Tilbury Fort

Aerial view of the Fort, courtesy of English Heritage. The 'ravelin' can be seen as the triangular island front-most.

Aerial view of the Fort, courtesy of English Heritage. The ‘ravelin’ can be seen as the triangular island front-most.

Whilst a fort – the ‘Thermitage Bulwark’, was built on the site, under Henry VII, in 1539, the current incarnation was built in 1670 as a defense against the Spanish Armada. Slow construction meant the fort would not be completed until some ten years later. As well as the main star-shaped brick fort, a brick and earthen gunline was also constructed facing across the Thames. In 1724 Daniel Defoe estimated there to be around 100 guns on-site. Captain Charles Gordon saw much remodeling such as the heaping of earth around the original walls to protect them from the effects of high velocity modern guns firing within the vicinity. Henry VIII’s blockhouse adjacent was demolished as part of these developments, in 1867.

By the First World War, anti-aircraft guns were added, and shot down a German zeppelin. This was the only time the fort actually had any military success throughout its long history. Of course, we must remember that if defences such as Tilbury Fort were not built throughout history, the country would be allowing enemy invasion. It could be said it acted more so as a deterrent. The 18th Century barrack blocks were damages in the Second World War, and were demolished in 1950.

A replica Spigot Mortar on one of the two remaining Spigot Mortar mounts on the site. These were used by the Home Guard - the site saw use as a defense of the Home Guard during World War Two.

A replica Spigot Mortar on one of the two remaining Spigot Mortar mounts on the site. These were used by the Home Guard – the site saw use as a defense of the Home Guard during World War Two.

The original 400 year old explosives magazine was later connected by a tunnel system in the Victorian era, featuring two cartridge lifts on the way. There a several magazine tunnels around the site.

Original defences of this fort included two moats; such defence had seen use since the Medieval era and long before. Also dominant is a ravelin (an ‘island’ in the moats before the entrance). Redans are also present; triangular outcrops in the wall facing the expected direction of attack. This would allow troops to cover every section of the fort’s walls from attack, unlike traditional walls which would mean there would be ‘blank points’ when the enemy got right against the wall.

Sighting up the spigot mortar

Sighting up the spigot mortar

The dead house was a room with a trap door used to store the sick and injured as a kind of quarantine – it was either die or recover!

Kevin Diver, site manager, invited us to visit the fort and took us on an exclusive behind the scenes tour, in which we were able to see the tunnels, dead house, and housing block rooftop.

The Victorian semi-detached accommodation housed the ‘officer’s mess’; the officer’s personal quarters. We were fortunate to go up through the officer’s mess and onto the rooftop of this classic Victorian ‘urban’ house-type block.

 

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