Five tales from the South Coast

Five tales from the South Coast

Hello everyone.

Today I’m doing something slightly different. In 2020 I planned to have one week away in a cottage on the south coast, to catch up on my writing and to escape the hustle of London. I love my writing retreats, the village that I stay in is normally in the ‘off’ season and is practically empty apart from the gulls. It’s perfect for me. Unfortunately the week I chose coincided with the first week of the UK’s national lockdown and I had to cancel. I had planned to write a website post about England’s south coast because it is such a fascinating area, there are literally layers upon layers of history from the Battle of Hasting and World War Two up to the modern day.  Although I completed a draft of this post, it was scraped when my holiday was cancelled.

Fast forward two years, I’ve just returned from my long overdue holiday and I can now share said website post. Enjoy!

1) The buried Dalek at Camber Sands

Camber Sands is famous for being the only sandy beach within an hour of London and due to this it attracts lots of film crews. While many projects have been filmed on the sands (including a Barclays Bank advert and an episode of The Inbetweeners) perhaps the most notable is Doctor Who.

In the First Doctor serial The Chase the script demanded that a Dalek rise from the sands and chase companions Ian Chesterton, played by William Russell and Barbara Wright, played by Jacqueline Hill across the landscape. The director, Ray Cusick, wanted the shot of the Dalek emerging from the sands to be as authentic as possible and suggested burying a Dalek prop before towing it out with an off screen Land Rover. Local crew members warned Cusick that an object buried in the sands could experience suction and become trapped but Cusick decided to continue. To make the shoot even more difficult, both Russell and Wright were in London filming the previous episode The Space Museum which also involved Daleks. This meant that Cusick had no actors or Dalek props to work with. To solve these issues he found two stand-ins to portray Ian and Barbara, had them flee from the camera so their faces weren’t visible and scavenged the BBC’s storeroom for spare Dalek props. The only Dalek prop Cusick was able to find was a spare model called Hover Dalek#7.

Cusick and the crew buried Hover Dalek#7, attached a tow line to it’s base and tried to pull it out with a Land Rover. Unfortunately the tow line snapped and the scene was later completed with a miniature Dalek being raised on a platform out of a sandbox. You can see the completed scene in the clip below:

This is where the rumour starts. Although the prop is recorded as being borrowed from the BBC’s storeroom,  there is no written record of the prop ever being returned. To add to the confusion Jacqueline Hill who portrayed Barbara Wright insisted that she had been at Camber Sands for filming despite the fact she was clearly in London. This confusion created a fantastic urban legend that Hover Dalek#7 is still in Camber, trapped beneath the sands…waiting.

Sadly, like many urban legends it is just that. A legend. Although no record for the recovery of the Dalek prop exists, later in The Chase we see a Dalek advancing towards the camera, caked in sand. As this scene was filmed after the clip above, it is safe to assume that the same model was used. Although the recovery of the prop was not recorded (probably due to a crew oversight) Hover Dalek#7 went on to live a very eventful life. Later in the serial the prop was pushed off the Mary Celeste and fell open upon contact with the water. The prop was also thrown about by Frankenstein’s Monster in the same serial. What a fantastic serial that must have been! Hover Dalek#7 was seen again in The Power of the Daleks, Genesis of the Daleks and finally Remembrance of the Daleks where it was split up and cannibalised into other models.

2) The lost villages of the marshes.

The earliest recorded reference to the various towns and hamlets along the south coast is in the Doomsday Book, written twenty years after the Battle of Hastings. Needless to say the coast has changed over the past nine hundred years but perhaps most interesting difference are the lost villages. Eleven villages listed in the Doomsday Book no longer exist on the marshes. They are:












Although I wasn’t able to visit all of these lost villages, due to the fact I don’t drive a car and the villages aren’t marked on any modern day maps, I was able to visit a few. The easiest was Broomhill which was within walking distance of my cottage.

I’ve passed through Broomhill several times but didn’t recognise it as a lost village because it looked… normal. It morphs into one with the village of Camber Sands and is now mostly, a caravan park. There isn’t a hill, as I assumed there would be and there isn’t any marker or plaque to signify the lost village. According to records, in 1287 Broomhill was “lost to the sea” and the remaining inhabitants were almost obliterated by the Black Death one hundred years later. What the phrase lost to the sea means exactly is unclear and up for interpretation. What is even more surprising is that Broomhill, despite its close proximity to Camber Sands and Dungeness was only rediscovered in the 1980’s. 

But perhaps the most fascinating lost village is the village of Hope. Hope was abandoned in the 17th century for reasons unknown, the inhabitants migrating into other neighbouring villages. The only evidence that Hope existed are the ruins of the church which was said to be a meeting point for smugglers bringing contraband into the country.

