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Wanstone Rediscovered

Image showing one of the 15-inch guns installed at Wanstone, Dover during the Second World War
Figure 1: One of the 15-inch cross-channel guns installed at Wanstone, near Dover, Kent in May 1942, just prior to commissioning | © Lt. Tanner - War Office official photographer - public domain image obtained via Wikimedia Commons

During the Second World War, The White Cliffs of Dover became the focus for an unprecedented land-based artillery installation. After the war, some sites were demolished, others covered up, while many were left derelict for nature to reclaim. Our project aims to conserve Wanstone and Fan Bay, the most important and well-preserved parts of the site, and to create an experience that can be enjoyed by generations to come.

Defence, attack and disuse

Since before Roman times, the coast of south-east England has been the subject of many hostile invasion attempts. In the early days of the Second World War, with German forces just 20 miles away, the section of coast to the east of Dover now presented unique opportunities for the British. Previously used mainly for defence, land-based heavy artillery would be used for attacking shipping across the entire width of the Dover Strait and could duel with enemy positions in France. The gun batteries at Wanstone, on The White Cliffs of Dover held the largest, longest-range breech-loading weapons ever installed on mainland Britain. These huge guns could fire a shell weighing 1938lbs (900kg) 26 miles (41km) and saw much action during the War. They were installed along with an extensive network of smaller anti-shipping and anti-aircraft artillery that defended against invasion, and controlled the Dover Strait and a key air route for attacks on London.


When peace returned, many of the guns fell silent. A few were initially kept for training duties but by the mid-1950s, those remaining had either been put into storage, or were cut up for scrap and the sites returned to agricultural use. Although the guns had been removed, much of the infrastructure remained. Some of the military roads were broken up to allow ploughing, but many of the massive, reinforced concrete and brick structures were too costly to demolish. These were buried where possible, or were left to ultimately be reclaimed by nature, often becoming vandalised in the process.

You can read more about the history of the gun batteries on the Wanstone site: Wanstone Battery, D2 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery and Fan Bay Battery in our brief history articles.

Image of all that was visible of the 15-inch gun mounting for Wanstone gun no. 1 when discovered in 2017.  Only the very top of the sloped hold-fast for the gun can be seen
Figure 2: The only visible sign of the 15-inch gun mounting for Wanstone no. 1 gun as discovered in 2017. A small piece of the massive holdfast could be seen - the rest was buried | © NT/Richard Meadows - Licensed CC-BY-4.0

A hidden treasure awaits

In 2017, the private land upon which the Wanstone cross-channel guns, the D2 Heavy Anti-aircraft and the Fan Bay batteries were sited, was acquired by the National Trust. A series of surveys and exploratory excavations revealed 25 military structures, across an area of approximately 0.4 sq. miles, (1 sq. km), some in a remarkable state of preservation.

Since acquiring the sites, we have cut back and removed damaging and invasive vegetation in a way that is sympathetic to the resident wildlife. We are committed to managing the countryside within the battery sites to improve the ultimate habitat and biodiversity.

A project to stabilise the visible structures and to rediscover those that had been buried was proposed. Despite delays due to Covid-19, in January 2022, the National Lottery Heritage Fund kindly awarded us a substantial grant and with the generosity of our private donors and support from local business, the project became viable.

The project officially started on 1 July 2022 and will be delivered by existing and new volunteers who will be recruited locally.

Image showing the concrete foundations of the 15-inch gun emplacement 'Jane'
Figure 3: Excavation in July 2022 reveals the full extent of the 'Jane' emplacement. The small section of concrete showing in figure 2 is a part of the conical structure in the centre of the emplacement that held the axial pivot for the gun. | © NT/Gordon Wise Licenced CC-BY-4.0

The Wanstone Rediscovered project - timeline and blog

December 2023 /January 2024

Mid Term Review

In January we held our mid-term review for the project, which is now halfway through. This is held to check that we are on-track to deliver what we promised and enables any corrective actions to be applied while the project is still active. The meeting is chaired by an independent assessor – in this case, our project partner, White Horse Ecology. The assessor’s summary was as follows:

‘It was excellent to see the progress that you have made and the way that the project is being managed.  I have a very high level of confidence that you are on track to achieve all of the approved purposes of your project… as well as meet the proposed outcomes.  It is also encouraging to see that you will over achieve in many areas, in a large part due to the incredible input of volunteers to not only the delivery but the management of the project.  To accomplish the volume of work your team has within the original budget is really quite something.’

