A HIDDEN historic gem dating to the First World War is back in the firing line.
The Fulwell Coastal Watch Mirror, also known as a Listening Ear, is at the centre of a clean-up spearheaded by Groundwork North East and Southwick Neighbourhood Young Peoples Project.
“It is part of Sunderland’s heritage and, although in remarkably good condition for its age, brambles and nettles are keeping it hidden,” said Helen Cheetham, senior project officer for Groundwork.
“It is on English Heritage’s At Risk list and it certainly needs a lot of love and attention. Clearing away the weeds is the first step in preserving this wartime relic for the future.”
The Fulwell Mirror was one of several Listening Ears built along the coast during the latter years of the Great War, designed as early warning devices to help keep Britain safe from Zeppelin attacks.
The concrete dish was carefully shaped to detect the noise of approaching airships and planes up to 15 minutes out to sea – a forerunner to modern radar – with any threat producing a warning signal.
“This signal gave enough time for a message to be transmitted to the airbase at North Hylton, so that a counter-attack could be launched,” said Helen.
“This happened one night in 1917, and a fighter pilot from North Hylton chased the Zeppelin bomber along the coast before shooting it down over Seaham!”
Despite its success, however, the development of new technology eventually left the acoustic mirror obsolete. Today it still stands on its original spot, behind Fulwell allotments, covered in weeds.
“The structure was never dismantled and is still sound today,” said Helen. “It is hidden away under a mass of brambles and scrub.
“You could say it was a hidden gem – lost in time to undergrowth.”
Groundwork is now working with City of Sunderland Council and English Heritage to restore the mirror, classed as a national monument, and make it a feature of historic interest for visitors.
The clean-up has been paid for by the Heritage Lottery Fund, as part of the Limestone Landscapes project, but Helen is hoping that “Battle of the Brambles” is merely the start of things to come.
“We are putting together a trail, from Hartlepool to South Shields, of wartime relics and the mirror will be part of it. People will actually be able to see it now if they follow the trail,” she said.
“The idea is to cut back the brambles, making it easier to access, and also add information boards detailing the mirror’s development. That way, people interested in history can easily find out more.
“But, although it is great to be able to give a little love to the monument, we would like to do more.
“We are now planning to apply for English Heritage funding to keep it safe for future generations.”
Youngsters from Southwick Neighbourhood Young People’s Project have volunteered to spend part of their summer holidays helping to clear the undergrowth.
Youth worker Julie Foster said: “We have been doing projects looking at the environment, talking about history, and this mirror is part of our heritage. A lot of people don’t know what it is – even though it is on their doorstep.
“Once the area has been cleared, people will really be able to see the monument.
“We were keen to get involved with this project to highlight its history, and so were the young people we work with.”
Southwick youngster Callum Guthrie, 13, a pupil at Red House Academy, added: “I like helping out by clearing up places and this is something that has survived all these years.
“I’d like to see people coming to see this place, and being able to read all the new information boards. It feels like we are doing something real that is worth something.”
l If you would like to volunteer to help clear the brambles, or have stories to tell about the First or Second World Wars, contact Helen on 567 2550 or 07932 685 117.