Restoration

Bransfield House. Photo R.Atkinson

Under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, Britain has declared six abandoned bases on the Antarctic Peninsula, as Historic Monuments. These are Damoy, Detaille Island, Horseshoe Island, Port Lockroy, Stonington Island, and Wordie House.

Of these, Port Lockroy, situated on Goudier Island has been fully restored to its 1962 condition when it was closed. See a map of the Antarctic Peninsula.

 

History

Branfield House and Nissen Hut in 1959

During the Second World War, the British Government dispatched a secret mission, code-named Operation Tabarin to establish bases on the Antarctic Peninsula. ‘Base A’, Port Lockroy, was built on Goudier Island in February 1944. The eight man wintering team was led by Lt. Commander James Marr, who, as a young Boy Scout, first visited Antarctica, under the leadership of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Its main base building, Bransfield House, was the first permanent British government building on the Peninsula and much modified over the years. A boathouse was built in 1956 and a generator building erected in 1958.

After the war the base was transferred to the Falkland Island Dependencies Survey (FIDS). The base's research activities included surveying, geology, meteorology, botany and ionospherics, the latter particularly important during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58. But the base closed in January 1962 when science was re-located to other sites on the Antarctic Peninsula, and it subsequently fell into disrepair.

 

Pre-restoration

Bransfield House pre-restoration. Photo: British Antarctic Survey

Following a conservation survey in 1994, Port Lockroy was recognised for its historical importance and designated as Historic Site and Monument No. 61 under the Antarctic Treaty. In 1996, with financial assistance from the British Antarctic Territory Government, the base was restored to its 1962 condition when it had closed. It was the first Historic Monument on the Peninsula to be given such treatment. Since then the ‘living museum’ has opened to visitors during the Antarctic summer and for the first ten years was operated by the British Antarctic Survey.

The staff act as wardens and their primary task is to support the visitors. They operate a gift shop and post office. The covers with franked Antarctic stamps are prized worldwide. Proceeds from this shop fund the upkeep of the base and other sites on the Peninsula.

JELD-WEN, one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of doors, windows and stairs has recently marked the 60th anniversary of it supplying the first timber huts to the Antarctic by assisting the Trust with replacement for damaged timber windows for Bransfield House, the main hut at Port Lockroy. This was only the first stage in an on-going plan to renovate this and other buildings on the Peninsula. JELD-WEN’s relationship with the Antarctic started well over 60 years ago when Boulton & Paul, the company JELD-WEN bought in 1999, supplied the actual timber huts to be sent to Port Lockroy. JELD-WEN’s timber component factory in Lowestoft has now produced and donated the single glazed timber windows to the exact design of the original windows to match those supplied to the building 50 years ago. The have in addition given the windows and doors for the reconstructed Nissen hut.

 

Accommodation

 Re-constructed Nissen Hut (staff accommodation) with Bransfield House

Since the base was restored in 1996, the staff had been living in Bransfield house in the bunkroom (cooking, washing, sleeping). The rest of the base is given over to the museum. But unlike in the 1950s when the base had three working generators and an Esse stove, they no longer have any of this. Living in a historic site is far from ideal for many reasons. Therefore the Trust undertook to provide suitable accommodation for staff so they could continue to maintain the historic site of Port Lockroy and improve the visitor experience by fulfilling the potential of the 'living museum' by releasing the bunkroom. In order to get to this stage, early in 2008, the Trust carried out a consultation exercise in order to move forward on this issue. You can view the consultation document here. The conclusion was to rebuild the original ruined Nissen Hut. An Initial Environmental Evaluation (IEE) was carried out and submitted to the Polar Regions Unit of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in June. You can view the IEE here (big document so fast computer needed). The Nissen hut was rebuilt in 2010 with staff moving out of Bransfield House during the 2010/11 season. This also allowed for the bunkroom space in Bransfield house to be utilised as museum space.