We’re very proud of this assessment result, which enables us to go into the final half of the project knowing that we are heading in the right direction.

The images show two direct results of the project - the excavation of the 'Jane' 15-inch gun emplacement at Wanstone, and Fan Bay emplacement 3, with the partial excvavation of Fan Bay emplacement 2. Despite the bad weather in December and January, we’re continuing to maintain the sites and to prepare for this year’s work and we’ll report more on this in our next update.

Download images: Upper Lower

Aerial view of a Second World War concrete gun emplacement on a sunny day
Aerial view of the fully excavated Jane gun emplacement | © National Trust/Isle Heritage
Aerial view of two of the three concrete gun emplacements at Fan Bay on the White Cliffs of Dover
The Fan Bay gun emplacements numbers 2 and 3 excavated. | © National Trust/Isle Heritage

Our project

Wanstone Rediscovered is a project that concentrates on the area where many wartime structures remain substantially intact. Wanstone is a time capsule from the darkest days of the Second World War and the Wanstone and D2 batteries are rare survivors from the Eyesore Clearance Programme in the 1970s.

From neglect to a new future

Led by the National Trust and supported by a £199,000 National Lottery Heritage Fund grant, local businesses, donors, and volunteer effort, the project aims to excavate and stabilise this important site. We'll achieve this whilst working with and upskilling volunteers from the local community. This is aimed to be mutually beneficial, both to the National Trust, and to candidates who need extra support and experience.

The three key aims of the project are:

  • Archaeological – excavation on three clusters of structures

  • Conservation – urgent work targeted on waterproofing and stabilisation

  • Participation – a community / volunteer led project offering training and experience

Visiting the site

The Wanstone site is currently fenced off - please don't attempt to access the site yourself as there are deep excavations and surface obstructions, many left from the 1950s, which may cause injury. We'll continue to host a series of open days during the project where we will welcome you, share the history of the site and the progress we have made. Watch our blog (above) and our White Cliffs of Dover homepage and Facebook pages for details of the next open days. Access for special interest groups can be arranged - please contact us well in advance using the 'Get in touch' details on the White Cliffs of Dover homepage.

This is an initial phase of a much larger scheme to bring the gun batteries back to life, not in a literal sense, but through the powerful histories these structures will reveal. Today we can only marvel at the speed and craftsmanship of those who did so much, in so little time, to defend our country. Uncovering and conserving these remains will help us to tell the story of a momentous time in the history of this corner of England. We hope that some permanent public access will eventually follow in the future, and in this way, the memories of those who served here can live on.

Download our pictures

Most of the images we feature on these pages are available to download in original resolution, either from our Flickr site or from the source on the links below. Please observe all license conditions. Images open in a separate window.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Can you help us? (image below)

Image of one of the overgrown D2 heavy anti-aircraft gun emplacements and showing the shell stores that would have stood adjacent to the gun

Can you help us?

All the work so far has only been possible due to the efforts of local volunteers. We are always looking for people to join our friendly team. Our plans are ambitious and will use many hours of volunteer time as well as a wide range of physical skills and knowledge. We welcome both individual volunteers and organisation/corporate volunteer groups so could you give some of your knowledge, time and energy to this fascinating and worthwhile project?

Our partners

Heritage Fund

Inspiring, leading and resourcing the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future.

