Continuing my series of thanks to all the people who helped me with my research for ‘Ancasta ~ Guide me Swiftly Home‘ I would like to thank The Palmersone Fort Society, in particular Stephen Fisher who was extremely helpful in sending information about life at a fort at the turn of 20th Century and also checked relevant chapters for me.
One of my characters, an army corporal who had recently undertaken officer training back in 1910 needed to live in married quarters, since at the end of Riduna he had married Harriet’s only daughter Sarah. Harriet is the key figure in Riduna, and the matriarch who keeps the whole family together in Ancasta. The area around Portmouth is surrounded and defended by a multitude of Victorian Fortresses, both along the coast, out at sea and a couple of miles inland.
When searching for somewhere appropriate for my Corporal Parker to live with his new wife Sarah following officer training, I stumbled upon Gilkicker Fort, when doing an internet search. With married quarters completed in 1910 this was the perfect place for them to settle, within a day’s reach of Woolston by buggy. Once decided, I needed to go down to spend time researching locally.
Back in the summer of 2010 I spent a morning in Gosport local history centre and then drove past the impressive Fort Brockhust and along to Stokes Bay. There I had a coffee in the cafe before taking a stroll between the smaller No 2 Battery Stokes Bay towards Fort Gilkicker. It was quite a cool and windy August day, unlike the fantastic weather we’ve enjoyed this year, adding colour and happiness to Olympic 2012 in London this year. (alongside the volunteers who made everyone smile!) I digress!
I must admit thinking that it must have been pretty bleak living there in the winter, although the railway line and small pier still existed in those days, and the picture and atmosphere conjured up ideas as to how it might have been living in such an exposed spot. The place was derelict, overgrown in parts with brambles, but it was still possible to see that the structure of the outer and inner defences were relatively intact and the name was still proudly showing on the gate.
With the help of my visit and the article I was sent called ‘Tommy Atkins Married,’ I was able to picture what life might have been like before WW1 for Anthony and Sarah. I could sense her restlessness of spirit and Anthony’s excitement at witnessing the earliest planes flying overhead from Fort Grange at the newly formed RNAS station in 1914.
As ever, the characters told their own story in my mind’s eye, linking with Harriet in Woolston by letter and a visit to mark the occasion of the birth of Timothy, Sarah and Anthony’s only son.
Thus the story Ancasta, although based in Woolston Southampton, spans from Gilkicker along the Solent, up Southampton Water and over to Calshot. Until, that is, some of my characters venture further afield to the Channel Islands and the world beyond.
There are now plans to restore Fort Gilkicker to nearer its former glory, but not for visiting but to turn it into homes. From the plans they appear to be keeping to the original layout, with the semi circular sweep of granite with windows looking out over the Solent, forever guarding the entrance to Portsmouth Docks, as it was originally intended. In fact the open day has been announced for 22nd September 2012. It will be interesting to visit one day and see the difference and I only hope that the spirit of Fort Gilkicker and its historical significance has been preserved.