Fraser Gunnery Range / HMS St George

Fraser-Range-043I didn’t expect to particularly enjoy Fraser Range, but actually I did! Another one on my list for years, it was mostly ignored because I didn’t think there was much there. However, whilst it is totally smashed up, the sunlight and bright graffiti totally made up for that on the day!

Three bits of history …

Fraser Range’s military history – Fort Cumberland, which sits behind the site in Eastney, became the headquarters of the Royal Marine Artillery from the mid 19th century. The area around the fort was used for various training activities, and ultimately the Fraser Gunnery Range was set up between the the World Wars on the foreshore looking out to the Solent. A variety of naval guns were sited there, and later missile launchers too, enabling the practicing of various shipboard firing activities. When live firing was being undertaken, shipping had to be kept clear to a distance of nine miles out to sea! During the 1960s, the site also became the home of HMS St George, which was an naval officers’ school for senior ratings selected for promotion. The gunnery range closed in the mid-80s and the site was repurposed as a part of the Admiralty Research Establishment, with a focus on radar equipment and testing, and resulting in the construction of several large radar towers. In the mid-90s the ARE was absorbed into the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, and ultimately DERA itself split into public and privatized organizations, with the Fraser site falling under the privatized side as part of QinetiQ. The site was wound down and closed in 2006, and since there have been ongoing plans to build flats on the site, though long running wranglings including about access to the site mean everything has stalled. The remaining radar towers were demolished in 2013 in light of people regularly climbing them!

The second bit of history in fact ties with another of the site’s claims to fame. One of the wranglings mentioned above relates to public access to the beach area in front of the site. It so happens that the beach down to the waterline is legally owned by the site and so private, but practically the public have long used it. In particular it was famed for its unofficial use by naturists, and my wife has always referred to that end of Eastney as the “nudist beach”. Those naturists have been actively campaigning to ensure development of the site doesn’t impact their beach use.

And the third bit relates to another claim to fame, albeit rather a different one. In 1971 the site was used as a location for a Jon-Pertwee-era Doctor Who episode  – “The Sea Devils“. Titled “HMS Seasprite” in the story, the location is central to the story, and ultimately sees the Navy in a prolonged gun battle with the Sea Devils there. Indeed one of the Bofors anti-aircraft guns on the range was also used in said battle. Naturally in this world of YouTube you can see parts of the episode including the gun battle, and also a lovely bit of 8mm film recorded by one of the Naval ratings on site during the filming showing more of the guns on the range.

With access very publicly from the beach, and plenty of people about when I visited given the gorgeous winter sun, this was one of those bits of exploring where you just have to overtly look like a photographer and not care. Within moments of heading through the fence, I ran into a local guy called John. He explained that he usually sent his kids across to play on the site with some spray cans, but had come across himself that day to size up a wall for a large stencil. He was tired of seeing a particular bit of graffiti from his window, a large green penis, and wanted to replace it with something different! He was considering something suitably wry like “nude people this way” and a large arrow towards the beach.

Fraser-Range-019There are three main large buildings on the site, with the middle one being the most interesting. With a long corridor on each floor and lots of large windows out to sea, it was a surprisingly chilled place to be with the sun streaming in. As well as lots of graffiti of varying quality, though including some really nice pieces, people had run amok with loads of powered poster paint too! This gave some of the floors interesting coloured effects.

Fraser-Range-028Other interesting parts in this building were a small lecture theatre with a projector room and curious angled screen. There’s also a nice staircase up to the second floor, with access beyond up to the roof if desired. It was also clear that the building had been used for emergency service training given tell tale triangles cut out of the walls.

Fraser-Range-078The building nearest Eastney is frankly rubbish! The second floor is a great example of what happens when crap suspended ceilings collapse! The main thing of interest in here is evidence of there having been an anechoic chamber of some sort with piles of pointy foam!

The furthest building down towards the entrance to Langstone Harbour, was the range control tower and of slightly older heritage, but mostly just pigeony.

Fraser-Range-052So let’s be honest, it wasn’t the architecture or there being much left around, despite the interesting history, but mostly about chilling in colourful derelict buildings with the sun streaming in and the sound of the sea outside! Just don’t go there on a rainy dismal day!

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Fort Gilkicker

Another of the many on my “being meaning to visit for years” sites, Fort Gilkicker is an excellent example of the numerous Victorian-era Palmerston forts that ring the strategically important naval port that is Portsmouth.

