FORT STADDON

and the STADDON HEIGHTS DEFENCES

Situated high above Plymouth Sound, Fort Staddon was the lynch-pin of the Eastern defences built as part of a scheme of fortifications designed to protect Devonport dockyard. It was never fully armed but has remained in military use since its construction and is currently a Royal Navy radio station.

History

 

Introduction

 

Staddon Heights stand over 120 metres above sea level and dominates the eastern side of Plymouth Sound. It offers clear views across the city and beyond to the Royal Navy dockyard at Devonport. Throughout the medieval and Tudor periods, a beacon was maintained there to guide mariners. Later, as relations with the continental powers prompted fears of invasions, a watchtower was built upon the Heights. However, by the sixteenth century developments in artillery, which had seen significant improvements in the effective range of cannon, meant the Heights became strategically important as an enemy occupying them could bombard the dockyard and Plymouth Sound.

 

Staddon Battery

 

The earliest artillery position on the Heights was Staddon Battery which was constructed on the cliffs overlooking the Sound during the sixteenth century. Little is known about this early structure and the precise date it was founded is uncertain. However, it was shown on a map dated 1587 and perhaps had been built as a result of the growing tensions with Spain. It was rebuilt in 1779 into a ten gun battery with a square guardhouse to its rear. By 1804 its armament consisted of a mix of 12-pounder and 18-pounder smooth bore guns offering effective fire over a range of around 1,700 metres. When paired with artillery upon the Maker Heights, this offered coverage across the expanse of Plymouth Sound. However, the battery's effectiveness was greatly increased following the construction of Plymouth Breakwater between 1811 and 1848. Ships entering the Sound to the east of the breakwater were funnelled through a 550 metre wide channel under the guns. This increased the battery's importance prompting it to be rebuilt in 1811 with further magazines added and an enlarged guardhouse. It remained in use as a coastal defence battery until 1853 when it was replaced by Staddon Point Battery.  It has been demolished and is now the site of Staddon Cottage.

 

Fort Staddon

 

In 1858 the French launched the world's first seagoing Ironclad warship, 'La Gloire' (the Glory), instantly rendering the wooden sailing ships of the Royal Navy obsolete and prompting fears of invasion. A Royal Commission was established to review coastal defence and that body recommended a vast fort building programme around Plymouth Sound to ensure the security of the Royal Navy dockyard at Devonport. The programme included sea defences and a series of fortifications to prevent overland attacks. The latter was divided into three distinct schemes consisting of the Northern Lines, the Western Lines and the Staddon Lines. The latter had been assessed by Lieutenant Colonel William Jervois and he recommended an integrated defensive system consisting of forts and batteries linked by a  military road and protected by ditches and embankments. His proposals were adopted by the Royal Commission with Fort Staddon becoming the lynch-pin of the Staddon Lines.

 

Fort Staddon was built upon the summit of the Heights. Although this dominant position had hosted a maritime beacon and watchtower, the limited range of artillery prior to the mid-nineteenth century meant it had never been fortified. However, by the time Fort Staddon was conceived, it was now entirely possible for an enemy force to capture Staddon Heights and bombard the Royal Navy dockyard at Devonport. Its primary purpose was to control the summit and prevent an enemy force advancing onto the Heights from the east. It was flanked to the north by Fort Stamford and to the south by Brownhill Battery. Seaward facing installations already existed at Staddon Point but these were augmented by Fort Bovisand. A military road, protected where required by an earthwork bank and ditch, connecting all these installations.

 

Work on Fort Staddon commenced in April 1861 and took almost eight years to complete at a cost around £113,000. As with other forts in the scheme, it was designed by Captain Edmund Du Cane. The fort was polygonal in shape with its main offensive armament, which was originally intended to consist of twenty-five 7-inch Rifled Breach Loading guns augmented by two 64-pounder guns and four 8-inch Howitzers, facing east. The land beyond the fort was landscaped to create a glacis to both conceal its presence and absorb enemy fire. Defensive arrangements around the fort consisted of a deep ditch covered by three caponiers (covered passages) which enabled flanking fire upon any attackers attempting to scale the walls. The fort was originally planned to include a separate Keep (probably similar to that at Eggbuckland) but this was removed from the design due to the cost concerns. Instead the fort was divided into Inner and Outer sections divided by a casemated barracks. The rear (western side) of the fort was protected by two demi-bastions covering the entrance.

