FolkestoneJack's Tracks

A lesson in coastal defence

Posted in England, Felixstowe by folkestonejack on July 11, 2015

The Landguard Peninsula has been at the forefront of England’s defence for over 430 years, a legacy that is visible not just in the impressive bulk of Landguard Fort but in the many pillboxes and anti-tank blocks that proliferate along the shingle shoreline. The vulnerability of the coastline to invasion has clearly been an ever present threat across the ages.

Three generations of defence in a single shot

Three generations of defence in a single shot

On an approach from the water, the most visible signs of the fort are two of its most recent additions – the twin concrete towers of Darell’s Battery (1940) and the Fire Commander’s Post (1915). However, the fort still retains many of its older constructions, including three sides of the pentagonal fort of the 1750s and the curving casemated battery of the 1870s. It is a fascinating lesson in the evolving architecture of defence.

The different stages of development make this fort a particularly interesting site to wander around and helped me appreciate the changing nature of the threat to the country, all the way from the Dutch raiders of the 17th century to the potential German invaders of the 20th century. In other cases the spur to development came from events in Europe, such as the failure of the French fixed defences in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

The Inner Parade

The Inner Parade

It probably won’t surprise you to discover that many aspects of Landguard Fort are shared with other forts that we have visited, such as the living conditions for men and the delicate nature of ammunition storage in the magazines. However, one element that surprised me was the submarine mining establishment located here as it’s not a story I’ve heard at any fortifications I have visited before.

The submarine mining establishment was created in 1879 and given the responsibility for developing and maintaining a minefield in the estuary. Mines were transported from the compound in the ravelin block (now home to the Felixstowe Museum) to a nearby wooden jetty by means of a narrow gauge railway, ready for positioning by special boat. The mines were connected by a cable to a room in the fort and an alarm was sounded when a ship made contact – leaving the crew in the fort with the decision on whether to detonate.

Unfortunately, the Felixstowe Museum was shut on the day I visited so I didn’t get to see the remaining traces of the mining establishment, which apparently include a section of the railway tracks and a turntable used to transport the mines. Still, it gives me a good reason to come back someday!

Darell's Battery

Darell’s Battery

It was great to be able to explore the buildings surrounding the inner and outer parades, but I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that access did not extend to the interior of the Fire Commander’s Post or Darell’s Battery (indeed, surprisingly limited views of the peninsula were available from inside the fort) although the guidebook did at least show what the first of these looked like inside.

Nevertheless, I particularly appreciated the way that so many empty spaces had been opened up and not over-interpreted. Too many sites feel the need to fill their space with display boards and exhibits, when an empty officer’s room with a fireplace or a solitary bathtub in an otherwise empty room can conjure up just as much fascination. On the whole I thought that the trust have done a fantastic job at Landguard Fort and presented its history in a really compelling way.

Once you leave the property and walk around the protective perimeter fencing you soon discover that the vegetation does a very good job of hiding the lowest levels of the sea-facing frontage, particularly the rounded brick shield protecting the caponier, with no opportunity to get a better look.

One of the fenced off structures around the fort

One of the fenced off structures around the fort

Beyond this, there are various intriguing structures adjacent to the fort (all fenced off and part obscured by thick vegetation). I don’t know if these are a part of the English Heritage site but it would be rather neat to be able to explore these and get a better understanding of how these fit into the story of coastal defence here. In essence, I guess that I am reduced to a kid again when you present me with an old castle or fort to explore!


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