These Forts were built by the Palmerston government during a period of unsettled relations with the French. Cliffe occupied a virgin site, and Shornemead occupied the site of an earlier polygonal battery. However, in order to provide a triangulation of artillery fire across this 'hook' in the Thames, where river traffic would be obliged to slow down, it was also necessary to build another Palmerston Fort on the opposite shore - at Coalhouse Point in Essex, where previous defences had existed since at least Tudor times.
|The site of the Tudor blockhouse|
|Coalhouse Fort ©CFMBC|
Of which more later.
Coalhouse Fort is considerably easier to reach than its Kentish neighbours, and on a showery Monday afternoon I pulled up in its carpark with my Eldest son by my side, ready to explore the historic and natural environment of this noble relic. As the building was closed to the public on this occasion, we satisfied ourselves with a perambulation of its exterior, taking note of various features as we strolled.
|Casements. And my thumb.|
|Mine Control Tower|
|Quick Fire Battery|
|The Dark Knight of East Tilbury|
|East Tilbury Battery gun emplacement © Essexghosthunters|
|Possible Mess Hall, with invasive vulpines|
Next, we explored two of the Battery's three magazines, dark forbidding tunnels leading to winch machinery and ammunition store rooms. Our single torch being just about adequate, we lacked the light to take photographs, but others beat us to it - see the Links at the end of this article.
|Entrance to a magazine. Be not of faint heart, should you wish to enter without adequate illumination.|
Before reaching it, we pass the village church and I notice something odd about the old building. It has a squat western tower which seemed to have been built of the same material as the barrack block of the Fort. Closer inspection revealed a plaque:
|A tower built as a war memorial|
We continue, bypassing thw Fort and heading for the foreshore. Along a track which was once the bed of an abandoned railway, Eldest is delighted to notice a tiny bird bouncing around in the hedgerow.
|Female Firecrest ©gryllosblog|
|Radar Tower on the foreshore|
|A black-tailed godwit|
Later investigation revealed that a series of jetties have occupied this spot since Tudor times, the original servicing the Henrician Blockhouse. The most recent incarnation was used to unload materials and artillery brought down the river by barge from Woolwich Arsenal. It would be unloaded here then taken to the Fort by a now vanished railway line.
A rainbow smears itself across the leaden, broken sky as we turn back to return to the Fort. Although only mid-afternoon, the gloom has created a crepuscular atmosphere, which might explain the unexpected aerial display we encountered on our return stroll. The bird, originally spotted hovering above the foreshore, swooped and swung around us as its large yellow eyes scoured the ground for prey. We stood watching it, entranced, for several minutes, until it shrank into the distance with the Power Station as its backdrop.
|Short Eared Owl|
An unexpected delight, and a wonderful finalé to my explorations of the Forts and Foreshores of the Thames Estuary. One thing I know, however. Now that I'm aware of their existence, their atmosphere and their stark beauty, I don't intend to be a stranger. Come the warmer months, when I fancy a spot of exploration, I'll be back among the lumps and bumps of the Hoo Peninsula like a wraith in the primeval landscape...
Links: Inside the East Tilbury Battery
Forts And Foreshores
Forts And Foreshores: The Return