When I visited The Redoubt Fortress last October, I was captivated by its history. It was the ‘secret spaces’, shown to me during an in-depth tour, which particularly grabbed my attention. I had always planned to return to the museum. This opportunity came sooner than I expected, when last week I received a surprise comment on this blog. Not only did the comment enable me to ‘revisit’ the Redoubt (without even leaving my house), but it also helped me to see the structure in a totally new light.
Paul White is the Grandson of Benjamin White, the man responsible for building the model village and aquarium, which had been popular tourist attractions at The Redoubt from 1954 to 1975. Paul is also the person who left the afore mentioned comment on this blog. Incredibly, this comment led to a huge collection of photographs being revealed, and a lot of questions being answered. He has been extremely generous in allowing me to share these rare images and words with you. Consequently, what appears below is a glimpse of a beautiful miniature world, now lost.
The Model Village:
The Model Village opened in the early 1950s and sadly closed in 1975, when its creator passed away. Although its models were small in scale, the village itself was vast; Paul describes how his grandfather’s work was always growing and evolving. The story of how the village was initially constructed is a truly fascinating one, and is best explained by Paul himself:
It all began when my Grandad, who was a Master Builder, was asked to make some models for an attraction in Ramsgate. This went down very well and he was asked to make more models… in Hastings. Then, he was asked if he would open a Model Village in Eastbourne. He leased the Redoubt from the council and first had to clear away the rubble and rubbish, then had about 18″ of soil (100 lorry loads) delivered as a bedding to build on. The land was split into 5 areas and, slap bang in the middle, the first model was built.
This first model was of Fountains Abbey – an elaborate structure that had its own moat and was covered in tiny monk figures.
Benjamin White was an extremely talented craftsman. The painstaking work involved in each of the model’s construction is difficult to believe. Every window was made from real glass and the roofing was made of tiny individual tiles. Below, Paul describes his grandfather’s never-ceasing attention to detail:
My Grandad made the models and my Nan helped to paint them. Once many of the them were built, my Grandad dug out a trench to make a river, which went all around the models and had real fish living in it. Because the river ran all around, my Grandad had to build bridges so people could cross over.
Paul goes on to recount his grandfather’s desire to add a musical element to visitors’ experience:
There was a switch to turn the music on under the counter in the main Model Village entrance, which my Nan would press and turn on whenever visitors were present.
Paul’s memories are testament to the fact that this was a truly unique place:
I remember playing games, hiding in the now secret rooms and having a great time there as a young child. It is hard to explain just how big the Model Village was. It covered the whole of the ground floor area of the Redoubt. The photos don’t do it justice.
As well as running the model village, Benjamin White also opened a small aquarium at The Redoubt. This ‘Grotto’, as it was known, was inspired by the classical world. White built life-size statues and large white pillars to decorate the space in a fittingly Greek style, which can be seen pictured below. Each room was themed and contained running water and coloured light to create a unique ambience. Paul remembers the time that he spent as a child in this unusual place:
It was rather dark but each area had running water falls and different coloured lights which gave it an amazing atmosphere. I remember the echo was always very spooky.