Rifle Range post 7

Back in august there was quite a buzz about something that was found up at the rifle range, during the construction of the fence around the backstop by the South Downs rangers. The first many people knew of it was Nightingale Lane being closed off by the bomb disposal squad.

Thanks to Chloe and Bruno, part of the team putting in the fence, a photo was taken of the item as it was uncovered. The photograph below shows the fins of a 2 inch mortar round and the characteristic ‘flash hole’ configuration between the fins and the body, signifying that this was a smoke or parachute illumination mortar round from the Second World War.

2 inch smoke/illumination mortar round (photograph by Bruno Aveiro)

While it wasn’t an HE (high explosive) round, calling the police was the correct thing to do – these objects might be over 70 years old, but they can still be extremely dangerous. Illumination rounds contain phosphorous which burns ferociously, and are designed to act like flares, lighting up the night sky. The image shown below is an inert 2 inch illumination round, missing the cap on the body and the cap on the end of the fins (which would have retained the propelling cartridge).

2 inch illumination mortar round

2 inch illumination mortar round, showing empty interior

Quite why a mortar round was there is not clear. The most likely reason is that it is an overshoot from the South Downs training area (used extensively by Canadians from 1941), and an incident in May 1944 shows that this sort of thing was not out of the question. However, it is possible it may have been used on the range in conjunction with night firing exercises. An illumination round will burn for 25-35 seconds as it descends by parachute, giving plenty of time to spot and shoot at targets on night practice.

The finale of the Big Picnic last month was the popular tug of war, which due to the sloping nature of the field, gave a slightly unfair advantage to the team located down slope. The judges, being good sports, allowed the teams to swap ends and have another go. This might not seem particularly relevant to the history of the rifle range at first glance, but an article in the Worthing Herald, from October 23rd 1942, suggests otherwise. It describes a training event by the Home Guard, involving a simulated assault on Bramber Castle – the castle itself, defended admirably by Steyning and Bramber Home Guard, had its defences breached by the Worthing Home Guard, as they crawled through a culvert under the railway and surprised the defenders. After their successful exercise, a picnic lunch was provided, followed a shooting match on the Steyning range and topped off by a tug of war. The correspondent noted that the ground ‘sloped badly’, giving a favourable outcome to the team located down slope. This was the scenario unknowingly recreated 76 years later, at the Big Picnic in September (more than likely in the very same field). While there are no photos of the tug of war in 1942 known to survive, there are some of the 2018 match, one of which is shown below.

2018 tug of war – this team has the disadvantage of pulling up the slope

In 1942, unlike in 2018, the teams then went off to the Castle Hotel for a game of darts.

Finally, the first autumn target session took place on a gloriously sunny day in October. The remains of a chewy-sweets-and-crisps party were evident in the target store and it would have been nice if the children involved had known how to clean up after themselves. As they obviously didn’t, we did it for them.

Remains of the chewy-sweets-and-crisps party

Now that we have one target frame resurrected, our aim is to slow the rusting/decay of the other seven frames. There are two types of rust (bear with me on this) on the frames; one that can be wire brushed off and the other that needs that needs to be hammered off and comes away in large chunks. We spent our day tackling the second rust type, hammering and chiseling – it was all rather noisy, the sound reverberating off down the valley. Frame number 4 was then given a red oxide coating and the results are plainly seen.

For more news, please see our next post

Bill paints frame 4 with red oxide

Frame 4, freshly painted




Rifle Range post 3

On the 24th May the carriages and pulley wheel were returned to site and with the aid of P.A.C. Welding Ltd, the frame was pieced back together. Paul and Kaz did a great job, despite the heavy rain.

Target frame 1 undergoing welding repair work in the pouring rain

Finally, frame 1 was complete and in working order thirty years after the range closed.

Robin checks out the work on the repaired frame 1

Steve had made some wooden frames (to original military specifications) to slot into the carriages and we couldn’t resist putting them in place to see the whole system in operation.

A four foot wooden target frame (minus the actual target) raised into position

In addition to this, the team have put in a heroic effort cleaning the workshop platform. The timber framed workshop was dismantled many years ago and all that currently remains is the concrete base on which it stood. There was a significant amount of chalk rubble on the workshop platform, which had slumped from the valley side and all of this needed to be removed.

Workshop platform before we started cleaning it up

Workshop platform after cleaning

Amongst the chalk rubble, we found fragments of roof material, guttering and various fixings, from the structure. Olly claimed the best find, however, with one of the original metal shuttered window frames.

One of the original metal shuttered window frames.

This rounds up all the work to take place to date and at this point, I need to thank the small but dedicated team who have made the project a success:

Bill, Diccon, Justin, Matthew, Olly, Steve, Steven, Robin and Roger.

If you have any annecdotes relating to the range or want to ask any questions about the work we are doing, please do get in touch with Justin at:


Steve, Robin, Olly, Diccon and Bill enjoy a cup of tea in the target store. The weather was occasionally so bad we adopted the ‘This is survival’ motto, graffitied onto the wall behind.

Rifle Range post 4

Rifle Range post 2

Since 2017 the Rifle Range Volunteers have been focusing our efforts in the markers’ gallery (the long roofed area where the metal target frames are situated). Out of the eight target frames on site, frame 1 seemed to be the best preserved and we decided to concentrate our efforts on restoring this one to working order.

