Sea Forts at Spithead
The Graphic detailed the Sea Forts that were under construction in the Solent, and expressed their concerns in the publication of 17 February 1872, part of it below:
“In 1859 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the state of our national defences. Special attention was directed to the unprotected condition of the naval arsenals, and among other places it was determined to defend Portsmouth against an attaching fleet. The Commissioners recommended the construction of powerful casemated sea forts at Spithead, and the most important of these works are now rapidly approaching completion.
The object of these defensive works is of a very comprehensive character, comprising not only the protection of Portsmouth harbour and dockyard, but also of the extensive anchorage of Spithead. One of the forts will rise out of the water about 2,000 yards from Ryde Sands, being erected on the shoal called No Man’s Lane, while its consort will be erected on the Horse Sand Shoal, about 3,500 yards from Southsea. The Spit Fort is situated at the extremity of the Spitbank Sand, while the St Helen’s Fort is located off St Helen’s, near the eastern end of the Isle of Wight. Moreover, the system of defence is supplemented by land batteries at Southsea, Gilkicker, the Needles and Hurst Castle.
One of these sea forts is quite complete. It covers a circle, the diameter of which is 200 feet. The foundation prepared for it rises out of the sea to about 16ft. above high water mark. From this platform the iron wall of the fort will ascent to a uniform height of 26ft., and above this there will be a bomb-proof roof. When all is done the vertical wall or side wall will present a blank face all round, varied by no feature save the noses of guns. Fifteen inches of armour, and ten inches of Portland cement concrete, form the wall of each fort. In addition to the armour, which is strengthened by an extra two inches opposite each gun, the structure has a framework of the most massive and powerful character, the skeleton alone weighing 2,400 tons. The armament is to consist of twenty-four 60 pounders, and twenty-five 400 pounders, with a further addition of five two-gun turrets on the top of the forts. All this sounds very strong, yet, in the opinion of the Standard, a few such guns as the Woolwich Infant, hammering at the Spithead forts within a moderate distance, would doubtless place the security of those structures at considerable peril. The same journal observes also that an enemy might choose to direct his projectiles against the granite foundation, which rises 16ft above high-water mark rather an against its iron structure, and that as soon as a chasm had been made in the top tiers of masonry, the ponderous rampart of iron would begin to settle down, the well-knit girders serving to pull other portions into the same gulf.
Let us hope that these predictions may never even have a chance of being fulfilled. The cost of the fabric alone of the two principal forts is about £900,000, exclusive of the armament.”
In July 1963, in response to an approach by the Island branch of the National Trust concerning the possible acquisition of St. Helens Fort, the War Office stated that all the Solent forts will probably be offered for sale early in the autumn in accordance with the disposal of surplus property, in order that interested parties may have an opportunity to bid.
I have not altered any spelling variations that may be in the above text, preferring to leave it as the Graphic of 1872 printed it in their publication.
Source: The Graphic and RSHG Archive
Images: RSHG Archive 2007 & Painting by Wylie
Article: Ann Barrett