Fort Blockhouse History 1

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The following has been reproduced with the kind permission of: Lt Cdr C H Donnithorne (Rtd) © CHD 2000.

A motley collection of buildings of indeterminate age and doubtful architectural interest, surrounded on three side by the sea, but enclosing a reasonable croquet pitch and providing the best view of the harbour entrance - this is Blockhouse Fort to the uninitiated! In practice it is rather more than this and it is historically important on two counts; not only was it built up progressively over a number of centuries, unique to this side of the harbour, it is also thought to be the oldest fortified position still in active use by the Services.

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The earliest use of this spit of land is unclear, possibly by the Romans, the term ‘blockhouse’ deriving from a simple fortified position used to deny access to some important castle or, as in this case, haven. The burning of Portsmouth and Gosport during the Hundred Years War precipitated the need for proper defensive measures and, in 1417, expenditure was authorised on the king’s towers, to provide protection for the ends of the chain at the harbour entrance. The defences were further upgraded in 1495, with the building of the new dock at Portsmouth, when five pieces of  ordnance were mounted on the “King’s Blokkehouse”.      

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 -Decay set in until Henry VIII’s requirements to defend the kingdom gave rise to huge defence expenditure. In c.1539, a new bulwark, built by Sir Thomas Sperte, was constructed close be the old blockhouse. Probably an earthwork, strengthened with wooden stakes, it was provided with 8 guns, the largest being demi-culverings (9 pounders), and manned by a Captain and three gunners. In a logical move, the blockhouse was disarmed. The new bulwark, which allowed the defenders of Stokes Bay a chance to escape across the harbour entrance if driven back by an enemy landing, also adequately reinforced the defences of the chain. Yet another ‘peace dividend’ caused parlous neglect, noted by the first recorded Royal visitor, in 1552. Some minor work was carried out during the ‘Armada’ scare and the bulwark was certainly still manned in 1608. By the Civil War, in which Blockhouse played no part, little probably remained of these earlier structures, but the impact of this war was to be felt at Blockhouse for the next two centuries. For those who had failed to appreciate it earlier. action at Gosport proved quite conclusively to all that Portsmouth could only be held by controlling both sides of the harbour.                            NEXT PAGE      

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