Seafort Project: 31 July to 11 September 2005

Over one hundred messages were received for Stephen Turner whilst he was on the Seafort for him to read on his return and were a starting point for a discussion forum that was hosted by Kent County Council. On this page, we have a selection of the messages, followed by exchanges from the discussion forum.

Messages to Stephen Turner whilst at the Seafort

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 15:17
Good to see the pictures and your work. An uncle of mine crewed the tugs that took the forts out into the estuary in 1942, they remain an amazing sight.
Adrian Beaumont, Canterbury

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 06:17
Red Sands Sea Fort was the location for an episode of the 1960’s TV series Danger Man (where it was featured as a Pirate Radio Station).   There was really dramatic cinematography of the towers and the linking catwalks. It was also used for the 1960’s Doctor Who story, Fury from the Deep.  Was anything from either of the two television series’ still evident?
Kind regards, Peter Crerar

Danger Man

Doctor Who

Wednesday, August 10, 2005, 06.17
Myself and my friends (a varied ‘bag’ of artists, writers, actors, commentators etc) have been following your progress in the tower. How do you combat loneliness? Do you have a routine - there seems to be one you have with regards to the rising of the sun and dusk descending, but do you have a set pattern during the day to keep yourself occupied and with something to look forward to? Or are you one of those lucky chaps who have found an inner peace and therefore don’t need much in the way of external focus and can take everything as and when it comes as a new moment?
Adam Lister

August 12, 2005 10:03
I am fascinated by this project - last night myself, some friends their kids
and ‘Eddie’ the dog watched from Reculver Towers as a storm passed over the site - a gap in the clouds let the sun flood momentarily through the angry
clouds in the near darkness as though the area over the forts was being lit
up like a stage for the fork lightning to focus on… The kids faces were a picture when we finally told them there was a man staying on one of the towers - on his own - out there in the sea in the storm…
Paul Aldous - Artist and Designer

Sunday, August 14, 2005 18:51
Today I spotted Stephen Turner through the window of his Maunsell Fort residence - I hope our presence didn’t impinge too much on his sense of isolation, but at least he looked happy!
Jonathan Clarke, London

artist in residence

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 18:51
Ever since I was a child, I have been enthralled by the sea forts.  I grew up in Westgate on Sea, and on a clear day, I could see the forts, and as a child, I would be full of questions...what are they? What do they look like? What’s on them?  Therefore, was thrilled when I read that you were undertaking a project based on isolation and the affect it can have a person.
I now live in Margate...on top of Fort Hill, and again, on a clear day, I can see the forts from my kitchen window.  On quite a few occasions, during your vigil, I have stood at my window and been able to view the mysterious forts.  To therefore, have a glimpse of life out there is answering many questions...and even though I am not envious of your isolation...I must confess to being slightly envious of the time you are spending out there.
Rob Carrick

Thursday, August 25, 2005 18:53
We gave you a wave from the seal spotting boat today - hope you’re not too lonely!
Anne Belworthy, Herne Bay

Friday, August 26, 2005 18:58
Today, I’m find your bottle on the beach of France. Your message tell me to
contact you, so I do it. The bottle was to Dunkerque. I’m David Deregnaucourt and I live to Lille. Do you want to contact me? Do you speak French because I speak English not very well. I hope you give me your news. Thanks
Mr Deregnaucourt

Wednesday, August 31, 2005 08:52
I have been researching my late father's wartime experiences on the neighbouring Red Sands Fort in 1944-44. Your weblog is a fascinating read, conjuring up the isolation and anxiety that many soldiers must have faced. From my father, and myself who always spoke of his 'time in the Thames'
I wish you well in hindsight and I thank you for giving me a glimpse of his environment on 'the castles in the sea'.

Kind regards Paul Murtagh (Martin Murtagh, Lance Bombadier, 1 Anti-Aircraft Fort Regiment)


KCC Libraries & Archives Discussion Forum

The following are edited entries from an online conversation begun on 24 September 2005.

