Landguard Fort

The only deep water harbour between the Thames and the Humber lies at Harwich, where the rivers Stour and Orwell flow into the sea. The entrance to the harbour is between the town of Harwich on the one side and a split of land, known as Landguard Point, on the other side.

When Henry VIII'began his coastal defence programme of Device Forts in 1539, the port of Harwich was considered a strategic location that needed to be protected. Up to this point, the only fortifications were the town's medieval walls.

The Henrican plan for the defences of Harwich revolved around three key locations; the town of Harwich, Beacon Hill (to the south of the town) and Landguard Point. Landguard was the key to Harwich, because whoever controlled this point controlled the harbour entrance.

In 1543 after the king visited Harwich, three "bulwarks" were constructed on the west side of the harbour entrance and two on the east side. Any hostile ship attempting to enter the harbour would be caught in a crossfire between the various batteries. The plan on the right shows Sir Richard Lee's design for a fort at Landguard with a central tower.

It is interesting to note the similarities between this design and that of Southsea Castle, built in 1544. In the end however, Lee's plan was not carried out because the fortification of the south coast was considered more important. The "Langer Point Bulwark" eventually took the form of a hexagonal earthwork redoubt'mounting 4 or 5 guns.

The defences were constructed very quickly, but when the invasion threat passed they fell into disrepair and were abandoned in the 1550s. Although the bulwarks were repaired and garrisoned again in 1588 during the Armada crisis, they were subsequently neglected and Harwich was left practically defenceless again by the beginning of the 17th century.

Although the early 17th century was a period of relative peace in England, the Thirty Years War'raged in Europe and King James I's political manoeuvring was combined with concerns over coastal protection. Harwich could not be left without defences, because an enemy who captured the port would be able to land troops within striking distance of London.

In 1625 construction of a new fort on Languard Point was started, in conjunction with a new battery at Harwich. It was a square earthwork fort with 4 bastions'and a ditch. The fort was armed with 62 guns and could accommodate a garrison of several hundred men.

However it was not maintained and erosion took its toll on the ramparts, but it was still garrisoned and the Parliamentarians held it during the Civil War. In 1652 England entered into a series of naval wars with the Netherlands, placing Harwich on the front line. A dockyard grew up there in the 1650s, but Landguard Fort remained dilapidated.

During the Second Anglo-Dutch War England suffered a number of defeats and in early 1667 there were fears for the safety of the east coast. As a result Sir Bernard de Gomme'was sent to Harwich on an urgent mission to survey the defences and make improvements. Finding Landguard Fort in a much-decayed condition, he ordered work to be done to strengthen the fort as soon as possible.

The improvements ordered by de Gomme consisted of enlarging the bastions and restoring the slumped earthwork ramparts, as well as the construction of a false bray'at the foot of the rampart all the way round the fort. The ditch and the false bray were revetted in brick.

This activity was justified when in July 1667, after having burned the English fleet at Chatham, the Dutch landed a force of marines and attacked Landguard Fort in an attempt to sack Harwich and burn the ships in the harbour.

However, the recently strengthened fort and its garrison of 200 men was able to repell the assaults of the Dutch marines, who were forced to retreat. Landguard Fort had proved its worth by saving Harwich from certain disaster.

Despite this success, the fort was not maintained well and when the War of the Spanish Succession'broke out in 1701, the fort was no longer defensible. Considering the old fort not worth repairing, a new fort was constructed just to the south of the old one. The new Landguard Fort was compact in design, having a triangular seaward battery defended on the landward side by two demi-bastions.

The fort was surrounded by a dry ditch, which was covered by a caponnier'at the southern apex. The new fort was built between 1717 and 1720. Situated on the west side of the point, the majority of its guns faced over the harbour entrance rather than out to sea.

When the plans to improve the defences of Harwich were cancelled, Landguard fort was upgraded between 1730 and 1733. The barracks were enlarged to accommodate a larger garrison and heavier guns were installed in the main battery.

However, this incarnation of the fort was not to remain for long. In 1744 work began to incorperate it into a much larger pentagonal fort with five bastions. The engineer responsible for the design was Desmaretz, who also revamped the fortifications of Portsmouth. The two main faces of the fort of 1717 formed the west and south-west curtains of this new fort.

The new pentagonal fort was built between 1744 and 1750. It had a dry ditch and a strong covered way, but there were no demi-lunes. The existing barracks were enlarged and a new governor's residence was built on the north side of the parade ground.

In 1753 a new battery, called Beauclerk's Battery, was built on the covered way in the south-west, increasing the firepower facing across the harbour entrance.

In the late 18th century yet more fortifications were constructed at Landguard. In the 1780s the whole point was made into an entrenched camp, with earthwork lines, the King's Lines and Prince's Lines extending across the penninsular to the north of the fort.

Two earthwork batteries, North Redoubt and South Redoubt were constructed adjacent to the fort itself and Rainham Redoubt, which faced out to sea, was constructed on the site of the original 16th century redoubt. The aim of the camp was to provide a protected base from which a land force could operate.

Work on the entrenched camp was stopped in 1782 and the lines and redoubts were soon decayed and abandoned, the fate of all the earthwork fortifications to have stood on Landguard Point. The entrenched camp was moved to Beacon Hill in 1795.

The Napoleonic Wars saw major new fortifications constructed at Harwich but left Landguard relatively untouched apart from the replacement of the out of date guns in Beauclerk's Battery with new 42-pounders.

In 1863, in response to the development of new rifled artillery, a new battery of 14 guns was built at Shotley, on the west side of the harbour. It was not until the 1870s that Landguard Fort was modified to match the advances in artillery that took place in the 19th century.

The modifications were on a large scale, involving the demolition of the south-west and west curtains and the west bastion. This whole side of the fort was replaced by a curved face from Harwich Bastion to King's Bastion, fronted by a caponnier in place of the demolished bastion.

This new curved battery had an upper floor of 7 casemates, each containing a huge RML (rifled muzzle loading) gun. On the ground floor were the magazines, with hoists so that the shells could be lifted from the magazines directly to the guns above.

New gun emplacements were also added on the tops of the four remaining 18th century bastions, which were reinforced with concrete. The two southern bastions (Holland Bastion and King's Bastion) were each armed with a large RML gun, along with another on the curtain between them, and the two northern bastions (Chapel Bastion and Harwich Bastion) mounted smaller calibre RML guns in open emplacements.

In the rear of the curved battery was a mirrored curved range of officers' quarters and soldiers barracks. A parade ground was formed between the barrack buildings and the casemates. The new battery and barracks together formed an inner "keep" for the fort.

This was acheived by making the outer side of the barracks defensible and by making all the passages between the "keep" and the rest of the fort sealable. The idea was that if an enemy attacked the fort from the landward side and pentrated the 18th century walls, the defenders could retreat into the Victorian keep.

In such a situation, the garrison could hold off an enemy by closing the armoured doors into the keep and using the loopholes'to keep the attackers at bay. The fort's main battery could continue firing and the enemy would not have gained control of the harbour entrance.

Towards the end of the 1870s a mining establishment was set up at Landguard Fort to lay and control the minefields protecting Harwich. The last decade of the 19th century saw the construction of two new batteries outside the fort, the Left Battery to the north (1888) and the Right Battery to the south (1898), which were armed with new BL (breech loading) guns.

The improvements continued into the 20th century, with the arrival of two quick firing guns, installed on the west side of the fort in 1901. These were called Darell's Battery, named after the fort's captain during the Dutch attack in 1667.

Searchlights and control towers were also built for the new guns in the early 20th century and more guns were installed on the far side of the harbour mouth at Beacon Hill.

Landguard Fort was manned throughout the First World War and the Second World War, although the only action the fort saw was in its anti-aircraft role. After the war, the fort lost its significance and the coastal artillery was disbanded in 1956.

The fort remained in military hands until the 1960s, when it was abandoned until restoration began in the 1990s.

Visiting Landguard Fort

Today Landguard Fort is owned by English Heritage and is open to the public 7 days a week, except between November and March. The fort makes an interesting visit because its history spans so many eras, from Henry VIII to World War Two.

The fort that exists today consists of the pentagonal fort built in 1740s with the substantial Victorian modifications made in the 1870s. The restoration has focused on the 19th century era, which is evident throughout the fort. There is a an exhibition explaining the history of the fort with models of the various different fortifications that have existed on the site.

The fort itself is in good condition and visitors have access to almost every room, with informative signs and exhibitions throughout. The later batteries outside the fort however, cannot be visited. The fort is within easy walking distance of Felixstowe station.

It is also linked to Harwich and Shotley by a passenger ferry in the summer months, which departs from the beach next to the fort. Click here for ferry website

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