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Torrin writes about Our Trip to Shoreham Fort

Shoreham Fort

On Tuesday 20th November we went to Shoreham fort.  When we arrived we walked towards the ruins and stopped. We turned and looked out over the small stretch of sea we could see between us and the lighthouse and thought about how it must have looked all those years before in the Napoleonic wars. Then we stepped over the flat markings where the forts walls would once have been. We walked towards the steps which led up to the gun turrets. Our teachers needed a bit of help up the steep steps!  Then we looked out across the raised platform at the vast expanse of sea in front of us and marvelled. Then we stepped down into the ditch at the bottom surrounded by a Carnot wall-see figure four. We wandered along the ditch staring through the slits in the walls and imagining what the gunners would have felt. We stared through the windows of the elusive powder stores and then we clambered up the steep incline to once again look out over where we had come from. Then we wandered along the inside of the Fort to the ammo stores. We had great fun squeezing inside them.

After exhausting all the Fort had to offer we walked up a small slope to the Shoreham branch of the national coast watch system. There we learnt all about what all the volunteers who work there do. Their main job is to look out for people in distress on the very edge of the harbour. They showed us all of their equipment and explained that they could monitor boats that were more than 70 miles out. Then they took us downstairs and showed us their CCTV system which they explained had been very useful in finding missing boats and even catching teenage vandals of the Fort.

Overall I really enjoyed our visit to the fort and found it very interesting. I have included a brief history of the port below for some more information.             

After several centuries of the harbour at Shoreham being classed as insignificant it increased in importance as that of the neighbouring Sussex ports declined. The defenceless state of Shoreham harbour was of small concern until well into the nineteenth century and there were two reasons for this:

The mouth of the river Adur was shifting to the east because of silt. In 1810 the mouth was almost opposite Aldrington church.

The social life in Shoreham town was attractive to the officers, so regular manoeuvres were held on the nearby South Downs, usually annually.

One good example of why there should have been defences and why, probably, the fort was built is confirmed by an incident in 1628. Some French ships navigated their way into Shoreham harbour. Whilst in the harbour they managed to capture a small craft and without any sort of defence at the time the attack caused terror. Men were dispatched to Brighton to get the army, scared of any further raids.

During tensions in the Napoleonic period, new forts were built at Bognor, Selsey, Littlehampton and other previously unfortified places. Shoreham was left defenceless though and no special preparations were thought necessary although in 1801 500 troops were deployed to defend or even destroy, if required, the Adur Bridge which was then much further up river near the Sussex Pad Inn.

In the 1850’s, when French intentions caused worry, it was then decided to man and defend the harbour mouth with a permanent fort. The newly constructed harbour entrance, as it was then, was selected as the site for Shoreham Fort. This was so that the guns could defend and command the harbour entrance, its approaches and the beach.

Work began on the fort early in the year of 1857 and by the June that year the fort was completed. Details of cost, armament and accommodation are given in a detailed survey of Shoreham Fort, drawn from some old plans and measurements by W. Mumford of The Royal Engineers, on the 1st September 1886. The estimated cost was £10,000 and the actual cost was £11,685 .This was more than the fort at Littlehampton but it was slightly bigger as it was built to include six guns instead of five and the ditch defences were more elaborate.

The fort was built to accommodate two Officers, one Master Gunner and 35 NCO’s and Privates all housed in the barracks.

Figure 3 The present day Fort with the barrack block outlined

The ground plan was in the shape of a rectangular half-moon, similar to the fort at Littlehampton, with earthen ramparts on which the guns were mounted and at the rear was a defensible barrack block. The fort was surrounded at the front and sides by a ditch which carried a Carnot wall along the bottom, this wall would have been about 12 ft. high. Shoreham is the earliest example of a fort with a Carnot wall still reasonably intact in the UK.

At the three corners are the covered bastions, or Caponiers/Caponierres, which can be entered from the inside of the fort, allowing defenders to fire along the outside of the Carnot wall whilst still being under cover. These represent a development from the open bastions built a few years earlier at Littlehampton, it was felt that if the men were defended by a roof, it would make an invasion impossible to succeed, as all men were then defended at all angles. It also protected them from cannon fodder hitting the beach in front of the fort sending shingle into the air like grape shot. The Caponiers were identical, all be it smaller, to that built to protect the main entrance to Hurst Castle, which is one of the huge granite casemate fortifications built to protect the needles entrance to Southampton Water.

Buried beneath the two ends of the ramparts were the two magazines. These comprised stores and shifting rooms where the shells and cartridges were loaded. After being built, the western magazine was then modified to incorporate a third room. This third room was known as a lobby and was an area to change from your hobnail boots into leather slippers. We believe this modified room was added once it was realised that a single spark from the owner’s boots, could cause a powder explosion.

Piles of iron shot were placed by each gun and shell recesses or expense magazines, where small supplies of ammunition were maintained lay adjacent. There were no hoists and shells were carried to the guns by hand.

The guns, mounted on the gun platform or terreplein, fired over a low protective wall. The wooden gun carriage recoiled up an inclined plane on a traversing wooden platform carried on iron rails. Each gun was manned by at least seven men and was manoeuvred using wedges, levels and block and tackle. The gunnery officers or Master Gunner, could supervise operations from the steps placed between the gun emplacements. These steps were also used by infantry to fire their Rifles at enemy troops approaching on foot from the beach.

The barrack block accommodated officers and men and, with its rifle slits, formed part of the fort defences giving it a defended perimeter. A central area served as a parade ground and beneath this were two tanks which, if needed, could supply the fort with water in time of attack. The water tanks approximately carried 11,578 gallons of water.

Soon after the fort was completed it was proposed that the fort should be remodelled after criticism in parliament that Shoreham Fort alone would find it difficult to protect the harbour. This criticism seems to have been justified and lead to a new inquiry in about 1859 and three additional fortification expansion works were generously proposed.

A strong casemated work of 12 guns and accommodation for 200 men. This was to be built on the west side of the harbour entrance, although no one is sure whether it would be where the original fort was built or whether they would keep the original and build near it.

Although this work never happened the fort was still manned by the volunteers until at least 1896, although the regiment were still in Shoreham until after 1906 and at least one cannon stayed until after 1918, so the fort was manned for a period of roughly 49 years and used for longer.