 

Developments in artillery, as well as a concern over costs, meant the intended armament of the fort was never realised. Instead the weapons fit was significantly scaled back and in 1893 consisted of just two 5-inch Breach Loading guns, four 64-pounder guns, six 7-inch Rifled Breach Loading guns and eight 32-pounder guns. Two machine guns were later added. However, the rebuilding of Watch House Battery (see below) in 1901 reduced the requirement for Fort Staddon and its armaments were subsequently reduced to two 40-pounders, one 16-pounder and two unidentified guns. The fort was probably completely disarmed soon after and the neighbouring golf club was established in 1904. Nevertheless the prominent position of the fort has meant it has continued to have a military use to this day and has served a variety of functions over the years including hosting RAF escape and evasion training. It is currently in use as a Royal Navy communications site. Two radio masts, one in the parade ground, the other within the eastern ramparts, mark its presence.

 

Brownhill Battery

 

Brownhill Battery was built between 1858 and 1867 to act as a wing battery for Fort Staddon. It was designed with fourteen gun positions although it was never fully armed - in 1875 it was fitted with just eight 64-pounder Rifled Muzzle Loading guns. It was fronted by a ditch that ran south from Fort Staddon (and descended to Fort Bovisand) and a military road ran directly to its rear. By 1878 it was being used as a store for submarine mines and its armament was later upgraded to six 8-inch Rifled Muzzle Loading Howitzers. However, the facility was later deemed superfluous and it was disused by 1914. During World War II it acted as a control room and hosted radar equipment of the 9th Royal Artillery Regiment who manned the Hooe Hill Rocket Battery.

 

Twelve Acre Brake Battery (Frobisher Battery)

 

Twelve Acre Brake Battery was built in 1867 to serve as an intermediate gun position between Brownhill and Watch House Brake batteries. It was equipped with three gun positions and was designed to operate in support of the anti-ship batteries at Fort Bovisand. It was predominantly an earthwork structure but included a hardened magazine. It is uncertain if it was ever fully armed and in 1875 was only equipped with one Smooth Bore gun. However, a review of Plymouth's defences in 1887 suggested that heavier armaments were required. Accordingly between 1888 and 1892 it was rebuilt to accommodate a single 12.5-inch Rifled Muzzle Loading gun. Around 1900 proposals were made to modify it again to accommodate two 9.2-inch Breach Loading guns but these plans were never enacted. Frobisher Battery was disarmed in 1903 and thereafter simply used as a practise battery. It was filled with earth in 1980.

 

Watch House Brake Battery (Watch House Battery)

 

Watch House Brake Battery was built between 1864 and 1867 to augment the firepower of Fort Bovisand and to act as a redoubt occupying the highest point overlooking that facility. It had five weapon emplacements and in 1875 had been fitted out with three 64-pounder Rifled Muzzle Loading guns. It was protected by the ditch running between Fort Staddon and Fort Bovisand and was also surrounded by its own ditch. Caponiers with musket galleries were built at each end enabling defenders to fire into both ditches. It was renamed Watch House Battery in 1890 and remained armed until 1900. Thereafter it was substantially rebuilt to support two 6-inch Breach Loading guns. It continued to serve a coastal defence function through both World Wars and was finally decommissioned in 1956.

 

Staddon Heights Battery

 

Staddon Heights Battery was built in 1893 in close vicinity to the site of the original Staddon Battery, which had been abandoned in 1853 in favour of Staddon Point Battery. It was fitted with two 12.5-inch Rifled Muzzle Loading guns and a position finder was constructed as part of the scheme. Its purpose was to act in conjunction with the batteries on the Maker Heights to deliver plunging fire onto enemy shipping entering the Sound. It was made superfluous by the rebuilding of Watch House Battery in 1901. it was later filled in with earth.

