East Weare rifle range

Overview

Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1428958

Date first listed: 28-Oct-2015

Location Description: The principal elements of East Weare rifle range are located at - Stop butt: SY7029472664, Marker's gallery and target housing: SY7026272716, 100 yard firing position: SY7022172782.

Map

Ordnance survey map of East Weare rifle range
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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Location

Location Description: The principal elements of East Weare rifle range are located at - Stop butt: SY7029472664, Marker's gallery and target housing: SY7026272716, 100 yard firing position: SY7022172782.

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Dorset

District: Weymouth and Portland (District Authority)

Parish: Portland

National Grid Reference: SY7026372722

Summary

Late-C19/early-C20 rifle range located on the north-east side of the Isle of Portland and is orientated on a south-east to north-west axis. From the south-east it comprises the stop butt, the marker’s gallery and target housing, and the 100 yard firing position.

Reasons for Designation

The stop butt, marker’s gallery and target housing, and the 100 yard firing position at East Weare rifle range are scheduled for the following principal reasons: * Survival: as a good and substantially intact example of a late-C19/early-C20 rifle range; * Potential: the site will contribute to our understanding of the operation of this particular rifle range and the provision of military training in this period more generally; * Rarity: a significant example of an increasingly rare asset type; * Group value: forms part of a significant group of designated military structures on the Isle of Portland and contributes to our understanding of the military development of East Weare and its importance as a strategic location.

History

The area around Portland Harbour has historically been recognised as an important military strategic location. The mid-C19 was marked by a period of growing political and military concern over French foreign policy and an arms race developed between the two nations. In 1845 the Royal Navy established a base at Portland, constructing a new harbour where its fleet of steam-driven warships could be replenished with coal. In 1859, due to concerns over a possible French invasion, Lord Palmerston, the Prime Minister, instigated the establishment of the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom which recommended that vital points along the south coast, including the Royal Dockyards at Portsmouth, Chatham, Plymouth and Portland, be fortified. As a consequence the defences at East Weare, to the south of Portland Harbour, were developed and the Verne Citadel fort (1857-81) and East Weare Battery (1862-9) were constructed. In circa 1880 East Weare Camp was established and from 1889 the rifle range was being built. The building of Verne High Angle Battery in 1892 and Upton Fort in 1902 demonstrates Portland’s continuing role as an important strategic location.

Another of the Royal Commission’s recommendations was that a musketry course should be included as part of the annual training syllabus for militia units. Rifle ranges, therefore, which had been established in the late 1850s as training for rifle volunteer units across the country, became a common feature of militia units from the early 1860s onwards and were provided at virtually every major barracks. The rifle range at East Weare was built between 1889 and 1903 on additional land purchased by the War Department and was used to train primarily naval personnel stationed at East Weare Camp. The 2nd edition (1903) Ordnance Survey (OS) map does suggest that the range was still under construction at this point. The marker’s gallery is clearly shown and would appear to have been constructed at some point between 1889-95 (when the firm of W H Baker who made the cast iron supports was founded) and 1903 (the publication of the OS map). The main part of the stop butt is shown in outline only and does not include the angled west end. The 100 yard firing position is not depicted. The map does show the 200 to 600 yard firing positions and the additional 800 yard firing position set at an oblique angle to the rest of the range, as well as the Range Warden’s Cottage (demolished 2014) to the west of the 500 yard firing position.

The Map of Depot Quarries and Admiralty property boundaries, dated 1920, shows the rifle range in greater detail. The stop butt has buttresses on the east and south sides, and the 100 yard firing position, which is shorter than the present earthwork, is depicted for the first time. The 800 yard firing position is described as obsolete (it was later converted to a machine gunner’s post) and an additional 800 yard firing position was placed in line with the rest of the range. The 1975 OS map gives a clear depiction of the rifle range. The stop butt, marker’s gallery and now extended 100 yard firing position are shown in detail including the coursed stonework.

In the early 1980s the government reviewed the safety of all active firing ranges. The rifle range at East Weare was classed as dangerous due to the footpaths nearby, and subsequently closed.

Details

Principal elements The late-C19/early-C20 rifle range is located on the north-east side of the Isle of Portland and is orientated on a south-east to north-west axis. From the south-east it comprises the stop butt, the marker’s gallery and target housing, and the 100 yard firing position.

Description Stop butt: a linear structure which has an angled extension to its west side. The main part of the butt measures approximately 210ft (64m) long, 112ft (34m) wide and up to 66ft (20m) high. The structure has an earth and stone core and its sloping south and east sides are faced with Portland stone, with ashlar quoins. On the south face are eight sloping buttresses faced with masonry. There are three buttresses on the east face. The turf on the north face has been removed to reveal the stepped, rough stone structure beneath. Along the top of the butt the concrete coping into which was set a line of wooden planks has been removed. The angled west end is largely obscured by vegetation (2015) but has sloping masonry similar to the rest of the butt with no buttresses. The top is grassed over.

The marker’s gallery and target housing: approximately 98ft (30m) to the north-west of the stop butt is the earthwork structure containing the marker’s gallery and target mechanisms. The sloping north face of the earthwork is covered in turf and has a flat top before rising up again to cover the marker’s gallery. The dog-legged east side has sloping drystone masonry with ashlar quoins, similar in character to that of the stop butt. The sloping masonry on the south side has been buried by the infilling of the area between the target housing and the stop butt. There are traces of drystone masonry on the west face. The marker’s gallery comprises a sloping brick wall to the north which is built into the earth bank behind, and a flat, corrugated iron roof covered in concrete which is supported by a horizontal steel I-beam with a steel rail above, and originally held up by 13 cast-iron pillars marked W H Baker Portland. Several of these have been replaced by welded steel supports. Fixed to the brick wall are seven plywood seats on angled iron frames, and ten cast-iron rings. Midway along the gallery remains the west wall of an inserted wooden hut. Attached to its outer face is a rack for ten rifles. To its rear wall is a corner telephone shelf. The east wall has been removed. There are traces of another wooden hut at the east end but this appears to have been removed prior to the construction of the single-skin brick wall that blocks the east end. The floor of the marker’s gallery is concrete with a Portland stone kerb. Along its length runs a rectangular, concrete well which contains the seven target frames. The target-lifting mechanisms are of tubular steel, suggesting that they are early to mid-C20, and comprise a braced rectangular steel frame fixed into the well and secured by a strut to the roof. Two rectangular frames, one to the front and one to the rear, are linked by steel hawsers running over pulley wheels at each end of the structure. To the south of the target frames is a wooden plank screen. At the west end of the marker’s gallery are the remains of a former target store.

100 yard firing position: approximately 128ft (39m) long, 75ft (23m) wide and up to 13ft (4m) high, it is a large earthwork with sloping masonry to all four elevations; the turf that originally covered the north elevation has been removed. There is a flight of concrete steps at the west end giving access to the gravel-covered surface along the top of the earthwork. There is a joint in the stonework near the east end suggesting that it has been extended eastwards. Much of the stone at the east end has slumped and collapsed.

Exclusions All telegraph poles and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath these features is included.

Sources

Other
Dorset Historic Environment Record, 'East Weare Rifle Range, Portland Port, Portland', Monument No: 4001270
Terrain Archaeology, 'East Weares Rifle Range, Portland Port, Portland, Dorset. English Heritage (RCHME) Level 2 Survey (April 2000)

End of official listing