Frame 1 after raising the ‘carriages’.

Steve came up with a plan to remove the carriages and the pulley wheel system of target frame 1, which we achieved with minimal intervention and lots of elbow grease. They were then taken off site to be blasted and painted.

Pulley wheels and carriages after removal

The metal frames are taken out of the valley

The carriages loaded on the roof rack, on the way to the sand blaster

Once cleaned up it was evident that there was some serious rust damage to one of the carriages and a small amount of repair work was required. This was accomplished with the use of Steve’s garage and tool kit.

The repaired carriage

All the wheels within the roller mechanisms were removed, cleaned and greased and the remaining elements of frame 1 were de-rusted in situ (on site) with power tools.

Steve removing rust with power tools

Bill and Justin, removing rust (photo: Robin)

All bare metal of frame 1 was coated with red oxide and given a top coat of a military green.  Everything was set for the reassembly of target frame 1.

See our next Blog for more!

Rifle Range post 1

In November 2017, when the restoration of the Rifle Range began, we focused our efforts in the markers’ gallery (the long roofed area where the metal target frames are situated):

Plan of the markers’ gallery showing the main working areas

The first job was to tidy up the rubbish, resulting in six rubble sacks of glass, cans, food packaging and much more. Rubbish is a big problem up here and we are only the latest in a long line of people who have volunteered to clean it up.

The markers’ gallery contains eight metal target frames all of which are placed in brick and concrete pits. These pits had filled up with many year’s worth of organic debris, not to mention large amounts of rubbish and metalwork – cleaning these was our second challenge.

Markers’ gallery before we started work, with the target frames and pits on the left

Diccon, Roger and Bill cleaning the target pits

The largest objects removed from the pits were the two Oxford Allen autosythes (grass cutters) which were dumped here when the range closed. These were so heavy that five of us were required to heave each one out.

Olly, Diccon, Robin and Steve and the second Oxford Allen autosythe

Once the pits had been emptied it was clear that all of the target frames were essentially complete, each of them with their two ‘carriages’ resting on the base of the pits. When in use, the carriages were connected to one another by a cable, running over the top of a pulley wheel. Placed in these carriages would have been two canvas covered, wooden targets, one in the front and one in the rear so that when one carriage was raised (and its target visible for shooting at) the other would be simultaneously lowered, for repair.

Out of the eight frames on site, frame 1 seemed to be the best preserved and we decided to concentrate our efforts on restoring this one to working order. More on our next Blog . . .

Bird watching

Songs of the Dawn

Despite some very inclement weather our ‘Songs of the Dawn’ dawn chorus walks have been remarkably successful this year. Nightingale has been in full voice, and Cetti’s Warbler was also heard. It is thought there are two of each species singing presently on the Rifle Range. On the 29th April, we were treated to the song of a Wood Warbler, a first ever record for the Steyning Downland Scheme, although it hasn’t been heard since and was probably on its way to the woods of western Britain. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing last Sunday (14th May), and other birds to be heard include Chiffchaff, Whitethroat and Yellowhammer.

The final Songs of the Dawn Walk for this season (a longer version of our walk, this time without breakfast) takes place on Friday 2 June.  For more details and to book, please follow this link.

Photo of volunteers at tea break

SDS Conservation Volunteers


Vols clearing 1

The Conservation Volunteers have been busy clearing the footpath from Mill Lane Allotments up to Steyning Coombe.  We have also been carrying out maintenance on the fencing in Steyning Coombe to make sure that our heard of Dexter cattle don’t go exploring the Downs.  Our next session is on Saturday 16th July when we will be helping with the Big Seed Shake – meet on the Rifle Range at 10am.  There will also be some other jobs to do around the site in the afternoon.

Contact me if you would like further information or to join our group.   The group will meet again on Wednesday 3rd August.

Sarah Quantrill sdsvolunteers@gmail.com



Welcome to the Conservation Volunteers!

This is just a quick, introductory blog to ‘say hello’ from the Conservation Volunteers. Our next meeting is next Saturday, 19th March which will be in the Secret Garden over at Pepperscoombe. We’ll meet on Newham Lane at 10am where the 30mph sign is so that everyone can help carry up tools.  The job will be do the second rotational cutting – we did the first section last winter.  Looks like it will be a lovely sunny day!

30mph sign Newham Lane



Muddy path

Leaning Trees and Sloppy Mud

Hopefully we’re now reaching the tail end of another wet and windy winter, but its legacy has been a large number of precariously leaning trees in the Horseshoe Woods and elsewhere on the Steyning Downland Scheme. Some of the more precarious examples are leaning directly over footpaths!

We are working to clear these as soon as possible, but meanwhile please do take care when walking under trees, particularly in windy weather.

Next week, work begins to improve the gateways at either end of the Big Picnic Field. At the moment these are very muddy and apart from being a slippery challenge to walkers, the mud is also stopping our grazier from being able to move her conservation cattle onto the Rifle Range. We will be using chalk rubble to fill in the potholes and create a firmer, more even surface in these areas – the work should only take a couple of days to complete.

Looking forward to a sunny, warm spring!