Festival of Archaeology 2020 Tuesday 14 July

Recording an OB when no access is possible;

And when Scheduling sometimes may not be the best approach

Normally when we find out about a site it is because someone is inviting us to take a look, or because hunting for a location we have come across the owners. Almost all of the time they are keen for us to come and visit, take a look around the remains and record what is left, and explain how it was it used. The Salisbury In-station site has been a bit different.

We first became aware the site in 2001 from letters from the late Bert Davis, a member of the Royals Signals team who helped fit it out, shortly after the OB was built. He provided an approximate location but the Foot and Mouth epidemic rather limited countryside access at the time. An initial reconnaissance in 2003 revealed it was in publicly accessible woodland managed by the Forestry Commission. Contact with them revealed that they were very much aware of the site, not least as a contractor had previously put the wheel of their tractor through the roof and damaged it. Subsequently they had fitted bat grills to the entrances and reportedly bats were in residence. Since disturbing bats, for example by flash photography, flood lighting or indeed simply a noisy presence is illegal, they were understandably reluctant to allow access.

In 2013 CART was approached by a local resident who had found the site simply through walking in the area. We visited the site and did not enter, but recorded what could be seen above ground. At around the same time, a group of "urban explorers" visited the site, reportedly broke the locks off of the bat grills and entered, taking photos and video of the site. These were posted online, making the existence of the site public knowledge. With a lot of images it was clear this was a site in remarkably good condition, with a large part of the original fittings in situ. It was also significantly larger than most other "Zero" In-stations, which tend to follow a similar design. The transcription of the Beatrice Temple Diary at about this time included reference to this site as a "Superzero" indicating its special nature. Attempts were renewed to see if officially sanctioned access would be possible but came to nothing.

urban exploration report

In 2014, independent of CART, a submission was made to have the site scheduled. There is no doubt that it is deserving, being in a good state of preservation and being unique even among other surviving Auxiliary Structures. The application was successful and the listing can be read online.

Scheduling report

When the Defence of Britain Project was compiling lists of wartime sites in 1995-2000, one intention was to use the results to schedule a selection. Discussions around that time reflected that scheduling provides little in the way of benefit to a site in secure ownership, but does allow prosecution in the event of deliberate damage. For Auxiliary Units OBs, their survival has often been the result of not being widely known about. Keeping a site secret cannot protect from a major road being built over it, or a housing development. However, they are rarely placed in locations where this is a real risk. One of the results of scheduling a site is that its location is revealed. In the case of the Salisbury In-station, this meant an 8 digit map reference was put online, making it easy for anyone with a GPS system to locate the site with no other knowledge. In addition a supplemental "Heritage Highlights" press release included images of the site, in case of any doubt

Press release

Subsequently the site has been revisited repeatedly by urban explorers, damaging locks and indeed breaking the grills beyond repair in order to gain access. Understandably for those tasked with the care of the site, this is a major problem. They know there are risks to entry, this is a confined space and parts of the structure have been damaged. Images from within show the presence of asbestos boards in use for internal dividers with some of these damaged. The law places the responsibility on the owners for the safety even of those who break in. Scheduling doesn't appear to have helped this site, except to make it more more widely known.

How to record a site when you can't get in?

CART Researchers have visited the site on a number of occasions. We have surveyed and recorded those elements visible from the surface. This includes not only the entrance shafts, but the presence of ventilation pipes on the surface. Some items removed from the interior by visitors have also been recorded on the surface. The surrounding area was examined for the presence of aerial trees, but all the trees in the surrounding area appear too young. The site was felled in the past and it was during logging that a contractor vehicle damaged the roof of the entrance chamber. CART researchers also identified the location of the above ground hut, which does not feature in the scheduling. It has also been identified that the orientation of the structure on the scheduling report is incorrect.

In addition information has been collected from the illegal access recordings available online. Using these, Matt Brazier has produced an excellent 3D walk through. This can be seen on the Salisbury In-station page.

YouTube video, another, a rather loud and jerky one.

And another and finally just four weeks ago

This is why we are happy to talk about this site at this point, as it is obviously already common knowledge, and presumably for every visitor that posts a video online there have been a number of others made.

It is clear at both this and other sites that repeat visits can mean new findings come to light. As the vegetation differs with seasons or weather, different elements become more or less obvious. 

CART continue to work towards the goal of being permitted to safely document the interior of this site. We have engaged in a positive dialogue with the site managers and we hope our determination will pay off some time soon. We have worked to identify periods when entry would not result in bat disturbance and the requirements for safe access, both in terms of confined space working and asbestos risk management. We have explored the possibility of remote access with drones or remote controlled vehicles. If access ever is possible, we want to record it in as many ways as possible to make the most of the opportunity. Not just with photos or video, but detailed measurement or ideally 3D scanning to ensure the site is recorded comprehensively. We would be interested to hear from anyone with skills in those areas who might wish to cooperate either in providing the relevant schemes of work or risk assessments or later in any investigation. It would be a shame if this site is further damaged or decays without being properly recorded. At present the only records have resulted from illegal access which surely is not what was intended by those creating the relevant legislation. From CART's perspective, doing the right thing may take longer but we hope that is of more benefit in the future in relations with other landowners than earlier access to a single site, no matter how interesting.

Following the most visit video, all the entrances have been welded shut to prevent access.

Tomorrow will be looking at some smaller scale projects with interesting findings.