St Thomas Head (Weston super Mare)

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MattFiler

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St Thomas Head is an abandoned MOD base in Kewstoke, Weston super Mare.

The site was used mainly during the war to develop and test bombs, and the surrounding area was also used for practices by the RAF. St Thomas Head was used up until about 2009 when it closed and the site has been abandoned ever since. Security still check the area, but the fences have been broken down and they don't mind you going there to take photos if you're not causing any trouble.

The site has two nissen huts that acted like work rooms, one still sealed building that was used to store explosives, one trashed building that was used to record explosion data and control the detonation of the explosives, along with two detonation points at the foot of the cliff, a long boat ramp and also a small docking platform. Also on the site were about 5 portacabins, including the site office, wash down huts, a mess room and others. These portacabins were taken away in late 2014 due to extensive vandalism.

Unfortunately the site is pretty trashed now, but it's still interesting to learn about what went on there when it was in use. I've spoken to a couple of people that used to work there and read a lot about the place online and in books.

The site lost its licence to dispose of bombs around 2005, as in about 2002/2003 they lost a pallet of bombs that were powerful enough to each blow up a tank. The lost bombs were reported lost a few hours after they had been swept away which is why they were never found due to the strong currents in the Bristol Channel. The loss of the site's licence to dispose of any more bombs was presumably what lead to its closure as that seemed to be the primary use of it after the bomb testing had finished from the war.

St Thomas Head is positioned at the end of Sand Point overlooking Woodspring Bay. Within the bay are two sunken ships that were used for practices during the war, and they can still be seen at low tide. Getting to them is difficult and dangerous, although people have done it before and there are some good photos of them online.

The main building still on site that was used to log the test data overlooks the Bristol Channel and had a brilliant view over to Wales. It also housed controls (and presumably recording equipment) for the security cameras and controls for the streetlights. It has two desks, a kitchen or bathroom area and two small rooms. Attached to it is a room full of breakers for the electricity to different places on site and a big combination-locked cabinet.

After speaking to some people that used to work there, it seems local rumours of an underground facility there are not true. This rumour has been circulating for years as the building which was used to store the explosives is kept inside a second row of fencing and covered heavily with CCTV. The building backs into a hill and this is what people believed to be the entrance for the underground area. It turns out that the building is actually backing into the hill to prevent any debris from a potential explosion flying towards the main buildings on site and possibly injuring any staff. The building also has a weak roof which is to try and cause the blast to go upwards instead of outwards causing more injury. The walls for the building are also seemingly reinforced behind the brick with concrete to help in the event of an explosion. Obviously the CCTV and second layer of fencing is due to the fact that they didn't want people breaking in and either stealing the explosives or setting them off.

Apparently there are a couple of bunkers on site however that are in front of the coastguard hut, and also behind the explosives store. This was presumably in case of a problem on site, they could take cover and not risk any injuries. I haven't yet managed to get into the bunkers although I've heard from people online that say they have.

Originally, the site's location of Sand Point was entirely used by the MOD, allowing them a large open area to test in during the war. Eventually they moved to the less frequented end of Sand Point towards the Woodspring Priory and allowed the public access to the Point again. This is where St Thomas Head was placed. Shotgun shells and even canon balls have been found on Sand Point, presumably from the MOD's work there during the war and some broken metal posts and ditches in the ground are also presumed to be part of their work. Sand Point was a popular place as it is on the Bristol Channel which has one of the highest rises and falls of tide in the world, meaning they could place the bombs for disposal in the channel, wait a short amount of time for the tide to cover them, detonate them, then clear up the debris when the tide went out a short time later.

In the local area, the old pier that is also abandoned, Birnbeck Pier, was also used for various tests during the war presumably linking with the efforts at St Thomas Head. The pier was named HMS Birnbeck during the war while the tests took place and after the war it was opened to the public again.

Bombs from the war are discovered around the area from the RAF tests (or possibly from enemy drops in the war), with the most recent being just a few years ago.


Here are a selection of photos from the few months I've gone to the site to document the damage that's been done. To view the full gallery (there are quite a lot of photos, and they are a better quality than the ones here) check out this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mattfiler/sets/72157650558598930

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krela

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Yes it was used by Qinetiq to dispose of obsolete ordinance (mainly torpedoes), the loss of the crate was pretty controversial given no-one knows where they went and Weston Super Mare beach is just 2 miles downstream!

During WW2 the site was used as a research base to develop ideas for new naval weapons, including a ship launched mini bouncing bomb which was tested at Brean Down Fort (you can still see the launching rail down there).

Welcome to the site.
 

MattFiler

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Nice historical record here. Thanks for posting and maybe we will see more?

I go up there quite often walking my dog, and I often upload photos of it to my Flickr. Check out the link in the post to see the photos I've taken to date (theres about 200-odd I think). https://www.flickr.com/photos/mattfiler/sets/72157650558598930

If I find out any more information or remember any that is relevant I'll update the post here - but otherwise just keep an eye out on my Flickr for more photos!
 
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UrbanX

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Brilliant stuff, there's still a lot to see there! So much history too.
Thanks for sharing :)
 

jojonesbleadon

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I go up there quite often walking my dog, and I often upload photos of it to my Flickr. Check out the link in the post to see the photos I've taken to date (theres about 200-odd I think). St Thomas Head

If I find out any more information or remember any that is relevant I'll update the post here - but otherwise just keep an eye out on my Flickr for more photos!
Sorry to revive this after so long but I just rediscovered and read it ... In August 1977 I was sailing, a little offshore and downstream of Clevedon when there was a huge upheaval of brown water inshore - too far away to hear any concussion or see any red flags, but the water column seemed big enough to take out a small fishing vessel. Quite a shock at the time! No digi camera at the time of course but has anyone managed to photograph ordnance being set off there?
Now bedridden and not far from the last "Dark Journey", I'd be interested to read anything new about St.T.
Ken J
 
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