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