Thanet Defences Project

Following a meeting with historians of Thanet’s military past, an assessment has begun of the available documentary sources to support a possible new project for an enhanced study of the defences of this council district.  This would continue Kent County Council’s Defence of Kent Project which aims to better understand the role, evolution, distribution and survival of the county’s varied military and civil defence structures, built or used during the 20th century.  It is hoped to bring this subject more fully into the public domain, providing greater awareness by publication, educational and interpretational projects, by highlighting sites for protection or conservation as well as by improving physical access.  Four districts have already been studied, with a fifth well underway, Thanet being the sixth.

Thanet already has a strong showing of knowledgeable military historians who have contributed substantially and expertly to what we know about defence sites on the island and a review of records for the island has begun to suggest the potential for further significant discoveries.  It is hoped that existing historians supported by others from the community might take forward the process of discovery.    From this it will be possible to complete a more full understanding of the anatomy and function of Thanet’s triad of land, air and sea defences throughout the whole of the period from 1900 until the Cold War.  Special attention will be given to studying the historical evolution of the infrastructure of Manston airfield.

Recommended reading is Ron Stilwell’s The Defence of Thanet and East Kent (1939-1945), published by the author in 2014.  It contains 197 pages and is profusely illustrated.  Copies may be obtained from him price £12.99p (+ £2.80 for post and packing).  Enquiries should be sent via stilwellrv@yahoo.co.uk

Some exciting discoveries seem likely in the years ahead and progress will be reported later.

Victor Smith

15th June 2015

Fort Luton

Since the beginning of the year work has really taken off at Fort Luton. We have been lucky to have received two groups who have requested to work for a day to help move our project along as well as having weekly work days with our own volunteers. We are currently setting up a Community Interest Company with the aim to allow Fort Luton to be available to the local community with the exterior of the fort used for events and the casemates to be used for community talks, workshops, arts and other creative events. We will also allow rooms to be hired for parties and social gatherings. We intend to allow some of the casemates to be hired on a long term to people are offering something that will benefit our local community.

So far we have made cleared and made available three casemates, two for long term hirings and one for the use of everyone. The community room is in the original magazine and we have installed flooring, water, a fridge and lighting, we are still tidying this room up a little but it is now available for use.

We have been carrying out vegetation clearance and trying to tidy the fort up as it is a little overgrown, this is an ongoing process and we hope that we can have the grounds in a more manageable condition by the end of the year. Due to an unsafe floor we have removed a modern concrete ramp from the left flank tunnel which led to us finding WWII vintage steps leading down into it. We aim to add a wooden ramp into the tunnel to preserve the steps and make access easier into this area. This will become a Time Tunnel depicting the Forts history and outlining our long term plans for the site.

The major work we have at the moment is uncovering the drainage on the roof and restoring it, unfortunately rain water is working its way into the casemates and we need to investigate why this is happening. We have uncovered one section of this and hope to be able to restore this before moving on to the next section.

The biggest issue we have at Fort Luton is spoil removal, during the 1990’s a large amount of spoil was spread over the fort. As a result of this we need to find a way to remove this and restore the levels and landscaping of the fort. Any suggestions welcome!!!

By Kyn (Kent History Forum)

Archcliffe exploding gun

On a Thursday evening of August 1860 the members of the Volunteer Artillery Corps were at Archcliffe Fort practising with three 32-pounder smoothbore muzzle-loading guns that were mounted along the front of the battery. The guns were firing at a target placed in the channel. Although all three of the guns were around 60 years old they had all been fired many times and were thought to be perfectly safe. The guns were being watched by many of the corps who were standing to the right of the battery, they were standing about twelve yards from No.2 Gun. This gun had been fired ten times already that evening and when Mr Hadlow, the gunner responsible for firing it, applied the slow match it was a massive shock when the gun exploded.

 

Mr Hadlow was lucky to escape with a minor injury to his head, some men that had been watching were blown into the defensive ditch that ran around the fort but were uninjured. Lieutenant Thompson however was not so lucky, he was found lying on his back, he stood up with heavy breathing and a wound in his back and said, “I am not hurt, let us see to the others”, with this he turned around, fell backwards and died. A young man called Harris, the nephew of Captain Wollaston the Corps Commander, was taken to the military hospital, a quarter of a mile away with Sergeant John Monger. Harris was suffering from concussion and made a full recovery however Sergeant Monger died on arrival. Robert Foster Junior was the luckiest man of them all, at the time of the explosion he was walking back to the battery from the magazine where he had just collected the next cartridge to be fired, had he been closer to the explosion the cartridge could have also exploded and killed him. The gun had disintegrated with the explosion, the muzzle had dropped to the ground, the breech was blown 30 yards to the rear of the gun and the remaining parts had shattered, throwing fragments in all directions. Two pieces landed in the goods yard of the rail way and another had imbedded itself into the ground.

 

Sergeant Monger was buried with full military honours, the gun carriage bearing his coffin and drawn by seven horses was led through packed streets to the parish church of St Mary the Virgin before being buried at Cowgate Cemetery. Representatives of the Royal Artillery and Rifle Brigades of Dover, Deal, Hythe, Folkestone and other towns and from The Dover Corporation, the Mayor, Aldermaen, Councillors, Freemen and the Town Clerk attended the service. Many towns’ people lined the rain-wet streets to pay their respects and many friends and colleagues attended the funeral. Later a memorial paid for by small subscriptions from the garrison, Volunteers, visitors and town residents was erected over his grave. In life John Monger, 32, had kept a tobacconist’s shop in Snargate Street, he was a father of two young daughters and a husband to Elizabeth, who was buried with him 18 years later.

 

In contrast to the public ceremony for John Monger the second fatality of the evening, Lieutenant Thompson, was a private affair. He was interred in his families vault at St Andrews Church in Sheaperdswell in accordance to his will. Lieutenant Thompson was a solicitor and coroner for the borough, his death caused the authorities some problems as there was nobody to conduct an inquiry into the deaths. It is very rare for a town coroner to die a violent death in his own town.

 

The accident was investigated and Sergeant Matthews, a Volunteer Corps Instructor, concluded that the gun had been loaded properly with it also been washed out (to remove previous gunpowder) and everything done in the correct way. Fragments of the canon were sent to officials at a metal foundry and found to be without fault. Captain Hardy of the Royal Artillery also inspected fragments of the gun that was donated by the Royal Arsenal at Woolich on 13th September 1859, no faults could be found. The gun had fired 180 rounds since it had been with the Volunteers, a gun of this type should be able to fire one thousand rounds in it’s lifetime. The gun had been made by Walker & Co., of cast iron and was proved on 18th May 1805, it was first used aboard H.M.S. Edgar, later on H.M.S. Barham in 1812 and later still on H.M.S. Asia in 1836 before being stored in Portsmouth in 1845. While at Portsmouth the canon was inspected and found the vent was enlarged, this indicated the gun had shot over 500 rounds.

 

The verdict of the accident investigation was the condition of the gun was obviously poorer than expected and that all guns must be inspected periodically.

By Kyn (Kent History Forum)