The Victorian Fortifications of Gosport
In 1857 William Drummond Jervois, Assistant Inspector General of Fortifications, set about a comprehensive plan of surveying and redesigning the principal naval arsenal of Portsmouth. The existing fortifications, those under construction and new ones proposed were to be form an interlocking system of defence completely surrounding Portsmouth harbour. Portsmouth was soon to become a Ring Fortress.
Jervois submitted his proposals to the Inspector General of Fortifications (the Officer Commanding Royal Engineers) Sir John Fox Burgoyne in July 1857. He in turn submitted the plans with a few minor modifications to the War Office in December of that year. The report explained that the existing lines of fortifications at Portsmouth, Portsea Gosport and Priddy’s Hard were too close to the Dockyard, too small to be effective and had their fields of fire obscured by the outward growth of the urban area where an enemy could establish batteries and bombard the dockyard in perfect security. Apart from Forts Gomer and Elson on the Gosport side only the old Hilsea Lines north of Portsmouth were in an advanced position and these were of “weak trace and low profile”.
The two forts defending the western approaches to Gosport were to be supplemented with three additional forts between, each identical in trace, forts, Grange, Rowner and Brockhurst. The line of five forts was known as The Gosport Advanced Line.
In 1860 A Royal Commission set up to ‘consider the defences of the United Kingdom’ reported back to Parliament. The result was the building of a complex series of fortifications to defence Portsmouth and its dockyard.
At Gosport, as well as the five forts guarding the land approach to Portsmouth from the west, the Coast Defences were supplemented by a new fort at Gilkicker, a two gun battery at Browndown, and a defensive line of five batteries with ditch and rampart along the whole length of Stokes Bay. The fort at Blockhouse and the one at Monckton were too old to form part of the new defences but they were upgraded to guard the inner harbour approach. An outer line of three more forts was proposed further west from Gosport at Broome, Lee and in advance of Fareham. Due to the rising costs only Fort Fareham was completed.
On completion of the national programme of fortification Gosport was ringed by fortifications which have helped to shape the landscape as Gosport expanded in size. The land front forts were disarmed by 1906 but continued in service use by the Army and Navy. Coast Defence was abolished in the U.K. in1956 and all of the Sea facing batteries were disarmed and stood down.
The forts today
Fort Gomer was completely demolished in the 1960s and nothing of it remains.
Fort Elson inside the Naval depot at Frater is out of sight and completely inaccessible as continues to collapse under an English Heritage policy of ‘controlled ruination’.
Fort Brockhurst is under the control of English Heritage and can be visited with prior arrangement although there are plans to open it one one Saturday in each month.
Forts Rowner and Grange are both within Naval control as part of H.M.S. Sultan. Rowner is open on one day each year, Heritage Open Days, in September.
No.2 Battery at Stokes Bay is now the Diving Museum and can be visited weekends from Easter to September. The Stokes Bay Moat has been filled an only portions of No.5 Battery remain.
Fort Gilkicker is under conversion to modern luxury housing.
Browndown battery remains under Army control inside the Browndown Ranges
Fort Monckton is still in Army hands as their ‘No.1 Training Establishment’, with Home Office sections of it used in great secrecy by the SAS and SBS.
Fort Blockhouse is currently in Army use as the HQ for a Field Hospital section.
Fort Brockhurst and the Gomer Elson Forts: Solent Papers No.6 by David Moore
Other books in the Solent Papers series by David Moore
The plans and data sheets were produced by David Moore