Fort Charles and Fort James
The town of Gosport was fortified as far back as the reign of Charles II when two blockhouses were designed by Sir Bernard de Gomme and were constructed to defend the Gosport side of Portsmouth harbour. Building commenced in 1678 at the same time that the first Gosport Town defences were being constructed. Fort Charles [SZ 69 NW 20], was built on the mainland at Gosport Hard where the Old Camper and Nicholsons yacht building yard stood until recent years and behind the Castle Tavern public House. The fort was a square blockhouse with a triangular bastion in the eastern face. It sat on a platform with an outer defensive wall approximately 150ft across. A similar fort, Fort James [SU 60 SW 15] (or Barrough Castle or Burrough Fort), stood on Burrow Island (Borough Island or recently Rat Island ) with access via a spit of land from Hardway (Priddy’s hard). It had a square tower 46ft across and 19ft high. Guns were mounted on the tops and sentry boxes were constructed on the corners. The blockhouse sat on a defensive platform 110ft square, surrounded by a parapet. The north and south sides were defended by a dry ditch. There is a legend that the fort was on the site of a Norman Castle. A letter of 1847 says that ‘the ruins of Borough Castle, traditionally ascribed to King Stephen and now used as a burial place for convicts‘. An earlier letter on 1828 says that ‘the walls of the castle have lately been taken down‘. By 1707 it was overgrown and it was described as being in a poor state. Its guns were recovered in 1742. It became obsolete when the Gosport Lines were extended to enclose Priddy’s Hard. It was demolished in 1827.
“The lande at the west pointe of Portesmuth Haven is sandynesse and sone brekitt of ygoing plane to the open se. There is a round tourre with orrdinaunce at the west point of the mouth of
Portesmuth Havan ; and a little way uppe to the haven is a greate creke, goying by west up into the lande a mile, called OstrepoleLake. Scant a quarter of a mile above this is Gosport village.’ 1720.
Except the Fort at the mouth of the harbour, and a small outwork before the main street of the town, Gosport is only defended by a mud wall which surrounds it, and a trench, or dry ditch, of about ten feet depth and breadth. “Franklin.”
The fort mentioned by Franklin (above) was erected in the reign of Charles the Second, and denominated Charles Fort, being a square tower and bastion, mounted with cannon ; It is now in ruins on the Beach, hidden from casual observance by a house called the Castle tavern. A second Fort, has been vulgarly ascribed to the reign of Stephen, but which was erected at the same time, and was of the same square character, and termed James’s Fort, (though commonly called Borough Castle,) till the last year stood on a small island in the harbour : It has been partly demolished for the materials : It was used for many years as a place of interment for convicts ; and the island known by the name of “Rat Island.” The principle defences of the coast are, however, the fortifications, called the Block-house Fort, at the mouth of the haven ; and Monckton Fort, near Stoke’s Bay. The former is mounted with a range of ordnance of large calibre, and commands the entrance channel of the harbour. ‘Slight’ History of Portsmouth 1835.
The De Gomme Defences
At the same time that Fort James and Fort Charles were under construction Sir Bernard de Gomme was tasked by Charles II with constructing a series of bastions and double ditches to encircle the town of Gosport known as the Gosport Lines. This corresponded to a similar undertaking on the Portsmouth side of the Harbour. The lines consisted of a rampart 10-11 ft. high without a parapet and a moat, partly wet and partly dry, 30 ft. wide and 11 ft. deep. When Charles II visited in September 1683 the lines were not complete and it is though they never were. The king said he was ‘mightily pleased with all that is done, both there and everywhere‘. He declared it a ‘pity it should not be finished’. The work continued after the death of De Gomme in 1685 and Charles II. In 1726 the Lines were described as a ‘mud wall and a trench, or dry ditch, of about ten feet depth and breadth’.
The Georgian Reconstruction
Gosport Lines 1775: Various preliminary designs for the Gosport Lines were prepared but not carried out, including one by De Gomme. Above: A coloured plan of Gosport with the new Fortifications begun in 1748 showing the works to be completed by John Peter Desmaretz. Desmaretz was Clerk to the Fortifications and Architect to the Ordnance Board as well as Master Draughtsman. He took service with the Duke of Marlborough in 1709 and his career continued over sixty years. A large part of his career was spend as overseer (1748) and commanding engineer twenty years later.
By 1730 the outer ditch on the Portsmouth defences was filled because of the number of men required to defend it. It was probably also done on the Gosport side by this time. In 1748 the rebuilding of the Lines began and was to continue for half a century. Between 1751 and 1752 all but the southernmost curtain had been rebuilt and enlarged and the construction of a covered way and glacis beyond was envisaged. In 1757 a covered way and a glacis were added on the southwest section. From Centre Bastion to Forton lake a new section of rampart was constructed. The Lines were extended to encircle Priddy’s Hard in order to prevent an enemy using that land as a means to bombard the town and harbour. In 1770 the gunpowder store was moved to a new magazine at Priddy’s Hard within the new rampart following an explosion in the magazine at Portsmouth. The moat with covered way and glacis was added to the section of the Lines along Weevil Lane after the French invasion threat of 1779. The Priddy’s Hard section was also given its moat. The final phase of new construction was completed when the section from Canoe Lake to Haslar Creek was added between 1797 and 1802. This section of land came under the ownership of the Bishop of Winchester and legal challenges delayed this section. This corner bastion (No.1 Bastion) mounted 14 guns in brick lined emplacements firing over the parapet. Expense magazines were built into the earth of the rampart behind the terreplein. A caponier to protect the sluice connecting the moat to Portsmouth Harbour was added; a portion of it still remains today. Behind this caponier a section of the rampart and wall was used as a school of musketry.
