Wednesday 3 July 2013

Excursions - On The Radar

A couple of weeks back, on the last Excursions, we brought you the news on two World War II pillboxes being uncovered due to a landslide at Downderry in South East Cornwall. Heavy weather has battered the region in the past year resulting in all sorts of damage and loss of life, and also landslides which in turn have uncovered previously thought demolished defensive structures which were part of the former Chain Home Radar Station at Downderry.

WWII Pillboxes exposed by landslips at Downderry, Cornwall

After studying the landslide up close and having a friend who is a specialist in landslips look over the photos, it was decided to see just how difficult it would be to reach them from the road, especially with the density of the trees and foliage that have grown over the past 60 years, literally untouched and left for nature to claim back this long forgotten site. Taking advantage of the hottest days of the year so far, I headed over with an old exploring friend, James who lives down the road from me. After battling the undergrowth, we finally made it to the pillboxes and a few surprises in store which left us feeling there could be more further round the clifftop, which is dotted with slips as it winds it's way round but even thicker foliage than the previous.

Inside the Eastern pillbox - notice only two loopholes

Found just outside the pillbox - part of original doors from the site

Inside the West pillbox

More than 60 years of nature now commanding the view from this loophole

Seaward facing loophole

 The first relic we came across was a section of original wooden door complete with handle and lock lying just at the stairwell leading into the Eastern Pillbox. This is the one we think will be the first to feel the force of gravity, with the base already creating a slight overhang. On entry it does feel like the structure is slightly sloping already, but what struck me most was there was only two loopholes (the windows basically). One pointing South and one West, which only covers the section until the coast winds meaning there may be another pillbox still hidden further East round the cliff. With the land so unstable, only time will tell!

Looking down through the loophole showing the full extent of the landslip

Looking toward the East pillbox

The Western facing pillbox was around fifteen feet away, again mostly obscured by dense trees and suprisingly some other form of concrete structure inbetween the two, obscured by part collapsed foliage and not viewable from the beach. Yet again this pillbox held another surprise with it only having a South facing loophole which left me a little baffled to say the least. Whilst I photographed the internal condition, James checked the middle section out and to his surprise found a hollow like cylinder. Upon closer inspection, James made enough clearing to see the bottom and hopped on in the left section, the right being almost enveloped with branches. A figure of eight like structure, with cylindrical sections joined together to form what I think is a machine gun post, and hope to confirm this on my next visit to the National Archives next month. If anybody else in the meantime can confirm it's use, please do get in touch.

The East facing pillbox - after battling through the dense trees

Nature really has reclaimed this once important defensive structure

No loopholes in either side walls of this pillbox

Looking out of the East pillbox toward Seaton and Looe

The seaward view from the East pillbox

The view down below

It's always difficult to get good photographs when in structures are covered in such dense vegetation but we managed to make gaps for a little light to come in rather than use flash to light the subjects. The earth frontage has been exposed also revealing some original features discarded from other demolished buildings around the site such as a white basin.

Back out looking at the Western pillbox - the lump of concrete in view on the left is the pits

This is the best wide angle shot I could capture due to the density but clearly shows the two cylindrical pits

A view looking into the concrete pits

 Not only did we manage to finally get to document these but also something, very different and intriguing to say the least, more on that at a later date after some thorough investigative research. Please note that this site is not advisable to approach like we have done, this is what we do as part of our surveys and the cliff faces imminent and further landslips, especially with British Summer also bringing some heavy rainfall. We take relevant precautions documenting sites such as this, as well as undertaking risk assessments beforehand. The conditions have been noted to the relevant authorities as this section of beach is often used by dog walkers and for picnics, therefore please do take care when walking this section too close to cliff and be aware of the falls, and please keep children from climbing on the slip to avoid any unnecessary accidents, better safe than sorry.

Sunday 30 June 2013

Armed Forces Day - Sat 29th June, Plymouth Hoe

After last year's huge National Armed Forces Day 2012, staged in Plymouth and attended by PM David Cameron, this year also looked promising and with the sun shining over the City, it proved to be a perfect Summer's day out for all the family to show their respect for members of our Armed Forces past and present. Although the air displays were scaled down this year, along with no Naval salute due to the powerboat racing that was taking place in The Sound, Plymouth Hoe provided locals and tourists with a packed entertainment programme throughout with plenty of displays in the ground arena and the length of The Hoe. The day began with the RAF and Allied Forces Memorial Service and opening of the Veterans Village Marquee with over 40 organisations.

It gives the public chance to get up close and personal with the men and women of our Armed Forces, with generations of Plymouthians and plenty of families coming together for this excellent day. Particularly impressive for me was the weapons displays and Bomb Disposal Displays from the Devonport Based Units but what stood out most was some of the more lesser know organisations were really busy on their stands throughout the day including the Royal Observer Corps, British Korean War Veterans Association, Wrens, and the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre which has been given a new lease of life this year, with new displays and more open days.

