A National Planning Overview for 19th Century Forts and Associated Fortifications

Author(s): Jane Phimester

The fortifications of the 19th and early 20th centuries are some of our coast’s most distinctive monuments. Architecturally and topographically, they are striking places with clear historic significance often dominating their settings and localities. They embody the changing nature of 19th century conflict as the technology of the industrial age was applied to warfare, a product of the great rivalry between Europe’s imperial powers. The significance of 19th and early 20th Century fortifications is reflected by their high level of heritage protection; today 80.83% are either Scheduled or Listed (or both). The historic development and architecture of these fortifications has been the topic of extensive previous research, but their current context is less well understood. This report, which has been commissioned by Historic England, is aimed at addressing this gap through providing current data on the individual fortifications identified, and by assimilating this data to provide a national overview. It enhances understanding of the relative significance, condition and threats associated with these fortifications, and sets out heritage recommendations and priorities to secure their long-term preservation. In total this report identified one hundred and sixty-seven fortifications which were newly constructed in this period, or remained in use through significant additions. The fortifications fall within six phases, the largest proportion of which are within the 1860s period built on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom, often termed ‘Palmerston Follies’. The later 19th Century is a pivotal point in fortification design, when there was a move from grander fortifications towards the less visually imposing strongholds, where the design priority was concealment. The design and location of 19th and early 20th Century fortifications reflect major developments in armament technology, strategic thought and defence policy. International conflicts, such as the Crimean War, the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War and the Russo-Japanese War, directly influenced British fortification design. These in turn instigated developments in technology which occurred alongside the Industrial Revolution, when Britain became the most powerful combined economic and military country in the world. The later developments are part of the Second (Technological) Industrial Revolution, in the late 19th and early 20th century, when general industrial advances were often spurred and initiated by military demands. In 1956, in the era of jet bombers and nuclear weapons the country’s fixed coastal defences were recognised as being obsolete and therefore stood down. The fortifications were then passed to a number of different owners, some remained with the War Office, a few were transferred to the Ministry of Works for preservation, while others went to private owners. The revenue from new uses is often insufficient to pay for the up-keep of the fabric and grounds of these monumental fortifications. Nationally, there are forty-two fortifications identified within this study, which are on the Heritage at Risk Register, which is 25.14% of the total number of fortifications identified (calculations correct in May 2017). Many are under threat from development, coastal erosion and lack of management. To better understand the relative significance, condition and threats associated with the fortifications identified, datasheets have been completed for each of the one-hundred and sixty-seven fortifications. These are included in Volume 2 of this report, and set out key information in accordance with Historic England criteria. These datasheets are organised in twenty strategic groups, which in turn were assimilated into five Historic England regions. Volume 1 of this report summarises this information, by providing national, regional and local summaries. By providing a clear national overview of surviving examples, their significance and relative state of preservation, this report will inform policies to assist in the conservation of 19th and early 20th century fortifications and promote sustainable futures. This project will ensure that consistent advice is given, and that best practice is shared nationally. In the long-term it will contribute towards ensuring forts have new uses, based on imaginative schemes using best constructive conservation practices. The subject of 19th and early 20th Century fortifications is a large and complex area of study, and whilst this report has assimilated and provided an overview of the topic, there remain considerable areas and opportunities for further research. Sites where armament moved from the casemates to open emplacements on the roof, for example at Fort Gilkicker, require further avenues for study. Fortification design and distribution was influenced by the evolving national context, international conflicts and technology. The correlation between strategic events, technology and architecture as evidence in the material remains of individual fortifications provides a more in-depth area of research.

Report Number:
Research Report
Defence Modern First World War Fortification Military Training Site


If you require an alternative, accessible version of this document (for instance in audio, Braille or large print) please contact us:

Customer Service Department

Telephone: 0370 333 0607
Email: [email protected]