When you visit Fort Victoria today, don't expect to be greeted with a fully functioning fort dressed as a living history exhibit. What remains here are the fragments of a coastal defence fort built in the 1850's which stood for 100 years before being partially demolished and repurposed in the 1960's. What you will find are glimpses of a military past in the form of the still standing casemates and installations dotted around the park. Learn more about the varied history of Fort Victoria below.
Fort Victoria was built between 1852 and 1855 as one of a series of defences built to protect the western end of the Solent. The channel between the Island and Hurst Spit on the mainland is only about 1.2 km wide at this point and is a vulnerable back door to Portsmouth and Southampton. Fort Albert, just to the west, forms a strong triangle with Hurst Castle.
Fort Victoria was built in response to a perceived French threat. But due to rapid advancements in technology with the introduction of rifled canons which had the ability to destroy brick built forts with precision, Fort Victoria was placed into reserve in 1860. Finally being de-armed in 1876 and then being used as a barracks, experimental and training base up until 1962 when the military left. The original casemates remain in place as a reminder of a different age.
The fort was designated a local authority Country Park in 1971, intended to provide a place for quiet recreation. It has been managed as a public park ever since by the Isle of Wight Council who own the site.
1525 - Worsleys Tower Built
The first defensive work in the area was built halfway between Sconce Point and Cliff End around 1525 by Sir James Worsley, then Captain of the Island. Worlsey's Tower was an octagonal stone structure 19ft High and 26ft Wide. It was most likely a single storey building with roof mounted guns. When surveyed in 1623 the tower had been abandoned and was probably demolished some time between 1624 and 1631.
1547 - Sharpnode Blockhouse
Around 1547 Sharpnode Blockhouse was built where Fort Victoria now stands. There was an earth platform roughly 11 meters square encased with wooden planks. 8 Feet high on the seaward side and higher on the land facing side. Built at Royal expense (Henry the eighth) in response to an invasion threat from France and Spain. A 1559 survey noted that the blockhouse was starting to collapse and recommended that the planks were replaced by Stone, however nothing was done until the Aramada threat in 1588.
1588 - Careys Sconce
In 1588 with the threat of the Aramada the blockhouse was rebuilt as Carey's Sconce. Named after Sir George Carey who was Govenor of the Island at the time. The fort was finished in 1589 in 98 days. "Sconce" was derived from the dutch word "Schans", meaning a detached fort with bastions. It is believed it was a five pointed star fort. It is unknown how long the sconce survived for but in 1623 it was described as a "bare model of an old ruined sconce which has been many years abandoned". It isn't mentioned again but the area on which it stood has forever since been known as "Sconce Point".
1803 - Sconce Point Redoubt.
When Napoleon threatened to invade Britain between 1803 and 1805, emergency earthen batteries or redoubts were thrown up to cover most likely landing places. Old maps suggest the redoubt here at Sconce Point was an oval shaped earthwork of about 2000 square metres. Once the war had ended in 1815 the battery became a coastguard station.
1851 - 1852 - Fear of French Invasion
In 1851 a "Coupe d'etat" was carried out by Louis Napoleon, nephew of the great Napoleon. This caused an invasion scare in Britain. In 1852 Queen Victoria demanded such good defences that invasion panics could not so regularly re-occur.
1852- 1855 Building of Fort Victoria
Tenders for a new fort at Sconce Point were submitted in 1852. It was usual then for such works to be built by private contractors under the supervision of a Royal Engineers Officer. The tender being finally awarded to builder Edward Smith of Woolwich for the sum of £37,795. The contract was awarded in 1853, however work to peg out the lines of the fort walls had already began in November 1852. The work was completed in 18 months, The Royal Navy providing the Hulk ship H.M.S Talbot to provide accommodation for the 350 workmen afloat near the site. On August the 15th 1853 a model of the Fort was taken to Osborne House and shown to Prince Albert, Thereafter it was referred to as Fort Victoria in honour of his wife the Queen. Prince Albert visited the Fort after its completion in July 1855 and was critical of some of the design resulting in modifications to the earth parados behind the guns. Fort Victoria was officially completed on April 27th 1855.
Isle of Wight Artillery Militia
On March 28th, 1854 Britain declared war on Russia. The outbreak of the crimean war intensified efforts to finish and arm Fort Victoria to defend the needles passage. As so many regular troops were sent to the Crimea, the government raised units of militia to defend the country. The militia was a national part - time paid force raised by voluntary enlistment or compulsory ballot who's members did 21 days training a year. The Isle of Wight Artillery Militia had been formed in 1853. In February 1855 its company assembled in Newport and marched to Fort Victoria and composed its first garrison. The men were responsible for landing and installing the guns. The Crimean war ended in March 1856 and the men marched out of the Fort on June the 16th. On June the 30th the 5th company , 8th Battalion
Royal Artillery arrived from Gibraltar as the first regular garrison of Fort Victoria.
Fort Victoria relegated to reserve status.
July 1858, Shots were fired into the earth glacis at the Fort to check its ability to absorb the punishment, satisfaction was remarked in the official comments but the fort by this time was obsolete. Technological advances in weaponry had created breech loading guns that fired elongated shells instead of spherical ones, Guns became rifled which spun the shells on their axis in flight ensuring far greater accuracy. What these new rifled guns could do to casemated brick forts such as Fort Victoria was demonstrated in the American civil war, where the work of one gun was able to pick apart and shatter the brickwork and masonry with ease. In 1859 the French launched "La Gloire" the first iron clad warship, giving her supremacy over the British fleet of wooden ships, sparking a whole new invasion threat panic. The scare led Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston to set up a commission on the defences of the United Kingdom. As a result Fort Victoria and nearby Fort Albert were described as "not of the most approved construction". In view of the speed of the current between Hurst castle and Sconce point it was not felt that the forts would be able to bring about sufficient fire to impede a ships passage down the Solent. The commission proposed additional fortification be built at Needles Point and Cliff end, strengthening Hurst castle and a new barracks at Golden Hill. The new works being batteries situated on cliff tops designed to bring down fire onto approaching warships. The two older brick forts of Albert and Victoria were placed into reserve status. By 1861 the Fort was primarily being used as a barracks and store house and maintained a small Garrison until 1876 when the armaments were removed. It continued to be used a a barracks for the Royal Artillery who left in 1885.