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Posted on Oct 30, 2005 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Palmerston Forts – Part 1 – Fort Brockhurst

A J Summersgill

THE VICTORIAN DEFENCES OF PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND

PART ONE – FORT BROCKHURST

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In 1859, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, The Right Honourable Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston put in place the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom following some serious concerns that the coastal defences of Britain were inadequate to protect the country against several great improvements in gunnery and the introduction of warships with steam propulsion. The development of rifled artillery pieces in particular gave cause for concern, and Palmerston’s concerns were that the French, under the leadership of Napoleon III, might invade if they were able to defeat or lure away the mighty ships of the Royal Navy defending the shores. Readers of my previous article for ACG on HMS Warrior 1860 will recall some of the many military developments of the era.

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Following the recommendations of the Commission, which issued its report in 1860, Palmerston ordered a massive wave of construction which soon commenced around the sensitive areas of Britain’s coastline, in particular the great dockyards and harbours at Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham, Portland Harbour, Milford Haven and others.

After some twenty years of construction and the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 (which effectively removed any threat), it became apparent that there had either never been any real plans on the part of France to invade at all, or that the mere presence of the mighty fortifications that had sprung up were enough to deter any such thoughts. Lord Palmerston himself had died in office in 1865 and never lived to see the completion of the works, but to this day, Palmerston’s Forts are also known collectively as Palmerston’s Follies.

The city of Portsmouth, home to the Royal Navy, became particularly well-defended during this period of British history. In addition to Forts and defences constructed around the city itself, the town of Gosport just across Portsmouth Harbour became host to no less than eight additional Forts. To add weight to the defences, even more Forts were constructed on the top of Portsdown Hill overlooking both towns. With commanding views over the city and the harbour, and overlapping fields of fire, the hill forts were intended to defend the area against an inland invasion from the north.

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Atop Palmerston Hill, Fort Widley and Fort Nelson (both featured in future articles in this series)

cover the northern approach to Portsmouth.

But it didn’t stop there, the Isle of Wight, guarding the approach to Portsmouth Harbour and the Solent also received its own share of defensive constructions, and as if this were not enough, three Forts were constructed in the sea itself to cover the Harbour entrance.

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Horse Sand Fort and No Mans Land Fort in the Solent

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Two close-up views of Horse Sand Fort and Spitbank Fort

As the map below amply demonstrates, Portsmouth was now effectively defended by a massive ring of brick and steel.

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Map courtesy of David Moore and the Palmerston Forts Society

This series of articles here at Armchair General will investigate some of the features of these fortifications, and will hopefully provide an insight into the technology of the era.

In this opening article, I will take a look at the architecture of one of the Forts in the town of Gosport, Fort Brockhurst. All pictures in this article were taken using a Sony DSC-H1 at 5.0 Megapixels, since resized for this piece. Click on the thumbnails for larger images.

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