diamond geezer

 Monday, September 15, 2008

Seaside postcard: Shivering Sands
There are some mighty strange places around the UK coast. One of the weirdest lies nine miles out into the North Sea, between the coasts of Kent and Essex. It's a 7-part wartime defensive structure, dating back to 1943, and it looks completely out of this world. Hop on a speedboat from Herne Bay and you too could join the surprisingly small number of us who've actually seen it.

Shivering Sands

These are the Maunsell Forts at Shivering Sands, strategically positioned alongside the shipping lanes at the mouth of the Thames Estuary. They were designed to house a variety of gun installations, both to shoot down approaching aircraft and to destroy enemy ships. Seven towers were built and towed out to sea, then dropped so that their concrete foundations sank firmly into the sand. The central tower was then linked to each of the others via an aerial cat walk, enabling military personnel to move freely around the defensive complex. Needless to say this isolated existence was not a popular posting, so the forts were evacuated after the war and finally decommissioned in the 1950s.

Shivering Sands (Tower 2)But that's not the end of the Shivering Sands story. In 1963 a Swedish ship careered into the searchlight tower in thick fog, breaking its legs and carrying it several hundred miles across the North Sea before anybody noticed. The northern control tower, now severed from the remaining five, was put to use by the Port of London Authority as a tidal monitoring station. And because Shivering Sands lies outside the official limit of UK coastal waters, the southern tower became home to one of Britain's first pirate radio stations. Screaming Lord Sutch moved in during the summer of 1964, but couldn't endure the inhospitable conditions and soon sold out to his manager Reg Calvert. Radio City ("The happiest swinging station in the world") was rather more successful, at least until a proposed merger with Radio London went tragically wrong and Reg was "accidentally" shot dead. Only in Essex, eh? The incident spurred the passing of the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act, and pirate radio's days were firmly numbered.

Today the six remaining towers rust in silent solitude, their windows smashed out by the army to ensure that no unwanted squatters can move in [photo]. Apart from one lonely writer who spent a recent summer here getting lonely (and blogging about it), now only seagulls claim Shivering Sands as their own. With decent visibility it's just about possible to see the towers from the Kentish coast, small stilted blobs on the northern horizon. But for a proper view I had to take the boat trip, out into the maritime mist, for the opportunity to get up close. And yes, they really are an impressive and unusual sight [photo]. Ropes hang limp where walkways once stretched [photo], and gaping doorways allow the unforgiving North Sea weather to penetrate inside [photo]. The stump of the smashed tower is clearly visible above the waves in calm weather (you can probably spot it in my top photo). Every slight change in boat position generates a fascinatingly new vista of boxes and legs [photo], so no photo of the fort complex is ever the same. I found this a very peaceful spot, at least until a large cargo ship departing Tilbury chugged close by [photo].

Shivering SandsAnd what of the future? Our pilot suggested that Shivering Sands' proximity to the shipping lanes might prove its downfall, and that demolition may be on the cards within the next couple of years. It'd be a damned shame to lose such an iconic offshore structure, but all too often it seems risk analysis wins out over heritage preservation. All may not be lost, however, because there's another similar cluster of Maunsell Forts at Red Sands a few miles further to the west. Our boat trip didn't go there (even though it said we would in the tour description, not impressed, guys). These forts are in a slightly better condition and are therefore more likely to be saved. Apparently there are plans afoot by a private consortium to restore the towers to create a sustainable "self-funding facility", incorporating recording studios, a wartime and broadcasting museum, and of course a gift shop. If Project Redsand is successful, the platforms might even be able to host corporate events and weddings. Part of me absolutely hates the idea, but at least some element of these amazing wartime defences will be saved for the future. In the meantime, especially if you want to experience the awe-inspiring Shivering Sands, you'd better hurry and try to pick a sunny day to get out here for yourself.

The Shivering Sands wartime story
A fantastic set of Sea Forts photos (and associated book)
The full story of a Maunsell Forts trip (in gorgeous weather)
More Shivering Sands (and pirate radio) stuff
My six Flickr pics (especially this one)
Ian's visited


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream