History of Spitbank Fort
The mid-Victorian forts, Spitbank, Horse Sand and No Man's Land Forts that were built on the Spithead shoals, have been given the nickname "Palmerston's Follies" because they were never used in the defence of Portsmouth. The historic background can provide reasons why these forts were considered essential.
Portsmouth, a strategic naval port, has been fortified since Henry VIII built Southsea Castle in 1544 to protect the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. The Tudor king was well aware that the naval dockyard of Portsmouth was exposed to attack from the French, a consideration that also concerned Prime Minister Palmerston in the mid-nineteenth century.
France has been in political turmoil since the revolution of 1789. After the European-wide revolutions of 1848, Louis Napoleon, nephew of the famous emperor, became the president of the Second French Republic. In 1852, he seized complete control, proclaiming himself Emperor Napoleon III. Rivalry and suspicion of the new emperor's motives and ambitions caused the British Government to reassess their coastal defences. Retaliation for the defeat at the Battle of Waterloo was identified as one of the motivations for a possible French invasion.
A Royal Commission was set up in response to this ever growing threat, and after taking evidence from senior military officials in the Navy and Army, the commission approved the construction of a ring of new detached sea forts on the Horse Sand, No Man's Land and Spithead shoals. After the report was submitted to the government, there was debate over its contents in Parliament. The Fortifications Act was passed in 1860 but fierce political battles delayed the building of the forts for almost two years. The American Civil War, which was occurring simultaneously with these new developments, raised doubts about the ability of the forts to defend Portsmouth effectively but the Royal Commission decided against any alternatives. Spitbank Fort was actually struck from the plans but, under pressure from Prime Minister Palmerston, was re-instated two years later. Work finally began on the site in 1867 and was completed in 1878.
Torpedo boats became a potential threat from the 1890s and the forts were rearmed accordingly. By WWI, Spitbank was equipped with roof mounted guns that could prevent light forces from penetrating the Spithead area and the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. Between the wars, all forts in the Solent were left largely neglected until 1940 when the fall of France meant an invasion by German forces became a real threat. After the fall of France, the French battleship "Courbet" escaped and was anchored off Portsmouth. This is the only time in the history of the fort that its guns were directed at a French war ship, which was the fort's main purpose.
Spitbank Fort, along with Horse Sand and No Man's Land, suffered considerable damage in the air offensive of the Second World War. The forts were not used for air defence since that was not their purpose.
The forts were de-activated at the end of the war and decommissioned in 1956 when coastal artillery was abolished but was only sold by the Ministry of Defence in 1982.
Since then the fort has been privately owned and has gone through many guises before finally coming to rest in the creatively sympathetic hands of Clarenco where we have lovingly transformed the fort into a unique luxury venue like no other!
Royal Clarence Marina,
Weevil Way, Gosport,
T: +44 (0)2392 513 887
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