Whitehaven Old Fort, an 18th century coastal battery overlooking Whitehaven Harbour and an associated lime kiln, 80m west of the southern end of Old Quay


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Whitehaven Old Fort, an 18th century coastal battery overlooking Whitehaven Harbour and an associated lime kiln, 80m west of the southern end of Old Quay
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2019. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Copeland (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NX 96819 18342

Reasons for Designation

The term battery refers to any place where artillery is positioned to allow guns to cover a particular area such as a line of communication or the approaches to a defended location. Although often contained within artillery forts designed to withstand sieges, typically including resident garrisons, many batteries were lightly defended and only manned at fighting strength in times of emergency. Batteries not contained within forts or castles were either open, with some approaches left undefended, or enclosed, often with a loopholed wall, ditch and/or fence designed to repel small scale attacks. Battery design evolved over time with developments in artillery. Those of the 16th and 17th centuries were normally simple raised earthwork platforms faced with turf, facines (bundles of sticks), or wicker baskets filled with earth and known as gabions. More permanent batteries, normally those on the coast, were faced in stone. The guns and gunners were typically protected by a raised parapet with guns firing through embrasures, or breaks in the wall, or over the parapet. Gun positions protected by casemates (roofed gun chambers) were generally restricted to batteries within artillery forts and castles. The gun carriages were supported on timber or stone platforms known as barbettes, often ramped to limit gun recoil. In the 18th century, traversing guns using carriages mounted on pivots were increasingly employed. By the late 19th century, barbette positions became the usual practice and, as the century progressed, guns were mounted in increasingly sophisticated emplacements, normally built in concrete with integrated magazines. All batteries where enough survives to interpret the original form and function will be considered of national importance. Other examples, of early date or where rare components are preserved, may be considered nationally important even where overall survival is comparatively poor.

Lime kilns have been in use since at least Roman times for the burning of lime, chalk, marble and calcite. They consists of brick or stone-lined kilns in which calcium carbonate is calcined to produce quicklime. Typically the limestone is tipped into the kiln from the top, it is then burned using wood, coal or coke as a fuel, then the resultant quicklime, also known as birdlime or slaked lime, is shovelled out from a drawhole at the bottom of the kiln. Lime has many uses including spreading on lime-deficient land to encourage plant growth, the whitewashing of walls and ceilings of buildings, and concrete and cement production.

England's naval strength, particularly between the 16th and 19th centuries, was a major force in the growth of the British Empire. Such expansionist policies, however, frequently brought the country into conflict with rival powers, thus construction of coastal batteries became a strategic necessity in the face of this threat. Whitehaven Old Fort was constructed to protect the approaches to what was, during the 18th century, one of the country's two principal ports. Along with Half Moon Battery, a short distance to the south, Whitehaven Old Fort briefly became the only military installations in England to be captured by opposing forces during the American War of Independence. Following limited excavation and consolidation of the northern part of the Old Fort, the monument now provides a visible reminder of the coastal military defensive measures required during the 18th and 19th centuries. It is well documented and this information complements the standing and buried remains and enhances the research value of the monument. Additionally the 19th century lime kiln survives reasonably well and is a good example of this class of monument.


The monument includes the upstanding and buried remains of Whitehaven Old Fort, an 18th and 19th century coastal battery which defended the entrance to Whitehaven harbour, together with upstanding remains of a 19th century lime kiln built into the fort's north west corner. It is located 80m west of the southern end of Old Quay and is situated north of, south of and beneath a modern road leading to South Beach Recreation Area.

