East Weare Rifle Range

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Stop butt structure of the East Weares Rifle Range.

East Weare Rifle Range is a disused rifle range on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. The range is situated within the area of East Weares, the east side of Portland, and sat below HM Prison Portland. It remains close to Portland Harbour, and is also known as the Naval Rifle Range.[1]

The range became a scheduled monument in October 2015.[2] The majority of the site remains in good condition. The main part of the site features the monumental stone stop butt. The sloping back stop is infilled with earth and stone. This was the receiving end, where shots were fired into the bank. The rifle range remains on the private property of Portland Port Ltd, and has not been opened to the public. However it can be seen from surrounding coastal paths.

History[edit]

Stop butt structure, including a disused telegraph pole and part of sentry lookout post.

The East Weare Rifle Range was built between 1889 and 1903, on additional land the war department had to purchase.[3] Constructed using huge ramps of earth and stone, the range's large stop butt structure had been built by the 1920s, out of Portland Stone. The range was built as part of a general development of the naval base and its training provisions, where it was used to train naval and other military service personnel, often stationed at East Weare Camp.[4] The rifle range was built in close proximity to Portland's railway line, which the construction of had commenced in 1888. The line opened in 1900, and due to the closeness between the range and the line, red flags would be hoisted during firing sessions, meaning all railway employees were prohibited from entering the area.[5]

The range ceased operational activity during the 1980s. After a civilian was killed by a stray round from a military range near Aldershot in Hampshire, the government decided to review all active firing ranges in the UK. The East Weare Rifle Range was classed as dangerous, due to the uncontrolled public footpaths surrounding it. It was used for shotgun and clay pigeon shooting for a limited time, before falling into total disuse. Today the rifle range stands as a reminder of the military presence at Portland. As a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), it is home to high nature conservation valued scrub and wildlife. It was decided in 2007 to release ten British Primitive goats into the area to control the scrub.[6]

Design[edit]

At the south-east end of the range, opposite the gallery, is the large late 19th-century/early 20th century stop butt. This measures approximately 100 metres in length and 30 metres wide. On the opposite side is the markers' gallery, which survives in a reasonable condition. It was the location of the machinery operating the raising and lowering of the targets, and this was achieved with the use of cables and pulleys using a Hythe pattern target frame.[7] The range had firing points on earth and stone mounds at 100 yard intervals from 200 yards to 600 yards, with an additional lane of fire to the north-east, firing from 800 yards. The soldiers would fire at the stop butt from the positions. However these have since been destroyed with only the 200 yard mound surviving.[8]

Within the perimeter of the rifle range are two remaining concrete sentry posts, possibly of mid 20th-century origin, where lookouts would warn away walkers when shooting was taking place. One is located almost adjacent to the range site, whilst the other is located further south. The posts remain in good condition.[8] A 1960s tin-corrugated observation post also remains above the range, on the clifftop. There are two World War II pillboxes within the range's perimeter. Both structures are in good condition, although overgrown. One sits next to the adjacent sentry lookout, whilst the other is located on a banking against the stop butt structure.[9][10]

Other Portland ranges[edit]

The East Weare Rifle Range was not the only active range on the island, and two other ranges were located nearby. A rifle and revolver range was once located near King's Pier.[11] A 20th-century small arms rifle range; particularly for the 25 metre rifle, as well as handguns was also located nearby.[12] In July 2014 Portland Port Ltd demolished the small arms range. An old range on Chesil Beach, located within Portland's boundary,[4] still has traces of remains today.[13] The same section holding the East Weare Rifle Range holds a small scattering of 20th century ex-MOD buildings.[14] Although they were not in connection to the rifle range, the different stores held various ammunition. They served the Chesil Beach Range - a sea range used to launch air to surface weapons.[15]

References[edit]

Gallery[edit]

Coordinates: 50°33′12″N 2°25′16″W / 50.5532°N 2.4210°W / 50.5532; -2.4210