C Block at Oakley in 1961
GCHQ's Oakley site at Cheltenham was formally closed on Friday 14 December 2012. At a closing ceremony, Iain Lobban, Director GCHQ, paid tribute to the staff who had served there and noted that the headquarters of GCHQ had been at the site for ’longer than anywhere else in our history’. Oakley became the main site for GCHQ in 1952 when its former location at Eastcote, Middlesex proved too small to accommodate its new Cold War mission. Operations ceased at Oakley in December 2011 and since then the remaining buildings have been decommissioned in preparation for the eventual sale of the site for residential development. GCHQ has now moved all its operations to its other Cheltenham site at Benhall.
In the late 1930s, Cheltenham had been designated as a dispersal location for civil servants and the Ministry of Works purchased two green field sites - about half of Benhall Farm to the west of Cheltenham and the whole of Oakley Farm to the east. On each site six standard 12-spur single-storey temporary office blocks offered a total of half a million square feet of office space. The main wartime occupants were the US Army’s European Theater of Operations. After D-Day, Oakley was used by the Ministry of Pensions and for teacher training.
GCHQ moved to Cheltenham between 1952 and 1954. A further building, then the largest office building in Cheltenham, was built at Oakley site doubling the accommodation available on the site. It was designed to house the Directorate in Block C and all of the main intelligence production areas including J Division and K Division. The other site at Benhall housed more of the technical activities. Some thirty more buildings were built on the Oakley site as GCHQ expanded, with much of the site being strongly compartmentalised for reasons of security.