The Secret Tunnels of South Heighton

Denton House aka Guinness Trust Holiday Home.  Before & After 2000.

Northern aspects of Denton House (aka the Guinness Trust Holiday Home) in 1992 and 2001.


Southern aspects of Denton House (aka Guinness Trust Holiday Home) before and after conversion. Mar 96/Apr 97.

The Guinness Trust Holiday Home was built by the Ringmer Building Works in 1938. An architecturally pleasant building, it stood majestically on Heighton Hill looking down over virgin hillside to lush green meadows in the valley of the river Ouse with views of Seaford Bay and the English Channel beyond. It was built to provide holiday accommodation for city-bound tenants of the London Guinness Trust Estates. However, under the sterner title of HMS Forward, the Holiday Home became a Royal Naval Headquarters with responsibility for all the RN establishments in Sussex. In Naval parlance it was a 'concrete frigate' and naval terminology applied throughout. The toilets became 'heads', and the motor transport that ferried the 'crew' on and off duty were known as 'liberty boats'; to miss one or be late for duty was a punishable offence of 'being adrift'.

Little is known of the first floor layout, save to say that what was the resident caretaker's accommodation became the RN commanders quarters. The GTHH was originally home to the Ambulance drivers of the FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) who, from the declaration of war in September 1939 to June 1940, were transporting our repatriated war-wounded casualties from the harbour to local hospitals. However, with the Nazi occupation of France, the Army wanted the Sheffield Hotel, Newhaven, currently being used by the Royal Navy as an officers' wardroom, so the Royal Navy sought quarters elsewhere. The occupation of France by the Nazis removed the need for the repatriation ambulance service, so the Navy moved into the GTHH that was to prove ideal in most respects but lacked the secure communications accommodation required by the Admiralty when Their Lordships directed that a chain of Naval Plots be set up at nominated ports along the South Coast some nine months later in March 1941. See the Groundsman's Store.

Lt. Ernie (Chad) Chadwick RN in Room 5 (The Plot) in 1942, and again in 1993 recalling the view of yesteryear. Chad had served here during the war and also remembered just where to look for the former entrance to the tunnel in Room 16.

Post-war development has done nothing to improve the outlook from this viewpoint. The houses in the foreground and the factory estate beyond on the valley floor now replace the once continuous expanse of lush green pastures from here to Seaford Bay.

Denton House main entrance with enlargements of the stained glass windows either side. The room to the left of the main door was the Signals Despatch Office during the Naval occupation of the building. This is where message tube from the Signals Distribution Office in the tunnel terminated, and where the WRNS Despatch Riders would collect or deliver their consignments for or from the Command's outstations throughout the county.

The commemorative plaque above the Denton House fireplace. Seen by many; understood by few.

The tradesmen's entrance leading into the kitchen by which means the Wrens and other crew entered the building to reach the tunnel to avoid passing through the Officers' Wardroom.


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All illustrations and text on this site are 1941-2021 Geoffrey Ellis, or The Friends of HMS Forward, or Nick Catford.