FORT STAMFORD

Fort Stamford guarded the northern flank of the Staddon Lines, a series of fortifications built in the 1860s to protect the eastern side of Plymouth Sound. Constructed on the site of a Civil War siege work, the fort dominated the high ground to the south east of Plymouth. The site was completely de-armed by 1904 and has now been converted into a caravan park.

History

 

Fort Stamford occupies a dominant position overlooking the Cattewater, the mouth of the River Plym and the Hooe Lake. It was first fortified during the Civil War when the Royalists built an earthwork artillery position on the site as part of the siege works surrounding Plymouth, which was in Parliament’s hands. Despite most of the South West being held by Royalist forces, the town had remained staunchly in favour of Parliament. The headland was seized by the King’s forces in 1643 and enabled them to bombard Plymouth's main harbour at Sutton Pool, a mere 1,500 metres to the north-west.  Given Plymouth was entirely dependent upon re-supply by sea, this action almost broke the town’s resistance but, under the cover of darkness, sufficient foodstuffs were imported via the more westerly facilities at Millbay to enable the defenders to continue. The Royalist siege was ultimately lifted when Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex advanced into the South West in 1644. Thereafter the site remained unfortified until the nineteenth century.

 

Fort Stamford was one of numerous fortifications built around Plymouth Sound as tensions increased with France in the mid-nineteenth century. The catalyst for its construction was the launch, in 1858, of the French Ironclad vessel - 'La Gloire' (the Glory). This was the world's first armoured seagoing warship and instantly outclassed anything in the Royal Navy. This threatened 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. Fearing the 'wooden walls' of the Royal Navy were no longer sufficient to guarantee the security of the British Isles, renewed focus was placed on coastal defence. The Government of Lord Palmerston instigated a Royal Commission which recommended construction of rings of defences around the sea and land approaches to the country’s key ports. Plymouth Sound was extensively fortified due to the vast Royal Navy dockyard at Devonport.

 

Work on Fort Stamford started in 1862 and was completed in 1869. Like other Palmerston forts, it was constructed to a design by Captain Edmund Du Cane and was configured in a polygonal layout with twenty-six gun positions and casemated barracks for 200 men. The site was defended by a deep ditch with three caponiers - one double, two singles - protruded into the ditch enabling small arms fire on any enemy forces attempting to scale the walls. In addition a counterscarp gallery with twin guns allowed direct fire along the northern ditch. The fort's primary purpose was to act as the north flank of Fort Staddon and prevent an overland advance on Devonport dockyard. It also had a secondary role of providing defence against sea borne targets which had penetrated the outer Sea lines and accessed the Laira (the area of Plymouth Sound around Cattewater). For this reason it was designed for seven 9-inch Rifled Breach Loading guns to be installed on the western (sea-facing) rampart. A military road, protected by a glacis to hide any movements along the road by an enemy force approaching over land, connected the fort with the other defences along the Staddon Lines.

 

The defences of Fort Stamford were regularly reviewed throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century and by 1893 it was fitted with only eight guns. The fort’s final weapons fit, recorded in 1903, was four 40-pounder Rifled Breach Loading guns and four 8-inch Howitzers. It was disarmed by 1904 but remained under military control until 1963. Thereafter it was sold and has now been converted into a caravan park.

 

 

Bibliography

 

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

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). Fort Stamford. 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 Stamford has been converted into holiday accommodation and therefore there is no routine public access to the interior. The exterior can be be viewed from the public roads.

Fort Stamford Layout. Although the fort’s defences conformed to the standard design of the day, the shape was distorted due to the terrain on which it was built.

Curtain Wall. The fort's substantial ramparts remain impressive. The communications masts marking the site of Fort Staddon can be seen in the background.

Turnchapel. The fort overlooks the village of Turnchapel and was originally named after it. Before completion it was renamed Fort Stamford after the Earl of Stamford who had been a key Parliamentary commander during the seventeenth century Civil War.

Entrance. The fort was accessed by a main gate to the north. There was originally a drawbridge.

Glacis. The military road which connected Fort Stamford to the rest of the Staddon defences was hidden by an earth bank on the eastern side to conceal movement.

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.

Staddon Lines. Fort Stamford occupied the northern end of the Staddon Lines and was designed to prevent an enemy moving in to seize the high ground overlooking Plymouth.

Getting There

Fort Stamford is not sign-posted but is easily found as it is adjacent to Stamford Lane, a one way road coming down from Staddon Heights. There is a public car park on Jennyclliff Lane or alternatively plenty of on-road parking options.

Car Parking Option

Jennycliff Lane, PL9 9SW

50.351887N 4.120384W

Fort Stamford

PL9 9WJ

50.355147N 4.119446W