Whilst most certainly not from Portsmouth myself, as a regular visitor for many years I’ve always loved the Palmerston forts. They’re hard not to notice ringing Pompey as they do, along the top of Portsdown Hill, to a lesser degree on Portsea island itself, out at sea with the four sea forts, and in their greatest volume on the Gosport peninsula. I’ve visited many officially, and a few unofficially. I even semi-seriously considered buying St Helens Fort when it was offered for sale privately in 2003, but Mrs ® Andy was less keen!

Gilkicker-016Fort Gilkicker is located out overlooking Stokes Bay and hence, unlike the others on the Gosport peninsula that defensively face east to protect Portsmouth from land attack, actually aimed out to sea to protect the deep water anchorage in the bay. It was built 1863 and 1871, and is semi-circular in shape, originally with 22 casements facing seaward and with a parade in the middle. The semi-circle is closed across its diameter by a barrack block with a single central gate into the fort. Those casements initially held large muzzle loading guns firing outward through armoured doors in the thick granite armoured walls, similar to those at Hurst Castle. Gilkicker-051Also there were five large guns on the roof. Magazines for the ammunition where on ground level, with lighting provided via lighting tunnels from the parade, and with inner and outer tunnels around the circumference of the fort. Various lifts took the munitions up to the guns.

Between 1902 and 1906 Gilkicker’s armament was significantly changed, and this also saw the granite front wall of the fort covered with an earth bank along with the armoured doors of the guns on the tier of casements. This meant that the only guns were now four breech loading guns on the roof. The larger two of those required small extension platforms to be built off the top of the walls, that are now notable for their perilous condition (hence the scaffolding) overhanging the parade! Over the following years Gilkicker’s defensive role continued to wane, with its last large armament being a Bofors anti-aircraft gun on the roof during the Second World War. During D-day Gilkicker was used by a signals unit. Post-war the fort ultimately became used as a plumbers workshop, before being bought by Hampshire County Council and used a build materials store.

Stokes Bay is the sort of place that typically we’ve visited once or twice a year for a wander. In particular when the boys were a bit younger we’d come down and watch the New Year’s Day swim from the nearby in shore rescue station. I always kept a bit of an eye on Gilkicker, and would normally clamber up the earth bank to look over the fence at the top. Gilkicker-086The fort passed into the hands of a developer with plans to convert it into luxury homes, and to some degree the fort was occupied and secured. A few of my friends did explore it to a limited extent, but with the fence looked after, originally security on site, or at least cameras and alarms, it just sat on my list. Marketing days were held, and the plans looked very interesting with importantly the earth bank due to be removed to expose the original granite walls allowing the residences to have great views out to the Solent through what were originally the casement gun doors. Then clearly everything stalled with the financial crash and so on.

So to now! The conversion plans still exist, and there were reports of development being due to restart last year. However, when I had a quick search recently to see the current state of play, it seemed that actually rather than restarting, the attention shown to Gilkicker had dropped further. It was no longer secure, and so for a while was busy with local people having a look around and naturally became a hang out for “youths”. Indeed if anything I was going to be very late to the party, by about six months! Cue a crisp winter’s day and me on my lonesome wishing dog walkers a good morning.

Exploring Gilkicker was initially an edgy experience, for one very simple reason. Whilst the fort is empty and increasingly derelict, it does still have an active radar installation on its roof. This makes a continuous sound as it rotates, as well as (on a sunny day) casting a moving shadow across the scene. It took me a little while for my “explorer senses” not to react to that particular sound and movement!
Gilkicker-021Gilkicker-059
Whilst the casements at Gilkicker are mostly stripped back, a highlight that remains is a shell lift up to the roof level. There are also two remaining ammunition lifts down on the magazine level. Something I’ve not seen extant at other forts I’ve visited.

It was also nice to find a couple of spiral staircases up from the inner magazine tunnel to the casements above. The magazines themselves were all stripped but there was still nice signage on both sides of the various issue hatches between the magazines and the inner tunnel.

Gilkicker-096After working my way around both the casements and the magazines, I headed over the barrack block. Again very much stripped, but on a gorgeous sunny day the corridor which ran the length of the building, complete with smartly framed gun loops out towards the rear of the fort, had some great light.Gilkicker-136

Interior done it was up onto the roof level, which practically has less to see with just gun mountings remaining, before ultimately heading out of the fort.

Despite the amount that the fort has been stripped back, with things like the gun lifts and of course full access to everywhere, it was probably the most original Palmerston fort I’ve been in. Heading back down the earth bank at the front, it was great to see three of the four Palmerston sea forts in the distance resplendent on such a lovely clear day too.

