Uniting artists, archaeologists and the community to explore, survey, excavate, record and celebrate the rare practice trenches, now buried on North Walney National Nature Reserve,  where soldiers, cadets and airmen trained for  WW1 and WW2.

Top image: Fort Walney Turf Cake (detail), project launch, 2014

Fort Walney, Uncovered

Watch a short film documenting One for Sorrow, the final artwork installation made by Art Gene as part of Fort Walney, Uncovered. (Many thanks Colin Aldred, of Aerial Artwork!).

Read artist Stuart Bastik‘s account of the Fort Walney, Uncovered project – giving insight into the projects stages, complexity and creative processes which culminated in the artwork One For Sorrowhere.


Fort Walney, Uncovered – The Story of the Project

Image above: Lead archeologist George Nash addressing a school group at the project site.

The Fort Walney project was lovingly delivered and supported by a huge amount of people, most of whom live and work on Walney Island and nearby Barrow in Furness. Credit and thanks goes to all the volunteers, children, local people and interested passers by who contributed to this project.

Art Gene, 2017

Stage 1: The Archaeology Stage
(and the recruitment of volunteers)

The first phase of the project focused on getting as many people involved as possible. To officially launch the project and create a buzz around the ideas, a launch event on the 29th August was organised with food (and cake) and presentations in Art Gene.

With the promise of delicious vegetarian food, Art Gene ran two Design Cafes or Place Makers events to provide training to volunteers.

The volunteers subsequently took part in the walkover survey and helped plan for the dig weekend on the 19th – 23rd September 2014.

The dig weekend led by archeologist George Nash, aimed to excavate and understand a trench system, and what remained of the target mechanism workings and structures of the shooting range.

Image above: scenes from the dig: including detail from an army uniform (the army volunteered to help on the dig) and bagged up unearthed bullets.

Stage 2. The Technical Stage:
Preparation of Archaeological Reports and construction of the Smart Phone Application (the App).

The technical understanding of the site came out of several previously commissioned studies, in particular the North West Coast Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey published in May 2009.

In January 2013 BAE Systems had commissioned consultants SLR Consulting to undertake a Walkover Survey. This survey recommended several evaluation trenches over sections of the practice trenches to:

“assess the shape, size and depth of these enigmatic features.”

This prior work ensured the project had the appropriate baseline in which to build from.

As part of Fort Walney, UncoveredNash Survey and Environmental and Archaeological Landscape Investigation were commissioned to prepare a Desk Based Assessment and Walkover Survey. Crucially, this was to be ‘community-led,’ with professional members alongside volunteers undertaking research at various archives in Cumbria.

Individual stories of family members, and their postings after training on the site where particularly poignant as many went to fight in some of WWI’s most deadly campaigns.

The final report was published and submitted as part of the record for the site in February 2015.

The Smartphone Application: Fort Walney, Uncovered: The App

An important part of the legacy of the project was the design and implementation of a smart phone App. The App was designed by the project participants and consists of a guided walk on Walney Island with unscripted audio and video clips with local people.

The final form of the App was developed by Art Gene in collaboration with PAN Studio. To support its widest use, the App is part of a suite of Apps and now includes four other walks in the Morecombe Bay area, made in partnership with Morecambe Bay Partnership.

Click these links to download them for free:

Apple App Store
Google Play Store

Image above: Fort Walney 6” gun, pictured in 1957. Photo courtesy of Keith Wallwork

Stage 3. The Art Stage
Resident artists, wonderful exhibits, an exhibition and the lasting installations on site.

Core to Fort Walney, Uncovered, is the artistic expression of the ideas, memories, experiences and stories shared through the design process, the time on site and in the Art Gene studios.

Artist in Residence: Jeni McConnell

Jeni McConnell was the Artist in Residence on the project and worked with 70 children from local primary schools (Vickerstown Primary School and St Columbus Junior School) and volunteers on site to produce ‘work in response’.

This informed her personal response to the site, where she created a table runner made from British and German military uniforms stitched in the pattern of the castellated wartime trench features on North Walney. This work was included in the project exhibition, Stuff  (find out more below).

Find out more about Jeni’s residency with us here.

Image above: (left) Jeni McConnell working onsite and (right) volunteers, including primary school students, combing the area

“The artwork will supplement and complement the interpretation of the material which comes out of the ground”.

Dr. Nick Owen, MBE, at the Fort Walney, Uncovered launch, 2014

When Dr. Nick Owen said this at the launch of Fort Walney, Uncovered project back in 2014, no one, including Art Gene, knew how they would respond to the discoveries of the project or the shape the final artwork(s) would take – how could they? They hadn’t met the people, explored the site or engaged with the experts and partners who would give the project its form. However, as a regular partner, Nick was able to speak with absolute confidence that Art Gene would find remarkable solutions.

More generally, that night, the audience wanted to know how Art Gene could possibly address the needs and rigor of a serious archeological project creatively –  not only for any artworks produced, but indeed throughout the project whole.

The answer to this question can be found here on this page, in every project detail – and with hindsight it looks as if there could almost not have been other ways. However, there was indeed a lot of thought, research, working out and reactionary project development at every stage.

And with regards to combining creativity with the needs of an archeological project? Art Gene are in their element listening to the needs and requirements of the individuals and groups using a place: be it social, ecological, architectural (and in this case historical and archeological) enabling and adding to disparate voices until they, alongside the community involved, have created something completely unique.

Through projects dedicated to mapping the local area, charting its layers of environmental, natural, built and social elements, Art Gene are experts at turning backdrops into assets.


“An exhibition that considers the complexity of what makes a place, reflecting on its histories, the people and the shape it makes for its future”.

North West Evening Mail, 2016

At a point mid-way through the Fort Walney, Uncovered project, it was realised that the sheer volume of creative output being generated in response to the unfolding project warranted a gallery exhibition.

Stuff took place in the Art Gene Gallery the Nan Tait Centre from 29th October to 9th November 2016. It  included works from Hannah BrackstonJacob Cartwright, Nick Jordan (film makers on the App), PAN Studio (the developers of the App), Jeni McConnellCharlie MacKeithMaddi Nicholson and Stuart Bastik.

Find out more about Stuff here.

Image above: exhibition view of Stuff, 2016

One for Sorrow…

In the final stage of the project, Art Gene’s founders and directors Maddi Nicholson and Stuart Bastik, with Research Design [architecture]’s Charlie MacKeith, (and in consultation with Natural England) produced an artwork inspired by the historic mechanism from the Fort Walney gun range – which was on site until its unexpected and illegal removal in 2015.

One for Sorrow is a war memorial now installed on the site of the former practice trenches – part of which includes a working gate leading onto the North Walney Nature Reserve.

The artwork represents both the fragile nature of wildlife and the men who were so tragically lost in battle.

You can find out more about this artwork here.

Gallery images below: views of the installation One for Sorrow, by Art Gene, 2017

© Art Gene
Tel: +44 (0)1229 825085

Art Gene

Bath Street,


Cumbria, LA14 5TY England, UK

Donate here

Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions

Registered Charity: 1135536

Registered in England: 4359454

All images, artwork and text on this website are protected by copyright and may not be downloaded or otherwise reproduced or distributed without the permission of Art Gene. © Art Gene associates, artists and partners, 2022.