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World War I early warning acoustic mirror on Namey Hill, 570m north of Carley Hill Cricket Ground

A Scheduled Monument in Southwick, Sunderland

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Coordinates

Latitude: 54.9297 / 54°55'46"N

Longitude: -1.3937 / 1°23'37"W

OS Eastings: 438949.749002

OS Northings: 559608.795

OS Grid: NZ389596

Mapcode National: GBR V9X.DZ

Mapcode Global: WHD55.KCK6

Entry Name: World War I early warning acoustic mirror on Namey Hill, 570m north of Carley Hill Cricket Ground

Scheduled Date: 7 November 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020325

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34835

County: Sunderland

Electoral Ward/Division: Southwick

Built-Up Area: Sunderland

Traditional County: Durham

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Tyne and Wear

Church of England Parish: North Wearside

Church of England Diocese: Durham

Details

The monument includes an early 20th century military early warning device
known as a sound mirror. It is located on a gently sloping hillside 2km inland
from the coast on the block of land between the Tyne and Wear estuaries.
The mirror was part of a chain of similar acoustic devices located on the
north east coast extending from the Tyne to the Humber. They were erected to
provide early warning of potential attacks on the important industrial
complexes in the north east from ships and Zeppelins during World War I.
Little is currently known of the history and development of this particular
system and it remains something of an enigma. Successful experiments in
acoustic detection date to 1915 and it is thought that the Tees/Tyne early
warning system dates to the last two years of the war. This mirror faces east
and was positioned to cover the approaches to the Tyne and Wear estuaries.
There were probably other mirrors as part of the Tyne and Wear defensive chain
but the location of these is currently unknown.
The mirror is a `U'-shaped, concrete built structure comprising a thick wall
with an inclined face and a shallow concave bowl shaped into its centre. On
either side of the wall are projecting flanking walls, which helped to protect
the reflector from noise interference and also supported the structure. The
reflector is a smooth bowl 4.5m in diameter, inclined approximately 11 degrees
to the vertical. The rear wall is 5.8m in length and is 4m high. The two
flanking walls are 3.9m long. The reflected sound was detected by a microphone
placed in front of the dish and then transmitted to the headphones of the
operator who sat in a trench to the front. The location of the operators
trench is currently unknown. It has been suggested that at this mirror the
microphone was secured in front of the dish by wires attached to the side
walls, so allowing it to be variably positioned. This differs from other
mirrors in the north east where the microphone was fixed on a metal post in
front of the dish. The monument also includes a margin of 5m beyond the mirror
on the eastern side in which remains of the operators trench may survive and a
margin of 3m on the remaining sides for the support and preservation of the
monument.
On the northern face of the mirror there is an interpretation plaque which is
included in the monument.
The mirror is Listed Grade II.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The use of aircraft as offensive weapons was a significant 20th century
development in the history of warfare, and provoked new systems of strategic
air defence. Experiments in early warning systems started before 1920 with the
new possibility of attacks by airships. Early warning was initially based on
visual spotting, but acoustic detection devices were soon developed.
The principle of acoustic detection is relatively straightforward: a receiving
dish reflected the sound of distant aircraft engines onto a focal point where
it was detected by a listener or, later, by microphones. There were three main
types of acoustic device: mirror, wall and disc. Mirrors were upright concave
bowls between 3m and 4m in diameter; the walls were curved vertical structures
up to 61m in length; the disc system used horizontal concave bowls designed
for use in pairs as aircraft passed overhead to measure speed. At their most
sophisticated, the devices could identify the sounds of surface vessels or
aircraft up to 25 miles (c40km) away.
Research into acoustic early warning was carried out in a number of countries
during the early 20th century. British experiments at the Royal Flying Corps
research establishment at Farnborough tested parabolic sound reflectors of
varying shapes and curvature, and led to the first true sound mirror at
Binbury Manor in the summer of 1915, a circular disc cut directly into a low
chalk cliff. The first operational acoustic reflectors were a pair of
adjustable mirrors erected on the Kent coast in 1917, followed by a series of
concrete static mirrors established on the north east coast later in World War
One.
Further experiments were carried out after the war. This led to the building
of a complex chain of mirrors on the Kent coast around Hythe in the late
1920s. Unrealised plans were also drawn up for an ambitious scheme to be
installed around the Thames estuary.
Acoustic devices always remained susceptible to interference from extraneous
noises and adverse weather. As aircraft performance increased, the time
between detection and arrival of enemy aircraft rapidly shortened and reduced
the value of acoustic devices as an early warning system. By 1936 the
technology of radar had replaced acoustic methods as the main form of early
warning, although acoustic systems remained in use at anti-aircraft and
searchlight batteries, and as backup systems in the event of radar being
jammed.
A national survey of acoustic early warning devices has identified only around
11 sites where remains of acoustic detection survive. Field evidence of this
important aspect of the 20th defence of Britain is thus rare and all surviving
examples are considered to be of national importance.

The World War I early warning acoustic mirror on Namey Hill, 570m north of
Carley Hill Cricket Ground, is one four known surviving examples in the north
east of England. It survives well and makes a significant contribution to the
study of early 20th century defences in England.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Sockett, E W, 'Durham Archaeological Journal' in A Concrete lLstening Mirror At Fulwell, Sunderland, , Vol. VOL 6, (1990), 75-76

Source: Historic England

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