Heights have been something of a theme recently. The Keep is an impressive, in terms of its scale, Portland stone construction, dating from 1879 and, if you are willing to pay the admission price for the military museum that now occupies the building, you can climb the spiral stairs all the way up to the roof. Once informed by the ladies stationed at the entrance that I could go up onto the roof I thought to myself, “It would be rude not to!”
The Keep Military Museum’s own website quotes a description of the building by the well know art and architectural historian Pevsner, who describes it in less than favourable terms: “The monumental gatehouse is a knock-down affair. Two round towers to the front, the archway between. Three storeys of long slit windows. Rock faced with a vengeance. Today it is a grade 2 listed building. The designer was probably Major AC Seddon R.E, head of the War Office Design branch at this time…The barracks behind were humble by comparison“. As somebody who grew up by the seaside, The Keep reminds me of the castle shaped plastic buckets and the resulting crenelated sand castles they produced.
The Keep is topped with two flags, the Union flag and the flag of The Rifles. In 1958 the Devonshire Regiment and the Dorset Regiment amalgamated to form the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment. In 2007 the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment was amalgamated with a number of other regiments to form The Rifles, which still has a Reserve Company [the Territorial Army as was] based Dorchester.
The spiral staircases in the towers give access to the museums galleries on three floors and then you are invited carry on and step out onto the roof. It was a rather windy day and the situation was unique in my experience, in that the area of the roof is very large, but the battlements around it are very short. The two gentlemen working on the maintenance of the tower didn’t seem to mind climbing up even higher and out onto the scaffolding you can see on my photographs, but one of them did remark to me that, “It was a bit windy”.
The Keep is tall enough for you to get a unique perspective on a number of tree tops and the comings and goings of the Bridport Road. The military museum itself is very interesting and, if you like heights, I would recommend a walk on the roof.
Eric Williams, escaping, Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, Michael Codner, military museums, Museums, Oliver Philpot, Prisoners of War, RAF, RAF Escape Museum, RAF Escape Society, Royal Air Force, Second World War, The Wooden Horse, World War Two
The story of the “Wooden Horse” escape from Stalag Luft III, during the Second World War, came to my attention via the 1950 film “The Wooden Horse” starring Leo John Genn [who also appeared as Mr. Starbuck in “Moby Dick“, 1956, and in “Green is for Danger“, 1946; two of my favourites] and David Tomlinson.
The film was based on the novel, “The Wooden Horse“, by Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams, RAF, who was one of the three men to escape from Stalag Luft III, a German Prisoner of War camp, located in what was then Lower Silesia, which is now in Poland, with the help of a vaulting horse, constructed by the prisoners of war. As I understand it, Williams, Flight Lieutenant Oliver Philpot MC, DFC, RAF and Second Lieutenant Michael Codner, Royal Artillery, successfully escaped captivity via a tunnel, the entrance to which was concealed beneath the horse. The tunnellers were carried out to the exercise yard hidden within the horse. Cover was then provided by the PoWs vaulting over the horse whilst the tunneller worked beneath them; the vaulting also confused the seismographs used by the camp guards to detect any digging. When the vaulters called it a day they carried the horse back inside, along with the tunneller hidden within it and the soil excavated from the tunnel. Following their escape the three men headed for the Baltic; Williams and Codner, with the help of the Danish Resistance, managed to reach neutral Sweden, whilst Philpot headed for Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland, where he stowed away on board a Swedish merchant vessel.
The Wooden Horse forms part of the RAF Escape Society’s collection, on display at the RAF Escape Museum, in the grounds of the Aviation Heritage Centre.
On exiting The Gurkha Museum in Winchester I noticed this next to the more conventional health and safety notices and fire fighting equipment.
You can never be too careful, I guess. The Peninsula Barracks, where the Gurkha Museum and several other military museums are clustered, is a beautiful place and it is well worth a walk through its landscaped grounds even if you are not interested in military history.
Here is a link to The Gurkha Museums website: http://www.thegurkhamuseum.co.uk/
Here is a link to Winchesters other military museums: http://www.winchestermilitarymuseums.co.uk/