Built in the mid-nineteenth century, Tregantle Fort was the lynch-pin of the Western Lines - a series of fortifications that were part of a wider scheme to defend Plymouth Sound. Although mothballed in the inter-war years, the site has remained in military ownership and is still used as a training establishment for all three Armed Services.
Tregantle Fort was built between 1858 and 1865 as part of a major fortification programme initiated as a result of French re-armament. By this time Britain had become the dominant sea power and maintained that position by ensuring the Royal Navy was larger than the combined might of the next two biggest navies. Safe behind these 'wooden walls', fixed coastal defence arrangements had been neglected but this policy was thrown into turmoil with the accession of Napoleon III in 1852. He commenced an arms race with Britain by development of the first seagoing 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. The Government of Lord Palmerston instigated a Royal Commission which recommended construction of rings of forts/batteries around the sea and land approaches to the key naval dockyards. Tregantle was part of the scheme protecting Plymouth Sound and Devonport Naval base.
The defences around Plymouth Sound were effectively divided into three lines consisting of forts augmented by additional gun batteries, earthworks and a military road. Tregantle was the lynchpin of the Western Lines - the chain of fortifications that ensured no enemy force could land in South-East Cornwall, take control of the high ground and bombard the dockyard on the other side of the River Tamar. Tregantle itself provided defence of the beach at Whitsand Bay and, in conjunction with Scraesdon Fort, provided coverage against any enemy advancing down the Lynher valley. Whitsand Bay Battery and Trengantle High Angle Battery (see below) augmented these defences in 1889.
Tregantle was laid out in a broadly hexagonal configuration. The south wall consisted of a substantial masonry structure, supporting heavy weapons and musket galleries, whilst the remaining sides consisted of earth topped ramparts defended by a deep ditch with protruding caponiers. A masonry Keep, the guns of which covered the interior of the fort, provided a final redoubt should Tregantle have been overrun.
Late nineteenth century Cornwall was a remote location with the limited road infrastructure being unsuited to meet the logistical requirements of either Tregantle or Scraesdon Forts. In 1893, to facilitate resupply of stores and ammunition, a channel was dredged in the River Lynher and a military quay built at Wacker on the river directly below Scraesdon Fort. A military railway was constructed between the quay and the two forts which remained in use for a decade.
When initially commissioned, the fort had barrack accommodation for 1,000 men. However, as the invasion threat from France passed, its garrison was just a fraction of that number; one Officer and fifty men. It was later used as an infantry barracks for numerous Regiments including the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry before being converted into a musket training school. It was decommissioned after World War I but was reactivated in 1938 for use by the Territorial Army. During World War II it was first an Army training site and later barracks for US Army personnel. The site remains in use by the military today, most notably as a rifle range (the pits of which have rails recycled from the track of the military railway), and is under the care of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.
Tregantle High Angle Battery
Built between 1884 and 1886, Tregantle High Angle Battery was primarily designed to prevent an enemy force anchoring in the (relatively) sheltered waters of Whitsand Bay. It was fitted with four 9-inch Rifled Muzzle Loading guns installed upon mountings that enabled elevation up to 70 degrees. This gave it an effective range of six miles, far beyond that of the defences of the adjacent Tregantle Fort. The guns were installed in two tiers and the site was fully armed by 1895. Below the gun positions were various magazines and stores but there was no accommodation and instead troops were billeted within the main fort. The battery has now been levelled and serves as a car park.
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Historic England (2014). Tregantle Fort, List Entry 1159255. 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.
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Moore, D (2010). Tregantle Fort. victorianforts.co.uk
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Tregantle Fort remains in military use and therefore there is no access to the interior. However, the South-West Coastal Path runs through the fort’s grounds allowing good views of the southern side. The site of the High Angle Battery is now a public long stay car park although no remains are visible.
Tregantle Fort Layout. The fort was built on a steep rise overlooking Whitsand Bay.
Tregantle Fort. View of the fort from the South-West Coastal Path.
View. The fort overlooks Whitsand Bay.
Caponier. The fort's ramparts were masonry topped with substantial earthworks intended to absorb enemy fire. Caponiers, such as the one seen left, enabled the defenders to fire along the length of the rampart.
Tregantle High Angle Battery. This battery was built in 1884 for guns on a high angle (70 degree) mounting. Such weapons offered ranges of circa-6 miles - far in excess of the horizontal guns in Tregantle Fort itself. The battery has been levelled and now serves as a car park.
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.
Live Firing Range. Tregantle Fort remains in military use and primarily serves as a small arms firing range. For this reason the coastal path is shut/diverted on occasions. Red flags and lights indicate when firing is taking place.
Tregantle Fort is found off the B3247 between Crafthole and Millbrook. It is not sign-posted but is visible from the road. A lay-by (for short term car parking only) is opposite whilst the site of the High Angle Battery, now converted into a Long Stay car park, is just round the corner.
Car Park (Short Stay)
High Angle Battery