History

 

Introduction

 

Bovisand Bay is located on the eastern side of the entrance to Plymouth Sound. The presence of a fresh water stream made it an important anchorage for the Royal Navy as it enabled them to replenish their ships without navigating into the Hamoaze. To protect the site, a gun battery had been built before 1587 at Staddon Point, the high ground just to the north of Bovisand. This was rebuilt in the early nineteenth century and in 1816 the Royal Navy built a dedicated berth (Rennie's Harbour) and reservoir at Bovisand. However, it was  construction of the breakwater between 1812 and 1844 which created a requirement for new defences around Plymouth Sound. The Inter Service Committee on Harbour Defences made recommendations in 1844 and proposed new batteries at Picklecombe, Eastern King and Bovisand. The latter was to required to command the 550 metre gap between the breakwater and Bovisand Bay.

 

Staddon Point Battery (1847)

 

Staddon Point Battery was built between 1845 and 1847. It was a three storey, tiered structure aligned on a south-west axis which allowed its armaments to cover the eastern channel into Plymouth Sound. The lower level consisted of the gun battery whilst the upper storeys were barracks designed to accommodate 90 men and 3 Officers. The entire battery was constructed from rubble with ashlar features and was surrounded on all sides by a ditch. It was disarmed following the completion of Fort Bovisand in 1870 and was solely used as accommodation for the new facility. A covered way, complete with musket loop holes, was built to link it with the fort.

 

Fort Bovisand

 

In 1852 Napoleon III became emperor of France and his expansionist policies caused concern in Britain. This turned into panic when the French launched the first seagoing Ironclad warship ('La Gloire'; the Glory) in 1858. This armoured vessel outclassed anything in the Royal Navy threatening British maritime superiority and with it access to Britain’s growing number of overseas territories which depended entirely upon freedom of access to the sea. The Government of Lord Palmerston instigated a Royal Commission in 1859 which recommended construction of chains of forts around the sea and land approaches to the key Royal Navy dockyards. Plymouth was noted as an area of significant weakness and a massive fort building programme commenced. It included both a layered scheme of sea defences, consisting of inner and outer lines, as well a series of fortifications to prevent overland attacks. Fort Bovisand was part of the outer sea defences but was also connected to the Staddon Lines, the fortifications occupying the eastern heights overlooking Plymouth Sound.

 

Work started on Fort Bovisand in 1861. It was originally intended to be a two-tier structure with fifty guns designed to cover the approaches and eastern entrance to the Sound. By 1864 the foundations had been constructed but the plans for the upper structure were extensively modified. The new design meant the fort was developed as  a single storey structure and was also adapted to take larger Rifled Muzzle Loading guns. Because of the increased size of these weapons, the number of guns was reduced to twenty-three. Each was enclosed within an iron shielded casemate enabling it to be re-armed in comparative safety following each firing. Sunken magazines below the fort were fitted with lifts enabling the shells and powder to be brought up to the guns. The new fort had no accommodation and instead the existing facilities of Staddon Point Battery were utilised.

 

Work was completed on Fort Bovisand in 1869 although a practise battery was added on the site of the modern car park in 1870. The initial armament consisted of twenty-two 9-inch Rifled Muzzle Loading guns plus a single 10-inch gun. By 1890 fourteen of the 9-inch guns had been removed and replaced with 10-inch versions but even these had a relatively short lifespan as they were slow to fire and train. With the development of the Fast Motor Torpedo Boat, new defences were again required. A new battery was built at Staddon Point (see below) and Fort Bovisand instead became the control and maintenance centre for an electronically operated minefield that was installed between Bovisand Bay and the Breakwater.

 

Fort Bovisand was re-armed during World War II when a pair of Quick Firing Guns was installed on the roof. Two of the original armoured casemates were converted into magazines to support the new guns. A 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun was also added to the fort's roof in 1943. All weapons were removed after the war and the fort was closed by the Ministry of Defence in 1956 as part of the decommissioning of coastal defence. In 1970 it was leased to the School of Nautical Archaeology and was opened as diving school. Purchased by Greg Dyke, former Director General of the BBC, in 2005 the fort is now owned by the Fort Bovisand Trust who ultimately aim to convert it into a heritage visitor attraction. In the meantime the site continues to be used as a diving centre. The last military personnel withdrew from the site in September 2013 when the Joint Service Sub Aqua Diving Centre (JSSADC) relocated to Devonport Naval Dockyard.

