SMHS Meeting - Pleasure Ground to Bomb Testing Range

21 Nov 2012

In November, Martin Snow of Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society joined us to talk about Devil's Dyke - ‘Pleasure Ground to Bomb Testing Range'.

Martin started with some background on Devil's Dyke, a beauty spot north of Brighton being a deep valley created by water erosion in the ice-age, or perhaps it was dug by the Devil in an attempt to flood the Christians out of the Weald, believe what you will...

He then went on to show us a collection of postcards depicting the late 1800s/early 1900s when the Dyke was developed as a Pleasure Ground and very popular it was too! There was a carousel, camera obscura, a bike circuit, an aerial cable-way, a funicular railway, a switchback, even a wooden imitation 10 tonne gun! Tea was served at the Dyke Station where the Dyke Railway terminated some 200 metres short of the Dyke; it ran from what is now Aldrington Station. On popular days thousands of people flocked to this popular tourist attraction however the traditional amusements lost popularity and by 1910 the Pleasure Ground fell out of use.

Martin explained how he was interested in a ‘mystery building' which is still there today, though now in quite a damaged state. At first it was thought this may have been the camera obscura - there would have been a beautiful panorama - but the camera obscura was located elsewhere. Our very own Ron Martin had recorded, many years ago, an excellent detailed drawing of the building; which was brick, but also boasted block-working and a wide entrance.

So Martin turned to official documents housed in the National Archives - which revealed the amazing story of the Brighton Bomb Testing Range.

The First World War ensued and a letter was addressed to the Prime Minister in relation to locating a site for a Bomb Testing Range. The necessity arose to test bombs being dropped from a height of 250ft, in preparation for their installation on aircraft. The London based British Ropeway Engineering Company Ltd was given the task of designing a cable to straddle across the valley from a tower either side. These towers could move along two lengths of railway on raised track beds allowing ‘bombing' to take place along a 200 metre stretch of the valley. The bombs were to be moved along the cable until centrally aligned between the towers, then dropped electromagnetically.

Some of the existing buildings were utilised for storage but Martin's ‘mystery building' turned out to be the proving station, originally lined with steel sheets brought down from Woolwich arsenal, with a dug-out positioned outside the entrance for operatives to take shelter in.

In reality whilst some trials were conducted, the testing range never came into operation due to the Armistice being signed.

In the 1920s, Dyke Estate was sold to the Brighton Corporation, to protect the town's water supply; it is now in the care of the National Trust.

Martin pointed out many of the extant features and SMHS Reporter is pretty sure that a fair few of us will be paying a visit to the Dyke over the next few weeks (wrapped up well against the winter weather) to explore for ourselves this fascinating locality.

The ever popular Raffle followed, with Maggie back at the helm. Simon Bellamy conveyed the gratitude of the family of Marine James Wright, killed in action last year in whose memory last month's Raffle funds were donated to the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund. We will be hearing more from Simon in December as he addresses us on the daring 1942 St Nazaire Raid.


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7.30pm for 8.00pm start
Function Room of the
Royal Oak Public House,
Station Street, Lewes,
East Sussex.


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