Obscure Geographies #3: Seaforth Radar Tower

By December 18, 2019

Community. Liverpool.

Photo: Michael Sutton

I was hoping to see the Seaforth radar tower in the last rays of winter light, but I’m too late. It’s just gone 5pm and the sky is already black. From the promenade, the faint outline of the tower appears like a stubby black crucifix. There are a profusion of lights surrounding the tower; the row of cranes on the docks look like Christmas decorations with their twinkling red and white bulbs; the scattered streetlights of the Wirral shine on the perpendicular shore; a ship drifts by, its floodlights reflected in the low tide. But the radar tower is black, hardly discernible on the backdrop of the evening sky. It could easily go unnoticed, dwarfed by the massive wind turbines spinning behind it. In Don Quixote, the deranged title-character is convinced that the windmills he sees are ferocious giants. I wonder what Quixote would make of the radar tower.

I return the next day. The mysterious, almost menacing essence of the tower is shed by the daylight. It now seems forlorn in its decrepitude, standing alone on the fringe of the coastline. I approach the tower via what Google maps calls: Unnamed Road. The closer I get, the taller the structure becomes, rising above a rusty barbed wire fence. The gate is locked. The sign reads ‘No Unauthorised Persons’. The only way around is over the rocky breakwater at the end of the beach.

Lamenting my foolish choice of footwear, I climb onto the breakwater, tentatively stepping from rock to rock. Eventually, I reach the other side of the gate unscathed. The tower is still a few hundred yards away along a dilapidated path. There’s another locked gate in my way, but I spot a slight gap in the fence and slip through. Finally, I am face-to-face with the radar tower. The building does seem to have a kind of face, with its black window-eyes glaring down from fifty feet up in the air.

I climb a gravelly hill to get a better look at the tower. It is a bizarre architectural anomaly, brutal and alien. There’s no building quite like it. The top of the structure seems collapsed upon itself, an octagon atop a square held up by a thin base. The whole building seems like it could topple at any moment. The colourful graffiti sprayed around the base provides an extra layer of incongruity.

Photo: Michael Sutton

Beyond the tower, I see a scattering of statues, dozens of naked, cast iron figures spread along Crosby beach. This permanent installation, titled ‘Another Place’, was created by the artist Anthony Gormley in 2005. It is a significant statement on the inexorable power of time and nature, as with each lashing tide the statues become more and more eroded, rusted and barnacled, in a savage display of entropy in action.

The radar tower, too, seems lost to time, made redundant by the waves of technological advancement. Developments like satellite navigation have rendered the tower superfluous, so now its radar only spins when the wind blows. There were plans to demolish the ‘eyesore’ and replace it with a twelve-million-pound “Mersey Observatory” tourist attraction, but these plans were dropped due to a lack of funding following the Great Recession of 2008. If there is one upside to the recession, it’s that the radar tower still stands in all its abandoned, deteriorated glory. By some definitions of beauty, the tower could certainly be classed as an ‘eyesore’, but there are other, more obscure definitions of beauty which cannot be defined by standard aesthetics. For me, the radar tower is one of these beauties.

I walk back towards the beach, once more clambering over the rocks and reaching the other side of the gate. I spot an elderly gentleman smoking a cigarette, leaning his bicycle against the metal fence. I approach and introduce myself. Pointing towards the structure, I ask, ‘So what do you think of this tower?’
‘It’s an ugly old thing, isn’t it?’, he says, smirking, ‘I cycle this way every day since I’ve been on my own. It’s become like a landmark in my day, so I do quite like it. They could do with sprucing it up a bit though.’

I suppose I’m not the only one who has a strange affection for the building. I used to visit the tower often as a teenager. The gate was always open then. The desolate scene made a great spot for wallowing in adolescent angst. I haven’t visited the site in a long time, but the place still has the same enigmatic quality. Apparently, plans to replace the building have recently resurfaced. Hopefully there’s another financial crash before they get around to knocking it down.