Inside Fan Bay Deep Shelter

PUBLISHED: 19:09 01 August 2015 | UPDATED: 19:09 01 August 2015

Fan Deep Bay Shelter

Fan Deep Bay Shelter

Archant

A labyrinth of tunnels reaching deep under the White Cliffs of Dover, forgotten since the Second World War, is now open to visitors, thanks to a public appeal and a two-year conservation project by the National Trust

The complex network of tunnels that is Fan Bay Deep Shelter, along with a now-lost gun battery above ground, was built on the orders of Sir Winston Churchill, who personally came and inspected them in 1941.

They formed part of Dover’s connected offensive and defensive gun batteries, designed to prevent German shipping moving freely in the English Channel. Carved out of the chalk underneath this iconic landmark, the shelter would have accommodated four officers and up to 185 men of other ranks, providing bomb-proof accommodation, a hospital and secure store.

After the war, the site was decommissioned, eventually abandoned and filled in during the 1970s. Fan Bay Deep Shelter lay forgotten until 2012 when the land was purchased by the Trust and a hole in it was then discovered.

Jon Barker, Experience Manager at the White Cliffs of Dover, takes up the story: “We learned of the existence of Fan Bay Deep Shelter after discovering and exploring a hole in the ground in this newly purchased stretch of the White Cliffs.

“The excavation project took us nearly two years to complete, involving an enormous team of more than 50 volunteers, plus archaeologists, mine consultants, engineers and geologists.

“We shifted more than 100 tonnes of soil and rubble by hand to literally uncover their secrets. Once we got inside the tunnels, we had to carry out a fair bit of conservation work, since no one had been there in 40 years.

“We unearthed all kinds of poignant reminders of the men who lived and worked here during the war, plus two huge historic sound mirrors, the precursors to radar technology. Now that the tunnels have been re-opened, we hope the public will be as intrigued as we were to explore this hidden part of Dover’s wartime history.”

The tunnels have opened to the public in the same year that the National Trust celebrates 50 years of Project Neptune, a fundraising campaign designed to save the Great British coastline. In 2012, it was this fundraising campaign that helped raise £1.2million in just 133 days to acquire the land that Fan Bay Deep Shelter is on.

Inside history

Fan Bay Deep Shelter is the largest of its kind in Dover and one of the deepest recovered from the Second World War, sitting 23m below the surface. Once inside, visitors will descend the original 125 steps and be guided through more than 3,500 square feet of tunnels, reinforced with heavy duty iron girders and metal sheeting.

The hard hat and torch-lit tours will reveal the story of the tunnels’ creation, use and final abandonment. Vast amounts of wartime graffiti, comprising thousands of carvings, inscriptions and ditties in pencil and chalk, line the walls, acting as a roll-call of the men who excavated the shelter or were stationed at this front line.

The enormous First World War concrete sound mirrors, perched on the edge of the cliffs, are a feat of engineering that helped give advanced warning of approaching enemy aircraft.

As Jon says: “The whole area is a reminder of the human story behind Dover’s crucial role during the First and Second World Wars. The White Cliffs are forever linked to our country’s defences and the tunnels, with their graffiti-covered walls, are an emotive time capsule.”

Find out more

Tours of the tunnels must be pre-booked via www.nationaltrust.org.uk/white-cliffs-dover. Participants must be over 12 years old and in good health. There is no vehicular access to Fan Bay Deep Shelter, and the experience starts off with a 45-minute walk to the entrance.

Tickets cost £10 per adult and £5 for 12 to 18 year olds, or are free to National Trust members.

The National Trust is asking for help identifying the men who built or were stationed at Fan Bay Deep Shelter from the 172nd Tunnelling Company, 203rd Coast Battery or 540th Coast Regiment, Royal Artillery.

If you have any information, please contact the White Cliffs via whitecliffs@nationaltrust.org.uk or 01304 202756.

w

More from Out & About

As the world slows down, we turn our eyes to the skies in search of the best places to watch some celestial wonders this summer

Read more

Here are 12 places that may have flown under your radar before but are well worth seeking out

Read more

Kent is blessed with fine and indeed famous country houses, but over the decades has lost as many of its grander houses as it retains. A new book by Martin Easdown reveals 120 examples that have simply disappeared

Read more
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Take our quiz to see if you can decipher the town or place in Kent from the emojis

Read more
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Enjoy three of Kent’s best and most loved cycle rides which take in lots of the county’s beautiful coastlines

Read more

We look ahead to the end of lockdown and to a quiet seaside resort we can’t wait to visit again – Herne Bay

Read more

Hythe and New Romney, with their peaceful marshes, abundant wildlife and beautiful coastline, are the perfect places to explore when we’re allowed to travel again

Read more
Friday, June 12, 2020

We’ve gathered six of the best dog-friendly pubs in Kent to enjoy a bite to eat after a scenic stroll

Read more

Try these Kent-themed ideas for the ultimate ‘stay-cation’ – without having to move further away from home than the garden gate

Read more
Monday, June 8, 2020

Picnic baskets at the ready because we have gathered 10 of the best places to enjoy a picnic in stunning rural Kent

Read more
Kent Life Food & Drink awards. Open for entries.

Latest Competitions & Offers

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook


Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Most Read

Latest from the Kent Life