Eggbuckland Keep


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


Ordnance survey map of Eggbuckland Keep
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

City of Plymouth (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 49966 58109

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.

Eggbuckland Keep survives virtually intact in an excellent state of preservation as a fine example of a keep or defended barracks of Royal Commission type which, whilst they are found at other Royal Commission fortifications such as those at Portsmouth, is the only detached keep of the Plymouth defences to have been built. The keep formed an integral part of a wider defensive system for the naval dockyard at Plymouth, a system which, by virtue of its grand scale and sheer strength, indicated the lengths to which Britain would go to protect its naval interests. The keep retains nearly all of the original components of its defences and is little changed both internally or externally. It stands therefore as a visual reminder of late Victorian military power and thinking which led to the construction of a ring of forts and batteries around the landward side of Plymouth.


The monument includes Eggbuckland Keep, a defended barracks complex which formed part of the north eastern section of the mid-19th century land defences for the naval dockyard of Plymouth. The keep occupies the highest point of the north eastern section of the defences which encircled the Plymouth harbourage and which were intended to protect it from land attack in the event of invasion. The keep lies above and to the rear of the contemporary Bowden and Forder Batteries and Austin Fort. The standing building of Eggbuckland Keep is a Listed Building Grade II*. Fears of a French invasion of Britain in the middle years of the 19th century led to the formation of a Royal Commission in 1859 to consider the defences of the United Kingdom. The Royal Commission's recommendations for Plymouth were acted upon by Major W F D Jervois and resulted in the completion by 1872 of six new coast batteries and a ring of eighteen land forts and batteries based on three principal forts at Staddon, and Crownhill on the Devon side, and Tregantle on the Cornish side of the harbour. The land forts were linked by a system of military roads protected from the likely direction of attack by earth banks and cuttings. Eggbuckland Keep, which was designed by Captain Du Cane under the general supervision of Major Jervois, was the only fortified keep to be built on the north eastern section of the defences, although four such keeps were originally proposed for this stretch of the line. It was also the only detached keep to be built as part of the Plymouth defences although the fort at Tregantle in Cornwall, also designed by Du Cane, has a keep within its enceinte. The Eggbuckland keep lies about midway between the large fort at Crownhill and the River Plym and it was intended as a defensible barracks housing 230 men with ample storeroom for powder and shells and was to provide cover for the rear of Forder Battery and to be the main barrack and magazine for Forder, Bowden Battery to the west, and Austin Fort to the south east. Access to the keep was via a single road from the north west sited in a cutting to protect it from incoming fire. A wide glacis formed part of the original defences but this has disappeared under modern housing. However, the keep survives as a standing five-sided, two-storey building constructed within a deep depression and surrounded by a wide, flat-bottomed, rock-cut ditch which was provided with a counterscarp wall fronting the main entrance; a section of the south eastern corner of this wall was removed in the latter part of the 20th century. Four loop-holed musketry caponiers (bombproof vaulted chambers) extend at right angles across the ditch to allow enfilading fire along its length. The main entrance, which was provided with an architectural flourish in the Romanesque style, was further protected by a loop-holed parapet wall running the full length of the building on the south west side; the limestone ashlar rifle-loops have at some stage been blocked by bricking-in. Loops were also sited to flank the doorway and drawbridge on the eastern face of the building which provided access to a tunnel linking to Forder Battery. Although the drawbridge no longer survives, its ashlar recess survives as an intact feature together with its original winching chains. The keep is constructed of local stone with all quoins, windows, doorways, and loops in a contrasting ashlar or finely dressed and tooled light grey limestone. Within, there is copious brick vaulting throughout which provides support for the floorings and the roof. The lower floor of the keep, which sits on the same level as the base of the ditch, has an arrangement with barrack accommodation placed along the outer side of a central corridor whilst store rooms were sited on the inner side. The lower floor also accommodates a large ammunition store which has a brick-vaulted lighting passage running behind it with original lamp recesses now devoid of their thickened glass. Access to all four caponiers was via rooms or passages on the lower floor. The upper floor mirrors the barracks and stores arrangement of the lower floor. A passage on the upper floor allowed access to the drawbridge over the ditch leading to Forder Tunnel by which means the troops could be deployed under cover to Forder Battery and Fort Austin. Two spiral staircases on opposite sides of the building provided access between the floors and to roof level. The flat roof is earth-covered; the earth is about 3m deep where it is formed into ramparts to act as bomb-proofing; the ramparts are found on all sides except that which overlooks the military road and main entrance where there is instead a walkway behind the loop-holed parapet wall. Separate stairs lead down from the roof to two magazines which are sited under earthwork traverses on the north west and south east sides of the building. Following its completion in 1872, Eggbuckland Keep was recommended to receive an armament of five 7 inch Rifled Breech-Loading (BRL) guns but by 1885 these had still not been supplied and no evidence for their emplacements has been identified. However, by 1893 three 0.45 inch machine-guns had been installed presumably on the rampart. Several buildings constructed on the roof of the keep are believed to date from World War II but their history is not known. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: the standing building of Eggbuckland Keep and its later roof top structures (although the foundations and ground beneath the keep building is included), all modern surfacings, fencing, and all fixed structures demonstrably of post-World War II date, where any of these features lie within the scheduling surrounding the keep, although the fabric and the ground beneath 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:
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Books and journals
Pye, A, Woodward, F, The Historic Defences of Plymouth, (1996), 180-82
Royal Commission keeps, Thomas, R J C, (2001)


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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