Thames Estuary Maunsell Forts

Part 3 - Shivering Sands Fort

When the construction of the four naval forts was completed, which were primarily designed to protect shipping, it was decided to built three more forts closer to London primarily to protect the city from aircraft.

Again, Maunsell was commissioned to design these forts. As the tidal conditions closer to shore were different from that found further out at sea where the naval forts were positioned, a different method of foundation was required for the army forts.

Essentially, concrete foundations were created, again in dry dock. These were floated out to position and the concrete bases were allowed to sink. These would bury themselves into the soft sand below thus providing a firm foundation.

Each army fort was similar in construction. There were 7 towers in total. A central control tower around which six other towers, each with a specific function was placed. There were four 3.7in gun towers, a single Bofors tower and a search light tower. Each tower was connected to at least one other tower in the fort by steel walkways.

Construction of the army forts started in August 1942 and was completed by December 1943.

As with the navy forts, the structures were abandoned soon after hostilities ended and were maintained in case they may be needed until the mid 1950s when they were abandoned by the governnment.

Although originally having 7 towers, Shivering Sands now only has six towers. In 1963, during heavy fog, a ship (Ribersborg) veared off the nearby busy shipping lane collided with the tower causing it to collapse.

The tower that was isolated by the accident has since been fitted with equipment by the Port of London Authority to measure wind and tides and also the long term change in sea level.

In 1992, a buoy was placed nearby to replace this functionality as the tower was by then deemed to be unsafe to use.

As with the other forts, pirate radio stations used the location. Shivering Sands became the operational base for pirate radio stations. First, on 7th May 1964 on 194 metres came Radio Sutch, operated by the famous Screaming Lord Sutch. He soon tired of the radio station however and Screaming Lord Sutch sold the station to his manager Reg Calvert in September 1964.

In 1965, the platform was boarded and the station went of air for a few days during a dispute over the station's ownership, As a part of this dispute Reg Calvert was shot dead, but the station went back on the air soon afterwards, finally becoming silent in 1967.

In August 2005, artist Stephen Turner spent 6 weeks alone in Shivering Sands searchlight tower (the one in the foreground in the picture above) "an artistic exploration of isolation, investigating how one's experience of time changes in isolation, and what creative contemplation means in a twenty first century context". He wrote a blog documenting his stay there.

The image above shows the single stump that remains of the tower that was destroyed in the accident. The stillness of the sea causes the other towers to be reflected in an eerie fractured way. In the distance, Kentish Flats wind farm can be seen between the forts and the Kentish shore.

Back to part 2 - Knock John Fort

On to part 4 - Red Sands Fort

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The images on this page at the published resolution are © 2006 Hywel Williams. You may re-use any of these images for non-commercial use as long as I'm credited the copyright.
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