 

Rifle Butts

 

Anyone viewing the Staddon Heights today will notice a distinctive wall. This was a rifle butt built by the army in 1860s to enable troops to practise with the newly issued Enfield rifle. The butt was extended to the south in 1894 for the Royal Marines. During World War II the site was used for mooring a barrage balloon. These hydrogen filled barrage balloons were intended to act as an obstacle preventing low level enemy air attacks. The moorings at Staddon Heights are largely intact and a rare survivor of such World War II defences.

 

 

Bibliography

 

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

Historic England (2014). Staddon Heights Defences, List Entry 1002585. 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 Staddon remains in military use and thus access to the interior is not possible unless facilitated by the Ministry of Defence. The outer walls and ditch can be viewed at any reasonable time. Also visible nearby are some of the earth banks and ditches that formed part of the Staddon Lines but many of the sites are not accessible either because they are on land owned by the Ministry of Defence (Staddon Heights Battery and Watch House Battery) or are in private use (Brownhill Battery).

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. Fort Staddon was the lynch-pin of the Eastern (Staddon) Lines, a series of fortifications occupying the high ground overlooking the east of the Sound. Additional forts provided protection from the north (Northern Lines - centred on Crownhill Fort), west (Western Lines - centred on Tregantle Fort) and also from a direct assault from the sea. Details of all the forts of Plymouth Sound can be found here.

Staddon Lines. Fort Staddon was at the centre of the Staddon Lines. All the sites were connected by a military road and its entire southern section was protected by a ditch. Fort Stamford, Fort Staddon and Brownhill Battery prevented an attack from the east. The remaining facilities prevented a seaborne attack into Plymouth Sound.

Fort Staddon. The approach to the fort doubles as the car park for the Staddon Heights Golf Club.

Military Use. The fort remains in military use as a Royal Navy communications centre and accordingly there is no public access. Public rights of way run adjacent to the site enable the exterior to be viewed.

Fort Staddon Layout. The fort was configured in a polygonal shape and was originally planned to include a Keep to the rear (West) of the Parade Ground.

Staddon Heights. The fort occupied the summit overlooking the Sound. The seventeenth century Mount Batten Tower can be seen to the right of the photograph. Fort Stamford is to the left.

Demi-Bastions. The entrance to the fort was flanked by two demi-bastions.

Military Road. Fort Staddon viewed from the military road leading to Brownhill Battery.

Earth Covered Ramparts.

Watch House (Brake) Battery. Watch House Battery occupied the high ground overlooking Fort Bovisand. It included musket galleries enabling fire into the defensive ditch that ran between Fort Staddon and Fort Bovisand.

Rifle Butts. The rifle butts were built in the 1860s and then extended in 1894. A barrage balloon site was installed at the site during World War II.

Brownhill Battery. The site of Brownhill Battery which protected the southern flank of Fort Staddon.

Getting There

Fort Staddon is not sign-posted but is easy to find. Follow road-signs to the Staddon Heights and thereafter the Staddon Heights Golf Club. Off-road parking is possible in the immediate vicinity of the fort. Alternatively use the public car park at Bovisand (pay and display during Summer months) and take a circular walk along the South West Coastal Path and Staddon Lane to see the wider defences. Note that most of the sites are inaccessible to the public.

Fort Staddon (No Access)

PL9 9SP

50.34609N 4.114092W

Bovisand Car Park

PL9 0AD

50.336869N 4.120513W

Fort Bovisand (No Access)

No Postcode

50.336744N 4.126548W

Watch House Battery (No Access)

No Postcode

50.338775N 4.124870W

Rifle Butts (No Access)

No Postcode

50.341134N 4.123904W

Staddon Heights Battery (No Access)

No Postcode

50.341430N 4.126247W

Brownhill Battery (No Access)

No Postcode

50.340135N 4.117379W