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See inside abandoned Essex fort which could soon be transformed into major tourist attraction

PUBLISHED: 14:19 20 February 2018 | UPDATED: 09:35 21 February 2018

Beacon Hill fort in Harwich from the air. Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIRE

Beacon Hill fort in Harwich from the air. Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIRE

Two friends have unveiled their vision for an abandoned fort they plan to transform into a major tourist attraction.

Live exhibitions, a military history centre and outdoor sports zone feature in a master plan being drawn up for the Beacon Hill Fort site in Harwich by Paul Valentine and Barry Sharp, who hope to turn into a visitor hotspot.

The Tudor fort, modified in 1889 and used to defend the port in both World Wars, has sat abandoned for the last 50 years.

Now the pair, an estate agent and retired car restorer, aim to open the five acre site up to the public – and are today outlining ambitious their plans for the project.

Mr Valentine said: “It’s been abandoned since the two World Wars, it’s not been open to the public and that’s what we want to do, make a piece of history accessible to everyone.

Paul Valentine and Barry Sharp at the decaying Tudor fort they have purchased - they plan to turn it into a tourist attraction. Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIREPaul Valentine and Barry Sharp at the decaying Tudor fort they have purchased - they plan to turn it into a tourist attraction. Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIRE

“It’s a bit of an odd story of how we bought it, I got back in touch with a girlfriend I had about 40 years or so ago on Facebook and popped around for a coffee.

“I mentioned the fort and she said actually her family owned it and it’s for sale.

“We’ve got a big master plan for the site now that we’ve already started working on.

He added: “We’re really excited about it because Barry and I’s main mission statement with the whole project is to bring more tourists to the area and also make the most of the history that is already there.

View of Beacon Hill fort captured by a drone. Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIREView of Beacon Hill fort captured by a drone. Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIRE

“We’ve got plans for live exhibitions with special effects, so people can experience what would have happened at the fort when guns were being fired.”

The pair also plan to create an outdoor sports zone with a zip wire, an educational wildlife centre for schools and are exploring the possibility of setting up a ‘fort tour’ with the owners of Landguard Fort in Felixstowe.

They aim to drum up funding from the National Lottery, Historic England and the Ministry of Defence’s fundraising arm over the next two years, and hope everything will be built by 2022.

Part of the site is owned by Tendring District Council, and the two friends are working with them and other organisations to get the ball rolling.

The fort, built in 1889, was originally constructed in response to German sea power. Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIREThe fort, built in 1889, was originally constructed in response to German sea power. Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIRE

Harwich town council chairman John Brown said: “I think something like this would be absolutely brilliant for Harwich. Restoring it could really boost tourism because it will bring more visitors and create more jobs.

“It will put Harwich on the map and give it the attention it deserves.”

“With the Mayflower also being done the next few years could be interesting for Harwich, certainly.

He added: “I hope it turns out like Eden Camp in Scarborough, if it’s anything like that it will be spectacular.

A view of the Port of Felixstowe from the site. Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIREA view of the Port of Felixstowe from the site. Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIRE

“I can’t praise this idea enough.”

Beacon Hill Fort: A history

The abandoned Beacon Hill fort, which sits at the end of a dirt track in Harwich, had its first fortification built during Henry VIII’s reign.

The fort as it appears now was constructed in 1889 to defend the port against the Germans throughout both world wars.

It is regarded by heritage trusts as being of national importance, and is protected by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

More than 20 buildings are dotted around the five acre site, most of which are from upgrades added to it during the First and Second World Wars.

The fort went into reduced status after 1945, and was abandoned after 1956.

The Port of Felixstowe can be seen from within the original fort itself.

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