SOLENT FORTS HISTORY
Military tale behind nautical landmarks
Set sail through history to discover the incredible past of our man-made fortresses.
Our forts have a long and varied history dating back over 150 years. Distinctive and unmissable by virtue of their size and shape, Spitbank Fort, No Man’s Fort and Horse Sand Fort’s history offers an intriguing insight into a bygone era, and demonstrates the expertise and skill that was needed to plan and construct these sea based defences.
Take a step back in time and explore the Forts with footage captured during WWII
The French Threat
The tale of The Solent Forts dates back over 150 years when fear of invasion by the French led by Napoleon III resulted in the commissioning of these sea based defences by British Prime Minister Lord Henry Palmerston. Concerned that the naval fleet and Portsmouth dockyard would be a target, work began on five commissioned forts in the 1860s. With 15ft granite walls and armour plating, these magnificent structures are testament to the skill of Victorian engineering. Large stone blocks were used as foundations, transported from the quarry by train, and then by barge before being set in place by divers. Taking 15 years to complete, by the time the forts were ready for occupation, the feared French threat of invasion no longer existed and hence, the forts became known as “Palmerston’s follies”.
World War One
By the First World War, heavy guns were installed on the Isle of Wight, better positioned than the Forts to engage potential enemy ships. However these man-made fortresses came into their own as a line of defence when they were equipped with 4.7 and 6 inch guns, allowing them to target smaller fleets of ships trying to slip through the heavy defences. No Man's Land Fort and Horse Sand Fort became navy signalling stations. However, military defences in the channel were so strong that during this time in their history, the Solent Forts saw little action in the way of battles. The sites were then abandoned until the start of the Second World War.
World War Two
During WWII the forts came into their own as defences for the Portsmouth dockyard and the approaching sea channels. Life on site was grim and those serving their country were deliberately chosen based on their inability to swim, to avoid any attempts at escaping their post. Dark, damp and with basic facilities, it was a hard posting for any military personnel. The main threat during this time was from submarines, so between No Man's Fort and Horse Sand Fort a boom defence was rigged. During this time the forts took their fair share of damage and gunfire from air strikes, a line of attack they were not prepared for. After the Second World War they were completely decommissioned from military service and were, in the following two decades, put up for sale.
After the Wars
In 1956 coastal artillery was abolished, leaving the forts empty and unused. They were then put up for sale in 1963 but no one invested in these historic landmarks until the 1980s. Spitbank was originally bought by a couple who restored the building and converted it into a museum. In 2009 work began on transforming the first of our Solent Forts into a luxury hotel and we opened it in 2012. In the same year we purchased Horse Sand and No Man's Land Forts, converting one into a living museum, and the other into the grand luxury hotel and events venue that stands in the waters of the Solent today.