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The Machinist’s House

With the decline of the huge derelict sites of yore, and hence the joy of spending a whole day exploring a truly massive hospital or industrial site increasingly rare, the exploring community seem to be turning to smaller locations for their regular fixes. All hail the growing trend of the derp house! I have explored the occasional local small derelict house in the past, but this is the first time I’ve made a significant journey to one.

MachinistsHouse-12The house was originally discovered by somebody by accident whilst on the way to another site in the tail end of last year, and was given the title “The Machinist’s House” in recognition of the surprising contents they discovered. In a smart and busy village in the Surrey commuter belt lies a brooding two bedroomed house filled with, amongst other things, frankly massive typesetting and printing machinery. In death of the house (and one assumes possibly the occupant) the neighbours must hate its derelict state given their quaint cottages and neat gardens; in life you’ve got to assume they possibly weren’t keen on it either since it must have made a serious racket (plus given the amount of junk outside this was never a neat quaint household)!

MachinistsHouse-18The actual history is scant, though a significant amount remains in terms of addressed mail and other clues if somebody really wanted to find out more. Apparently over the last five months plenty has disappeared courtesy of exploring “magpies” but it’s still full of loads of random stuff. The printing appears to have been pretty serious, and you’ve got assume small scale commercial rather than simply a hobby. Quite how the machinery was installed, shoe-horned into the lean-to conservatory and shed outside, is unclear. Other things you can glean is that somebody who lived there was a dab hand with a sewing machine, though the large number of much older machines originally inside is now greatly reduced it appears. At some point one of the bedrooms was a child’s, with numerous stickers on the door and varied trinkets. Another hobby was amateur radio, with postcards from other enthusiasts with their call signs on and an aerial unceremoniously dumped in the bath. Also, whilst it might be fair to assume the owner was older, they were into computing with various bits of old PCs and hard disks about. Oh … and an occupant clearly hid various frankly “saucy” videos outside in the shed!

MachinistsHouse-34The walls are covered in tarry grime – I didn’t touch them to determine whether it was from cigarettes or something to do with the heat and oil of the printing press; the curtains are filthy and tattered; some windows long broken and repaired with plastic; the kitchen disgusting. Everything tells me that this house was like this in life as well as death, and contents including IKEA bags and PlayStation controls back up that it hasn’t been empty perhaps as long as its state suggests! Structurally it’s sound though and not leaking, and so could easily be on “Homes Under the Hammer” and fixed up with a rewire, new kitchen and bathroom, and head-to-toe redecoration!

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Federal-Mogul camshafts

It’s always a little bit strange when you discover sizeable factories out in the sticks! You’ve got to assume its closure had a profound impact on the local villages!?

FederalMogul-14The Weyburn Works near Elstead developed during the first half of last century, and by 1937 employed 300 people manufacturing lifeboat engines and parts for cars and planes. Later it merged to become Weyburn Bartel, before being bought by global car component manufacturer Federal-Mogul and trading as Federal-Mogul Camshafts Ltd. As part of their growth strategy Federal-Mogul had also acquired another UK company who was one of the world’s largest manufacturers of asbestos-based products. That acquisition rather bit them back courtesy of liabilities for asbestos-related claims, driving the main USA-based Federal-Mogul company into Chapter 11 bankruptcy between 2002 and 2008, with its UK subsidiaries similarly under management by administrators. Whilst the company overall weathered the storm, sadly the impact on the Weyburn Works was more serious. About half its 140 strong workforce were made redundant in 2007, and despite the site continuing to supply customers including Perkins and BMW, the remainder followed with the closure of the site in late 2008.

I’ve not been out and about for ages, and with a trip up the A3 needed for other reasons, decided to get up early and pop into a couple of small sites on the way. Also I’ve a new bargain Canon EF-S 10-18mm wide angled lens that I bought last month and wanted to try it out properly!

FederalMogul-60I’ll be totally honest … if you’re passing and have an hour to kill do take a look, but don’t go out of your way for Federal-Mogul! A frankly empty and smashed up site, and most of the few bits and pieces that appeared interesting in early reports from several years ago have now gone. In particular there was a piano, that apparently moved around site, that has now definitely met its maker! The site had its own social club, and the space above that was clearly let out as a trading unit, latterly for “Love Stone” selling expensive marble floor tiles. Ironically mounted samples of those are some of the few things that aren’t smashed up!

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