Ancient Monuments

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New Battery and High Down Test Site, The Needles

A Scheduled Monument in Totland, Isle of Wight

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Latitude: 50.6614 / 50°39'41"N

Longitude: -1.5781 / 1°34'40"W

OS Eastings: 429919.079192

OS Northings: 84723.354398

OS Grid: SZ299847

Mapcode National: GBR 67W.HTK

Mapcode Global: FRA 77LB.71K

Entry Name: New Battery and High Down Test Site, The Needles

Scheduled Date: 31 July 2015

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1422839

County: Isle of Wight

Civil Parish: Totland

Traditional County: Hampshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Isle of Wight

Church of England Parish: Totland Bay Christ Church

Church of England Diocese: Portsmouth


A late C19 coastal battery, known as the New Battery, also the remains of the Cold War High Down Test Site for rocket development and testing.

Source: Historic England


The New Battery and High Down Test Site are located at the western end of West High Down, just beneath its crest, centred at approximately SZ 29994 8476. In the north and west of the site is the New Battery and former Test Site Preparation Area. In the centre of the site is the former Battery Command Post. In the south-west and south of the site are the remains of the Firing Area; the test stands, known as gantries Nos. 1 and 2, and between them the Pump and Control Rooms. A new road was constructed to link the New and Old Batteries with an upper road leading to the Battery Command Post and Coastguard Cottages (the cottages have not been assessed for designation). A further roadway links the western gun emplacement with the test stands to its south-east. The site has been the subject of an English Heritage survey (Cocroft 2007; see this report for more detail).

The New Battery comprises three open, mass-concrete gun emplacements. The three emplacements are semi-circular in shape with an outer curving concrete and earth parapet. From the seaward side they presented a low profile such that their shielded guns (now removed) would have appeared above the parapet. To the rear the gun pits were open with the guns set on a central mounting that elevated the barrels to the height of the parapet. Surrounding the gun was a raised metal platform for the gun crews (removed). Set into the walls of the emplacements are lockers, formerly closed with steel doors, which were used to house ready-use ammunition. The easternmost emplacement has been stripped of most of its fittings, and was left as an open area when the battery was incorporated into the test site’s Preparation Area. At this time its base was covered by tarmac thereby obscuring any surviving features of the gun mounting and supports for the surrounding deck.

To the east of the easternmost emplacement a concrete stair case provides access to the open Position Finding Post with a central concrete column on which was mounted an instrument. In front of this column the position is curved to allow for easy access around the instrument. To the west of the column is a concrete locker, which was probably used for chart storage. Below this position a flight of stairs gives access to an underground room that formerly housed a Telephone Exchange and was latterly used as a Store.

In between the eastern and central emplacements, and reached by concrete ramps from both emplacements, is an underground Magazine (SZ 2991 8481). This is mostly of rendered brick with a concrete rendered access passage and stairs. On the northern side of the passage, an armoured door and steps downwards provided access to the Shifting Room and two Cartridge Stores, which were used to hold ready assembled cordite charge bags. All the rooms are brick vaulted. During the 1950s the underground magazine was adapted for new uses and was known as the Equipment Centre. There northern rooms were converted (from west to east) to a Recording Room, Control Room and Guidance Room (all for the remote control and management of the tests). To the south of the passage, are three smaller rooms, two of which were originally a Shell Store, and a Small Items Store. The original function of the central room is not known although 'Quarantine/Inspection Only' painted on its wooden door is indicative of its usage in more recent years. In the 1950s the former Shell Store and Small Items Store were converted into the General Battery Room and the Flight Battery Room (for storage and maintenance of the rocket batteries). The General Battery Room is now (2015) used by the National Trust as a café.

The western emplacement had its own dedicated Magazine, which although smaller was organised in a similar manner. Due to later alterations its access ramp to the west is no longer visible, although a concrete staircase at its east end remains open. On top of the western emplacement is a Coast Guard lookout tower (this building is not part of the scheduling) of unknown date but post-dating the demolition of test site buildings here in the early 1970s.

