Golden Hill Fort: buried remains and outer defences


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1013289

Date first listed: 16-Aug-1976

Date of most recent amendment: 06-Nov-1995


Ordnance survey map of Golden Hill Fort: buried remains and outer defences
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Isle of Wight (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Freshwater

National Grid Reference: SZ 33890 87845

Reasons for Designation

The Royal Commission fortifications are a group of related sites established in response to the 1859 Royal Commission report on the defence of the United Kingdom. This had been set up following an invasion scare caused by the strengthening of the French Navy. These fortifications represented the largest maritime defence programme since the initiative of Henry VIII in 1539-40. The programme built upon the defensive works already begun at Plymouth and elsewhere and recommended the improvement of existing fortifications as well as the construction of new ones. There were eventually some 70 forts and batteries in England which were due wholly or in part to the Royal Commission. These constitute a well defined group with common design characteristics, armament and defensive provisions. Whether reused or not during the 20th century, they are the most visible core of Britain's coastal defence systems and are known colloquially as `Palmerston's follies'. All examples are considered of national importance.

Golden Hill Fort survives well and, despite its conversion to light industrial units, the fabric of the fort is essentially complete. It has a long history of various types of military use, and is associated with the coast batteries of West Wight.


The monument includes the buried and outer earthwork remains of a late 19th century hexagonal fort set back from the coast on the west side of the Isle of Wight. The fort itself is Listed Grade I and is excluded from the scheduling. The walls of the fort are protected by a glacis which is separated from the fort walls by a dry moat. Projecting into the moat is the sole survivor of three original caponiers. The fort is approached by a tunnel through the glacis, which opens onto a central courtyard or parade ground enclosed by barrack blocks. Steps at the north east and east angles of the courtyard to the verandah gave access to barracks on the first floor level. The roof, which is reached by stairs within the fort, has positions for six guns, one at each angle. The fort's construction was recommended by the Royal Commission on Defence of the British Isles, which reported in 1860, and the fort was built between 1863 and 1872. It was built on high ground at Hill Farm, Freshwater, between Cliff End and Freshwater, to cover the new coast batteries in West Wight against land assault from the east. The line of the River Yar would have been covered by rooftop guns, while reserves could counter landings on the coast. Originally it was planned as a fort for 12 guns and 400 men, but was then modified to a barracks to hold 250 men. This proved too expensive, and the present fort was designed in 1863 as an hexagonal defensible two-storey barrack to accommodate 8 officers, 128 other ranks and 14 hospital patients. The monument contains many of the fort's original features: the entrance tunnel through the glacis has a room leading off from it which was a coal bunker. The entrance continues across the ditch and past the former guard room, which is now `The Colonnade Tea Room'. Opposite the guard room is the room for the officer of the watch, which is now `The Lord Palmerston' public house. The surviving one-storey musketry caponier projects into the ditch from the eastern salient of the fort. This caponier is intact except for the roof where it meets the glacis. Surrounding the central parade ground were casemented barracks, the facade of which is still intact. The officers' quarters and canteen were on the south side of the parade ground. The officers' mess was in the area now occupied by the kitchen of `The Lord Palmerston' public house. The kitchen for the other ranks was in the north east angle of the fort. Internally the barracks have now been converted to workshops, offices and leisure facilities, but the converted barracks still retain their original framework. Stairs from the parade ground lead to a verandah, with a later glass roof, supported on iron columns. The verandah runs around three sides of the fort and gave access to first floor barrack rooms, each for 14 men, on the east side of the fort. The magazine at the northern angle of the courtyard remains, and is used as a `garrison chapel', museum and display area. The light boxes used to illuminate the magazine can still be seen. Cartridges and shells were moved, via a handling room, to a hoist, no longer present, which took them to the rooftop guns. Also in this area is the prisoners' room, and immediately above this on the first floor was the Armament Major's room and barrack rooms which are now used as museum display areas. The hospital was at first located on the first floor in the southern part of the fort. In 1897 a new hospital was built outside the fort which has now been converted into a Masons' Lodge. The original plan was for 18 light guns on the roof, protected by earth parapets, but these parapets collapsed into the ditch in 1868. The scheme was modified and, instead of the planned rooftop armament, six 40-pounder breech-loaders were installed after 1872, one at each angle on an iron traversing platform. The gun positions can still be seen with their ammunition recesses, but the guns were removed in 1903. During the 1914-18 war, Golden Hill was used as an infantry training depot, accommodating the recruits in a hutted camp around the Victorian fort. Between the world wars infantry battalions and gunners continued to occupy the fort and a projecting toilet block was added at the southern end. During the 1939-45 war, it again served as a depot, this time for British and Canadian infantry, but in 1945 it was taken over by the RASC for waterborne troops. Postwar, the Water Transport Training Company and Junior NCOs' Training School shared the fort until 1962, when the Army relinquished it. The fort was sold in 1964. From 1969 to 1984 the fort was an industrial estate during which time two caponiers were demolished. In 1984 restoration began and the fort was opened to the public in 1985 although it continues to retain some light industrial units. The standing buildings, above and below ground, which are all Listed Grade I, and their contents are excluded from the scheduling. Also excluded are all modern lighting and other electrical fittings, aerials, signs and notices, post boxes and collection boxes, the temporary structure which is the ticket office and the concrete plinth on which it sits, flagpoles, modern fencing, the garden features and the concrete `bandstand' with its metal canopy in the parade ground, the asphalt surface of the parade ground and the tarmac surface of the entrance tunnel, although the ground beneath all of these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 22062

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Cantwell, A, Golden Hill Fort, (1985), 6-7
Cantwell, A, Sprack, P, 'Solent Papers' in Solent Papers Number Two The Needles Defences 1525-1956, (1986), 36
Cantwell, A, Sprack, P, 'Solent Papers' in Solent Papers Number Two The Needles Defences 1525-1956, (1986), 34
Cantwell, A, Sprack, P, 'Solent Papers' in Solent Papers Number Two The Needles Defences 1525-1956, (1986), 34-36

End of official listing