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Lundy Island Fog Battery - Rachel Thompson

2017 Angel Awards runner-up Rachel Thompson worked with mason Charlie Smith on the conservation of the fog battery station complex on remote Lundy Island in 2016. Working amid storms and thick fog, Rachel completed crucial repair work to make the buildings safe and to preserve the stories of the gunners who once lived there.

Many people visit Lundy Island, but few have the chance to stay there as long as Rachel Thompson. Her work to restore the fog battery station has given her a unique glimpse into the lives of the gunners who lived on this rocky outcrop in the Bristol Channel, and helped preserve their stories for generations to come.

“There was something special about spending a longer time on Lundy, where I had been going for ten years,” said Rachel, apprentice to mason Charlie Smith. “It did get us thinking a lot about the gunners who operated the battery and wondering what they looked like. We were so pleased that we found some photographs of them.”

Portrait image of Rachel Thompson at the Lundy Island fog battery
Rachel Thompson at the fog battery complex, Lundy Island, Devon © Historic England

A rare survivor

More than 120 years after it was built, the fog battery station is a rare survivor. Protected by the National Trust, most of its components can still be seen and even freely explored by visitors to Lundy Island, who will now be able to better appreciate the vital role the complex played in steering ships to safety. When the fog battery station was operational, whenever fog enveloped Lundy's Old Lighthouse, gunners living in the cottages would fire two cannons to alert ships to the rocks. In 1897, the complex was abandoned and two new lighthouses were built on the 1.5-mile island.

Over the decades, the cluster of distinctive buildings on the cliff-face disintegrated until, by September 2016, the iconic central stack of the cottages was on the verge of collapse. Atlantic gales had worn away the mortar in the joints to the extent that bricks were falling off and daylight was visible inside. The project to repair the complex, which is on the Heritage At Risk Register, aimed to preserve the Grade II listed structures and make them safe for the public.

Gunner Morgan with rocket apparatus
Gunner Morgan with rocket apparatus © Heaven Archive

A race against the clock

However, the fog and extreme weather that had led to the fog battery being built were also a considerable challenge for the team working to rescue it. For Rachel and Charlie, finding a way to preserve the chimney and supporting walls was a race against the clock as the structure was unlikely to survive another harsh winter. But before they could start on repairs, the team had to set up camp in the shelter of the fog battery complex.

Rachel has been volunteering with the National Trust on Lundy Island since 2008, so she knows the site very well. Erecting scaffolding and working at height were hazardous in the high winds. Throughout the autumn, storms lashed the camp and fog covered the complex. With a struggle, the team managed to erect a mess tent within the walls of the roofless battery building for shelter from the elements. Taking gear back and forth to the site was no easy task either.

There were many ways in which the project took Rachel out of her comfort zone. It was after accepting the job of consolidating the brickwork, that she realised just how much had to be removed in order to make the structures safe. She noted what needed to be replaced, and carefully reused fallen bricks from around the base of the structures in the rebuilding work. Together they managed to carefully preserve the soft capping and complex bonding around the four chimney flues. “It was essential to prevent the collapse of the chimney and I was very proud of my work on this as it was the first thing I was entirely responsible for,” she said.

Rachel carries out restoration work on the fog battery complex, Lundy Island, Devon
Rachel carries out restoration work on the fog battery complex, Lundy Island, Devon © National Trust


The conservation of the cottages’ stack was completed in November 2016, and the low walls were further consolidated by May 2017. The project has reduced the risk of building collapse and injury to visitors from falling masonry; the gaping joints in the central stack of the battery cottages have been pointed, and the tops of the walls and steps have been rebuilt and replaced with collapsed stone from the foot of the elevation. Preservation of the cottages, chimney and gable means that future generations will be able to get a better picture of the effort that went into building the battery complex in the first place.

The next step is the removal and conservation of the cannons, which will take the complex off the Heritage at Risk Register and secure its long-term future.

The fog battery complex, Lundy Island, Devon
The fog battery complex, Lundy Island, Devon © National Trust

Why this category?

Rachel’s work on the project reflects her determination and dedication to conservation masonry, a field she has been striving to join ever since joining the National Trust as a conservation assistant in 2006. After meeting Charlie at one of his talks on Lundy Island, she joined as a volunteer and six years later she became an apprentice National Trust mason. Without her enthusiasm to learn - and willingness to work in extreme conditions - the project to repair the Lundy Island fog battery station would not have been completed. While developing her own conservation skills, Rachel has made an important contribution to a unique heritage site.

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