The remains of a Napoleonic era fort that has been extensively upgraded over the years as its armaments were updated. The fort offers good views over the Mersey towards Liverpool Docks and also includes exhibitions on HMS Thetis and aviation archaeology. Around 0.5 miles to the south are the remains of Liscard Battery where portions of the wall can be seen although the site is now occupied by residential properties. Crosby Battery, on the other side of the water, survives and can be accessed at any reasonable time.
Notes: Fort is found in New Brighton and is well sign-posted. There is a large car park in the immediate vicinity. For visitors to Liscard Battery, the remains can be seen on Magazine Lane but these are not sign-posted. Crosby Battery can be found on the other side of the water and is accessed via a short walk starting from the car park near the HM Coastguard station.
Mersey Defences. Perch Rock Fort was built to control the Rock Channel which, in the early nineteenth century, was the main shipping route into Liverpool. Within a few decades this channel started to silt up prompting increased use of the Crosby Channel which in turn led to upgrading the weapons at Perch and construction of other fortifications on the Liverpool side of the Mersey. By the 1870s the main defensive line was between Perch Rock Fort and Seaforth Battery and this remained extant until the 1920s. Thereafter Perch and Crosby were the primary defensive facilities for the Mersey.
Six-Inch Gun Emplacement. One of several emplacements added to the fort as part of the remodelling to take heavier guns. New Brighton Lighthouse, built concurrently with the fort, can be seen in the background.
Known as the “Little Gibraltar of the Mersey”, Perch Rock Fort was built shortly after the Napoleonic Wars to replace temporary fortifications in Liverpool. The defences around this key port were regularly updated but the fort remained an important installation until decommissioned in the mid-twentieth Century.
HISTORY OF PERCH ROCK FORT
Perch Rock Fort is located at the northern extremity of the Wirral peninsula overlooking the River Mersey and Liverpool docks. The fort has its origins from the Napoleonic wars at which time Liverpool was a thriving and wealthy port. A number of gun batteries had been built on the Liverpool side to provide protection for the port but the continuous expansion of the docks made the real estate on which they were built extremely valuable. Accordingly a fort was first proposed for the other side of the channel in 1803. Aside from the defensive benefits the wealthy merchants operating out of Liverpool also wanted a lighthouse to mark the adjacent reef and it was considered that the fort could double in this role (although eventually a dedicated lighthouse was also built on the site). Disputes over funding delayed the project whilst Admiral Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) reduced the urgency, so it wasn't until 1826 that construction started. Although peace had been made with France, Liverpool's merchants remained committed to the project as the fort’s presence eliminated the use of site as a wrecking ground where locals attempted to lure ships onto the hazardous rocks in order to steal the cargo. Work on the fort completed in 1829.
The fort was built from red standstone imported from Runcorn and was constructed on top of a standstone base known as the Black Rocks. It was configured to a trapezoid shaped design by Captain John Sikes Kitson of the Royal Engineers. Capable of garrisoning 100 men plus officers, its peacetime complement consisted of a Master Gunner and eight invalids (medically downgraded soldiers unsuitable for active service). In times of emergency the fort would have been manned by the Fourth Cheshire Company of Artillery Volunteers (which later merged with other units to become part of the Lancashire and Cheshire Heavy Brigade). The fort was armed with sixteen 32-pounder cannons which covered the Rock channel, which was then the main route for shipping to enter the Mersey (located a mere 950 yards from the fort). A further two guns, 18-pounders, covered the causeway to the fort. A single magazine served the fort and was located in the central courtyard. Until the modern bridge was constructed, the fort was originally cut off from the mainland at high tide.
By the mid nineteenth century the Rock Channel was starting to silt up and shipping was increasingly using a passage further to the east (the Crosby Channel). This was too far for the 32-pounder guns to cover and so additional 64-pounders were installed. The Mersey defences were augmented by the construction of North Fort (in Liverpool) in 1852. Concerns about the increasing range of naval artillery led to further batteries being built on both sides of the channel in the decades that followed.
The defences of the Mersey were reviewed again in 1882 and Perch Rock Fort was remodelled to take four 10.4 inch RBL (Rifled Breach Loading) guns. North Fort was dismantled as it was regarded as too far up river and thus ineffective and a remotely operated submarine minefield was laid between Perch Rock Fort and Seaforth Battery (which had been constructed in 1875). Building work for the installation of Quick Firing guns at the fort, to deal with the threat from Motor Torpedo boats, was started in 1893 but ultimately abandoned when they were fitted to Seaforth Battery instead. Perch Rock was instead fitted with two machine guns (installed by May 1893) and three six-inch guns (in place by 1899) along with electric searchlights.
Perch Rock Fort was remodelled again in 1909 this time to enable it to take three Mark VII six-inch breach loading guns. These were in place by the outbreak of the First World War and, although the fort saw no action during the conflict, it did fire at a Norwegian ship attempting to enter the Mersey via closed channel during the First World War. The gunners were perhaps out of practise for they missed the ship and instead almost hit a house in Hightown on the other side of the Mersey.
In the 1920s, like earlier defences on the Liverpool side of the channel, Seaforth Battery was demolished to make more space for the docks. Perch Rock Fort became the primary facility for defence of the Mersey although the fort's armaments at the outbreak of the Second World War was much the same as during the earlier conflict albeit aided by radar ranging from 1941. From 1943 onwards the fort was manned by members of the Home Guard. A rather novel form of camouflage was used for the fort during the war - it was made to look like a coastal tourist resort. A fake lawn was painted and 'tea' signs were put on the structure.
Along with most other coastal defence facilities, the fort was decommissioned by the War Office in 1956 (its guns had been removed two years earlier). It was sold in 1958 and subsequently passed through various owners but today hosts a variety of museums including an exhibition of the sinking of HM Submarine Thetis and an Aviation Archaeology museum.