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Rhino Plant Hire

Rhino Plant Hire was established in 1993 by Neil and Kim Morgan. Neil worked for several big companies in the South East of England before deciding to set up his own company. The company undertakes a variety of work such as agriculture contracting, working in quarries with heavy plant and machinery and low loader work.

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Isle Heritage CIC

Isle Heritage CIC is a community interest company, founded in 2021 and based in Sandgate, near Folkestone, Kent. The company employs a small team of experienced archaeologists, and aims to deepen and enrich people's connections to, and appreciation of, the natural and cultural heritage of the places where they live, work, or visit. This is achieved through a wide range of activities, including archaeological fieldwork and research, educational activities, displays and events, and publication.

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Connected Roots

We design and deliver bespoke, participant-led group and team projects through hands-on learning experiences within natural environments, using bushcraft techniques. We believe by offering such experiences, people can enhance their connection with others and discover or rediscover their individual connection to nature. We hope this will also foster a deeper sense of care and respect for the land, including a shared ‘Leave no Trace’ philosophy.

The Brick Guru specialises in brickwork and we are based locally in River, Dover. We strive for perfection and endeavour to leave a legacy of first-class brickwork. We were pleased to support the Wanstone Rediscovered Project and undertook significant brick repairs to the historic magazines on site.

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The Kent Underground Research Group (KURG) is a charity, formed in 1981 to carry out research into the origins, use and history of the many subterranean features of Kent and the Southeast. Members have a unique mixture of practical and academic skills. The group carries out surveys of underground structures and research into old records, including interviews of those who may have memories of workings. These are brought together to publish history of sites in the Group’s research reports. Although Kent is a primary focus, the Group has been called to places as far away as Sussex and Berkshire.

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Black and white image of 15-inch gun Clem taken just prior to commissioning in May 1942

Wanstone Battery - a brief history 

We trace the history of the Second World War cross-channel guns 'Jane' and 'Clem'. Be amazed by the staggering size and capability of these weapons from over 80 years ago.

Image showing the Command Post at D2 shortly after the acquisition in 2017

D2 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery - a brief history 

Find out more about the D2 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery at Wanstone, near Dover, how it was built, the important role it played in the Second World War and what the remains tell us.

Aerial view of two concrete gun emplacements surrounded by grass

Fan Bay Battery - a brief history 

Established on the orders of Winston Churchill, Fan Bay was one of a series of coastal gun batteries that defended the English coast during the Second World War. Find out more about the guns, their emplacements and the infrastructure that supported them; and how the battery fell into disuse, dereliction, was covered over and destined to be forgotten. This is the story of Fan Bay Battery and how it was rediscovered.

The interior of Fan Bay Deep Shelter in The White Cliffs of Dover in Kent, showing its arched corrugated steel construction

Fan Bay Deep Shelter at The White Cliffs of Dover 

Explore Fan Bay Deep Shelter and the sound mirrors in an immersive, hour-long hard-hat and head torch tour with our expert, friendly guides.

Hands cupping a full bowl of squash soup

Eating and shopping at The White Cliffs of Dover 

Stop for freshly made refreshments with a view at the famous White Cliffs of Dover. Browse the shop for souvenirs, gifts and items from local makers.

Two people admiring the view of the sea from the clifftop at The White Cliffs of Dover, Kent, on a sunny day.

Things to see and do at The White Cliffs of Dover 

Discover what there is to do and see at The White Cliffs of Dover. From cliff top walks to wildlife spotting and exploring wartime tunnels, there's lots to keep you busy.

View from the sea of a stretch of The White Cliffs of Dover, Kent, beneath a blue sky

History of The White Cliffs of Dover 

Discover the history of The White Cliffs of Dover. From housing a prison to helping the war effort, these famous cliffs have stories to tell.

A volunteer points something out to a visitor at Lizard Point, Cornwall. Bright blue sea and clear sky is visible behind them.

Volunteering opportunities at The White Cliffs of Dover 

Interested in getting involved at The White Cliffs of Dover? Find out about becoming a volunteer at this special place.