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Decision Summary

This monument has been assessed under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended for its national importance. The asset does not currently meet the criteria for scheduling. It is not scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended.

Name: East Weare Rifle Range

Reference Number: 1423228


Located on the eastern side of the island, close to Portland Harbour and below the Young Offenders Institution HM Prison Portland

Grid Reference: SY 70281 726

50° 33' 11.52? N, 2° 25' 15.6? W 50.5532, -2.421

The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Dorset
District Type: Unitary Authority
Parish: Portland

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Decision Date: 27-Oct-2014


Reasons for currently not Scheduling the Monument

Context and Background: English Heritage has received an application requesting that we assess the East Weare rifle range on the Isle of Portland, Dorset for designation. There is no specific threat to the site but the applicant is concerned about its future due to some recent demolition that has occurred within the immediate vicinity of the range. The rifle range is situated within the Isle of Portland Site of Special Scientific Interest.

History and Details: the area around Portland Harbour has historically been recognised as strategically important. 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 with the construction of 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 also constructed. In circa 1880 the East Weare Camp was established, which included the erection of detention barracks.

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 which had been established in the late 1850s as training for rifle volunteer units across the country, therefore, 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. It was not built in response to the threat from France, which had ceased by the 1880s, but rather as part of a general development of the site and its training provision, and was used to train naval and other military service personnel stationed at East Weare Camp. 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 it subsequently closed. It was then used for clay pigeon shooting for a short time before falling into disuse.

The range is orientated on a north-west to south-east axis, with firing points on earth and stone mounds at 100 yard intervals from 200 yards to 600 yards, with an additional lane of fire to the north-east, firing from 800 yards. These mounds have either been severely damaged or destroyed with only the 200 yard mound surviving in reasonable condition. The soldiers were aiming at targets which were raised and lowered on cables and pulleys using a Hythe pattern target frame located at the marker’s gallery to the south-east. The target frame that survives is made of tubular steel which suggests that it is a later, possibly mid-C20, replacement. The marker’s gallery has a brick rear wall and a timber side panel and retains a rifle rack and some wooden seats which were for those personnel tasked with handling the targets. The concrete canopy supported on iron stanchions is a later adaptation. Behind the marker’s gallery, at the south-east end of the range, is the large late-C19/early C20 stop butt measuring approximately 100m in length and 30m wide. Its north-west face is infilled with earth and stone and was designed to absorb the bullets and prevent ricochets. The sloping south-east face and north-east side is built of unmortared Portland stone with stone buttresses.

To the south of the stop butt are two C20 sentry posts with associated disused telephone posts which served the range, and a World War Two hexagonal pillbox of reinforced concrete and stone.

The rifle range was located near to two other ranges. To the north-east, running along the coastline by the site of the former King’s pier was a 300 yards rifle and revolver range of the late C19 which was demolished in the late C20. To the immediate west was a C20 small arms rifle range; this was demolished in July 2014. A number of small rifle ranges were also built within the Verne Citadel, and there were also other ranges across the Isle of Portland.

Criteria/Assessment: the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act (1979) states that monuments are scheduled by reason of their archaeological, historic, architectural, artistic or traditional national importance. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s policy document, Scheduled Monuments & nationally important but non-scheduled monuments (October 2013), sets out the non-statutory criteria which provides further guidance on assessing national importance. Key considerations are period, rarity, documentation, group value, survival/condition, fragility/vulnerability, diversity and potential. Monuments are assessed under those of the criteria relevant to their type. The criteria should not be regarded as being definitive, but as indicators which contribute to a wider judgment based on the individual circumstances of a case. Archaeological sites are assessed for their national importance, which is the key indicator of their significance. As stated in the English Heritage Scheduling Selection Guide: Military Sites Post -1500 (March 2013) military sites have always played an important role in our nation's cultural history. Prompted by an uncertain relationship with Napoleon III’s France during the 1850s, the period 1860-1914 witnessed the strengthening and the creation of the most powerful complex of permanent fortifications ever seen and they precipitated major reforms in the army with increased attention to training. Rifle ranges that were built in the mid-C19 for the purposes of training in anticipation of a war with France are rare. After this period more selectivity is required to identify those examples that were built in response to a particular military campaign or advancements in military equipment and training. The East Weare rifle range, built between 1889 and 1903, is not recommended for scheduling for the following principal reasons:

* Historic interest: it is a relatively late example of its type and was not built in response to any specific military campaign or developments in training; * Rarity: rifle ranges from the late C19 onwards survive in reasonably large numbers across the country and this is one of a number of rifle ranges that were built on the Isle of Portland; * Survival/condition: although the stop butt is impressive in terms of its scale and the marker’s gallery survives in reasonable condition, all but one of the firing points have been damaged or destroyed and, therefore, the site does not represent a complete survival; * Group Value: although grouping with other military structures in the vicinity and contributing to our understanding of the strategic development of East Weare, it does not form part of the group of structures built in response to the threat of war from France, and its functional relationship with the other nearby ranges has been lost.

Conclusion: the rifle range plays a role in our understanding of the military presence at East Weare, but it is a relatively late example and does not survive sufficiently intact to have clear national importance. It is not, therefore, recommended for scheduling.

National Grid Reference: SY7026772708

This copy shows the entry on 26-Jul-2021 at 05:49:26.