The Sound Mirror

Deal is a vibrant coastal settlement in south-east England, lying where the North Sea and the English Channel meet. A former fishing, mining and garrison town, Deal’s history is closely linked to the anchorage known as The Downs, an area of sea sheltered by the Goodwin Sands. To the south is Walmer, a possible location for Julius Caesar’s first arrival in Britain.

Bill Elliot, who lived close to Deal’s historic seafront, bequeathed £45,000 ‘to create a work of art that would enhance the beauty of the town’

In January 2023, Deal Town Council invited ideas for a ‘beautiful installation that would stand for generations to come’

From many ideas submitted, a proposal for a sound mirrror was chosen, designed by Deal artist Michael Bennett. (Visualised above and below)

The winning proposal is for the construction of a thought-provoking installation which will enhance public enjoyment of the seafront, provide historical insights into the town’s nautical and military past, detail its role in previous world conflicts, give delight to those with sensory impairment, and become a lasting memorial to the benefactor.

“ …If you listen carefully you may be able to hear the sound of shipwrecks on the sands”

Maritime background

Goodwin Sands is a 10-mile-long (16 km) sandbank at the southern end of the North Sea lying 6 miles (10 km) off the Deal coast in Kent, England.The banks lie between 0.5 m (1 ft 8 in) above the low water mark to around 3 m (10 ft) below low water, except for one channel that drops to around 20 m (66 ft) below. It extends up to about 7 miles offshore between North Foreland and South Foreland. The area surrounding the sands is littered with the wrecks of numerous vessels, including the South Goodwin Light vessel that foundered in 1954.

More than 2,000 ships are believed to have been wrecked upon the Goodwin Sands because they lie close to the major shipping lanes through the Straits of Dover. The few miles between the sands and the coast is a safe anchorage, known as The Downs, used as a refuge from foul weather. In the days of sail, vessels would wait for a favourable wind, many en route to London through the Thames Estuary. It was common to find four or five hundred ships waiting for a slight change in wind direction that would allow them to proceed. Deal later became a major naval port, at one time the busiest in England.

Notable shipwrecks include HMS Stirling Castle in 1703, VOC ship Rooswijk in 1740, the SS Montrose in 1914, and the South Goodwin Lightship, which broke free from its anchor moorings during a storm in 1954. Several naval battles have been fought nearby, including the Battles of the Goodwin Sands in 1602 and in 1652, and the Battle of Dover Strait in 1917.

Liz Payne/Goodwin Sands Conservation Trust

Why, yet it lives there uncheck’d that Antonio hath a ship of rich lading wrecked on the narrow seas; the Goodwins, I think they call the place; a very dangerous flat and fatal, where the carcasses of many a tall ship lie buried, as they say, if my gossip Report be an honest woman of her word.

Location

The Sound Mirror is sited next to the Royal Hotel, on Deal’s promenade, at the point where it is at its widest.

Inspiration

Artist Michael Bennett writes:

“My father was a member of RAF 80 Wing, stationed at Hope Point, Kingsdown, towards the end of World War Two, in 1944, aged 21.
He described operating radar devices in an open-ended Nissan hut on the clifftop. Their task was to monitor the launch of V2 rockets (an early weapon of mass destruction) at Cape Gris Nes, attempting to deflect them using signals from a group of 120-feet high masts.
He and his fellow servicemen watched and listened to activity on the other side of the Dover Straits from a requisitioned house at the highest point on The Leas.
Subject to frequent enemy shelling, it was a dangerous place to be. They were all young, chosen by the RAF for their speed of reaction (they had just 60 seconds to fine-tune transmissions to attempt to knock a V2 off course). 
‘The idea of creating a listening device facing out to sea was inspired by my late father’s recollections and stories.”

Leonard Bennett (above and below, front row, second from left) was in RAF 80 Wing, one of 100 men stationed in 1944 at Hope Point, Kingsdown, operating 20 powerful radio transmitters attempting to disrupt V-2 rockets launched from Cape Gris-Nez, France.

Sculpture for the Town of Deal

Completion: summer 2024