Site Records


Site Name: Fairlight ('GWB / 9') R2 CHEL ROTOR Station

Coastguard Lane
Fairlight, East Sussex
TQ862113

RSG site visit 25 July 2002

[Source: Nick Catford]

The Fairlight Chain Home Low (CHL) Radar Station (05A in 75 Wing) was operational by September 1940. It was located on the north side of Fairlight Road to the west of Hastings, the 'A' site centred on TQ845117 and the 'B' site centred on TQ849117. It was equipped with Type 4, Type 11 Mk1, Type 31, Type 52 and Type 53 radars.

A week after D Day (6th June 1944) the Doodlebug or 'Diver' campaign started and Fairlight was immediately upgraded to a reporting GCI station with the addition of Type 14, Type 24, Type 26 and an American MEW radar. A special tracking console was installed in its own building and extra accommodation was built for the new personnel which included a photographic section, 'Y' watch (technical analysis of radio signals), controllers, filterers, CME's (Civilian Mechanical Engineers), operators and clerks. The whole site was surrounded by light and heavy anti-aircraft guns which were not conducive with quiet operational radar practices.

The Diver campaign was short lived and by the end of the year it had lost its impact on the South Coast. Fairlight reverted back to a CHL although some of the new radars were retained.

Photo: The Guardhouse in 1968
Photo: The Guardhouse in 1968
In the early 1950's Fairlight was chosen to participate in the ROTOR project as a Chain Home Extra Low 'A' (CHEL'A'), and the station was resited closer to the coast with the single level R2 bunker and its Type 14 Mk7 radar coming on line on 30th August 1952. The original CHL (see right) to the north remained in use for a short period after this date and the domestic site was retained for the new ROTOR station.
The old Type 52
1950: Type 52
R2 Cutaway
Photo: R2 Cutaway: Original layout ROTOR phase one.

By 1956 the station was redundant remaining on care and maintenance until the early 1960's when it closed. In 1962 the bunker was surveyed by Hastings Borough Council as a possible site for the Hastings Area Civil Defence Control. When area controls were abandoned in 1964 the survey had not been completed and no funding had been agreed so the idea was abandoned.

The bunker was sealed and all buildings on the site was demolished by Hastings Borough Council in 1973 and the area landscaped as part of the Hastings Country Park. It is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

1965 Aerial view
1965: Aerial view

1968: Emergency exit / T14 Plinth / Electrical substation (?)
Domestic site 1955
1965: Domestic site

With little or no evidence of the ROTOR station visible above ground other than a low mound, the chances of ever gaining access to the underground bunker seemed slim at best, however the impossible has been achieved and a small party from Subterranea Britannica were able to explore the abandoned R2 site on 25th July 2002.

Sub Brit's Jason Blackiston masterminded a plan to briefly re-open the bunker and make a photographic survey. With the aid of detailed surveys of the site he was able to pinpoint a suitable access shaft and he produced a plan to excavate this shaft together with a risk assessment which was submitted to the Country Park for approval. After much consideration they agreed to the proposal on the strict understanding that there should be no advance publicity, minimal damage to the surroundings, a prescribed route to the site should be established so as not to trample unnecessarily on plants and shrubs and the excavated shaft should immediately be infilled and resealed with reinforced concrete and the soil and grass re-instated. This was agreed and excavation at the site started in the late afternoon of 24th July.

Photo: AC Plant Room
Photo: AC Plant Room. Note modified particulate filter unit assemblies in apparatus filter room (center)
Photo by Nick Catford

After digging through 12" of soil, concrete was reached, this was broken up using a Kango and found to be 8" thick. Beneath with was steel re-inforcing and a metal sheet which was cut away to reveal the original tanked roof of the bunker. This proved somewhat more resistant to the Kango than the first concrete layer but eventually a small hole was made through a further 10" of concrete confirming Jason's initial ground survey, we had located suitable access. The hole was enlarged the following morning giving access to a small chamber from which it was possible to drop down 10 feet into the bunker. There had originally been a ladder at this point but this has now gone.

The guardhouse was located on the east side of the footpath running south past the coastguard lookout. It was not possible to reach the stairwell of the guardhouse underground as a concrete block wall has been built across the sloping entrance passage near the guardhouse. The passage from the new wall runs south for about 40 feet and then turns sharply to the east for a further 200 feet, it is dry and in good condition. At the end of the slope the back filled cable shaft is on the right and the recess for the electrical sub-station is on the left. The transformer has been removed as has the wire cage that surrounded the front of it. At this point there were teak floorboards which are missing revealing several feet of water in the cableway below. All the teak floor sections have been removed throughout the bunker but it is possible to walk across the supporting beams where necessary.

