The Redoubt in Eastbourne was built in the early nineteenth century, in order to defend the south coast from invasion by Napoleon and his forces. At the same time, many defensive ‘Martello Towers’ were also built along the coast (as referred to in a previous Maximal Space post: Seaford Museum).
The structure has seen many changes over the past 200 years. Starting its life as a fortress, the Redoubt’s casemates were originally filled with soldiers living in cramped and unhygienic conditions. The space was then used as a jail in the First World War, while The Second World War saw it provide a base for Canadian troops before the D-Day landings. During peacetime, the building took on a new life as a tourist attraction, when it became home to an aquarium and model village. Finally, in the late 1970s, it was transformed into a military museum – a status it still holds to this day.
During my time exploring the structure, it soon became clear that there are two very different types of maximal space held within the one: the museum itself and the spaces that are concealed from view (secret spaces).
Formed of multiple rooms, or ‘casemates’ as they are technically referred to, the museum appears endless. Its circular design is intriguing to experience, and adds to this sense of never-ending space. The uniform lime wash walls, against which colourful displays contrast sharply, add to this unique atmosphere. Vast collections of medals, weapons, costumes, board games and much more can be discovered as one embarks on this circular adventure.
Staff members Laurence and Mary reflected on this unusual space, in a short interview:
The building was obviously designed for a very specific purpose, which it no longer serves. How does the design lend itself to being a museum?
Laurence: Because of all the history it has seen, it is perfect. I think that it really is ideal to place the collection in a military context.
Mary: It suits our collection because it is made up of lots of different things. There are lots of rooms here, so each room can have something different in it.
How do visitors react to this unusual subterranean space?
Mary: It is technically not a subterranean space because the bank was part of the military purpose of the building – it was a defensive bank. So the building is not actually underground, so to speak. Upon entering, people are always surprised by how big the building is. Because it is a circular building surrounded by a bank, you cannot see all of the structure, except in an aeroplane.
What is it like to work in the space?
Mary: It is cold and damp.
Laurence: Yes you do have to wrap up, especially in the winter. It is very reminiscent of how it would have been in the 1800s.
So do you think that this adds to the visitor experience?
Laurence: Yes. Definitely.
Everyday two tours of the building are available to visitors, given by Redoubt expert Peter. During these tours concealed recesses and closed off rooms are unlocked, revealing a different side to the structure.
The Soldiers’ Washroom:
Behind a painted wooden panel, which has to be unscrewed from the wall, there is a short corridor leading to a dimly lit room. It seems hard to believe that this dank space was once a welcome introduction to the fortress, when it was transformed into a bathroom for soldiers during the nineteenth century. It is also hard to believe that this dark damp room is part of the same brightly lit structure that I had been wandering around, just moments before.
In a section of the fortress which is now fenced off, lies a hidden treasure trove. The old aquarium space is currently used as a storage area but peeking through piles of wood are remnants of a neoclassical underwater world. Glass cases filled with model temples and classical columns can be glimpsed, which would have once been filled with aquatic life. Dusty plaques hint at what would have glanced out of these tanks – carp, tench, catfish and terrapins.
The ‘Outdoor’ Toilets:
The redoubt is an incredible maximal space, which requires a lot of time to fully take in. The classic museum displays enable visitors to understand military history, from Hussars to the everyday life of a soldier. While the specialised building tours offer an opportunity to really comprehend, and experience, some of the structure’s remarkable history. A history which is captivating and well worth immersing oneself in.