The Maunsell Sea Forts

by Stephen Turner

Poorest nation, richest nation (Issue III+IV/2018)


The sea forts „Shivering Sands“ have been built in 1942 and can still be seen from the coast of Northfleet, Kent. Photo: Steve Cadman

But in fact, these are the Maunsell Sea Forts, part of the original fortifications built in World War II; they’re rusting away just eight miles off the British coast. During the war, soldiers were stationed here for between four and six weeks at a time. Many suffered from the enforced isolation. After a suicide there, the installation, designed by the civil engineer Guy Maunsell, got another name: Fort Madness. Doctors then encouraged the men living here to get creative in order to maintain their psychological health. Every man was ordered to draw, knit or carve wood. The best artworks were rewarded with a bottle of rum.

In the spirit of that tradition, I decided to spend around that same amount of time in one of the forts in 2005 and create an artwork out of my experiences. A helicopter dropped me, a tent and five weeks’ worth of provisions on the former lighthouse of the installation. There – 30 feet above the sea’s surface, between sky and water, and surrounded by rusty steel – I was completely removed from the world, without any kind of contact with my family.

In between posters of pin-up girls from the 1940s, I found remnants from the 1960s too: At that time the singer Screaming Lord Sutch and his colleagues occupied one of the towers and installed a pirate radio station there. The forts became a symbol of anarchy, freedom and rebellion as a result.

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