Swingate is a collection of many sites dating from the turn of the century. The largest site is the former Chain Home radar station built in the late 1930s. The old radar site is one mile to the north west of Dover Castle. Its masts are still standing and are well known local landmarks. Serving with great distinction, literally in the front line throughout WWII, the CH station remained in use until 1955.
During the Rotor building programme two new surface shelters were built to house the electronic equipment and radar operators. The shelters were of reinforced brick construction with steel shuttered windows to protect against bomb splinters and small arm fire. When the station closed the smaller transmitter masts were removed and the three large masts retained. The masts were then used for various purposes: by the Home Office and the BBC to serve the newly converted RSG under Dover Castle, a military microwave relay tower and even as a transmitter for the old Southern TV company. In addition the site also boasted four large transmitter dishes which were part of the NATO Ace High system.
Next to the former CH site are the remains of Swingate airfield which date from WWI. It was from this airfield that the RFC flew to France to support the BEF, the pilots using car tyre inner tubes as makeshift life preservers! The major remains are the bases of three hangers built in WWI and a monument on one of them commemorating the RFC.
Across the St. Margarets to Dover road (adjacent to airfield site) is Langdon Battery, which dates from 1904 and was armed with 4 x 6” guns en barbette. Langdon served as the examination battery for the Dover coast defences through both wars and until 1956. After lying derelict for 23 years, it was used as the foundation for the new Dover Straits Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre and as such is off-limits to visitors.
During WWII Langdon was connected to Dover Castle by a series of tunnels via the old prison site. The site of Dover prison is now a nature reserve administered by the National Trust. The prison was constructed to hold hard labour prisoners working on extensions to the port of refuge in Dover. When the works were completed the prison closed and the site was abandoned until WWII, when it became the domestic site and stores for coastal artillery troops. Tunnels connected the domestic site to Langdon Battery, the Eastern Docks below and back to Dover Castle. The tunnel entrances have long been blocked off although access can be gained from Dumpy. Ken Scott, the English Heritage Manager of Dover Castle, told me that he had recently inspected these tunnels, however he found that they are in a very dangerous condition with many falls.
The final Swingate site is the former Swingate Camp just outside the small village of St Margarets at Cliffe, built in 1952 of prefabricted construction to act as a domestic site for nearby Rotor station at St Margarets. The site was abandoned by the RAF when the radar station closed and passed to the army who used it as a training camp until 1966 when it was sold and became a private “chalet” (read huts!) holiday camp. In 1985 the huts were demolished and mobile homes put in their place. All that now remains is the guard room (reception) and the water heating plant. An almost complete example of a Rotor domestic site can be seen at Bexhill in East Sussex, adjacent to the A259, built to serve Rotor stations at Beachy Head and nearby Wartling. Now it is known as HMP Northeye, obviously closer inspection is not encouraged!