Posted on Monday, September 26, 2005 - 2:06 pm
Hi… I followed your exploits on the fort with great interest. What was it like to be living with the remnants of the distant past all around you? I found it almost an emotional experience myself when I read your descriptions of objects which dated to the forts' heyday, items which were used by the original occupants.

Posted on Monday, September 26, 2005 - 2:14 pm
Did you have to sleep with all your clothes on because it was cold? Did you wake up every morning and wonder where you were? Did you think you were going mad?

Posted on Monday, September 26, 2005 - 5:57 pm
It did cross my mind that your busyness at the fort - methodically exploring one bit at a time - might have been counterproductive in the sense that it could keep your mind occupied and thus not feel so much different from working in a focused way on a project in a more conventional setting.

Posted on Monday. September 26, 2005 – 8:00 pm
What manner of paperwork did you need to wade through in order to be allowed at the fort? How long was it from first application to permission being granted? How did you choose the section of the fort in which you stayed? Also, what did you leave behind?

Posted on Monday, September 26, 2005 - 6:50 pm
From the moment I heard about the project I was intrigued and envious - I watched the web site & the weather forecasts waiting for your arrival and then every day I checked for your diary and web cam shots - if I was working at home I checked the web cam every hour or so.

Are you writing about your 'expedition', are there to be anymore interviews? I missed all but 2 minutes of an article on R4 & it didn't seem to be repeated or available via their web site.

Has the experience 'changed' you, in any way? Do you miss the solitude? Just so pleased that you did 'IT' and that you shared 'IT' with us.

Posted on Monday, September 26, 2005 - 7:51 pm
Hi Dennis
It was very sobering living with the past - a constant reminder of mortality and the passing of time. When does the past begin? Just now! Then it’s gone and is never to be had back. It made me live very intensively, and not want to waste a moment.

Stephen Turner

Posted on Monday, September 26, 2005 - 8:02 pm
Dear Mermaid
I did sometimes sleep with my clothes on. When the Force 8 gale was blowing I also slept with my life jacket on.. just in case!

I never thought I was going mad, but one morning when I was waking up I was convinced I heard a voice shout "Arthur" - like a mother trying to wake a child.

When I got back home, my young nephew said he had heard on the news that the tower I was on was haunted - but I do not know if Arthur or his mum are involved. I wonder if anyone else reading this knows anything about a Seafort ghost?
Stephen Turner

Posted on Monday, September 26, 2005 - 9:55 pm
Dear Soundman
The place was very important and its unusual nature and isolated location gave me a focus that kept my mind engaged and prevented my getting unhappy.

Though busy, I was doing everything quite slowly and carefully; reflecting on things seen, found or made. I had a conversation with the fort, that took me back and forward in time. There were a lot of echoes there, and my own presence added more. The whole experience was changing, isolated, creative and contemplative.

A lot of the timetable was practical. Hauling water, trying to wash, cleaning the loo, preparing food, making the bed, and sweeping up - everyday activities that became inseparable from exploring the fort or taking photographs. Everything was interdependent, equally important- and gained special meaning away from the pace of modern life.
Stephen Turner

Posted on Monday, September 26, 2005 - 10:14 pm
Hi Veinsplasher
The whole process really took eight years from first inspiration to 'being there'. The project began in earnest around two years ago, preparing an application and looking for sources of funding, so that the whole thing could happen safely and properly.

There was also a lot of 'permissions' paperwork - letters to the MOD and Port of London, etc. that went nowhere until I met Robin Adcroft at Project Red Sands - a group committed to restoring the Red Sands Fort. Robin and his team had convinced all the governmental institutions that they were serious about restoring the towers and I effectively went along under their wing for the last twelve months.

I stayed in the former searchlight tower because it was the only one remotely accessible from the sea

I brought away various memento mori, old fragments of newspaper, rags and cigarette packets for example (including 1940's Players Weights and John Player Specials from the 1970's). I left behind a large mound of swept dust.
Stephen Turner

Posted on Monday, September 26, 2005 - 10:25 pm
Dear Ollomo
I wanted to go to the edge and see what it was like, to visit the horizon (only to find another of course). It made me feel life more intensively and live for every moment; aware that I would be wrenched away after six weeks. It made me realise that I should not 'put off to tomorrow what could be done today' as ones tomorrows are a finite resource. It made me think we should all live our lives as well and as fully as possible.