 

Staddon Point Battery (1899)

 

The development of the Fast Motor Torpedo Boat in the late nineteenth century rendered the main armaments of Fort Bovisand obsolete. The new Quick Firing gun was required and these were unsuitable for installation in Fort Bovisand itself so between 1898 and 1899 a new battery was built located in the ditch of the former 1844 Staddon Point Battery. It was armed with four 12-pounder Quick Firing guns and, between 1903 and 1908, the battery was modified to take a further two. The facilities of the old battery were utilised to serve as accommodation with its middle floor being used as a barracks and the upper floor providing the Officers' quarters. It remained armed until 1942 after which it was converted to take anti-aircraft weapons - first rockets and then a 40mm Bofors gun. It was disarmed after World War II and disposed of in 1956.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Dyer, N (2014). British Fortification in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Inky Little Fingers Ltd.

Historic England (2014). Bovisand Harbour and Pier, List Entry 1379620. Historic England, London.

Kinross, J (1999). The Palmerston Forts of the South West: Why were they built? BBNO Battery Books.

HM Stationery Office (1860). Reports from Commissioners: Sixteen Volumes: Coal Mines, Inland Revenue, Post Office, Ordnance Survey, Defences of the United Kingdom. London.

Marriott, L (2015). West Country Forts and Castles. Air Sea Media.

Moore, D (2011). Arming the Forts. Speedyprint, Gosport.

Moore, D (2010). Staddon Fort. victorianforts.co.uk

Pye, A (1996). The Historic Defences of Plymouth. Cornwall County Council.

Woodward, F.W (1997). Forts or Follies? Palmerston Forts. Halsgrove.

What's There?

Fort Bovisand and Staddon Heights Battery are both in private ownership and therefore there is no public access to the interior of either structure. The exterior can be be viewed from the South-West Coastal Path and (with permission) from the Diving Centre.

Fort Bovisand Layout. The fort was built in front of the original Staddon Point Battery. With the development of the Fast Motor Torpedo Boat, a new quick firing battery was built to the rear of Fort Bovisand in the ditch of Staddon Point Battery.  The site was flanked on the east by a dry ditch that an north towards Fort Staddon via Watch House and Frobisher Batteries.

Fort Bovisand. The fort as seen from the South-West Coastal Path. The 1898 battery is in the top-left of the photograph.

Armoured Casemates. The concept behind the fort was to enable the defences to withstand an attack from weaponry at least as powerful as its own. Accordingly the guns were embedded in armoured casemates with an Iron plated front and 'Iron concrete' to the rear. The rest of the structure was made of granite. It was a robust fort but the internal casemates would have filled up with smoke quickly and the guns were slow to fire - a trial conducted by Fort Picklecombe put the average at one shot every 1 minute 45 seconds.

Staddon Ditch. A dry ditch ran down from Fort Staddon and protected the eastern side of Staddon Point Battery and Fort Bovisand. The musket gallery seen in the distance belonged to Watch House Battery.

Staddon Point Battery. The curved structure to the left is the remains of the 1898 battery. The square structure to the right was the 1844 battery.

Staddon Point Battery. The battery was built between 1844 and 1845. Following the construction of Fort Bovisand it was simply used as barracks. It continued in this role when the new Staddon Point Battery was built in 1898.

Rennie's Harbour and Breakwater. Rennie's Harbour was built in 1816 to provide a short term berth for ship's of the Royal Navy to replenish their water supplies. The battery and the fort guarded the eastern entrance into Plymouth Sound. The contemporary Breakwater Fort and Picklecombe Fort can be seen in the distance.

Victorian Defences of Plymouth Sound. The Victorian defences were intended to ensure any enemy force was unable to close within artillery range of the important Royal Navy dockyard in Devonport. Details of all the forts of Plymouth Sound can be found here.

Staddon Lines. The Staddon Lines was a series of defences which guarded the Eastern side of Plymouth Sound. The lynch-pin was Fort Staddon which was flanked by Fort Stamford and Brownhill Battery. A military road connected the sites.

FORT BOVISAND

and the STADDON POINT BATTERY

With the construction of Plymouth breakwater, Bovisand Bay became strategically important and accordingly Staddon Point Battery was built in 1844. This was replaced by Fort Bovisand in the 1860s but, by the end of the nineteenth century, the development of the Fast Motor Torpedo Boat saw that facility become obsolete and it was replaced by a new Staddon Point Battery.

Getting There

Fort Boivsand is found at the end of an unnamed road accessed from Staddon Heights. The turning is sign-posted and there is a (pay and display) car park in the vicinity. This offers easy access to the South-West Coastal Path and visitors can take a short circular walk to see Fort Bovisand, Staddon Point Battery and the wider Staddon Heights defences. Note that most of the sites are inaccessible to the public.

Bovisand Car Park

PL9 0AD

50.336869N 4.120513W

Fort Bovisand (No Access)

No Postcode

50.336744N 4.126548W