old council houses. As a resident of Finchampstead for 50 years you get immune to its Monday morning 10am chorus, until it sounds at any other time! (Nov 11)

From Tony Hope

I grew up in Easthampstead, Bracknell, in the sixties and can remember hearing the siren every monday morning.Our dog used to howl along with it. It was less amusing when we heard the siren at other times, particularly late one summer night, all the windows were closed rather quickly. I can remember dads being allowed home from work to look after their families and soldiers, possibly REME apprentices from Arborfield guarding the entrances to what used to be south hill park woods. I live in Bristol now and haven't heard the siren for years. Just played the sound clip.....It's blood curdling wail still stands my hair on end. [Mar 12]

The end of the sirens?

In July 2014 it was reported that West London Mental Health Trust, which runs Broadmoor Hospital, wants to cut 7 of the 13 alarms, including the ones at Bagshot and Camberley, claiming that there was "no reason" to keep the sirens as security had improved.

The sirens were installed in 1952 after Broadmoor patient John Straffon escaped for 24 hours and killed a young girl in Farley Hill, Berkshire. They were last activated in 1993.
source: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-28251712

Escapees

Charlie writes: ref 415.304

When I was in school year 3, either 1991 or 1992, I remember someone escaping from Broadmoor when I was in a lesson. I remember being picked up from school in Eversley and the teachers not letting us out until our parents were definitely there. I was just wondering if anyone else remembered this and who exactly escaped?

Ann tells us:

The last escape from Broadmoor was "Wolfman" in 1991. The siren went off at about 3 or 4am. I was up at the time feeding my twin newborn daughters and I rapidly shut any open windows and double checked the doors were locked. "Wolfman" was caught a couple of days after his escape after the entire area was covered by roadblocks and police searching cars.

But Amanda thinks it was later and agrees with Charlie's daytime recollection:

Are you sure there hasn't been another escapee after "wolfman"? I was at Bagshot County First School in year 3 (I remember as we were in the older outside classroom) and there was a siren. We had to stay after the end of school... as all parents had to personally collect their children, and the roads were chaos! This would have been in 1992 or 1993.

Another Charlie writes

I too remember the last escape as I was in lessons that afternoon (must have been 1993ish). I don't recall all the details but it was definitely an afternoon and the escapee wasn't as dangerous as some of the patients there. He was apprehended quite quickly I believe hiding in a bush or something close by to Broadmoor.

"Smithy" adds to my confusion over alarms more recent than any I recall saying

 I remember more recently when the siren went off, but it is because a patient stabbed another in the eye

Another David places the 'wolfman' escape at 1991 or 1992

I was manager at the Balfour's shop in Owlsmoor around 13 or 14 years ago when the Wolfman escaped. There was a siren to alert us and the police wouldn't allow me to let my paperboys go out on their rounds for two mornings while he was at large.

I recall the skies being filled with helicopters for days until they caught him in some woodland only a few miles away.

Jim lived in Owlsmoor when Wolfman escaped and adds

I remember he broke into a house near Frimley (perhaps Frimley Road) and stole the keys for the Landrover outside, then drove to Poole where he stole another car. He was captured somewhere on the south coast. Meanwhile the local police with helicopters were searching the woods near Nine Mile Ride for 2 or 3 days. Also I remember the Police coming round with loudhailers saying 'stay indoors' and the only people roaming the streets that Sunday morning were old ladies going to church who I suspect had hearing difficulties. ref 674.506

From Ben we have a comment about the inconvenient timing of the 'all clear'.  Possibly this explains Ann's memory of an early morning alarm - it might well have actually been the all clear.

I remember somebody pressing the button after 'Wolfman' was captured at 6 am in the morning and everybody I knew were very unhappy to be woken up so early. ref597

Nicole remembers:  

... a siren going off while I was in secondary school from 1994 to 1999. I only remember there being one because we were locked inside the hall for ages and the teacherss wouldn't let us out. Apparently someone had escaped from Broadmoor and had ran through the side of our school grounds. (if anyone knows Ranelagh there is a muddy pathway which goes down the side of the school to the housing estate and Ranelagh's 2nd field). I remember seeing loads of police and police dogs and helicopters. 7052.707

And from Cliff

I remember a few escapes from Broadmoor with the sirens going on for hours during the late 70's and early 80's when Iwas a pupil at Yateley Comprehensive. I don't ever remember having to wait around 'till my parents turned up. That would have been quite hard though, as both my parents worked at Broadmoor so would have been manning the roadblocks. 8004.108

From Dave Lee

Back in the very distant past, I used to live in Farley Hill, near Swallowfield. My elder brother told me that someone escaped from Broadmoor back in the very early 1950s and then went on to murder a young girl in the village. I believe the person was named Strachen or Strathen but I may be mistaken. I would be interested if anyone can enlighten me with any information on this episode. 8008.108

and from another reader

Reference the escapee in the mid 50's - the parents of the lady that I used to work for lived at Farley Hill House and when John Strathen escaped from Broadmoor - he murdered the gardeners daughter - there was a bit of confusion as the young school girl was wearing a school dress that had been passed down to her from the the daughter of Farley Hill House and still had her name stitched in the collar of the dress so initially the Police went to the main house - but Veronica was away at boarding school so they knew it could not have been her but the gardeners daughter - a very sad day for us all. 6130.508

From R.A.B.

I used to live and go to school in Owlsmoor ('88-94) and then at Frogmore ('98-'97). I can clearly remember EVERY Monday morning, without fail, the testing of the siren.. I remember how haunting the 'two-tone' Alert & the 'mono-tone' all-clear were even to this day. It STILL gives me the creeps. I remmeber that at Owlsmoor, in the event of the siren activating and depending where we all were, we'd all be brought inside, into either the main building, or into the hall, have the register taken and wait for our parents to come collect us.

