Mirror? Mirror? As we crawl, just a wall or there at 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.

Feats of engineering

It began with a very small team of brave volunteers moving 72 full size railway sleepers into Fan Bay, it progressed with a volunteer family for digging, bagging or shifting materials and concluded with professional mine engineers going above their line of duties to complete and secure Fan Bay Deep Shelter and the above chalk coastline for future generations.

Conservation work in the unlined seaward tunnel has now been completed in just one week. Almost all the supporting wood work has now been replaced in this section as the original materials are sadly no longer structurally sound. It almost matches what was originally there, although in the process of conserving the chalk lining and original woodwork, a big bit of the ceiling came down!

The previously well known collapse has also now been dug out and removed from the tunnel surface so you can walk all the way to the backfilling wall with the round hole and humorous but crude war graffiti.

This work was essential to the project as the clear passageway will provide safe and appropriate access for future works to establish connection with the buried sound mirror in Fan Hole and for the first time in over 40 years will be explorable by the public from 2015.

Thank you very much to everyone who was able to come along to support the project during the works. It has been a hard week but we have got a huge amount done. We couldn’t do it without everyone’s help and dedication.

UPDATE 15/02/2014

The mine engineers have now completed the important structural works in the corner landings of the staircase tunnels. This included replacing the long rotten and disintegrated wooden beams that would have originally supported the unlined ceiling above. These areas are currently very wet following the recent weather, which is intriguing as generally it has been very dry throughout Fan Bay.

It is however no surprise that nothing had survived of the original supporting beams in these areas considering they had been subjected to 70 years of moisture exposure and the lined tunnel ceilings provide a channelled aqueduct for rain entering the main entrance or passing through the chalk above.

Full house at Fan Bay

It was 26 that we took down into Fan Bay and 26 we returned to the lighthouse safely.

Saturday gone saw the return to on-site activity after a month break for the holidays. Thank you to everyone who came to see our progress so far at Fan Bay and we hope you enjoyed the experience.

The experience for the project team was equally an interesting experiment and we will use the day as a case study in regards to how the official public tours will be conducted once the shelter opens in 2015.

Some of our inquisitive guests set out to investigate the hidden spaces throughout the tunnels and amazingly this revealed some previously undiscovered new finds, one of which is an incredible document from the war service.

More info and photographs of our finds will be made public following their return from a specialist who will preserve them for their future life.

The shelter although at first glance appearing abandoned and empty is revealing more than we could have ever believed. The project team hope to build a fascinating story from the pieces leftover from nearly 70 years ago and remain optimistic about the sound mirrors which will drive the story to international heritage.

Missed our session? Don’t panic, more introductory/photography sessions and exciting volunteering opportunities are currently being scheduled.

Please contact the project team to register your interest and for more information.

Close but no cigar

Hello Folks. We have unfortunately had another attempted break in at Fan Bay. The external locks were cut off and the door was damaged. Luckily the new internal security measures prevented them from gaining further access and we have now replaced the locks.

Could I ask anyone who hears anything to let me know? I think this time they might have come in from Langdon as they were clearly looking at other underground things along the way. 3 or 4 Sewer lids were opened and then left off. My theory is they were trying to return to their natural environment!

I have asked all our staff and local volunteers to be extra vigilant over the holidays but if any of you are in the area over the festive period I would really appreciate it if you check the door as well. If you see or hear anything my numbers are 07500782943 / 07729832149.

Cheers everyone and I hope you have a good Christmas and New Year.

Jon Barker

Assistant Visitor Experience Manager
National Trust
South Foreland Lighthouse

Research in South Wales

As the final weeks of 2013 approach and major works at Fan Bay are going to wind down until the new year, we have taken the prime opportunity to visit Big Pit National Coal Museum and Dolaucothi Gold Mines in South Wales, two well established historical and cultural underground sites open to the public by guided tour with a helmet and electric lamp.

Both sites have given us a lot to think about for Fan Bay, which is intended to be opened to the public by guided tour in 2015.

Big Pit National Coal Museum was a working coal mine from 1860 to 1980 in Blaenavon, Torfaen and having re-opened for visitors in 1983, it is now one of Britain’s leading mining museums.

Surrendering all modern devices that made use of a battery for safety reasons, with a helmet and head lamp, we entered a real working mine cage and descended a shaft of 90 metres (300 ft) underground the hills of Blaeonavon.

Our eccentric tour guide, a Welsh miner himself, then took our small group on a 50 minute tour through the extensive network of main tunnels telling the story of a working coal life underground while explaining and demonstrating the development of safety technologies along the route.

The Dolaucothi Gold Mines lie in the Dolaucothi estate of Llanwrda, Carmarthenshiare. The estate was given to the National Trust in 1941 by the Johnes family. It covers 2,500 acres and includes not just the mines but a large upland farming estate. This includes nine tenant farms and 24 tenant cottages.

From Roman times through to the Victorian and 1930s, the mines have a long story to tell and we were fascinated to discover the differentiating network of tunnels from these eras as well as the further industrial landscape and 1930s utility buildings around the property.

Many thanks to Steve Thomas and the team at Dolaucothi for a thrilling and very interesting day at the mines. We look forward to meeting you and working with you again in the near future at Fan Bay and we will be back to Dolaucothi hopefully bringing the sunshine with us next time!

Introductory sessions

Yet another big thank you to everyone who attended our first three introductory sessions over the last two weeks. If any of you took photos, videos, etc during the sessions and you don’t mind us using them, please send them to the project team and we will feature your content on the blog with accreditation.

Everyday we are learning more about the history, development and stories of the Fan Bay Deep Shelter, Battery and Sound Mirrors.

An expedition into Fan Hole with our first group yielded more discoveries that give evidence to the development of the construction and military use of the site. We are very excited to have discovered a possible link with the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway and other interesting previous overlooked features.

Our third session saw interest from further afield – thank you for coming! Also exciting new information was discussed between the group during the introductory talk with potential access to additional historical documentation as well as information regarding a painting that may depict Fan Bay Deep Shelter with the bunk beds either side of the tunnels during service.

More news/media for all these discoveries and potential contacts will be updated soon.

Missed our sessions? Don’t panic, more introductory and photography sessions are currently being scheduled.

Please contact the project team to register your interest and for more information.