The Admiralty Lookout and Port War Signal Station, located at the southern limit of the grounds of Dover Castle, is set hundreds of feet above sea-level on the edge of the White Cliffs of Dover, overlooking the harbour and Straits of Dover beyond.
In 1905 a central Fire Command Post was built over the remains of the Hospital Battery, (an 1870s coastal artillery gun position which was dismantled in the 1890s) on the cliff’s edge. This Command Post controlled all the coastal gun batteries in the Dover area. In 1914 the Admiralty decided to site its Port War Signal Station on top of it. Re-named Admiralty Lookout, from its commanding position overlooking the Dover Straits, the Royal Navy could control the movements of all shipping in and out of the harbour using flags and wireless, keeping close liaison with the gunnery control in the room below.
It continued its watch over the harbour during the Second World War and the concrete roof was added in 1941.
An information board inside the main building states:
Two rooms of the Fire Command Post are furnished with reproduction equipment to provide an impression of its appearance in 1918, during the First World War. In the observation room, a watch was kept around the clock for enemy warships or unidentified ships approaching the port. In the chart room, the Fire Commander gathered this and other information from several outposts under his command in the Dover area.
In the Port War Signal Station, a display explores how Royal Navy staff kept watch for enemy ship movements, and used visual signalling and wireless to communicate with their own warships at sea. You can spot ships yourself using binoculars, see how enemy aircraft and ships were identified, talk to a friend through a speaking tube, and identify messages sent in code.
By climbing the steps to the roof you can stand where naval signalers sent and received messages to and from ships in Dover Harbour. From there you can appreciate the position of Admiralty Lookout on the edge of the famous White Cliffs, and enjoy spectacular views over Dover, along the coast, and across the English Channel to France.
The Admiralty Lookout and Port War Signal Station is located in front of the Main Entrance of the 120 yard-wide Victorian Officers Mess (“Officers New Barracks”) on Queen Elizabeth Road.
In front of the West Wing near the cliff-edge is a Statue of Admiral Sir Bertram Home Ramsay.
Part of the inscription on an accompanying plaque reads:
OPERATION DYNAMO 26 May-4 June 1940
The German attack on France in May 1940 led to the rapid retreat of the British and French armies. By late May, the British Expeditionary Force was trapped on the French coast, facing defeat and capture. In an unparalleled feat of organisation and leadership, Vice-Admiral Ramsay in his headquarters in the tunnels below this castle, organised the evacuation of British forces, together with French and Belgium soldiers from the port and beaches of Dunkirk.
Prior to the beginning of the Second World War, Rear Admiral Bertram Ramsay had had a disagreement with Admiral Sir Roger Backhouse (C-in-C Home Fleet) and “Asked to be relieved, went on half-pay, and in 1938 was retired”:
“However he was nominated as Flag Officer Dover in the event of war, and during the Munich crisis began setting up the headquarters. There were no communication facilities but his newly appointed flag lieutenant, James Stopford, had taken the precaution of bringing with him from the Signal School a portable W/T (Wireless Telegraphy) set which he could just fit in his car. He found that the old Port War Signal Station had been converted into a public lavatory but, undaunted, he set up his equipment and, much to his surprise, it worked.”
Neglect of the structure following the end of the War had led to an urgent need to repair the unique structure, which formed part of the Scheduled Ancient Monument of Dover Castle. Repairs predominantly included the significant conservation and reconstruction of the ferro-concrete structural elements, heavy metalwork and reinstatement of the joinery interiors which had been removed from the building into storage in 1998. The highest conservation standards were applied and in order to fully understand the complex heritage asset, the work included a programme of detailed archival research and materials/ paint analysis to properly inform the specifications for repair. A further aspect included measures to enable improved visitor access.
The building now resembles its Second World War appearance, and provides improved interpretation of the site in the wider context of the Castle’s wartime tunnels and defences.
I was asked to interpret that paint analysis that had been carried out and to advise on the colours appropriate for a wartime structure. I had previously worked on a number of military installations.
1) John Latter
2) Radley House Partnership
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