One of the busiest displays of the day came in the form of Devon and Cornwall Police with great displays from the Counter Terrorism Underwater Search Teams and highlight of the day for many, the brand new Lotus sports car in full Police livery. All the kids will want one and Dad too for this new car for the Devon and Cornwall Force will be a regular sight on the roads after being loaned by Lotus for road safety awareness. It will be seen around events for the next few weeks until being handed back to Lotus.

Overall the whole day was a resounding success and thanks must go out to all the organizers, Plymouth City Council and all the organisations that once again brought The Hoe well and truly alive for this annual event, and we look forward to more in the future.

Friday 14 June 2013

Resurgam - The Lost Pearl of Plymouth

I had the pleasure of meeting for lunch with Hannah Wood last week, writer of a new exciting interactive game called Resurgam: The Lost Pearl of Plymouth.  Hannah contacted me a while back with previews for the game and the concept, which got my attention straight away upon hearing 'lost tunnels'. I saw the trailer for the game and realised that Mutant Labs, whose works I have followed for a while, were also behind this collaborative effort that looks to be a cracking event. It's certainly an innovative approach to bringing the history alive, and we love it!

The game is set to take place during Plymouth's Ocean City Festival in September and will see hundreds of adventurers take part in the city's first location-based live game.

Resurgam: The Lost Pearl of Plymouth will see gamers using mobile technology to navigate their way around the City's maritime heritage. The adventure will begin from a secret city centre location and be led on a supernatural hunt, participants experiencing live storytelling and theatre bringing the game to life in all sorts of mysterious ways. The finale will take place inside the Royal William Yard, steeped itself in history from it's days as a Royal Naval Victualling Depot. Now transformed by Urban Splash into a vibrant waterfront community of homes, offices and restaurants such as the highly acclaimed River Cottage brand. Around 400 participants will descend on the Yard, culminating in a final performance and live music aboard a ghost ship. Take a sneak peak at the preview video below......

Supported by Plymouth University and Arts Council England, Resurgam is written by Hannah Wood. Created and produced by Story Juice, Mutant Labs and the University's world renowned Institute of Digital Arts and Technology (i-DAT), with actors from Rogue Theatre giving the event an authentic historic feel.

This looks to be a fantastic event, and the game's writer Hannah gave us an insight into what will happen on the day with some exciting plans, although we are sworn to secrecy so you will just have to find out what happens on the day! I, for one, really hope this can become an ongoing project for all to enjoy. We would like to wish everyone behind the project the best of luck and look forward to the event in September. Keep an eye out for future updates via the dedicated website Resurgam: The Lost Pearl of Plymouth.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Excursions - A Tale of Two Pillboxes

Back in May, I was chatting with the Chairman of Plymouth Caving Group, Dave Warne, who mentioned that one of the group mentioned about some bunkers appearing at Downderry, due to a landslide. Instantly I thought it to be the WWII Radar Bunker that survives hidden from view high on the cliff face. Downderry was the site of a major RAF Chain Home Radar Installation & heavy military activity during the Second World War, but little evidence remains with main part of the site now West and East Camps Bay housing. However, after a bit of poking about some years ago, I came across a WWII looking structure up on the hillside which had myths surrounding it's depth into the hillside and tales of a long tunnel. I'll feature more on that another time as not long after that, myself and a friend came across another bunker well hidden from view. This was sealed up a couple of years back after numerous all-night parties taking place.

Distraction after distraction, the conversation became a distant memory until out on the mine trip last weekend with Jezz in search of Churchill's Army Bunkers. Jezz brought up the same subject, but this time was more specific in stating that two defensive pillboxes had been revealed due to recent landslides and it was only a matter of time combined with more heavy weather for gravity to take it's process.

The landslip that has uncovered WWII pilboxes after  years of being camouflaged  by nature for years

The wife and I finally made a recce visit yesterday to see for ourselves and was pretty pleased to see they were still perched high on the cliff, now exposed after years of nature reclaiming the shuttered concrete defensive positions that would have protected the Radar Installation, obscuring them from view. The weather conditions over the last year in Cornwall resulted in landslides all over the county and Downderry has had quite a few landlsips across a range of around 1,000 metres that we walked. What it has done is essentially brought exposed two previously undocumented buildings important to our research, the results of which will be passed to English Heritage and The Defence of Britain Database Archive, enabling them to update their records.

A sunnier photo showing the exposed pillboxes

Their uncovering sheds new light on this former site that also had a number of air raid shelters,although no trace has been found of any of these so far. Who knows what else the thick knee ripping gorse holds, smothering these pillboxes making them virtually impenetrable, with mother nature almost taking a defensive stance. We have a surveyor of landslips and erosion coming down to take a look from the beach and offer her opinion on how long she estimates their gradual descent and will update you as to her findings.