Stephen Turner

Posted on Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 10:28 am
Well done on a successful journey and a very interesting summer. Can I ask what you discovered about the lives of the men who originally worked on the fort in WWII? Were the conditions poor? Were they cramped? Could you imagine it full of men and under fire? How was it at night, when you were alone and the natural light had gone, in those moments between "lights out" and sleep? How did that feel inside?

I look forward to hearing from you and in the meantime send my congrats again on a very successful project...

Posted on Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 10:55 am
What was your most inspiring moment or put another way, what took you to another level? I liked the picture of the moon rising over the other towers.

Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 11:33 am
Such a lovely project, we were all hooked here. Good to have you back though!.

Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 4:48 pm
Please confirm to a cynical group of people I know that you weren’t paid 50k+ for this brilliant project.

Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 9:20 pm
Dear Writer
The forts were relatively spacious and each tower would have housed about 20 men during the latter part of the war. On reflection, I imagine this brought with it stresses equal to being alone - especially if you did not get on with all the other people. It would have been difficult to get any privacy at all, and this, allied to the threat of being bombed or straffed, could not have been pleasant.

I do not think the enemy ever directly attacked the forts - though one memoir states that the USAF dropped empty gasoline tanks on the forts for fun!

I believe the men always ate well. The catering corps made their own bread on board and there were regular supply boats. Fishing was also encouraged when the men were off duty as a way to supplement the diet.

At night I always wanted to be in bed by sunset, so as not to risk standing on anything sharp, or walking into rusty beams (I managed to crack my head in full daylight once). It was also to do with tuning into the natural cycle.

Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 9:27 pm
Dear Uncle_Sparks
I am not sure that one thing took me to another level, though there were many memorable moments. Early on, my discovery of a fragment of the Daily Herald from 1958 stands out. I remember that I was four years old when it came out and I was taken back in time to a memory of wanting a place were I could be alone - an old wash house at the end of the terrace where we all lived.

I started to wonder whether one is born with the desire to be alone, or if it is a product of life experiences- I am still not sure.

Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 9:34 pm
Hi Veinsplasher
The book will connect me to the forts very strongly. I may decide to do a set of photographic prints too for example, but it is a bit early to say as I am still digesting everything I felt and discovered.

I would love to see a filmed documentary about the forts. I am sure that Robin Adcroft, one of the Directors of PRRs thinks on similar lines too. He has the drive to get the BBC or an independent production company to do it. I am assuming you have been to project_redsands.com to see their site?

Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 9:37 pm
"One memoir states that the USAF dropped empty gasoline tanks on the forts for fun!" We Yanks are a funny bunch, eh?

Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 9:45 pm
Dear Bassman
Many people seem fixated on the price of everything whilst seeing value in nothing (to slightly misquote someone else). I received just enough funding to do this project well, but I'm afraid I never enter into debate about cost.


Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2005 - 2:54 pm
I went out to photograph the Sea Forts while you where living on them. Take a look: Source photograph from KCC

September 29, 2005 - 11:52 pm
When I go into the remote countryside I actually hear more because of the quietness and would love to hear some audio of the winds and sea haunting these structures. I wonder what reaction you would have received from the wartime occupants of the forts on hearing about a guy wanting to spend several weeks alone on them! Or even the 60s pirates! ("Man that’s cool"!) tee hee. Glad … we have the web to allow us to share a little bit of it with you (from the comfort of our homes.

Posted on Friday, September 30, 2005 - 12:32 pm
Hello Wanderlust
The web site will stay on line and I will try and put video and sound on it. I recorded a lot of the fort sounds, but for want of the right kind of cable, I could not transfer any data to the computer from my mini disc player.


