Verne High Angle Battery

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This view shows approximately one-fifth of the structure.

The Verne High Angle Battery is a derelict gun battery built in 1892 on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England. The battery is situated in the Verne area, close to the Verne Citadel (HM Prison The Verne), Fancy's Family Farm (on site of ex-Portland Rotor Radar Station) and Nicodemus Knob. It has been Grade II Listed since May 1993.[1] In addition to this, the entire Verne Citadel has become a scheduled monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This includes the Verne High Angle Battery too.[2]

Within close proximity to the High Angle Battery is a World War II Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery. It was armed with four 3.7-inch guns, and still remains intact today, but remains closed to the public.[3]

History[edit]

A view inside one of the battery's tunnels

The battery was built as part of Britain's Coastal Defences in 1892 and is located in a disused Portland Stone quarry at the northern end of the island. Just to the north, at the top of high cliffs of Portland is the Verne Citadel with which it would have formed part of an impressive defence installation, protecting both merchant and naval shipping using Portland Harbour.

Being down in a quarry the guns were hidden from view of any passing enemy ships, the element of surprise would keep them moving on, minimising a possible threat. The "high angle" that the RML 9 inch 12 ton guns fired at ensured shells dropped down to inflict maximum damage on the less well protected upper decks of any attacking vessel, the sides of which were usually rather better armoured.

The battery was built of Portland stone, concrete and brick. Originally, positions were built for six guns - where six 9-inch RML guns were installed on the mounts at 70 degrees. Shortly after 1898, two additional pits were added on the flanks however no guns were ever fitted, and so the two pits were used as observation points. Plans in the PRO Kew (Public Record Office) had indicated that the Northern additional pit was later converted into an Officers' latrine, whilst the Southern pit was used for storage.

The guns were able to traverse through 360 degrees and were directly by position finding cells on either side - two at Priory Corner on West Cliff and four on East Cliff. Those on the East Cliff still survive as empty roofless shells. The supply of shells were stored in two tunnel magazines, one at each end of the battery, using a short rail to transport the ammunition. The tunnels were roofed with earth and grass, and were therefore protected from enemy fire. Between the magazines were bombproof troop shelters as well as laboratory, whilst two store buildings were built to the rear. The troop's main accommodation being in the adjacent Verne buildings.[4]

The pace of maritime warfare increased with the use of smaller craft like torpedo boats, and the big guns would be far less likely to score a hit. As a result, they had been in use for just six years when they were taken out of service in 1898. The guns were still in use during 1906 when Major Dalton inspected the battery. Dalton suggested that it would be a pity to remove the guns, but the Owen Committee recommendations were carried out in 1907.[4] The Battery was decommissioned in 1906, a short lifespan on the whole, with the battery being abandoned by 1907. Nevertheless the idea was adopted elsewhere with some enthusiasm, especially in the United States.

After becoming abandoned, from 1918 the battery was used for storing field guns from France. During the Second World War it became an ack-ack battery (anti-aircraft artillery) and was used to store ammunition in preparation for the D-Day landings. In the 1960s one of the emplacements was used for testing the capsules in which nuclear material was transported.[5]

Modern state and usage[edit]

The battery has become a tourist attraction, and is the best preserved Battery of its type in the United Kingdom, now a scheduled ancient monument. The battery's warm, grassy embankments have also become support for an array of wildlife. A short walk across from a tiny car park that serves the nearby Verne reveals its layout in the lower levels of the shallow quarry.[6] Another attraction Nicodemus Knob, a landmark quarrying relic stack, is found close by. The nearby East Weare Battery, located below the cliff to the east of the Verne Citadel, has remained on private land owned by Portland Port Ltd, and unlike the Verne High Angle Battery, has not been made open to the public or preserved.

In 1984-85, the Manpower Services team restored the Verne High Angle Battery site.[7][5] Various attempts from Weymouth and Portland Borough Council have been made over the years to seal off the battery's tunnels, however continuous efforts to break into the tunnels have caused them to remain open for the public to explore. The tunnels have gained the name 'The Ghost Tunnels' to locals of Portland, due to the dark, derelict nature of them.[6] Through folklore, many rumours of spooky occurrences within the tunnels have been recorded. The battery itself remains in a good condition today, although it is a target of vandalism, mainly graffiti, and has received little care and attention in recent years.[7]

In both 2011 and 2012, the tunnels of the battery were used to hold the Halloween extravaganza by the community group Revive Portland. The tunnels were decorated with lanterns and other ghoulish displays. The event held various family-friendly activities such as a treasure hunt, live music, story telling and various Halloween themed games.[8][9]

In April 2012, a large event/performance to herald the Olympic sailing events was based at the battery. A total of 2,692 handmade butterflies – the number representing each child on the island – were made by youth and community groups for the Battle for the Winds grand finale, which was a huge theatrical project that tells the story of a fight to regain the seven winds of the south west from the evil Doldrum in time to release for the Olympic sailing events. The project aimed to reach an audience of 530,000 through 40 events across the South West region from April to July, and the finale took place at Weymouth Beach and the High Angle Battery. The story was based on the butterflies playing a key role in Doldrum's Lair, featuring Doldrum in the quarry tunnels where he has imprisoned winds and trapped the voice and breath of youth. Reportedly, organisers had been busy recording people's memories of the battery to put into listening pods placed around the site. Lorna Rees, creative producer from Activate Performing Arts had stated "It's an outpost of a place and has a character that's all its own and it inspired me so much going to the High Angle Battery – it's such an evocative and amazing place. It's one of the best-preserved in the country."[6][10]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°33′29″N 2°26′00″W / 50.5581°N 2.4334°W / 50.5581; -2.4334