Do you have any memories or old photographs of Downderry during the Second World War?

Did you explore the site as a child in the fifties before demolition?

If so, please get in touch. We would love to hear from you

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Press Release - Plymouth Interactive History, Sun 19th May

Hidden Plymouth held our first major event, Plymouth Interactive History, at Devonport Guildhall as part of Plymouth History Festival month on Sunday 19th May. Five months of planning finally came together gathering a selection of local historians, Civil War re-enactors, authors, researchers, history, conservation & interest groups for the first in a series of events designed to further promote local history at roots level, interacting with the community & sparking exciting new connections for the future.

With over 200 through the doors throughout the day, the exhibitors in the main hall were kept occupied with a steady stream of people chatting, asking questions & visually excited with the displays around the room. In the former Mayor’s Parlour, the atmosphere & acoustics were well received with presentations, Q&A sessions & slideshows ranging from Pymouth Civil War, WWII in Plymouth, Spies, caves & mines, regeneration & conservation.

With the Devonport Column only opening the week before, it was great for the people attending to also have the chance to finally climb the steps to an amazing 360 view of Plymouth. A total of 87 climbed the steps throughout the day. Many thanks to all at Real Ideas Organisation for hosting the first Hidden Plymouth event to the staged in the city, especially Claire & Louise who were a great help. Be sure to pop down & show your support by taking a Column tour when in Devonport!

Here is a review from the excellent team at Devonport Guildhall

We were taken aback by just how busy we actually were on the day & although planned to take photos of each participant, it never did due to the time flying chatting with the public & learning new stories from Plymouth history. To that, we asked those who attended via our Facebook page to share their photos & feedback from the event, or leave a comment here that will be reposted to this review. After all, without your support on the day it would never happen again & we welcome your thoughts to have input for where we can better the event! Thank you to all who made the event the success that it was! Keep following from updates from our readers....

Saturday 18 May 2013

Hidden Plymouth presents Plymouth Interactive History

We had been planning a big event for sometime, so when we found out we could take part in the first ever Plymouth History Festival we were over the moon, & thanks to Claire at the Real Ideas Organisation who welcomed us to host a special event at the fantastic Devonport Guildhall & newly restored Devonport Column that will have just celebrated it's rise back into the community a week earlier. Our original plan was to host it in one of the Palmerston Forts but that fell through due to health & safety reasons, although what we are now hosting the event in has a rich history & with Devonport featuring so much in our research, makes it the perfect venue to host our first major event bringing you the public, closer to your history & heritage.

We hope to bring you some photos from tomorrow's event & welcome your feedback should you attend!

Sunday 10 March 2013

Crownhill Fort Open Weekend March 2013

Crownhill Fort held it's first Open Weekend in three years, staged over the weekend of March 8-10th & I made the most of this rare occurrence by attending the Saturday where the weather was thankfully kind for a change. I for one really hope the Landmark Trust build on from this with more weekend events, with a much needed historic military attraction that will bring in tourism & help boost the local economy. I'm still can't figure out why Plymouth doesn't make more fuss over it's military heritage, after all it's part of the fabric & history of this amazing City, communities have been built around it for the past 150 years. What was once green fields surrounding this massive fortification, is now enveloped in urbanised areas with cannons now overlooking McDonalds - imagine telling a soldier from the time that in the future, his clear line of fire would be replaced with a fast food joint!

Re-enactors had travelled from as far as Leicester & Portsmouth to give some amazing displays with skirmishes on the ramparts & cannon firings that certainly woke the neighbours. Half hour tunnel tours had all ages excited learning the meaning behind terms such as 'musketry gallery' & 'caponiers', with the most impressive close-up display of the Portsdown Artillery Volunteers firing the cannon inside the lower section of the North Caponier whilst riflemen fired from the musket holes. Cornwall Military Vehicle Trust was on display in the parade ground with an impressive array of military vehicles, & if you have ever visited the Military Weekends at Mount Edgcumbe, you are sure to be familiar with this great bunch of people keeping history well & truly live.

Crownhill Fort is the best preserved Palmerston Fort & part of Plymouth's Northern Line of Defences which also include Woodland & Agaton Forts. It's modern use houses a range of businesses & also offers a fantastic venue for events such as weddings. I was pleased to see the Devonport Field Gun now reside here after losing their home in South Yard & learnt from a passionate chap called Dave about the interaction with more schools, keeping this competitive sport alive. The team who make the Fort tick have a real passion for keeping the history alive as could be witnessed on the guided tours from Fort Manager, Ed. A huge conservation programme has been ongoing at the fort for the past 3 years involving helicopters in the assistance of moving trees from the surrounding moat.  The day wasn't as busy as I thought it could be, so be sure to keep an eye out for future dates as local events like this need your support & I guarantee you will have a fun packed day, even if you're not that into your history, it makes for an ideal day out for all the family!

Until next time....the night guard watch over the Fort.

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