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Posted on Nov 8, 2005 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Palmerston Forts – Part 2 – Fort Widley

A J Summersgill

THE VICTORIAN DEFENCES OF PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND

PART TWO – FORT WIDLEY

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In part one of this series on the Palmerston Forts in and around the city of Portsmouth, Hampshire in England we took a look at Fort Brockhurst in Gosport. But before we venture inside one of these massive constructions in part three, we will examine in more detail some of the architectural features to be found in and on the exterior walls, and contemplate the many dangers that an attacking foe would have faced in assaulting such a structure.

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This time around we will take a look at one of the Forts overlooking the city from Portsdown Hill to the North of Portsmouth and Gosport, Fort Widley.

As you will see from the map below, Fort Widley sits directly to the North of Portsmouth itself, and is flanked on either side by Fort Purbrook to the East, and Fort Southwick to the West.

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Map courtesy of David Moore and the Palmerston Forts Society

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.

Time has not been kind to Fort Widley. Unlike Fort Brockhurst (covered in part one of this series), which at least has the benefit of English Heritage funding, Fort Widley has an air of neglect about it, although it does still appear to be in use by the Local Authority governing Portsmouth, as a depot for Council utility vehicles.

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The Forts on Portsdown Hill were constructed to prevent an inland invasion of Portsmouth from the North. Theorising that the massive city defences out to sea, not to mention the presence of the Royal Navy itself, were enough to scare away any attacker, there remained the danger that French forces might decide to land further up the coast and march cross-country to attack the city from its weaker side. Not many people seem to realise that the City of Portsmouth is actually on an island, the island of Portsea, albeit one only just separated from the mainland and with good road links to the mainland. Portsdown Hill is therefore a steep chalk mass rising from "edge" of the mainland providing spectacular views over the entire city. Alas, things over the City were a little hazy at the time of my visit, and these pictures are not as good as they could be.

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Nevertheless, I hope you can see from these pictures here how strategically important the location of the five Forts on Portsdown Hill was for the City. From Fort Widley one can see the Royal Dockyard, Portsmouth Harbour itself and the modern City Centre.

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As you will hopefully see from this picture, it’s even possible to observe the Sea Forts in the Solent. This picture shows Horse Sand Fort, one of three such structures built out to sea. The network of defences around Portsmouth was extensive and interlinked; no one Fort was designed to operate alone, the entire ring was built as one.

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And here, from the other side of Widley, we can see views to the North-West, the North and the North-East respectively, deep into rural Hampshire. Portsdown Hill drops as sharply to the North as it rises in the South. Thus the Forts had unique lines of sight in all directions to cover the approaches. Indeed, as you’ll see in the first picture here, there is a modern RADAR station on the hill, part of Britain’s modern defence network and still a vital component in the defence of the Dockyard in this day and age.

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Here are views of two of the Portsdown Hill Forts from within the confines of Portsmouth itself. The picture on the left shows Fort Purbrook, the most Easterly of the Hill Forts, clearly visible on the top of the hill from some distance away. And in the second picture, from the grounds of a nearby Hospital, Fort Widley itself looks down on the City.

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[continued on next page]

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