Nothe Fort, tramway and searchlight battery at The Nothe


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Dorset (Unitary Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
SY 68508 78740, SY 68667 78726, SY 68701 78792

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.

Nothe Fort, the tramway and searchlight battery at The Nothe all survive well. The fort has undergone an extensive programme of restoration since 1980 and is one of the best preserved of all examples built between 1860-70. Nothe Fort represents an integrated component of the fortifications of Portland Harbour, the development of which is fully documented in the library of the Royal Engineers and the Public Record Office, and this material is one of the most complete and detailed archives for any comparable system to survive in England. The long use and development of Nothe Fort until 1953 is reflected in the survival of wider associations, including the Victorian tramway and various 20th century features such as anti-aircraft and searchlight batteries and various observation posts. Nothe Fort is now on public display and contains various exhibitions which explain the purpose and use of the fort and the role played by the various fortications of the area along with their wider historical significance. The surrounding area which includes the tramway and searchlight battery are also accessible to the public and form an integral part of the monument.


The monument, which falls into three separate areas of protection, includes Nothe Fort, a contemporary stone-built tramway and a 20th century searchlight battery; all situated at The Nothe, a coastal headland which divides Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour on the Dorset coast. Nothe Fort, which is a Listed Building Grade II*, was built to guard the northern side of Portland Harbour. It is built of Portland Stone with massive external walls forming a horse-shoe in plan (known as a demi-lune). The eastern side, which is semi-circular, provides a good view across Portland Harbour. This area was fitted with ten guns each installed within a brick vaulted casemate. The western side, which is straight edged, is flanked by a massive rampart to defend the fort from the landward end. The main entrance is on the north western side and includes a low archway with a stone revetment and gunpost above. The entrance is approached by a narrow round-headed tunnel which leads to the ditch which could be crossed by means of a drawbridge. The interior of the fort includes a range of single storey structures at ground level which abut the ramparts and are arranged around the semi-circular courtyard. A series of magazines and offices are situated below ground level. Construction of the fort began in 1860 and the sea defences and foundations were completed by 1862. Construction of the fort itself was mainly by 26 Company of the Royal Engineers: Captain P Smith supervised the work, under the direction of Colonel J Hirse. Plans for the fort are known to have changed three times during the period 1860-62 reflecting the nature of technological change during this period. The fort was completed late in 1869, but by 1890 it had lost its strategic importance because of a combination of technological developments and the presence of other defences around Portland Harbour. During the 1890s, Nothe Fort was converted into use as an infantry barracks, and it was used intermittently throughout the first half of the 20th century. The fort was manned from 1914-16 and from 1929-56 (mainly when the threats to Portland Harbour from Germany were considered greatest). During the period 1939-45 a number of additions were made to the fort. These include an anti- aircraft emplacement installed in 1939, with a Bofors gun mounted on the north west parapet and an observation post on the south western corner of the parapet. The underground magazines and casemates on the southern side of the fort were converted into a central store for anti-aircraft ammunition. After World War II, a new searchlight post was constructed on the northern side in 1946, in 1947 new searchlights were employed and in 1953 new radar equipment was installed. To the north east of the fort, on the foreshore, and in the second area of protection, a searchlight battery was constructed during World War II. To the north west of the fort, and in the third area of protection, lies an inclined tramway, known as `The Fusee Steps'. This structure, which is Listed Grade II, dates from the 1860s, and is built of Portland stone. It includes a flight of steps bordered by low walling with iron rails running along the upper edges. The structure enabled the hauling of trolleys with double flange wheels in order to transport products from the quayside to Nothe Fort. All benches, the new service pipe on the northern external wall and all service cables (the electrical wiring and switches) are excluded from the scheduling, although the underlying ground and/or the walls and ceilings to which they are attached are 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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Architecton, , Nothe Fort: A Feasibility Study for Weymouth Civic Society, (1998)
Description, English Heritage (Listing Branch), Listed Buildings, (2000)
Description, National Monuments Record,
Mention, Listing Details,
Musty A E S, Scheduling documentation, 1978, Mention
Title: Source Date: 1975 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Mapped depiction
Title: Ordnance Survey Source Date: 1975 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Mapped depiction


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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