There is little doubt that Britain’s coastline has played a huge part in its success as a great nation. It has acted as a vital gateway for exploration, trade and harvest as well as an outline that marks it apart from the rest of Europe. Unsurprisingly it has also played an important part in times of war.
In reaction to the growing losses of the allied fleet through the onslaught of German U-boat attacks and fears of a German invasion, British Admiralty sought to construct a series of towers that would stretch all the way from Dungeness, Kent, to Cap Gris Nez off the Western Coast of France.
These floating forts were designed by civilian architect Mr G. Menzies and measured over 90ft high, they were intended to be united by steel boom nets and protected by mines. The towers were capable of providing a gun mounted defence system that could be manned by anything up to 100 servicemen. Work on the so-called naval giants started in June 1918, including two at Southwick, near Shoreham, Sussex. The understandable secrecy of such a project in wartime gave the structures the local nicknames of the ‘Mystery Towers’. With Armistice in November 1918, the plan never came to total fruition. Several of the towers did get built, including the two at Southwick. The First of these was towed out by steam tug on 12th September 1920 to become the Nab Tower off the coast of the Isle of Wight, the other was eventually dismantled. Locals at the time thought this was rather lucky, as it is rumoured the second was built 6ft too wide to leave the harbour mouth.
Whilst today no visible remains of these important local monuments survives, their memory lives-on through the vintage picture postcard which document this interesting folly of the First World War.
On Tuesday 1st November 2011 Lot 3046 will be going under the gavel at Toovey’s Spring Gardens auction rooms in the Sale of Paper Collectables. This lot consists of two albums containing 247 important postcards relating to Southwick and its environs, the albums include 25 postcards featuring the rise of the Mystery Towers (selection pictured above, click for larger image, for more images of the lot click here), most by local photographer Joseph Gurney Ripley. Offered in the specialist sale with a presale estimate of £1200-1800, these postcards brilliantly bring to life this moment in Sussex history.