Beyond the sub station there is a dog leg into the main east - west spine corridor. On the outward side were heavy steel blast doors and on the inward side wooden swing doors, both sets of doors have been removed. Above the wooden doors an original grey ROTOR sign is still in place (now removed) indicating 'To Main Exit'

It was not possible to enter any of the rooms on the left as, with the floorboards missing and the floor below is under two feet of water and strewn with rubble, wiring and metal trunking. The water is clean and clear. There is one small electrical rack below the water level. All the partition walls between the four rooms have been removed revealing one long room. The four rooms from west to east were the track telling room, radar office, a small workshop and the air conditioning plant room. The first three rooms have been completely stripped apart from ventilation trunking on the walls and ceiling and now give the impression of being one long room. The AC plant room has also been largely stripped apart from the skeletons of three large floor standing control cabinets on the left hand side, two compressor plinths and more trunking. There is a small sign on one wall that reads 'No 2 Plant Thermostat'. At the back of the room the partition walls and doorways into the dehumidifier area are still in place. This room never had a teak floor but had concrete steps down from the corridor to floor level.

Photo: View from the emergency stairs.
Photo: View from the emergency stairs. Note primary filter unit (detached) with original ROTOR filter units, Gas filters originally stood to the left (out of shot)
Photo by Nick Catford

On the right hand side of the spine corridor the first two radar rooms (technical officer and intercept room) are in a similar state with their partition wall removed. The remaining rooms on the right have solid floors and can all be entered. The next room on the right is the RAF (male) toilet which still retains its WC's, beyond this is a storage area where there was originally a ladder up to the technical store above the rest rooms, the ladder has gone. The next room is the WRAF (female) rest room giving access to the WRAF toilet which again has its WC's and wash basin intact. There is a small serving hatch from the small kitchen. The kitchen has been completely stripped apart from the extractor hood above the cooker and a Butler sink lying on the floor. The RAF rest room next door is also empty, this too has a serving hatch into the kitchen. The final two rooms on the right hand side of the corridor are the GPO room and the low voltage switchgear room, again both empty.

At the end of the corridor there is another original ROTOR sign (now removed) which says 'To Emergency Exit Only'. There is another dog leg passage with both the wooden swing doors and the steel blast doors removed and then the final section of corridor towards the emergency exit stairs. There are two recesses on the left, one for the forced-air water coolers (cooled water being piped back into the AC Plant) where the casing for the cooler fan and waste (warm / moist) air extract ducting remains. The second recess (for air filtration plant) still contained the original primary filters and part of the 'normal / gas' damper trunking.

It was apparent that when the original gas filters were disconnected that the 'gas' side of the damper trunking was deliberately sealed, this (together with modifications to the apparatus filters) perhaps formed part of a post ROTOR modification for an as yet unkown purpose. There is a small room on the right that would have contained a compressor for the 'Shone ejectors' contained in the sump below, but these have been removed.

At the end of the short corridor are the emergency stairs with a small concrete plinth behind the stairs, it's unclear what was mounted here (subsiduary AC Fan?). There are two flights of stairs up to a short landing, at the back of the landing there is a concrete block wall and presumably the remaining section of the emergency exit has been back filled behind it. The stairs are still in reasonable condition although now badly rusted.
Main entrance: Looking towards Guard House
Main entrance: Looking towards Guard House
Main entrance: transformer room (left), cable shafts (right)
Main entrance: transformer room (left), cable shafts (right)
Main entrance: Blast doors (removed)
Main entrance: Blast doors (removed)
Central corridor: looking back: to main entrance
Central corridor: looking back: to main entrance

Main corridor
Main corridor

Tack telling room
Main operation rooms
AC Plant room
AC Plant room
Intercept room
Intercept room
WRAF rest room: Entrance hatch to Kitchen
WRAF rest room: Entrance hatch to Kitchen
Kitchen
Kitchen
RAF rest room
RAF rest room
LV Switch room
LV Switch room
Main corridor: Looking towards emergency exit
Main corridor: Looking towards emergency exit
AC Plant: Main (forced air) water cooling unit fan
AC Plant: Main (forced air) water cooling unit fan
Emergency exit stairs. Air/Gas Filters (left), sump room (right)
Emergency exit stairs. Air/Gas Filters (left), sump room (right)

Having photographed the bunker thoroughly the access hole was backfilled with half a ton of rubble and sealed with 15" of reinforced concrete, finally a foot of soil removed the previous day was put back into the hole and the turf reinstated, a week later there was little evidence the excavation had taken place.

The majority of the excavation work was carried out by Jason Blackiston, Robin Ware and Richard Challis.

Those taking part in the visit were Jason Blackiston, Nick Catford, Mark Bennett, Richard Challis, Robin Ware and David Heyes.

[Source: Nick Catford]

Sources:

  • Bob Jenner
  • Keith Ward
  • Mark Bennett
  • PRO File AVIA 7/267
  • PRO File AVIA 7/451 Operational report 40

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Last updated 29th August 2002

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