Finds of Fan Bay

Last year during a closer inspection of the air-flow system and structure at Fan Bay, a number of items left behind by soldiers who had occupied the shelter were rediscovered.

We can now reveal that the first prominent discoveries were a book and a cigarette packet.

Earlier this year, these items were sent to a specialist for conservation and have been carefully dried with organisation by National Trust conservator, Gill.

Now returned to the project team at Dover, further research and a closer inspection of these items will be carried out by an archivist through the British Library.

We would like to personally thank the team at National Trust Sissinghurst who donated the lovely box and acid free material for the items to live in.

Please mind your head

A busy bank holiday weekend for our volunteers and contractor reinstating and restoring Fan Bay’s original air-flow ducting under the White Cliffs of Dover with a wet but proactive Saturday and sunny but generator problematic Sunday.

In anycase it is pleasing to see the ducting return to its rightful position over head, but those of a taller build might want to watch out for things that go bump in the dark!

Originally the ducting ‘would’ have been secured to the hoop-vine of the shelter complex by shaped wooden blocks and slats, however these had all rotten beyond structural ability and most of the air-flow and light array systems had parted ways from the ceiling over the years since the shelter was abandoned.

Re-supporting the air-flow ducting with the original wooden method would have been unfit for allowing the public to tour the shelter, so the system is now held by riveted struts fed into rigid metal clips adjoining the hoop-vine directly, which could have easily been an alternative method available at the time of construction.

Unfortunately almost a quarter of the original ducting is missing entirely. Sections were found and salvaged from the section of the deep shelter which the scrapmen had started to demolish but subsequently abandoned. With additional original sections that are ‘far gone’ to rust needing replacement, most of the main system reinstated is new build.

However all new installation going into Fan Bay is standard as the original, still made to that exact same design and in use throughout the world today.

The original lighting and electrical array will be next in line for reinstallation and repair, but obviously with the air-flow, will never likely be a functional system again. However both remain as part of the story of Fan Bay and it is important for us to conserve this.

UPDATE (08/06/2014):

Fan Bay’s lighting network has returned to the original position with new clamps butting the network directly to the shelter hoopvine. Again, the use of wood and nails as originally supported would not be suitable for the visiting public, but these new clamps don’t look out of place. The original twin fuse boxes will need some special consideration for re-supporting.

In addition, all the handrails that follow the staircase down into the shelter (and up towards daylight) have now been reinstated to the correct position with new supporting rests engineered to replace the corroded originals.

Dover Plant Fair 2014

A big thank you to our sponsor Affinity Water and everyone who supported the National Trust’s annual Dover Plant Fair this year. Nearly £7,000 was fund-raised, which will go towards the Fan Bay project which is gearing up for public access in summer 2015.

General manager of the National Trust White Cliffs of Dover, Virginia Portman said: “The plant fair has yet again raised much needed cash for an important project. Our volunteers make a tremendous effort in both growing the plants and running the fair and, as always, the event was a great success because of this.”

Affinity Water helped sponsor the plant fair and asset manager Haroon Atif said: “The cash raised is going towards a fascinating local heritage project which will provide a new visitor attraction on the White Cliffs.”

Affinity Water have featured the project on their website:

The event was also featured in the local press:

Fan Hole sound mirrors: An archaeological dig

On May 3rd and 4th, a team of volunteers from the Dover Archaeological Group, Canterbury Archaeological Trust and the National Trust hand dug several excavation trenches at Fan Hole to ascertain where the early twentieth century sound mirrors which had been completely hidden since the 1970s were.

These acoustic devices were positioned around the south and eastern British coastlines and used as early warning devices to detect the engine noise of incoming enemy aircraft up to 8–15 miles away. Microphones were placed at the focal point, allowing listeners to hear the engines. However, they soon proved to be ineffective as 1930s high-speed aircraft passed over too quickly to detect and new technological discovery lead to the more efficient use of Radar.

From the work carried out in early May, it would seem that the Fan Hole sound mirror complex remains around 90% complete, preserved below dumped 1970s soil and rubble.

It looks likely that only fairly limited restoration work would be required to stabilise these structures and leave them open for permanent display as important structures in the story of the defence of Britain.

No further excavation will be made until a topographical survey and planning application has been completed.


