Founded in March 1947 in Teddington, as the Hydraulics Research Organisation, the company moved to Wallingford in 1951, to take advantage of Howbery Park’s 70 acre site and riverside location. Its large-scale tests and experiments needed lots of space and a plentiful supply of water, all of which Howbery Park could offer, including a historic Manor House which could be adapted for office use.
Even in those early days, around three quarters of the work carried out at the Hydraulics Research Organisation was focused on the prevention and reduction of flooding, the improvement of shipping channels in ports and estuaries, the damping of waves entering harbour and river mouths, and the control or slowing of coastal erosion. Work was carried out for government departments, river boards, port authorities, local authorities and consulting engineers. The organisation also undertook work for members of the Commonwealth and many other countries around the world.
One of the major projects carried out at Howbery in the 1970s was the construction of a massive model of a third airport for London - the proposed Maplin airport and seaport, which was to be built on 30 square miles of land reclaimed in the Thames Estuary. In 1973, a hall was custom-built to house this one model, which was all about calibrating and plotting tides and currents. At that time, the roof span of this enormous building could claim the title of the widest steel span structure in Europe.
After having been privatised in 1982, the organisation obtained Scientific Research Association status, which it still has today, meaning that 75% of its profits must be used for R&D-related activities. The company changed its name to HR Wallingford in 1991.
Although these days its scientists and engineers are more likely to be found in fleece jackets than white coats, scaled physical models are still constructed to solve water-related challenges, like the model of Colwyn Bay (on the right) being used this month to design and test the effectiveness of a coastal beach defence.
HR Wallingford’s facilities are as impressive today, with three purpose-built halls measuring 14,400 square metres, comprising seven wave basins and numerous wave flumes, one of which, the Fast Flow Facility can house a tsunami simulator, or be used to test the stability of renewable energy foundations, such as those used for offshore wind or wave turbines. Of course, numerical modelling tools play an increasingly important role in many of the projects carried out today.
Howbery Business Park is also home to HR Wallingford’s UK Ship Simulation Centre. Together with the company’s Australia Ship Simulation Centre in Perth, Australia, this adds up to ten real-time ship simulators which can be used independently or simultaneously. These are used not only for pilot training, but also to offer expert consultancy for port and harbour design where simulating vessel navigation plays a vital role.
Dr Bruce Tomlinson, HR Wallingford’s Chief Executive, says: “Our water-related research and consultancy is as relevant today as it was 70 years ago. Since then, Howbery Park has also grown, developing into a successful business park with a strong commitment to sustainability.”
Howbery Park today is home to many different businesses and organisations, including major occupiers such as the Environment Agency. It generates about a quarter of its energy needs from the adjacent solar park, and has planning permission to create a further 70,000 sq. ft. of office space.
Dr Tomlinson continues: ”“There is plenty of potential for both HR Wallingford and the park to continue to grow and develop, with room for additional commercial and academic organisations to come and work with us at Howbery.”
Images: 70 Years Making Waves, a model of the Parana River in South America from the 1960s, and, laser scanners being used to help set up a model of Colwyn Bay to test a new coastal beach defence.
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