During its test site incarnation the central gun emplacement was used as part of the foundations for the Main Building (SZ 2990 8480). While the superstructure was demolished during the 1970s to re-expose the emplacement, some of the emplacement walls are covered in traces of white paint from this usage. The footprint of the main building can also be traced by rows of cut-off ‘I’ section girders that mark the position of its uprights, and sections of brick cavity-wall foundations. At the western end of the building a metal running rail remains set into concrete marks the position of the workshop’s metal concertina doors. A gulley in the east side of the former workshop floor within the emplacement marks the position of partition. To the east the concrete floor slab for a flight of concrete steps, which led to an upper room, survives. Next to this a set of steps descends into the former magazine.

The footprint of the 1950s Maintenance Building (SZ 2998 8483) is also evident as brick footings and the remains of a concrete floor slab (to the southwest the floor slab is partly buried in spoil). At its eastern end is a concrete surface and on the north side of this slab is the metal rail of a sliding door.

The remains of a 1956 red brick circular lamp base with remnants of its rolled steel lamp post survives to the north-west of the Preparation Area at the junction of the roads to the New Battery and Battery Command Post (SZ 3000 8484)

To the south-east of the easternmost gun emplacement is a concrete tunnel 0.81m wide and 1.39m high that leads into the hillslope. At its entrance is a slot for a wooden door frame. This dates from the 1890s and carried the battery’s water pipes.

To the south of the gun emplacements is the Battery Command Post (SZ 2994 8478). The building comprises two parallel blocks oriented roughly east to west with a central linking passage. It is a low brick built building, but part cement-rendered that makes deciphering its phasing difficult. The south range comprises two lower bays with a higher central section. In the south wall is a blocked opening, possibly a former door, and to its east a window opening. The rear range has a low roof to the west and a higher and perhaps later roof to the east. In its north wall is a blocked observation window. From the east a passage leads to the present entrance to the building through a timber door with overlight. The interior was not inspected. Immediately to the east of the building are two sawn-off rolled steel channels.

The firing area forms an arc with a firing site at either end and the Pump and Control Rooms in the centre.

Gantry No. 1 Test Post (SZ 2988 8473) has been demolished although its position is evident. To the rear are concrete steps that gave access to Gantry No. 1 and also some further stairs back towards the Preparation Area. Gantry No. 2 Test Post (SZ 2998 8467) has also been demolished although its position is also clear. To its rear is the remains of a breeze block wall and a concrete surface. Four concrete steps to the west-south-west gave access to Gantry No. 2. The gantry superstructures in both cases have been removed (but are described in the History section above). Their attachment metal plates survive however as do their massive, monolithic concrete bases. The substantial concrete-lined efflux channels, with sumps at the bottom, also survive. Earthenware pipes (now largely removed but their lines traced by gullies leading downslope from the stands), took effluent from the sumps to a surviving breeze-block channel 25.4m (83ft 4 ins) in length situated close to the cliff top.

Adjacent to each of the Gantries, and beneath each platform, was a substantial concrete open bay that was used to house the ready-use High Test Peroxide Dispensing Tanks. These bays survive but have been subsequently blocked in brick.