The village of Hope is a writing prompt if ever I heard one.

Hope All Saints - Romney Marsh, The Fifth Continent

3) The Mad Monk of Rye.

What to see and do in Rye, East Sussex - Sussex Bloggers

Rye is a town on the south coast that is most well known for its historical significance as a cinque port. As the town is over one thousand years old it is of no surprised that it is home to several ghosts. While the Mermaid Inn, dating back to the 1100’s, is home to at least five separate  ghosts, one of which drenches sleeping guests with water, I want to talk about a somewhat comical, somewhat tragic ghost story set in the town itself.

In the 13th century a monk from Rye Monastery fell in love with a local girl. The monk broke his vow of chastity and the lovers agreed to elope to start a new life together. Unfortunately, on the night of their escape the Abbot heard of their plans and with the help of the city guards arrested them. The name and fate of the girl varies in each retelling but the monk’s fate is always certain, he was bricked alive into the walls of the monastery.

While held captive within the walls, the monk decided to spend his final days singing in the hope that God would show mercy on him. When his throat dried up due to lack of water, his beautiful singing, amplified by the acoustics of the monastery, sounded like the gobbling of a turkey. The sound could be heard throughout the town, driving the local people into madness. Even after his death the sound of the mad monk’s singing can still be heard echoing down the nearby lanes, one such lane, Turkey Cock Lane, is named after this strange story.

4) The Sound Mirrors

Acoustic mirror - Wikipedia

As an Island nation the United Kingdom has always been prone to invasions from the sea. Due to this, our leaders have implemented various defensive structures over the years to ward off invaders. While the modern British navy have numerous bases on the south coast including Dover and Portsmouth, during World War Two pillboxes were built along main roads to delay German tanks should they try to advance up to London. Prior to this, to defend against an invasion from Napoleon, Martello Towers were built to fire at approaching ships and the Royal Military Canal was dug with the intentions of flooding the marshlands. While all of these defences are interesting, I want to talk about something more unique…

Denge Sound Mirrors - History and Facts | History Hit

The sound mirrors, also dubbed the acoustic mirrors, were inspired by a machine used in the trenches of the First World War to detect troop movements via sound. The purpose of the mirrors was to act as an early warning system for an air attack by focusing the sound of an approaching aircraft’s engine. In theory the aircraft’s height, speed and flight path could be calculated allowing the British Air Force to scramble their own planes and mount a counter attack. Three mirrors were built on the marches, but the mirrors were never used for their intended purpose. By the time they were completed in the 1930’s, the speed of airplanes had increased to such an extent that the Air Force would not have time to react. The mirrors were soon rendered obsolete as the world’s first radar was invented by British forces in 1935.

The sound mirrors sit in the marshes on a military site which is closed to the public. You can only visit on open days or with the permission of the armed forces. The pictures I’ve used here are not my own, they are from Google.

5) Dungeness

My manager at work once described Dungeness as “the armpit of England”. The village’s moto “bleak is beautiful” sounds more like a defensive statement than a proud claim. Yet there is something to be said for the wasteland.

First of all, due to its unique climate, Dungeness attracts foreign geology students who arrive via the near-by private Lydd Airport to conduct their research and take rock samples for study. Secondly Dungeness is home to the UK’s only balloon curve track. The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway runs to Dungeness where the track loops back on itself forming the shape of a inflated balloon. Honestly, the railway is fascinating in itself and I could write a whole article just on that.

What I really want to talk about is this unassuming building…

Field Work: we dispatch our team to work and stay at The Pump Station in  Dungeness | Journal | The Modern House

During the planning for D-Day the allies realised that their tanks and trucks would need oil and petrol once they reached Nazi occupied France. Transporting these resources across the English Channel would be risky as the ships were under constant threats from German U-boats. To solve this problem, Lord Mountbatten proposed the PLUTO pipeline (Pipe-line Under The Ocean). The idea was for a giant pipeline to be laid from Dungeness, under the England Channel, and into Boulogne in France. The allied forces would refuel from this pipeline without the risk of German sabotage. Two pipelines were build, the line from Dungeness to Boulogne was codename Dumbo and covered a distance of thirty miles. To disguise the pumping station from German bombers the building had the exterior of a bungalow. The pipeline was a  success and during its lifetime pumped 172 millions gallons of fuel to allied troops. After the war the pipeline was dug up and scrapped while the pumping station was left empty, with its external shell still disguised as a bungalow. The building itself is now a B&B which you can stay in, although it is rather expensive. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article and I hope you visit the south coast soon as it truly is a wonderful place.

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