1. Elizabeth I made her rousing speech to the massed troops at Tilbury: “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England, too; and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realms; to which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms”. Had the Armada successfully landed troops Elizabeth’s forces would have crossed the Thames on a bridge of boats to intercept.
On the northern shores of the River Thames, protecting the Deptford dockyard and Woolwich arsenal, Tilbury Fort was built on the site of an earlier Tudor tower. The current structure dates from the late seventeenth century and was built as a reaction to the disastrous and humiliating Dutch attack on the Medway in 1667.
HISTORY OF TILBURY FORT
As England started an expansion of her Navy in the Tudor period, dockyard facilities were established at Deptford and an arsenal at Woolwich. To protect these installations from foreign attack by sea, Henry VIII built five small artillery blockhouses along the line of the Thames; East Tilbury, West Tilbury, Higham, Milton and Gravesend. It was at West Tilbury where the current fort is situated.
The foreign crisis of Henry VIII's reign passed without any attack on the Thames (in fact out of all his fortifications only Sandown Castle on the Isle of Wight saw action). This led to the five Thames blockhouses being neglected and, by the time of the Spanish Armada (1588) and the subsequent war with Spain, they were ruinous. Emergency repairs were made to West Tilbury and Gravesend whilst the others were demolished.
During the Civil War the fort was used as a Parliamentary checkpoint where ships were stopped and required to confirm loyalty to Parliament before being allowed to proceed onward to London. However after the Restoration it Charles II who left the biggest mark on the fort; following the humiliation of a major Dutch attack on the Medway in 1667, the Government funded the construction of the fort visible today. Building around the Tudor blockhouse, angled bastions were constructed designed to take heavy artillery. Construction took 18 years with the fort not becoming fully operational until 1685.
Upgraded regularly throughout the eighteenth century, in reaction to the regular wars with France, it was downgraded to a secondary line of defence when the 1860 Palmerston defences built newer forts closer to the sea. By January 1906 the fort was regarded as superfluous for coastal defence and was used for garrison duties only.