Posted on Friday, September 30, 2005 - 1:16 pm
It was a wonderful project and I am jealous that you managed to get 'on board'. For some reason the Seaforts seem to have a hold on the imagination like a natural wonder, or like a piece of art akin to the Angel Of The North.

I hope that at least one of these magnificent, awe inspiring structures is saved. One day hopefully I can step on board also!

Posted on Friday, September 30, 2005 - 1:54 pm
We are learning so much from… each others ideas, thoughts and feelings... This has turned into a great piece of community art.

You mention, Stephen, the recordings of the noises you heard on the forts? Can you describe them for us and how they made you feel? And what was making the noise?!!

You are right they do say one of those towers is haunted... due to the bricks of Blitz demolished houses lying at the base of them... who knows if that’s true - but it doesn't matter because its a good tale.

Posted on Friday, September 30, 2005 - 9:42 pm
I very much like your filtering of the dust to reveal the lyrical and the delicate: the poetic images that emerged from your experience at the fort work really well with your words.

Posted on Friday, September 30, 2005 - 9:44 pm
I wondered whether you'd read 'Tracks' by Robyn Davidson? Or seen the early b/w still life work of American photographer Olivia Parker?

Posted on Saturday, October 01, 2005 - 5:44 pm
I thought some of your comments were a little bit pretentious but your forgiven! You are an artist after all! On the whole I really enjoyed your explorations. But, what about the other towers? Did your experience not make you wonder what extraordinary memories might be found there?

Posted on Saturday, October 01, 2005 - 6:31 pm
Thanks for sharing such a wonderful and very inspiring art project! Your artistic methodology is innovative and inclusive with affinity to so many different layers: the pictures, the text, the role of the artist and the spectator, history, beauty, time and solitude. In a busy world overloaded with hectic information. Your way of using interactive modern technology to remind us of things long forgotten, made me rethink the methods and habits in art education. I really enjoyed your blog, especially the seascapes:|
Best regards from Copenhagen, Denmark


screen grab

Posted on Sunday, October 02, 2005 - 6:23 pm
Hello Seastar
They really are compelling creations; all are subtly different like brothers and sisters. Ever after exploring one for five weeks it still feels mysterious to me.


Posted on Sunday, October 02, 2005 - 6:34 pm
Hi Writer
I do hope this forum works as a place for community discussion of the project. I am really interested in the idea of isolation and solitude more widely in society. I would be interested if anyone had views on this wider aspect.

The noises I recorded were the ambient sounds - the background noises to my time on the fort. They include the wind, rain and thunder. The sound of the south mark bell, waves, and other sundry sounds. Sounds were transmitted through the sea, up the legs and were amplified in the steel box on top.

It is interesting to note that rubble from blitz demolished buildings were placed around the fort legs. The voice I heard calling 'Arthur' was a woman's and all personnel in the fort were male - your information opens up other possibilities!

Posted on Sunday, October 02, 2005 - 6:50 pm
Dear Gab
I wished I could have entered the other towers too, but without the walkways between, it was just out of the question. The ladders from the sea are missing from all the other towers and helicopters cannot land on the restricted spaces of the roofs due to new regulations. The coast guard could have dropped me on board by winch, but they wanted to charge a non-commercial rate of £18,000 per hour!


Posted on Monday, October 03, 2005 - 3:46 pm
Do you think this will shape your future, not just commercially but personally?

Posted on Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - 3:54 pm
Your project is really interesting. I don't feel isolation is truly felt unless you are in the middle of a sea of people that all seem to know each other and you are the only one that can't relate or feel comfortable. I think if I could live in a place like those Seaforts, I'd feel exhilarated! Isolation is deeply felt in the midst of a seemingly alien society.

Posted on Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - 6:48 pm
The Seafort Project will definitely shape my future. I saw and felt so much. Some of it, not fully understood, might take a couple of years to unravel. I need not worry about the commercial dimension though, as making millions was never my aim, nor ever a likely outcome!

Posted on Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - 7:37 pm
Hi Melbell
I know what you mean and I have experienced it myself. When I went to Japan, it was truly alienating to be the only European face, and moreover to be unable to understand the language of even the street signs.

