FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Landguard’s legacy

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

Although it was the fort that drew me to this spot on the Suffolk coast, I didn’t realise at the outset how fascinated I would be by the defensive constructions of the Second World War which now sit in the middle of a nature reserve. It is quite a legacy but the peaceful setting of today makes it incredibly hard to fully appreciate the climate of fear in which they were constructed, following the fall of Dunkirk.

One of many defensive features from the Second World War scattered across the peninsula

One of many defensive features from the Second World War scattered across the peninsula

An assessment of the threat posed by invasion in 1940 emphasised the extreme vulnerability of the coastline in this area, which can hardly have been a great surprise since it had been recognised as such across the centuries (indeed, it was actually subjected to attack in 1667 during the Second Anglo-Dutch War). The area of greatest concern stretched from Landguard to the Deben, where the beaches were considered to be likely spots for the landing of armoured vehicles, thereby providing them with immediate access to the roads heading inland.

To counter this threat the defences at Landguard Point were strengthened with a combination of concrete pillboxes, batteries, infantry trenches, searchlight emplacements, steel scaffolding barriers, barbed wire entanglements, anti-tank blocks and dragon’s teeth (pyramids of concrete designed to impede the movement of vehicles). In addition to this, barrage balloons were sited across the peninsula. Inevitably, it is the concrete pillboxes that have survived to the present day.

The density of these defensive constructions was repeated across the nearby coastline. A total of 263 pillboxes had been constructed in the South Suffolk sector by November 1940, supplemented by 42 on searchlight sites (according to the handy four-part guide to second world war archaeology in Suffolk which are freely available at sites across the county, including at Landguard Fort).

Defensive points at Landguard Point

Coastal defence at Landguard Point

Today the shingle spit at Landguard is a nature reserve where you can take a stroll along the boardwalk and admire the vegetated shingle habitat which is populated with sea kale, sea rocket and scarlet pimpernel. It is a wonderful spot to visit and take a moment to relax.

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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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Ferry to Felixstowe

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

It has been some thirty-one years since I last boarded a ferry in Harwich, but the ship I was boarding today was not bound for the continent but instead a rather wonderful stretch of the Suffolk coastline.

The Harwich Harbour Foot Ferry

The Harwich Harbour Foot Ferry

The Harwich Harbour Foot Ferry first began operating from Harwich in July 1912, offering an all year round service across the waters of the estuary to Felixstowe Dock with a two year old passenger launch named Pinmill which plyed the route until 1925 (although services were suspended during the First World War, with Pinmill serving as a Royal Navy launch for this time). The longest serving vessel on the route was MV Brightlingsea, which carried passengers on the route from 1925 until 1992.

The current operation uses a Rotork sea truck to transport 12 passengers at a time between Ha’penny Pier (Harwich), Shotley Point Marina and Landguard Fort (Felixstowe). It is an interesting vessel in its own right, an evolution of an early invention of Sir James Dyson (and others) which was designed to transport goods where no jetty was available (it comes into its own on this route with the shingle beach landing at Landguard Fort).

The service currently runs from Easter until the end of September, providing a valuable connection to the local communities which is used by around 14,000 passengers each year. Although the service came under threat of closure earlier this year, new owners have since arrived to save the day.

It’s a marvellous fifteen minute ride between Harwich and Landguard Fort, though it was pretty full on every crossing I saw so it’s worth making a booking to make sure you can get on board. I took the 10.15 departure and marvelled as we followed a late sailing Stena Britannica out of port before ducking across to Landguard. The trip offers wonderful views of Harwich and the commercial port at Felixstowe, as well as the occasional spray of seawater to wake you up!

A somewhat larger ferry!

A somewhat larger ferry!

I must admit that I felt slightly guilty at leaving behind the delights of Harwich, particularly as they were so tantalisingly set out by Diamond Geezer earlier this year, but figure I will be back to take a closer look before too long! The destination in my sights today was Landguard Fort, another of the many remarkable English Heritage properties, of which more anon.

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