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First World War Acoustic Mirror Saved

  • A rare First World War structure, built to warn communities of Zeppelin attacks, re-opens following £68,000 restoration
  • An enduring witness to the experience of local communities during the First World War and one of only six protected First World War acoustic mirrors in the country
  • Glorious restoration unveiled today

Fulwell Acoustic Mirror is a 4m high concave concrete dish, constructed on the coast at Fulwell, Sunderland. Completed in 1917, it was designed to act as an acoustic early warning system against air raids, after a bomb dropped by a Zeppelin over the Wheatsheaf area of Sunderland in April 1916 left 22 people dead and more than 100 injured.

After many years of neglect the acoustic mirror's crumbling condition led to the structure being included on the Historic England (previously known as English Heritage) Heritage at Risk register. This triggered a partnership between Sunderland City Council, Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund programme- Limestone Landscapes, which has resulted in a glorious restoration, unveiled today, 9 June 2015.

Fulwell Acoustic Mirror
Crumbling Fulwell Acoustic Mirror, Heritage at Risk © Historic England

The mirror worked by reflecting sound detected by a microphone in front of the dish to an operator with headphones who could alert the authorities of approaching Zeppelins. Using sound detection methods learnt in the trenches it was designed to give a 15 minute warning of approaching enemy airships.

In 2013 Sunderland City Council secured funding from Historic England. This, together with money allocated to Limestone Landscape Partnership from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), allowed the rescue to go ahead.

Now, with its smooth concave dish tilted upwards towards the sky, the Fulwell Acoustic Mirror is one of only 10 scheduled monuments in Sunderland. It can stand proud as an enduring witness to the experience of local communities during the turbulent years of the First World War.

Restored Fulwell Acoustic Mirror
Restored Fulwell Acoustic Mirror, an enduring witness to the experience of local communities during the First World War © North News and Pictures

Kate Wilson, Historic England's Principal Adviser for Heritage at Risk for the North East, said: "The Acoustic Mirror at Fulwell was part of a chain of important early acoustic detection devices along the coast of Britain and, as one of only four surviving examples in the North East, it is a rare survivor of our 20th century defences and a witness to the conflict of First World War. This has been a very successful partnership to repair and reveal the mirror's history. It will take a step towards making sure the acoustic mirror will survive for many more years to come and come off our Heritage at Risk register."

Councillor John Kelly, the City Council's Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture, said: "Fulwell Acoustic Mirror is a very rare, long lost reminder of the Home Front in the North East during the First World War.

"The restoration has given the acoustic mirror a new lease of life by preserving it for future generations almost 100 years after it was built to defend our shores.

"This along with new interpretative material will make it more accessible to residents, groups, schools and visitors as a unique heritage tourist attraction and educational resource.

"There are only a handful of these mirrors remaining, so it's an incredibly important part of our military history and it's especially fitting that this work has been completed at a time when we are commemorating the centenary of the First World War

The restoration has been a partnership effort, with a number of different groups and agencies involved in the project:

Sunderland North Young People (SNYP) under the supervision of Groundwork North East and the City Council's area response team cleared the undergrowth. Beaumont Brown Architects led the design work and supervised the repair and landscaping works. While the Archaeological Practice Limited carried out an archaeological assessment of the site alongside a number of other contractors who were involved in the restoration.

The project used specially developed techniques, including the use of diluted sheep droppings to tone in the repair work. Its setting has been enhanced by an attractive landscaping scheme of bound gravel pathways, grassed picnic areas and a wildflower meadow including poppies. A specially designed interpretation panel with original artwork provides an educational resource at the site.

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