Fan Bay Deep Shelter an excavation of epic proportions

Over 3000 hours in the making, opening the shelter to the public was one of our largest volunteer projects and was only achievable through the amazing dedication and commitment of just 50 volunteers.

A surprise discovery

During 2012 we ran a fundraising campaign to acquire a section of the iconic White Cliffs of Dover and soon came to discover we had also become the custodian of Fan Bay Deep Shelter

Working with a team of 50 volunteers to clear the tunnel entrance we removed 30 tonnes of rubble from the main staircase.

A stairway of spoil
The back filled staircase in Fan Bay Deep Shelter
Richard Crawhurst

Volunteers then turned their efforts to the lower tunnels which required substantial work; clearing again by hand a total of 100 tonnes of spoil, rubble and concrete.

When the tunnels were originally constructed in 1940 the project’s progress was documented in a war diary. The volunteer’s feel a particular empathy for the record that notes

" Construction continued slowly in a sea of mud"
- Fan Bay War Diary entry, 1940

This may have something to do with the fact that most of our spoil removal occurred through October and November 2013, thanks to October being a constant deluge of rain we are able to say with certainty that the war diary did not exaggerate.

Surprise finds and a few repairs

In May 2014 we began an archaeological dig to locate the Sound Mirrors, removing 600 tonnes of spoil (50 lorry loads) in a specialist operation where heavy machinery expertly navigated a 40 degree incline above the cliff edge. The uncovering of the sound mirrors was successfully completed within just 4 weeks.

Further efforts were made to excavate the original tunnel entrance revealing the generator room which we believed to have been demolished.

A system of steps and corridors that would have connected the entrance to the surface emerged and although largely damaged, these were rebuilt during the final stages of the project using original construction plans.

Mine engineers returned to Fan Bay in February 2015 with works to remove the remaining infilling materials in order to reinstate the tunnel entrance next to the 1917 sound mirror.

March 2015 saw the last of the tunnel work complete when mining engineers excavated the covered sound mirror entrances, reinforcing the tunnels as they went.

Finishing touches

The last of the spoil and rubble was removed in April 2015. But volunteers continued to work underground in the tunnels, building benches in the sound mirror latrines, painting or treating doors and woodwork, clearing remaining materials and a final spring clean all in a passionate group effort with an emotional completion in July 2015.

We love volunteers

Say 'cheese'
A volunteer diggers group photograph
Hedley Basford

In total 50 volunteers from all over the country gave over 3000 hours of their own time to help the project. Amongst these dedicated and hard working men and women were builders, geologists, metal work engineers, carpenters, concrete specialists and electricians to name just a few.

This project would not have been possible without them.