Palmerston's Forts of Gosport and other defences.
I would like to start this page by saying a big thanks to David Moore and The Palmerston Forts Society. The Photographs of the forts and the source for the text are all used by kind permission from David. Without his help this page would not have been possible. For more detailed information on these forts and others please check out The Palmerston Forts Society website and David's Fort Gilkicker site. The crude, badly drawn map of Gosport's defences in 1860 is all my fault I'm afraid and has nothing to do with David or the Society of which I am sure they are quite pleased about.
The 17th Century rampart defences of Gosport were rebuilt in part in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries due to the threat of invasion from the French but, after a Royal Commission which reported in 1860 on the state of defences, Lord Palmerston (who served as Prime Minister from 1855 - 1858 & 1859 - 1865) decided due to the advancement in artillery technology that new defences had to be erected. Part of these defences stretched from the top of Portsdown hill down through to Gosport and into the Solent. There were five new forts built in Gosport between 1853 and 1863. Fort Brockhurst, Fort Rowner, and Fort Grange were the larger Polygonal forts whilst Fort Elson and Fort Gomer at each end of the Gosport defences were slightly smaller. The Portsdown forts, Spithead forts and Fort Fareham were also built at this time. A moat was constructed along Stokes bay protected by 5 batteries. There had been recorded defences in place at Fort Monckton since the 18th Century and at Fort Blockhouse since the 15th Century.
The construction of Fort Elson started in 1855 and was completed in 1860 at a cost of £ 61,000. It was designed to prevent attack from the Northern end of the Western approaches to Portsmouth harbour from land. It had barracks large enough to house 300 personnel and was built for an armament of 73 guns. The fort was disarmed in 1901 but was used to house torpedoes and depth charges during the 2nd world war. It is within the jurisdiction of the naval munitions depot of Frater but is derelict, in a bad state of repair and heavily overgrown. Its future is unclear.
This fort was started in 1858 and was finished in 1862 at a cost of £ 108,000. It could house 308 men and have 73 guns. The fort was in use by the army until 1957. English Heritage brought the site in 1984 and it has now been refurbished. The site is open on selected days and houses a museum. You can get details for open days on the English Heritage website.
This fort along with its sister forts, Grange and Brockhurst was designed by William Crossman. It was started in 1859 and finished in 1862 at a cost of £ 110,000. Again, this fort was designed to take around 300 men and 73 guns. It was used to prepare troops for the Boer war and was used by the RAF during the 2nd world war. The fort is housed within HMS Sultan but is now largely unused and slightly overgrown.
This fort was along the same design as Forts Brockhurst and Rowner and was built around the same time. The fort was part of an aerodrome early in the 20th Century and was used by the RFC (Royal Flying Corp, the predecessor of the RAF), the Royal Navy Air Service and then the RAF. The fort is now within HMS Sultan and in a good state of repair although the moat is now dry and looks in a better state now than in this photo.
Fort Gomer was constructed between 1853 and 1858. During the Victorian period it was used mainly for a barracks and a training establishment. This Fort was used for preparing troops for the Boer war and for the trenches of the First world war. The fort was used by the 7th Royal Tank Regiment in the 1950's but the Fort was eventually sold at auction in 1964 for £ 169,000. It was demolished by a Fareham firm to provide land for housing. There are no remains.
Stokes Bay Lines and Number 2 Battery
As part of the 1857 defence proposals by Major W.F.D. Jervois, the Assistant Inspector-General of Fortifications, a water filled ditch with a rampart was constructed by the Royal Engineers along the length of Stokes Bay. This was to link the Gomer to Elson line of Forts with the Monckton and Gilkicker Forts, closing off the Bay and completing the western defences of the Harbour. The moat was flanked by five batteries at various points. They were numbered from one to five, west to east. The River Alver was diverted into the moat to keep it supplied with water. This was under construction when the defence Committee met in 1860 and was approved by it. The Committee recognised that the Stokes Bay beach was a perfect place for a landing along its whole length. Jervois said in his report that the water was deep enough for ships to lie within 800 yards of the shore. It had already been noted by the British as early as 1773 that the beach and bay provided a fine shelving beach for troops to land under covering fire from their ships. Here they could form up before an attack was made on the surrounding high ground. Spanish intelligence reports of 1597 had noted this and the French invasion plans of 1768 and 1769 had confirmed this. Stokes Bay Lines No 2 Battery has a raised platform with two emplacements facing seawards. Enclosed casemates for three guns. (one embrasure missing) firing E.S.E. along former moat. Casemates for four guns with earth banks in front and open at rear, firing W.N.W. This battery never saw action but was used during the 2nd world war for barrage balloons and plane spotting. During the 60's the moats were filled in. 3 casemates have been restored and form a summer exhibition centre.
This fort was constructed between 1863 and 1871 and is a granite faced sea facing battery. It occupies the site of a former fort that was known as the Monckton Auxiliary Battery which was only constructed in1856 but the Royal Commission stated that the fort needed to be strengthened and upgraded. Instead it was deemed easier to construct a new fort and it name was changed. It was designed to protect the approaches to Portsmouth Harbour and along Stokes Bay. The front of the fort is granite faced with 26 gun ports but these were covered up with earth banks at the turn of the Twentieth Century.
Fort Monckton (Pre Palmerston's Forts)
This fort was originally built on the site of a former fort known as "the fort at Gilkicker" and was finished in 1789-90. During the Royal commission of 1860 it was considered out of date and received only a minor defensive role in the protection of Portsmouth harbour. It was used to house anti-aircraft searchlights during world war I and housed anti-aircraft guns during world war II. Almost all of the original fort exists and is currently being used by the Army. Access is very much denied.
Fort Blockhouse (Pre Palmerston's Forts)
There have been defences on this spit of land for Centuries and it is not impossible that the Romans may have had use for it's strategic position at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. It is known that in 1495 a new dock was built at Portsmouth and also 5 pieces of ordnance were mounted on "the King's Blokkehouse". Throughout the Centuries that followed, through the Age of the Tudors, The Stuarts, the Georgians and the Victorians, this fort has been demolished in part and rebuilt in part depending on the threat of war and it's perceived importance in the role of protecting Portsmouth harbour. There are parts still left from most eras going back as far as 1708 but the majority of the remains are from the rebuild of 1845-48. It was used during the late Victorian era for the Portsmouth submarine mining engineers but in 1904 the decision was made to phase out mining and bring in the submarine. The association with submarines stayed until 1998 when the remains of the submarine school were moved to HMS Raleigh.
Browndown Battery (Post Palmerston's Forts)
There were originally two Batteries built at Browndown in 1852, but due to the changing needs of the defence of Stokes Bay the East Battery was demolished and the West Battery rebuilt. These changes commenced in 1888 and were completed in 1889. Shortly after completion a small barracks room for Two officers and servants were built against the gorge wall. The soldiers to man the guns were housed at nearby Fort Gomer.
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This site was last updated 03-Jun-2007 © Britain'spast 2007