During the 18th century Whitehaven developed into one of Britain's premier ports. It enjoyed a thriving trade with America and Ireland and by 1790 the harbour was dealing with a greater overall tonnage per annum than any other port except London. Construction of the fort began in 1741 and when completed it comprised a gun platform surrounded by a perimeter wall with a guardroom and powder magazine. Ten 18-pound guns stood in a line within the fort and projected over a low wall from where they commanded a clear view out to sea. Sods were placed along the top of the wall leaving embrasures for the guns. The ordnance at the Old Fort changed frequently, the original guns being removed to Carlisle in 1745 to assist against the Jacobite Rebellion with replacements being sent to Whitehaven the following year. Recommendations by the Board of Ordnance for improvements to Whitehaven's defences during the 1760s were only partially carried out and this failure to provide adequate protection resulted in an attack on the town and harbour by the American vessel `Ranger', commanded by John Paul Jones, in April 1778 during the American War of Independence. Immediate improvements were then undertaken and by June of the same year repairs and new construction meant that Whitehaven was now defended by six strong batteries. Throughout the Napoleonic War documentary sources record activity on the harbour defences including the carrying out of repairs, remounting of guns and inspection of stores. Although never permanently manned the Old Fort was the headquarters of the local and county militia, while militia regiments from other areas were periodically garrisoned there. In 1819 the Old Fort is recorded as containing eight guns mounted on iron carriages. These were last fired in 1824 during celebrations to mark the laying of foundation stones for the West Pier. In the same year a lime kiln was constructed in the fort's north west corner using much of the fort's original stonework. Gunpowder continued to be stored at the Old Fort at least until 1840. During the 1870s many of the guns were removed and those that remained were probably buried by a landslip which covered the site in 1872. The guardhouse survived as a standing structure at least until 1880. Whitehaven Old Fort was subjected to limited excavation in the late 1970s; that part of the fort located to the north of the modern road has been consolidated as a harbourside feature whilst that part of the fort to the south of the road has been reburied. A plan of the Old Fort produced by John Spedding in about 1756 shows a proposed extension to be constructed on the eastern side. Features in this extension included another powder magazine, a two-storey building being a storeroom on the lower floor and a guardroom on the upper floor, a guardroom for officers and a small backyard. The area of this proposed extension was not excavated thus it is not presently known if it was ever constructed.

The northern part of the Old Fort includes a sandstone perimeter wall up to 1.3m high. At intervals the walls are cut by semi-circular drains at ground level which appear externally above a prominent sandstone cordon. Also visible are the remains of iron `handles' leading into the internal face of the fort's western wall which are interpreted as the remains of the recoil-check system for the guns. There is a doorway in the fort's north wall and immediately adjacent there are the substantial remains of a lime kiln which slightly overlaps the fort's door. The lime kiln is about 2.8m high with the stoke-hole facing the harbour.

Limited excavation of the northern part of the Old Fort found that it was originally floored with rectangular sandstone blocks identical to those which formed the fort's walls. Other features revealed during the excavation of the northern part of the fort include a rough trackway considered to be contemporary with the lime kiln, which led from the fort's doorway to a small pit, and the remains of a sandstone wall butting onto the internal face of the fort's east wall which is the remains of a blacksmith's shop shown by harbour plans to have been built between 1827-33. Limited excavation of the southern part of the Old Fort revealed that the walls of the guardhouse and powder magazine, although razed to ground level, are an integral part of the fort, being bonded into the southern and eastern walls. The guardhouse measures about 6m by 4m internally and is floored with rectangular slabs of siltstone while the powder magazine measures about 4m by 2m internally. Outside these buildings the floor of the fort was virtually identical to that found in the northern part. At various places drainage channels had been cut into the floor after laying and a large semi-circular drain in the south west corner cutting almost vertically down through the wall is interpreted as a urinal leading directly to the sea. The southern part of the fort was drastically affected by the development of Wellington coal pit which was sunk in 1840 and operated for almost a century. Considerable demolition and disturbance took place within the Old Fort including use of the powder magazine as a pit `cabin'. The southern part of the fort was eventually buried in 1972 during the Wellington Pit Reclamation Scheme. Whitehaven Old Fort is a Listed Building Grade II. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these include a modern roadside wall, a modern wall butting the lime kiln and a stone plinth in front of the lime kiln; the surface of the modern road, the modern paved and brick flooring together with an anchor and the display plinth on which it stands in the northern part of the fort, all steps and an iron handrail, the surface of an access track on the north west side of the fort, the paved surface on the north side of the fort, gateposts and a fence on the north east side of the fort, and a modern wall on the south east side of the fort together with a winding wheel from Wellington Pit and the plinth upon which it stands. However, the ground beneath all 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.

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Books and journals
Taylor, J, Richardson, C, 'Post-Medieval Archaeology' in Whitehaven Old Fort: An 18th Century Coastal Fortification, (1980), 127-56
Taylor, J, Richardson, C, 'Post-Medieval Archaeology' in Whitehaven Old Fort: An 18th Century Coastal Fortification, (1980), 127-56
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,


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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