Notes: The fort is found on a (private) road that branches off from the small village of Maker. Access is limited to residents.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
Extensively modified nineteenth century fort. Outer wall and some features remain visible from across Plymouth Sound. No access to interior.
NO OFFICIAL SITE - CLOSED TO PUBLIC
Castle is privately owned houses.
1. The construction of Plymouth Breakwater was a huge undertaking requiring 3.5 million tons of limestone to be moved to support the construction. The project started in 1812 and was finally completed in 1848. Napoleon Bonaparte, on his way to exile, witnessed the early construction efforts whilst a prisoner onboard a warship in the Sound and was allegedly impressed.
2. Behind Picklecombe Fort was the Officer's Mess. Built to an unusual design with fake battlements it was constructed to emulate Warwick Castle in an agreement made with the Earl of Edgcumbe whose land had been requisitioned for the construction.
A heavily armed facility guarding the main sea-borne access into Plymouth Sound, Picklecombe Fort had two levels of anti-ship guns and was originally intended to have a third. Providing coastal defence during both WWI and WWII it was released by the military in 1956 and later converted into housing apartments.
HISTORY OF PICKLECOMBE FORT
The construction of Plymouth Breakwater between 1812-48 permanently calmed the waters of the Sound but made earlier defences, which had been built to protect the Sutton Pool and Hamoaze, redundant. New fortifications were needed and, within a few years of completion, fears of French re-armament prompted investment. The issue came to the fore with the accession of Napoleon III in 1852 who commenced an arms race with Britain by development of the first Ironclad warship ('La Gloire'; the Glory). 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 rings of forts/batteries around the sea and land approaches to the key Royal Navy dockyards.
The new defences at Plymouth needed to take into account the revised geography created by the breakwater. This had created two channels into Plymouth Sound on the east and west sides - the 1860s defence programme heavily fortified both. Started in 1861 Picklecombe Fort guarded the Western access, the main route, and was heavily armed; the original intent was 42 guns enclosed in casemates with a further 16 installed on the roof above. The design was modified in 1864 with the roof battery removed from the plans but the 42 casemates were completed as intended; construction had completed by 1867.
Like the other forts built following the 1859/60 Royal Commission, Picklecombe became known as a Palmerston Fort named after the Prime Minister of the time. With the invasion fears of the mid-nineteenth century passing quickly, coupled with the huge cost and a quite deliberate misunderstanding of the role of the forts protecting the landward approaches (accused of having guns "pointing in the wrong direction"), they became known as Palmerston's Follies. This was a politically motivated tag that stuck but was particularly inaccurate to Picklecombe; the fort's vital strategic position ensured it was fully armed by 1880.
By the late 1890s artillery had advanced considerably and modifications were made to the forts armoury at this time; in particular six Quick Firing guns were installed in 1899. The outbreak of hostilities during World War I saw these being manned by the Devon Royal Garrison Artillery, a unit of the Territorial Army. Mothballed in the inter-war years the fort was re-activate during WWII at which point it was equipped with two 6-inch Breach Loading and two Quick Firing guns. In addition searchlights and an underwater minefield were controlled from Picklecombe.
In 1956 the British government formally stood down Coastal Defence and Picklecombe Fort was released at this time. It lay derelict for over a decade before being converted into apartments.