THE history of a volunteer army dubbed “great-grandad’s army” has been revealed by archaeologists probing the origins of rifle ranges in the Lake District fells.

Large, rusting, cast iron plates can be found at two sites on the slopes of Silver How, above Grasmere, two sites on Torver Common, near Coniston, and one near Wrynose Pass.

The origins of the structures have never been clear, or at least not until a group from the Lake District Archaeology Volunteer Network began looking into the subject.

Kevin Grice, who was one of those involved in the project, said a group of about seven from the network carried out their research between November and March.

The group looked at early Ordnance Survey maps showing military infrastructure, as well as walking the sites themselves.

They also used metal detectors which uncovered spent bullets of a type used by the British army in the 1860s and 1870s.

After looking into the history of the period, the group discovered it coincided with a time when the government had made a push to recruit Rifle Volunteer Corps across the country.

With much of the army overseas on garrison duty in the British Empire and the remainder engaged in the Crimean War, it was decided a home defence force needed to be raised in case of invasion.

“We came up with the idea of great-grandad’s army because it is a very similar idea to the Dad’s Army which is so familiar to people, but just back a couple of generations,” said Mr Grice.

A plea for volunteers saw more than 180,000 enlist, including two RVCs in Kendal and one each in Windermere, Ambleside and Grasmere, with a sub unit in Langdale.

RVCs had been established by 1860 in Keswick and Hawkshead.

The volunteers soldiers used the ranges for training.

The archaeology group surveyed and recorded 18 rifle ranges within the national park, many of them dating from the early 1860s and almost all of them pre-1900.

Some of them continued to be used in both world wars and, in one case, through to National Service days in the 1950s.

“We’ve written a report we are getting printed, which is now over 50 pages and we’ve gone back to the national park and we are thinking of applying to have two of the sites - at Blea Moss (near Wrynose Pass) and Silver How - scheduled as ancient monuments because there are very few of these things preserved,” said Mr Grice.

He said RVCs “petered out” as the threat of invasion to the mainland became less and remaining volunteer units were eventually subsumed into the Territorials when they were formed in 1907.

The full report on the project is available for £5 from the group by emailing