Projects: Saving the PLUTO Pavilion

Help save history… right here in the Bay! It’s all hands on deck to save the PLUTO Pavilion – all contributions welcome… just follow this link:


Arc are based in the historic Brown’s complex in Yaverland, Sandown Bay. We are partners in the Bay Coastal Community Team here and so part of our work, along with and underpinned by the principles that govern our environmental consultancy, is directed towards helping with the reinvigoration of this fantastic area… read all about just exactly why it’s so fantastic here:

Earlier this year and last, we and our partners carried out the Shaping The Bay public consultations, talking to around 4000 people about their aspirations for the Bay. As a result of this, almost 30 small and large projects to reignite the public realm were identified. The Common Space, a new not-for-profit organization, has been set up to search out support, raise funds and get all this moving. Already work has begun on restoring public realm and assets, developing research and funding links with universities, and creating new events in the Bay’s calendar and over £100,000 has been brought into The Bay by the CCT. One of the first and most urgent things on the to-do list is saving a small but powerful bit of national history (right here in Yaverland!) and this is where we need your help!  Like many people working to revitalise the Bay, Arc are mainly volunteering on this and other Bay projects, whether that be in work time, spare time or weekends, but we do need to raise funds for materials and to pay the amazing team who are working with us.

The PLUTO Pavilion…

If you turn your back to the sea and look across the immaculate lawns and wildflower circles of Brown’s Golf Course in Sandown Bay, you can see the greying walls of an old pavilion…and a symbol of a world-changing moment in history!  This quiet, elm-clad golf pavilion at the back of the busy Brown’s Golf Course was once the powerhouse for the PLUTO operation, the war-time endeavour described by Churchill as ‘a remarkable feat of engineering, pursued with tenacity and crowned with complete success’.  It was built in 1932 at Browns Golf Course, designed along with the course itself by the famous golfer Henry Cotton. In 1943, the pavilion was requisitioned by the War Office and it began to play a part in the extraordinary top secret Operation PLUTO!

The PLUTO project was one of the most extraordinary stories of ingenuity, determination and sheer engineering bravado of the Second World War! The Pipeline Under The Ocean was built to deliver fuel to support Allied vehicles during the D-Day landings. The huge secret pipeline crossed England from Liverpool and then the Island from the Solent to Shanklin and Sandown and on, under the Channel, to Cherbourg. Here at Yaverland, the PLUTO project though disguised, would have completely dominated the shore and the beach, and yet, despite such presence, it is almost all gone today. All that is except for the little wooden pavilion tucked away at the bottom of the golf course. This was the PLUTO power station, the generators that powered the pumps, disguised within the groundsman’s shed it was before, and after the war… and it is almost exactly as it was 65 years ago!!

Earlier this year, The Bay CCT were awarded Coastal Revival Funding thanks to the EWLP to support the first stage of the Pavilion’s conservation. Ian Boyd at Arc explains, ‘The Pavilion has deteriorated over time to a very precarious condition and without intervention won’t last much longer. The roof was ruined and full of holes, the walls too, and the pumps and generators, wartime objects and artefacts are slowly decaying. But there is still time to rescue it.! With our friends and collaborators, we have removed all of the smaller items and stored them safely for now; the big machines are now wrapped and protected and the building secured.’ With the help of Arc and Eccleston George, a team of architects and the brilliant support of the Isle of Wight Council’s Conservation Officer, restoration has been under way all summer. Dave Badman from Bay collective Eccleston George, who’s heading up the work on the ground, explains, ‘Amazingly, the PLUTO Pavilion remains almost exactly as it was 65 years ago. It’s as if everyone shut the door after work on a Friday in the ‘40s; everything is just as they left it, down to the rubber safety shoes left in front of the electricity board and a pot of valve grinding paste left alongside a melamine tea-cup.’

The level of expertise, vision and craftsmanship needed makes this an interesting but demanding project!  Dave calls the process ‘reverse engineering’, the challenge being to unpick and replicate exactly how things were done, even to reproducing some of the workmen’s bodge jobs! ‘If something was built off-square, we’re recording it and reproducing it!’ Another fascinating element is the small decorative elements of the building, details that are overlooked or perhaps thought unnecessary nowadays. The beautiful ‘4-hit’ nails holding the elm boards together are the perfect example of this. Dave is echoing this tradition, hand-making replacement nails in his own home forge, each head fashioned again with four ‘hits’. On the advice of architects Elmstone Design, the only modern intervention is the use of modern board, an additional construction technique which will make the Pavilion more stable.

All the work is being carried out by Bay-based or Island businesses and Sandown Bay suppliers Jewson and HSS have helped with discounts. Local interest has been phenomenal and the project has been supported with a talk at Brown’s by a historian Tim Wander which prompted a further wealth of anecdotes and additional information.

Access to nature or wildlife encounter is always close to our heart at Arc and so we were fascinated to discover that the Pavilion had become a bit of a haven for wildlife as it decayed. Wrens nested in the wiring and it was so damp that even diving beetles were moving in! It’s inspired us to look at a new angle for the future and so Arc are now busy planning a link with Age UK’s Men in Sheds project for next spring too….more on that later!

But in the meantime, as we said, we could do with your support!  A new Bay crowd-funding campaign coordinated by The Common Space, has been set up to help bring in the rest of the funds needed to bring the PLUTO Pavilion fully back to life. Ian continues, ‘Its survival is so remarkable and poignant, and its history so fragile, we must make sure it survives and tell its story. We’ve raised the money to repair the roof and make good the walls, but we need to find more to complete the authentic restoration. The whole building was about a year from collapse when we got the go-ahead and our mission is to restore it to exactly its original design (it’s a listed building so it has to be spot-on!). We are aiming to raise £5,000 to allow us to complete the preservation of the pavilion and its contents. We can then protect and preserve the contents in situ and begin the work to deliver public access and proper interpretation to this amazing little building!’

So as you can see, the Pavilion is still full of power. Along with the newly restored Golf Course and the buzzing Brown’s Cafe, the glorious beach and the Artecology experiments taking place, it’s drawing attention, life and interest to this corner of the Bay again. ITV Meridian have just been to visit and its story will be hitting the news for the first time since the PLUTO story was covered in a Pathe newsreel… and this time, you’ll be able to see it in full technicolour!

Please do make a donation if you can and spread the word…. here’s that link again!

And don’t forget… if you’d like to pop down for a site visit, Dave Badman is happy to let you have a sneak preview and will explain what it’s all about.

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