I 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.
There 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.
Other 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.
The 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.
So 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!