The Pump House and Control Room (SZ 2993 8471), central to the Test Area, contained water pump controls and safety monitoring equipment for both gantries. This concrete structure is entirely beneath the access platform, its roof being at platform level. It is accessed from the platform above by a flight of stairs to the west. A door, immediately opposite to the foot of the stairs, gives access to the Pump Room. Another, opening on its south side, was probably for ventilation. Within are a number of concrete machinery mounting plinths for a central large pump, driven by an adjacent electric motor, and various pipe valves. Water was pumped from the site’s reservoir to the Pump House and from here cooling and fire fighting water was piped to the Firing Sites. To the south of the Pump House is a narrow passage way between it and the freestanding trapezium-shaped Control Room. This passage way gives access to the Control Room through an outwardly opening armoured door in its rear wall. To either side of the Control Room concrete wing walls retain the hillslope and give access to its front (south-west) elevation. The Control Room is built on a concrete 'floating base’ and is separate from the main causeway. In the event of an accidental explosion it was designed to withstand pressures of up to 10lb/in². Internally are various plinths and mounting bolts for the safety officer’s console that was positioned in the centre of the room, and in the northeast corner controls to engage the fire fighting system. In its eastern and western walls are armoured observation windows with 6inch (15cm) thick glass facing the two Firing Sites, to allow safe observation of the tests, and single windows in its front and rear walls. At platform level the passage way between the two rooms is covered by wooden boarding to give access onto the Control Room’s roof.

Immediately to the east of the Pump House and Control Room are a pair of concrete slabs abutting the platform, the site of Facilities Storage for de-mineralised water, kerosene, high pressure air and nitrogen. The main slab sits on a brick foundation and has a central ceramic drain and sawn off bolt-fixings, probably from former fencing. The southern slab is supported on a breeze block wall. The slabs do not appear on the 1950s design drawings and were therefore probably a 1960s addition.

The scheduled area includes the remains of the Needles New Battery and later Test Site Preparation Area, the Battery Command Post, and the Firing Site from the Test Site. The Firing Site Area includes both the access road and linking platform and also the effluent management area to the south and west of the gantries, Pump House and Control Room.

Any surviving road surfaces, building platforms, steps and railings associated with the High Down Test Site are included in the scheduling. However, all modern fences, gates, signage, and security fencing are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath these features is included. At the western gun emplacement, the coastguard station and its associated signage, masts, cabinets, weather stations and modern metal steps are excluded from the scheduling although the emplacement and ground beneath these features is included. Within the magazine between the central and eastern emplacements all modern utilities, signage and fixtures (including modern lighting, information boards and café paraphernalia) is excluded from the scheduling although the historic structure, including its Cold War modifications, is included. At the Battery Command Post, all modern fixtures, signage, utilities and plant associated with its sub-station use are excluded from the scheduling although the historic structure and its Cold War adaptations are included.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The New Battery and High Down Test Site, a late C19 coastal battery and a Cold War rocket testing site, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Rarity: the Cold War test structures at High Down are nationally unique, and a key part of an international rocket testing programme;
* Period: the battery is an important example of the strengthening of coastal fortifications in the late C19, its significance enhanced by its proximity and functional relationship to the Old Battery (a scheduled monument). The Test Site is a highly significant Cold War rocket testing site of national significance for its innovative form and its test programmes;
* Survival: there is a good survival of both the battery and the test site, the latter including a range of structures which aid an understanding of the test process;
* Potential: the site, including its potential for buried archaeological remains, enhances our understanding of both C19 coastal defence and the construction and use of cutting edge Cold War testing programmes, which includes those for both Britain's intermediate range missile Blue Streak and its space programme;
* Historic interest: a site reflecting two very distinct forms of national defence: the coastal battery, built to protect Portsmouth Dockyard and approaches from enemy attack in the late C19 and which continued in use into both world wars, and a Cold War site key to Britain's development of a nuclear deterrent, and latterly hugely significant in Britain's space programme;
* Documentation: the site has been subject to English Heritage research, underpinning the assessment of national importance;
* Diversity: given that the site includes both a late C19 gun battery and a Cold War test site, including modifications of the former for test use, the diversity of the features at this site is considerable. The test site structures are bespoke designs for the particular testing programmes here.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Cocroft, W D, Cold War Monuments: An Assessment by the Monuments Protection Programme, (2001)
Cocroft, W D, The High Down Test Site, Isle of Wight: Rocket Test Site, (2007)
The National Trust, , The Needles Old Battery and New Battery
Isle of Wight Historic Environment Record, monument record number 2912 - MIW4427

Source: Historic England

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