Resources on tap

We’re filling up the original water tanks today, all three of them – the first time they would have held liquid in over 60 years. We have a hundred metres of hose in segments and the stairs are around 75m so we should be well covered says the project manager…

Well we were, just about, with trusty duct tape!

Borrowing National Trust’s bowser and connecting from above ground, the activity of running the stream through hoses down the staircase into the shelter below acted as a very effective mains-like system with a strong constant pressure, equivalent to a water tower.

With a few minor leaks at hose joints, we were able to successfully fill two of the three tanks to full capacity and half of the third before the supply ran dry.

Sadly two of the original taps have disappeared over the years since the shelter was decommissioned but have been replaced with new ones.

The third tank still had the original tap attached, which we have managed to salvage with a little grease and muscle. Therefore we are very happy to confirm that it is now fully functional once more.

The tanks themselves are just as watertight as they ever were… conservationists will be happy with our efforts on these.

Why reinstate them at all you ask? Well apart from benefiting the story of the shelter, it’s going to be rather handy to have a readily available resource at the site as the project progresses later this year (we hope) with eventual rediscovery of the sound mirrors in Fan Hole.

Meanwhile efforts elsewhere this weekend has seen most of the shelter receiving a first initial clean-up, with flake materials and rotten wood removed, while salvaging original items of interest. For instance, through the clean-up we discovered quite a collection of curved broken glass pieces from the original lighting array, all of which will remain in certain areas to aid the story.

It was an achievement in itself when wire brushes met the unwelcome modern spray paint graffiti in the unlined seaward tunnel earlier this month. A photo comparison coming for you soon…

We also uncovered a couple of new finds also, but more on them later.

Mirror? Mirror? Wide and tall, are you the oldest of them all?

After a month of various site visits for National Trust staff and ongoing planning related activities, our volunteers and KURG committed to another long day of fantastic support to finish the wooden walls for the deconstructed unlined chalk tunnel while relocating the very last of the former staircase spoil tip to the area and building a chalk block wall above the former deconstructed lining

Attention elsewhere was given to the careful and conservative removal of 50% of the brick block wall in the unlined seaward tunnel providing accessibility for later works and in general with spoil relocation now completed we initiated a mass spring clean of old materials throughout the network of tunnels.

We can’t thank everyone enough for today with your hard work and enthusiasm for the project. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did to see so many people get involved.

The day came to a close with the augmentation of all the volunteers at the end of one of the unlined seaward tunnels watching KURG and our project leader attempting an exciting first look at one of Fan Bay’s sound mirrors from inside the tunnel, a sight that no one would have seen for over 40 years.

Strong confidence from all in the know aids the suggestion that we have found the sound mirror intact but it cannot be confirmed with any real certainty until full excavation takes place according to the various regulations and planning approval which remains an ongoing concern and development.

More photos of the completed works and now tidy tunnels in comparison will be arriving shortly, check back again soon.

One day like this

Our blog has become relatively predictable with continual thank you messages but we have to say it yet again after another amazing effort by our very supportive and hard working volunteers and resident members of Kent Underground Research Group (KURG).

Over half of the spoil tip from the top staircase that had been removed last year by KURG has now been relocated from the main lined tunnel to the unlined section of the network which the scrap-men deconstructed following the decommission of the shelter but ultimately abandoned completion of the works with all of the materials left behind. This area of the tunnel network will not be part of the guided zone for public access but will remain viewable from the outside perimeter.

The spoil will be rendered with a top layer of clean white chalk rubble to aid in the aesthetic and conservation of the unlined chalk sections.

This leads onto towards news of the other works which have been nearly completed as part of this area.

Recycling the original wooden railway sleepers which had originally been supporting the unlined chalk sound mirror tunnels until their recent replacement, two very fitting wooden walls now prevent accessible access into the deconstructed tunnel at either end but remain low enough (also with a step) for the public to view into the area thus protecting and allowing the story behind the complete history of Fan Bay to be told for future generations.

Now the seaward tunnels are fully repaired, conserved, structurally sound and well documented, we hope to soon be able to begin the excavation of internal backfilling towards the sound mirrors which had been buried and backfilled as part of the 1970s ‘eye sore clearance programme’. We as always still remain confident in their rediscovery.