Austin Fort and section of military road
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1021380
Date first listed: 07-Apr-2008
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: City of Plymouth (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference: SX 50485 57501
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.
Although it has been utilised as a depot leading to the erection of temporary buildings and structures within its interior, Austin Fort survives as a nearly complete example of a fort and gun battery of Royal Commission date which retains components such as a near complete guardhouse, casemated magazines, and rock-cut defences with counterscarp gun casemates and gallery, many of which are in an excellent state of preservation. The fort has a long section of purpose-built military road surviving in association with it. Austin Fort was a major site within the integrated, planned, and coherent defensive complex which included the associated and nearby sites of Eggbuckland Fort, Forder Battery, and Bowden Battery. This position in turn formed a key part of the wider defensive system for the naval dockyard at Plymouth, a system which, by virtue of its grand scale and sheer strength, indicated the extent to which Britain would go to protect its naval interests. The monument survives therefore as a little-changed visual reminder of Victorian military power and thinking.
The monument includes Austin Fort, a mid to late 19th century fort and
battery which survives as a four-sided work located on a spur overlooking the
Forder Valley, and part of the contemporary military road which served it.
The fort was defended by rock-cut ditches which are now partly infilled
whilst the military road was defended by an earthwork bank which concealed
the movement of troops behind it. Austin Fort formed part of the north east
land defences of Plymouth which encircled the Plymouth Harbourage and which
were intended to protect it from land attack in the event of invasion. Austin
Fort represented a major site within an arrow-shaped position comprising
Bowden and Forder batteries and Eggbuckland Keep.
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 coastal batteries and a ring of eighteen land forts and
batteries based on three principal forts at Staddon and Crownhill on the
Devon side of the harbour, and Tregantle on the Cornish side. The land forts
and batteries were linked by a system of military roads protected from the
likely direction of attack by earth traverses and cuttings.
Construction of Austin Fort began in about 1863 and it was completed shortly
after 1868. It was designed for 15 guns and five mortars, with five earth
traverses containing expense magazines.
The fort is trapezoidal in shape with deep rock-cut ditches on the north,
north east, and south east flanks, these ditches being enfiladed by two pairs
of 32-pounder gun casemates (vaulted chambers) located in the counterscarp at
the north east and east salients. Access to the gun casemates was via a
tunnel from the parade ground to the site of a mortar battery and thence by
another tunnel to the east salient. Running the length of the counterscarp on
the north east ditch is a loop-holed gallery connecting the two gun
casemates. The gorge (the ditch at the rear of the fort) was enfiladed by two
pairs of 32-pounder guns in each flank of the guardhouse and by loop-holed
galleries in the gorge wall and over the parapet above. The ditch on this
side is infilled but all the other elements are visible including the
guardhouse which provided the only entrance into the fort over a drawbridge
which was subsequently removed. The entrance was protected by musketry loops
in two projecting caponiers (casemated works projecting into the ditch).
Spiral stairs give access to the rampart on either side of the guardhouse
which was originally protected by an earth traverse that was later removed.
At the rear of the guardhouse is the main magazine. All five of the expense
magazines which served the guns mounted on the rampart survive whole or in
part although they have lost their earth covering to some extent. The gun
positions adjacent to the expense magazines vary in the degree of their
visibility with the two at the south either demolished or hidden. Three
mortar batteries survive overgrown in the north west, east and south
salients. Much of the glacis (the slope around the fort which was usually
cleared of obstructions) originally associated with the fort now lies under
The fort was approached from the south west by a purpose-built military road
which was part of a road system that connected all the forts and batteries of
the line. In common with other sections of the road it was defended by an
earthwork bank 10m wide and up to 4m high which protected troop movements
against incoming fire. A section, between 360m-370m long, of the military
road and embankment is included in the scheduling, this section being the
best preserved and largely intact portion of the road where it lies adjacent
to Austin Fort.
The site was used in World War II by the Devon and Cornwall Auxiliary Unit
and in 1984 the guardhouse was converted to the Plymouth City Emergency
Centre for Civil Defence.
All modern prefabricated structures and offices, sheds, huts, stores and
racking, signage, telegraph poles, stores of building materials, fencing,
road surfaces, and modern surfaces and hard standings, are excluded from the
scheduling 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: 33067
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Pye, A, Woodward, F, The Historic Defences of Plymouth, (1996), 185
Pye, A, Woodward, F, The Historic Defences of Plymouth, (1996), 183-85
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