Fort Albert was constructed to defend against the wooden hulled sailing Ships of the Napoleonic era but, just three years after completion, it was rendered obsolete by the launch of a French Ironclad warship that revolutionised naval warfare. Finding a new role as barracks and a Brennan Torpedo installation, it was decommissioned after World War II and is now private accommodation.
Fort Albert, which is also known as Cliff End Fort and Freshwater Castle, is situated opposite Hurst Castle guarding the narrow Western entrance into the Solent. It was commissioned due to the accession of Napoleon III and fears of a resumption of the Anglo-French wars. Along with Fort Victoria and the Freshwater Redoubt, the new fort was designed to guard against any enemy forces entering the Solent and attacking the major Royal Navy dockyard at Portsmouth. Work started in 1853 and was completed by 1856.
Fort Albert was configured for twenty-nine guns in four tiers. Seven heavy 68-pounder cannons were located on the ground floor and were augmented by a further fourteen 8-inch guns and six 32 pounders on the levels above. Two anti-personnel howitzers were installed on the roof and access into the fort was via a drawbridge connected to the adjacent cliff. The high ground immediately to the rear of the fort was seen as a potential weakness and accordingly a guardhouse was installed on the cliff top.
Almost as soon as the fort had been completed it became obsolete as in 1859 France launched the world's first Ironclad warship, the Gloire (the Glory). Fort Albert had been designed to fight wooden warships armed with smooth, round shot. However, the rise of Ironclads meant warship's were not only more durable against enemy fire but were also better armed with rifled weaponry that could punch through armoured hulls on other ships. This also made the high brick walls of Fort Albert particularly vulnerable to effective fire from the sea.
Following the launch of the Gloire, a Royal Commission was assembled to make recommendations on enhancing coastal defence which led to Lord Palmerston's government commissioning the biggest peacetime military building project in Britain's history. Chains of forts were constructed to protect both land and sea approaches to key Naval dockyards. The Commission regarded both Fort Victoria and Albert as obsolete and ordered new facilities to replace them. Cliff End Battery, Hatherwood Battery, Needles Old Battery and Warden Point Battery were all built at this time. Fort Albert was converted to serve as barracks for the new batteries.
The final upgrade to Fort Albert came in 1886. A new weapon system - the Brennan Torpedo - had been developed and evolved into a coastal defence device. This wire-guided torpedo could be fired from a shore position and then steered onto targets at a range of over one mile. Fort Albert, which was directly adjacent to the narrowest point into the western Solent, was chosen as one of four initial sites to be fitted with the weapon (the others were Cliffe Fort on the Thames, Garrison Point on the Medway and Fort Ricasoli at Grand Harbour in Malta). The trials were successful with the Brennan Torpedo remaining in use for just over 25 years. It was installed at locations across the UK and the wider empire.
After the Brennan Torpedo went out of use in the early twentieth century, Fort Albert resumed its role as a barracks. This continued until the decommissioning of coastal defence in 1956 after which the site was moth-balled, eventually sold and has now been converted into luxury accommodation.
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Fort Albert is a mid-nineteenth century brick and concrete Victorian Fort. It is currently in use as a private residence with no public access but it can be seen from the waterfront (accessed at low tide from Fort Victoria - but check tide times before you attempt it!) as well as from the cliffs above.
Fort Albert. The fort consisted of four tiers of guns and was based on the concept of simply out-gunning wooden sailing ships. However, with the arrival of armoured warships with rifled weaponry, it became outdated. Later forts were built with low-profiles and earth topped parapets.
Western Solent Defences. Whilst the easiest way into the Solent was via Spithead in the east, the western entrance provided attacks with a back-door to Southampton and Portsmouth. Anti-ship fortifications were built to defend the entrance from the Tudor period onwards.
Fort Albert. If you are planning to walk along the waterfront to view Fort Albert, ensure you check the tide-times.
Fort Ricasoli. This fort, at the mouth of the Grand Harbour in Malta, was also fitted with the Brennan torpedo.
Fort Albert is in Colwell Bay but is private property with no public access. It can be viewed from the cliffs above (via a right of way accessed via Fort Victoria / Westhill Lane) or by walking along the beach that extends west from Fort Victoria (at low tide only). The fort itself can be accessed via Monks Lane but that is a private road so it is recommended visitors park at Fort Victoria.
Fort Victoria (Car Parking)