Defending the Solent

2001 [1985]
The Solent provides access to the major harbours of Portsmouth and Southampton. Given the naval sensitivities of the area this seaway was heavily defended by a series of fortifications. The western entrance was defended by Hurst Castle built on a spit of land projecting into the Solent. The earliest phase was a Tudor fort contemporary with Deal and Walmer Castles in Kent. The castle was adapted in the Napoleonic Wars, and expanded in the 1850s, 1860s and 1870s. The English Heritage guidebook is by J.G. Coad.

2003 [1978]
Yarmouth Castle is located opposite Hurst Castle on the Isle of Wight. This was also a Tudor foundation. The guidebook is by S.E. Rigold.


Calshot Castle is located at the mouth of Southampton Water. This was also part of the Tudor defences of the Solent. During the First World War, Calshot became a seaplane base to protect against submarines. The guidebook is by J.G. Coad.

Out of Bounds at Berwick-upon-Tweed

Berwick-upon-Tweed © C. Gill

The fortified town of Berwick-upon-Tweed is well worth a visit (see English Heritage). A good place to start is the former military barracks where there is a rather unusual Ministry sign.

Heritage signs on Tresco

Old Blockhouse, Tresco © Patrick Taylor

There are three monuments in State Guardianship on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly. Cromwell’s Castle, King Charles’s Castle and the Old Blockhouse. All three were acquired in 1950 (and feature in the Ministry’s guidebook).

The Old Blockhouse at Old Grimsby and King Charles’s Castle (note the sign uses King Charles’ Castle) near New Grimsby are contemporary.

King Charles’s Castle, Tresco © Patrick Taylor

The text for the sign echoes Bryan H. St John O’Neil’s guide:

Guidebook: ‘The western end is semi-hexagonal in order to provide a wide field of fire, and was two-storeyed to give at least two tiers of guns.’

Sign: ‘The western end was semi-hexagonal to provide a wide field of fire and was two-storeyed to give at least two tiers of guns.’

Guidebook: ‘… one bastion and a demi-bastion … It was intended to protect the castle from a landward attack across the headland.’

Sign: ‘During the Civil War, low, earthwork defences of bastioned form were thrown up beyond the castle to protect it from landward attack.’

Cromwell’s Castle, Tresco © Patrick Taylor

I am grateful to Patrick Taylor for digitising images of these signs.

Isles of Scilly: guidebook

1949 (repr. 1952)

Bryan H. St. John O’Neil prepared the original guidebook for the Isles of Scilly in 1949. A (posthumous) second edition appeared in 1961, and it continued in print until at least 1971 (5th impression with amendments).

The guide was divided into sections: The Stone Age and Before; The Bronze Age; The Early Iron Age; The Roman Period; The Dark Ages; The Middle Ages; the Sixteenth Century; The Civil War; Later History. There is specific discussion of three burial chambers: Bants Carn; Innisodgen; and Porth Hellick Down.

1961 (2nd ed.; 1971, 5th impress. with amendments)

The second edition is expanded to cover eight (rather than seven) monuments in State Guardianship. There are more plans and illustrations, including one’s for King Charles’s Castle and Cromwell’s Castle.


English Heritage has now published a volume Defending Scilly by Mark Bowden and Allan Brodie (2011). This has three main sections: Introduction; Scilly’s military heritage; Scilly and the sea. There are generous colour illustrations that cover a range of defences, not all in state care.

Taktikopolis: Greek War of Independence

Taktikopolis © David Gill

The fort guarding the isthmus leading to the Methana peninsula marks the site of Taktikopolis, established during the Greek War of Independence. It served as the base of the Frenchman Colonel Fabvier, and was probably constructed in 1826-27. Fabvier considered the base to be ‘the Cadiz of Greece’.

The fort appears to have been designed to contain artillery, with two towers facing the approach from the south.

Immediately to the north of the fort, and slightly overlapping with it, is a classical or hellenistic elliptical defence work.

Taktikopolis © David Gill
Taktikopolis from the Methana peninsula © David Gill

Saxon Shore publications


During the 1970s the Department of the Environment produced a number of themed guidebooks to explore a group of sites. Stephen Johnson produced one on the Saxon Shore (1977) to cover the string of Late Roman forts that ran from Brancaster in Norfolk to Portchester in Hampshire. The site of one lies in Suffolk: Walton Castle at Felixstowe (although this has now dropped into the sea). Burgh Castle is now in Norfolk (although it is in the Suffolk volume of Pevsner).

Johnston’s 28 page illustrated booklet, printed in landscape, covers the British forts.  There are also maps showing the parallel forts from Holland and France.

There are short descriptions of the British forts (some with aerial photographs or plans): Brancaster; Burgh Castle; Walton Castle; Bradwell; Reculver; Richborough; Dover; Lympne; Pevensey; and Portchester.

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