Of course the isolation of a group, a race or a class may also be very real. An asylum seeker might feel isolated today in Kent. The first immigrants from the Commonwealth on arriving on these shores experienced isolation, as did the Jewish people and Huguenots before them.

When part of a group, you can draw comfort from your compatriots or colleagues, and work together to overcome any issues or less hopefully, retreat into a physical or mental ghetto.

I did not feel lonely on the forts, though many people I have spoken to would find it so... It would be very different to be held hostage with no release date... I am thinking of Terry Waite's four years of captivity in Beirut. I realise that no matter what the provocation, there is no room for a Belmarsh or a Guantanamo Bay in any democratic society.

I wonder if anyone else has any views on these wider issues around isolation?

Posted on Wednesday, October 05, 2005 - 9:55 am
Thank you for your reply! In a way I have used a Seafort Project look- a-like method in my previous writings, although on a pure theoretical basis. My research is inspired by the French philosopher and anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss who introduced the term "bricolage" in his book "The Savage Mind" (1962). It is a way of describing how a researcher/artist can work with what is present in his or her field of investigation to create new understandings, perspectives or expressions. A "bricoleur" can work with all kinds of stuff and is therefore not limited by traditional ways of thinking.

I am trying to develop new strategies for art education in multicultural urban settings.

As for the question about isolation one might say it’s of decisive importance whether it’s voluntary or forced upon you. Isolation could range from a profound experience of freedom to the worst punishment ever.

Posted on Wednesday, October 05, 2005 - 10:26 am
Thank you for your reply. It's really great that you reply to each post individually. I also agree with Lene (Copenhagen) Isolation can range from being alienating to exhilarating and can make survival in an environment very creative, as with your photos. I especially loved the photos of the imaginary planets and stars. Escape can sometimes be found by reverting into your own mind.

Posted on Friday, October 07, 2005 - 11:05 pm
You must-please-try-somehow to get everything you have from this lovely adventure onto the Seafort site. I'm embedded in the middle of the US & don’t know if I’ll ever get Over There & I need to know every bit of what you produced & recorded.

I stumbled upon your project thru some non-related search - your site sitting quietly, waiting to start. I wondered where you would take it & would it wind up as some weird ono art show (my apologies to Ono fans) or just plain too elite.

It’s been very interesting to see what each of us out here in the dark is projecting onto your experience. But, beyond what everyone's said so far, you exposed each facet of your spirit, allowed it to take you, where it would - even to the common ritual of creating (whether practical or inspired) order out of it. It was wonderful to see where each impulse took you, & how you responded.

Posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2005 - 3:17 pm
Dear Lene, Melbell and Dulcinea
Having been praised for replying to everyone individually, I am reduced today to this single reply. Thank you all for these additions to the discussion. I have not read much Claude Levi Strauss, Lene, but the idea of finding unsuspected harmonies between disparate 'subject matter' has always interested me.

Dulcinae, please don't die yet awhile! Don Quixote will surely reach his princess eventually.

Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2005 - 11:20 pm
Thanks for communicating what seems to be a sad, beautiful, romantic, and nostalgic but tough experience in an alien but strangely familiar environment. I've been up on Tankerton Slopes several times recently, looking out at the forts and the wind turbines, but unfortunately I didn't realise you were 'in residence'.

Your stay was also somehow reminiscent of what DitchMonkey is doing - a city worker who has abandoned home and possessions to live in the open countryside (not even a tent!) while still working in the city - to raise money for the Woodland Trust.

Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2005 - 7:42 pm
Thank you for the ditchmonkey info DR. I like the idea of artists in different disciplines being on the forts together - each with their own tower.

Posted on Thursday, December 01, 2005 - 6:36 pm
These forts seem to me to have come to represent something essentially human.. Has Mausnell created something beyond ourselves? Are they not organic: they are organic! They live. ..

Rather, you climbed inside someone's head to listen to their thoughts and tried to make sense of the fragmented memories you found there. A rare treat, indeed!...