SCRAESDON FORT

and WACKER QUAY

Scraesdon Fort was one of a series of nineteenth century fortifications forming part of the Western Lines, a series of installations built to prevent an enemy force advancing through South-East Cornwall to attack Devonport Dockyard. Its remote location required the construction of a military railway to enable stores to be brought up from Wacker Quay.

History

 

Introduction

 

Scraesdon Fort was built between 1859 and 1862 as part of a chain of installations surrounding Plymouth Sound to protect the main Royal Navy base at Devonport. Within this scheme a number of forts formed part of the Western Lines which ensured no enemy force could land in south east Cornwall and advance overland towards the Sound. Scraesdon was one of these facilities and provided coverage against any enemy force approaching along the Lynher valley. Although a large fort in its own right, Scraesdon operated in conjunction with the primary facility at Tregantle Fort.

 

Historical Background

 

Scraesdon was part of a national fort building programme that was initiated due to the perceived threat caused by French re-armament. By the 1850s 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. However, with such a large mobile force at the country's disposal, coastal defence facilities were neglected. This strategy was thrown into turmoil with the accession of Napoleon III in 1852 as 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 the country's growing number of overseas territories which depended entirely upon freedom of movement on the high seas. To mitigate against the threat, 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.

 

Layout

 

Scraesdon Fort was built on two levels - upper and lower - which were enclosed by a deep ditch protected by caponiers (including a full casemated version on the south-west) and musket galleries. The upper level was an irregular pentagon shaped structure and provided coverage against any enemy force attempting to flank around Tregantle Fort overland. Originally designed to include a Keep, this element of the design was eliminated when the existing facilities under the central rampart were found to provide sufficient accommodation space. A single entrance, on the eastern side, provided the sole access point into the fort.

 

The lower level, also an irregular pentagon, was configured around the hilly terrain on which it was built. Accordingly it had a complicated layout which today is difficult to interpret given it is heavily overgrown. Consisting of two batteries, its guns covered the River Lynher.

 

Tregantle Military Railway

 

Late nineteenth century Cornwall was a remote location with the limited road infrastructure being unsuited to meet the logistical requirements of the new forts. Accordingly a channel was dredged in the River Lynher and a military quay built at Wacker directly below Scraesdon Fort. However, the steep gradients made resupply of the forts problematic and in 1893 a military railway was built connecting Wacker Quay with both Tregantle and Scraesdon Forts. The components of this railway had been commissioned for the 1885 Sudanese campaign but were never used and had been mothballed.

 

The railway ran from Wacker Quay, where there was originally an engine shed, along the bank of the river before intersecting with cable winding gear that enabled the wagons to ascend a steep 1 in 7 gradient up to Scraesdon. There was a small marshalling yard in front of the fort but the track continued on to Tregantle. Two locomotives, on the upper and lower sections of the railway respectively, and up to twenty wagons were available to serve the logistic requirements of the forts including supply of all provisions, ammunition and drinking water plus moving the heavy coastal guns into position.

 

Gun Removal

 

The significant costs associated with maintaining the dredged channel and upkeep of the forts weaponry, meant Scraesdon and Tregantle were both disarmed in the early twentieth century. The military railway, after having removed the guns, was also decommissioned and the tracks lifted although this was delayed until the road link to Scraesdon Fort had to be built as an alternative. The fort remains in military use today. Under the control of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, it is used for training exercises for Royal Navy, Royal Marines and cadet forces.

 

 

Bibliography

 

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

Historic England (2014). Scraesdon Fort, List Entry 1007347. 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). Scraesdon 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?

Scraesdon Fort is still used by the military with regular training exercises held there and accordingly there is no public access (the photos on this site were taken with the kind permission of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation). The fort’s secluded location, coupled with significant foliage, means nothing is visible from public access routes. However, the wider site can be viewed from nearby Tregantle Fort (details below). Wacker Quay, the former ammunitioning jetty and site of the Tregantle Railway, is a public picnic spot and the visitor can walk the original line of the track.

Scraesdon Fort Layout. The fort was configured into upper and lower sections both enclosed by a deep ditch. The line of the military railway, which continued onwards to supply Tregantle, is shown.

Scraesdon Upper Fort. The Upper Fort included the parade ground. The River Lynher can be seen in the distance.

Fort Exterior. The only entrance into the fort was on the eastern side over a bridge that spanned the dry moat. It was covered by a caponier.

Fort Entrance. The arched gate was protected by a drawbridge.

Chimneys.

Upper Fort Interior.

Caponier. Inside one of the fort's caponiers.

Lower Fort. The Lower part of the fort is heavily overgrown but many of the structures remains intact.

River Lynher. The river as viewed from the fort. Wacker Quay is below the treeline.

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.

Wacker Quay. Little remains of the ammunitioning jetty at Wacker Quay. The channel was dredged to make it viable for barges to come alongside but the jetty was only accessible at high tide.

Getting There

Scraesdon Fort is found to the west of Antony off an unnamed road leading to the adjacent farm. No part of the fort can be seen from the road. Wacker Quay is found off the A374 and is sign-posted. There is a lay-by sufficient for numerous cars.

Wacker Quay / Car Park

PL11 3AH

50.373427N 4.266154W

Scraesdon Fort Long Range View

PL11 3AZ

50.358365N 4.265633W

Scraesdon Fort (No Access)

No Postcode

50.371582N 4.259858W