I vaguely remember The Wolfman escapeing on year ('92/'93 ish?) and breaking into the Scout hut, beside the 'Motor Transport Section' of 'The Academy' and opposite, what was then, Safeway's in College Town. I also remember an ocassion when Group 4 were transporting prisoners to Broadmoor, only for them to escape into the woods at the top of Oak Avenue. At the time I was playing outside and remember being told by this rather burly armed police offier where did I live? After I told him, I was ESCORTED home and my parents were told to lock every door & window and do not come out!

I do remember one funny time, well I think it is.... This happened at Sandhurst Comp. The alarm had sounded and as usual, all the pupils were brought inside and had the register taken... Low & behold, some of the girls were 'missing', one of them being my sister. The police were called and the parents notified. LONG story cut short: all hell broke loose! EVENTUALLY my sister came home (at 3:30pm) to find me & my parents in discuusion with the police. Asked where she had been, she replied, 'At school. Where else?'... Turns out she and her friends had been playing 'hookie' for the last several months!!!

From Joanna Lindley xi08

I grew up in Crowthorne and am strangely fond of the Broadmoor siren. I live in London now so only ever hear it when I go home for Christmas, if it happens to fall on or around a Monday.

I too remember two escapes during the early 90's. One was definitely during the day as we were all locked in school, and the other was in the middle of the night. My sister and I were camping in our back garden that night - not sure why, probably sounded like fun at the time. My father slept downstairs to be closer to us in case we needed him. The alarm sounds, and my father being the heavy sleeper he is, does not stir until my mother shakes him out of his slumber. Much to our disappointment, my sister and I were then promptly brought inside. My greatest concern was that I had left my one-eared second-hand toy rabbit in the tent. A couple of days of excitement then filled our village - helicopters and police road blocks. Once the all clear sounded, normality ensued and the ritual of sounding the alarm every Monday began again. The toy rabbit survived, but has since lost her other ear!

From Danny xi08

I remember back in 1991 when the wolfman escaped. That was a lovely wake up call!!! My Dad used to run The Crowthorne Inn back then. I remember that he was interviewed by the BBC!!

Thomas, quoting from www.bbc.co.uk 8102xii8.

The last major incident was the escape of child rapist James Saunders, nicknamed the Wolfman, who went on the run for the second time in 1991. Saunders sawed through a one inch thick steel bar and squeezed out of the window of a shower room on the third floor. He was recaptured two days afterwards. The alarm was also sounded in 1993 after a stabbing incident inside the hospital.

With the interest in the locations of the sirens, Macca suggested adding them to Google Earth as placemarks, then came back and said "I've done it - although I'm struggling with the ones in Bracknell. Some of my placemarks are sadly only roughly in the right place.  Is there one at Sandhurst Military Academy also? Anyway the link is: http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/showthreaded.php?Number=587222" 6115.906

For those not familiar with the area, allow me to explain. Broadmoor is a secure hospital for the criminally insane (or whatever the politically correct term is).  It is at Crowthorne, about 4 miles from Bagshot (as the crow flies, across woodland and an MoD Range).  If someone escapes then the sirens are sounded - they go on and on for hours.  Road blocks get set up and children have to be collected personally from school.  The all-clear is a different sound from the same sirens.  

I would not want anyone to be alarmed, in 30 years I only recall two incidents, and one of those was someone who was being considered for release and was on 'community familiarisation' in Bracknell but decided that institutional life was more attractive so he absconded in order not to be released!

As noted by Dave Harrison and Jamie, the alarm is tested every Monday morning at 10, followed by the all-clear 5 minutes later. I have a recording of the sound here.


Fire Siren

Ron Frost has extended the topic...

I have not read anything about the siren mounted on top of the Bagshot Fire station, used throughout the war. I lived in Lightwater and would run daily to Bagshot school (now a 3 to 7 year old school) I had to pass the Fire Station and sometimes it would be used just as I was passing. I dreaded it, it was so loud.

My route then was to go up the "Pig track" then a muddy farm track and now a metalled road to the new 7 to 11 year olds school and continueing around a right hand bend to another railway bridge to the school.

It was the cane if you were late. ref 612.0106

The fire station was at the junction of Swift Lane and Guildford Road. The building remains (without its siren) but has not been a fire station for many years. It has been converted to provide housing as part of the adjacent Meade Court complex. The schools are now known respectively as Bagshot Infant School and Connaught Junior School.

Dave Harrison has written: 561.0406

Like so many of those sirens mounted on fire stations around the country, Bagshot's was used for alerting the 'retained' - or part-time firefighters - before the introduction of pager/bleeper systems circa 1975. These staff were away from the station either at work, or at home.

When a call was raised, the siren was sounded for a period of approx. 1 minute and (hopefully) being heard by the retained personnel - if not all were summoned, it was not unusual for it to be sounded again. Many locations also tested them on a weekly basis at a pre-determined time, often Mondays at 19.30, where it was run up to speed and shut down immidiately.

Later, these same sirens were retained, and often upgraded for warning of a nuclear attack - but testing was done electrically.

Incredible as it may seem in this day and age, but France still retains the siren system in remote areas and it is often possible to hear one as I did in Britanny a couple of years ago.

Peter Summerton concurs with the description of the alarm and recalls that "... in the 1940/50's the local part-time/retained fire men, were Bill Harding, John Vince, Tom Tilbury, and Mr. Welton whose wife was a teacher at Bagshot Secondary School. Mr. Tilbury and Mr. Welton both worked at Underwoods hardware store. The alarm was tested on Saturday lunch time at 1pm..[Dec 11]


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