"> Napoleonic History of Spitbank | No Mans | Horse Sand Forts


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

  • Black and white drawing of Napoleon stood with arms crossed overlooking the sea

    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”.

  • Dreadnoughts and hydroplane, British Grand Fleet, North Sea, First World War, 1914.

    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.

  • Inside Solent Forts as it would have looked during WWII

    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.

  • No Mans Fort as it looks today - view of the roof looking across The Solent

    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.

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Solent Forts Bookings - Update August 2021

As you will be aware the government have stated all restrictions will be lifted in August 2021 but have not guaranteed that restrictions could not be restored later in the year. Whilst this is encouraging for many businesses currently affected by the restrictions it does not change the Forts current position.

The Forts are a unique proposition, and present a lot of logistical challenges, as well as the normal hotel/restaurant operational requirements to meet current regulations. We also need to be aware of our obligation to the Historical significance of our properties and the need to preserve their heritage.

As this situation is unprecedented, we are unsure when it will be safe to reopen, and we will continue to defer a reopening until there is no threat of further restrictions/forced closures and it is safe for both guests and staff, and we will be able to once more offer our guests the best possible experience.

You will appreciate the nature of the current situation and the volume of customer enquiries we are receiving at this time. We are a very small team working on reduced hours and will process all enquiries as soon as possible. Please channel all enquiries through our hello@solentforts.com email address.

Please be advised

We will NOT be taking any new bookings/enquiries or sell any more vouchers at this time.

Guests with existing bookings/vouchers are advised to contact the hello@solentfports.com email box.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

The Solent Forts Team

*You may have seen that the Solent Forts are currently being marketed for sale. Hotels change hands regularly and existing bookings and deposits are transferred over to any new ownership. In the rare event this does not happen you will receive a full refund automatically at the time of sale. Please be assured your deposits and bookings are safe.