The Redoubt Eastbourne Revisited

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.

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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.

The Aquarium

 

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.

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26 thoughts on “The Redoubt Eastbourne Revisited

  1. Thanks for this fantastic post. I am too young to remember the model village, but that aquarium was very special indeed. We live round the corner and used to go a lot, and I still dream about it sometimes.The light and the colours and sounds must have had a profound influence on me at such a young age that it’s actually stuck in my subconscious! It’s amazing to see photos of it. I wonder if you have any more you could share? I hope the redoubt gets all the support it needs. It’s such a great space. I’ll be blogging about it too soon. fx

    • Wow. I wish that I could have visited, when it was open – it sounds like a magical space. I’m not sure if Paul had any more photos but I can ask. During my online research, I did notice that there have been postcards of the grotto for sale on eBay – you could have your own image! Can’t wait to read your blog. Please let me know when the post is up 🙂

      • I am most grateful to maximalspace for creating this lovely webpage…it really is a pleasure to be able to share some memories of the wonderful Model Village….I do have more grotto photos but they are of poor quality…..if I do find anymore I will of course pass them on……

    • Thanks for bringing back some great memories. My name is John White son of Frank White Bens brother. We used to spend time at Eastbourne each summer holiday, Staying with Ben and Peggy during the sixties and seventies. The village and aquarium were magical places and I used to like just being with Uncle Ben watching him create fabulous models all in incredible detail. A great loss.
      John White

      • Thanks for your comment John – as you can see, a lot of people loved the model village! I wish that I could have seen it in real-life myself. What a great way to spend a summer holiday…

      • Hi john, my Name is Karon I think I remember you, I am Caroles daughter ( Carole is Ben and Peggys daughter) therefore Ben and Peggy were my Grandparents. Im sure there are some photos of us together.
        How are you? it would be lovely to catch up……its been so many years.
        Karon

  2. Amazing – such a sad loss. What an incredible prolific craftsman. I admire artists who persist for decades building their dream.

    I am afraid of miniature worlds – not as afraid as I am of marionettes and ventriloquist’s dummies – I get a haunted sort of disoriented feeling from them – I’m not sure why, but it is disturbing. I got the feeling looking at these pictures. Still, I would like to have seen this spectacular place – just not alone.

    Elephant

    • It really is incredible isn’t it? I love the attention to detail, especially the tiny tiles on the roof and real glass windows. It is very sad to think that most of it got dismantled.

      Perhaps, if it still existed, it might have helped you to conquer your fear of miniature worlds!? I used to be terrified of cobwebs – my Dad even used to write messages to them telling them to leave me alone!

  3. Pingback: The Redoubt Eastbourne | Maximal Space

  4. thank you for this. I remember walking round the model village as a very small child. I sometimes wondered if I had dreamt it as it was so long ago, but now I see it was real!! I was only 6 when it closed down, such a shame.

    • What a great comment 🙂 It’s funny how distant memories can seem like dreams. Have you been back recently? They have just opened a great café – I’m hoping to go next week, if the sun keeps shining!

  5. I remember visiting this village as a child – it was always a highlight of the summer holidays, and I also remember the rather gloomy aquarium with the spooky statues.

  6. Pingback: Redoubt Model Village Guide c.1957 | Maximal Space

  7. As a child, I used to love visiting both the model village and the aquarium with my grandmother who lived in Eastbourne. I think it was my very favourite attraction. I was gutted when it closed… it is so nice to see some lovely photos on this website, brings back so many happy memories…

  8. I have been doing some research into a model of Fountains Abbey made for the Vyner family in Yorkshire, almost certainly during the 1950s, that I saw during a school visit in 1966 and of which I have a copy of an original Walter Scott postcard from Bradford – No. 17110. Having come across a very similar model illustrated on a Harvey Barton postcard from Bristol, depicting ‘Fountains Abbey, Eastbourne Model Village’ – No. 62561 – a search on the internet has brought me to your excellent and highly informative page with a full account of Benjamin White’s model-building creations at The Redoubt Fortress, Eastbourne (1954-75). Here it is explained that the first model he made was of Fountains Abbey. Does Paul White, by any chance, have any knowledge of a second model having been made by his grandfather for the Vyner family and, if so, does he have a copy of any correspondence detailing its construction? Around the time I first saw the Vyner model, which may have been in 1966, or a year or so earlier, I seem to recall being told that a recently retired member of the West Riding County Council had just made a new base or provided some other addition for the model in its new setting.

  9. Great place, I have a picture of my dad and myself from 1963, at that wonderful village, but being as I was three at the time I don’t recall it, but the one photo I do have shows how much attention was paid to the details.

  10. Amazing!! My mother used to take me here when I was very little, around 2 or 3 years old, I still remember the model village. As a slightly older 8 or 9 year old I would spend hours in the aquarium with my best friend. I think this is where most of our pocket money went, however (and rather shamefully) I must admit we did sneak in the back door sometimes which was no easy task as you had to cross the entrance to the tunnel where the ticket both was. I’m sure they knew what we were doing. It’s such a shame the aquarium isn’t there anymore, it was truly a magical place and the best hide and seek venue in town.

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