Close to Forton Lake at the northern end of the Gosport Lines stood Clarence battery, constructed between 1790 and 1797. This was incorporated into the Gosport Lines and upgraded to take more modern armament. The battery has been demolished but its brick loopholed wall still remains today inside the yard of Gosport Cruising Club.
Arming the Lines
An armament return of 1716-1748 lists the guns on the Gosport Line:
21 x 18pr smooth guns and 8 x 9pr guns.
In 1805 it was
19 x 24pr guns and 36 x 18pr guns.
In 1806 a list of armaments furnished by district states that Goport had 86 artillery pieces whilst portsmouth had 225.
In 1860 the list shows:
Gosport Lines: 21 x 24pr 50cwt and 20 x 24pr 20cwt with 17 x 8-inch howitzers. Total 58 guns
Priddy’s Hard: 2 x 24pr 50cwt and 4 x 24pr 20cwt with 4 x 8-inch howitzers. Total 10 guns.
In 1876 none are listed.
The Royal Commission Defences
The 1859 Royal Commission on the Defences of the United Kingdom proposed the completion of a line of forts to protect the outer approach to Gosport town by filling in the gap between Fort Gomer in the south and Fort Elson in the north. This meant the end of the purposeful use of the old Gosport Ramparts.
In 1882 it was proposed to demolish them entirely and to sell the land in order to pay for the construction of the new forts proposed. However the military engineers saw that this would allow the town to expand outwards and so they then decided the Gosport lines should be retained.
The end of the Lines
The railway to Gosport, promoted in 1836 as part of the plan to connect Portsmouth to London, terminated at Spring Garden Lane, where Gosport Station is still to be found, now converted to housing. The station was outside the Gosport Lines when it opened in 1841 because of the unwillingness of the Military to allow the railway line to penetrate the walls of the ramparts. The Board of Ordnance controlled the height of the station so that the guns on the ramparts had a good field of fire. A short while later in September 1845 a new station was opened inside the ramparts accessed via a short branch (600 yards) from Gosport Station that ran over the moat of the Gosport Lines and through a tunnel under the ramparts. The new station was for the exclusive use of Queen Victoria when she travelled to and from her home of the Isle of Wight but the line was also used to serve Clarence Yard and its many Admiralty warehouses.
By 1890 Stoke Road had been extended through the ramparts south of the central town gate (in Ordnance Road) to join up with the High Street. In the early 1900s the northern main gate at Forton Road and the Haslar gate into Gosport Town were widened which resulted in sections of the rampart being removed and the corresponding sections of moat filled to allow better access.
The Gosport Lines remained, slowly decaying until portions were sold off by the Military and purchased by Gosport Borough Council. The section of ramparts to the west and south of Gosport New Barracks (Later St. George Barracks) was demolished in the late 1920s and the moat filled. More sections were demolished by 1960. A portion was used for Gosport open air swimming baths until this too was filled and a car park constructed on the site. The section of the Gosport Lines known as No.1 (or Trinity) Bastion remained. It was luckily the property of the Bishop of Winchester which has ensured that it is protected as an Ancient Monument today and is the only section of the ramparts that is still in good order. Another section of the Lines and moat still exists north of Forton Road/Mumby Road where the Spring Gardens formerly stood. This section survived because it acted as a protection and emergency water supply to the Naval Oil Storage deport that was constructed there in 1910. The rampart of this section has been flattened in places but the sally port and some of the expense magazines have survived. At Priddy’s Hard most of the rampart survives but the ditch has been filled.
The section of ramparts to the north of St George Barracks currently falls within the security fence of the Naval Oil Fuel Depot. It has been much altered when a road was constructed along its length but the moat and some of the expense magazine have survived, together with some of the gun pivots. The parapets have mostly been destroyed.
A large circular brick and concrete pit is located on the southern flank of Bastion No.3. It appears to be a post 1919 rainwater catchment or water reservoir.
The Grand Magazine that was located at No.4 Bastion has been completely demolished. Work for this was put out to tender in April 1858 where it was described:
The sally port to the south of it is still there, although it appears to have been filled in. A later circa World War One machine Gun Range has survived between the moat and the curtain between Bastions 3 and 4.
Scheduled Ancient Monument
Fortifications south of Trinity Church (Bastion No. 1)
The scheduled defences, such as Bastion No.1 and those west of
Clarence Yard, are also now highly valued green and tree-lined amenity spaces.
The moat of Bastion No 1. is designated as a SINC Site of Importance for Nature Conservation
There is a good population of the rare Haminoea navicula: Gammarus insensibilis and Corophium insidiosum are also common. The site has therefore become one of high conservation value.
The Earlier Fortifications of Gosport Godfrey Williams 1974
The Western Defences of Portsmouth Harbour 1400-1800 Godfrey Williams Portsmouth Papers No.30 1979
Maps and plans of Gosport and Portsmouth in the archive of the Webmaster.