Tag Archives: Fort Grange

Virtual Tour of the Solent ~ The Story so far and where to next?

Solent map googleCalshot

I began this virtual tour to show that a sense of place is important in my writing. I need to describe the areas in my novel enough to help the reader to feel that ‘sense of place,’ but I thought it might be helpful to give a little more background information and description. I have written ten posts around the Solent area so far, but before I leave the shores of mainland England I thought a summary would be helpful:

1 ~ At the beginning of this year I began my virtual tour at Gilkicker Fort on the strategic peninsula guarding the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. It was there that one of my main characters, Harriet’s daughter Sarah, was stationed  with the husband, at the newly refurbished married quarters, back in 1910. It was a life that Sarah found hard to come to terms with but then came the war which changed everything.

2 ~ Close by was Fort Grange, still enclosed in the Naval Station today, where early pilots were trained for combat and reconnaissance missions in WW1 including Anthony, Sarah’s husband.

3 ~ A short distance along the coast is Lee on Solent, not strictly speaking in Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home, but it may be in the no, 3 in the series. Lee was important at that time though, since it was one of the earliest Flying Boat Stations on the south coast.

4 ~ Just up the estuary takes you to the sheltered inlet into Hamble, which is an unspoilt haven for sailing boats. Anthony’s family lived there, with its cobbled streets and a small ferry over to Warsash, much the same today as it was at the turn of the last century, I should imagine.

5 ~ Further up Southampton Water is The Royal Victoria Park, once the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, with only the tall chapel remaining as a signal to the grandeur of the original building which had corridors a quarter of a mile long. It is still a lovely place to visit, go for a stroll, have a picnic and find out about its interesting history. Jane, one of my characters, well known to those who have read Riduna, was stationed there, close enough to Harriet for them to remain friends although Jane had little time to spare for social calls, especially during the war.

6 ~ Visiting the ghostly remains of Netley Abbey en-route, popular with the Victorians, we reach Weston Shore, important in both of my novels as a place to feel the sea and watch those on their journeys too and from Southampton Docks. It could be a place you might overlook, but if you make the efffort and stop and have a walk along its shores, it’s a haven for wildlife and it’s a wonderful place to watch the world go by. It’s here that the name of my novel seemed so apt. ‘Ancasta’ ~ ‘The Swift One.’ Many folks have stood, as Harriet did, on these shores and prayed for the swift and safe return of their loved ones, but for Harriet it was more than that. It was here she watched the Channel Island Ferries as they journeyed to the place of her birth. It was a direct channel to Guernsey (Sarnia in my novel) and Alderney (Riduna in my novel) which she loved but had left behind so long ago.

7 ~ Woolston. The Newton family grew up in the heart of Woolston, working in the local industry, initially as boat builders but subsequently early flying boats. (Supermarine) Harriet ran a popular guest house mainly for travellers. One of her son’s worked in a bicycle shop too. Each of her family played their part in WW1, Sarah returning home for the duration of the war with her little son Timothy.

8~ Southampton. Across the Floating Bridge is Southampton itself, still a thriving port and the window to the world to many of my characters including Edward, also well known to many of you from Riduna, Harriet’s childhood sweetheart from the island of Riduna. Their lives took very different paths but they continue to cross at times and Edward’s occasional visits still have a positive impact on the lives of the Newton family, especially Timothy and Sarah.

9~ Over the Hotspur to Hythe is where Edward lives, when he’s on land, with his more than housekeeper Marie. She’s a larger than life character and I’m quite fond of her, even though I feel a bit disloyal to Harriet for doing so.

10 ~ Just a few miles up to the peninsula we reach Cashot, at the mouth of Southampton Water, and if you want a place to ‘ship watch’ this is it. One of Harriet’s son’s Jack was stationed here before and at the start of WW1, where he was an engineer at the new RNAS flying boat station back in 1913.  He continued to travel home to his young family in Woolston, that was until he joined up and travelled to join the HMS Ben my Chree, one of the earliest sea plane carriers which went out to Turkey.

So, where does my virtual tour go to next? We reach the point when we now travel beyond the Solent, and we’re heading across the sea to The Channel Islands as from Monday. In fact that’s where the original story  of Riduna began.

Meanwhile I’m continuing my real centenary tour

at Waterstones in St Neots this Saturday on 23rd March from 11am.

I look forward to meeting some more of you then.

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Filed under Alderney, Ancasta, Early Flight, Events, Flying Boats and Sea Planes, Riduna, Southampton, Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond, Weston Shore, Woolston

The Solent and Beyond ~ Virtual Social History Tour Post no 2 ~ Fort Grange

Solent map googleFG

For my second post in this series we are going to travel a short distance along Stokes Bay and follow the route of main road, until we pass Fort Grange, the second in a row of five Palmerstone fortresses. Four of these forts are still within the grounds HMS Sultan Naval Base, Gosport.

The Aero club were given permission to use the base as far back as 1909 and when my characters moved to Gilkicker in 1910, flights over their heads would have been exciting, but relatively frequent. In 1914 the forward thinking members of the military at the War Department authorised the use of Fort Grange and neighbouring Rowner, to accommodate squadrons from the Royal Flying Corps, formed in May 1912, but what stands out as the significance of the base at Fort Grange was one of its pilots, a Lt. Col. Robert Smith-Barry. On his arrival he was extremely critical of the standard of flying and in particular the training of these poor souls, who were all too quickly sent to France to meet their fate. I quote here from ‘Wings Over Gosport’ compiled by Lesley Burton who describes the training techniques he observed:

“It involved the trainee pilot sitting in the observer’s seat watching points until he transferred to the pilot’s seat and it was his turn to see if he had absorbed the instruction given by his instructor. Directions were conveyed to him by hand signals, loud bawling and by flag waving signals from the ground!”

It was not until 1917 though, that Smith-Barry introduced what became known as the Gosport Tube, a mouth piece which linked the instructor to an early ear piece on the trainee pilot  by a tube.

In fact, the Grange became well known for its excellent training and both novices and experiences pilots benefited from time spent there. As you can imagine, in the early days of flight, people learnt by trial and error, much as they did riding a bicycle, and so a more methodical approach was vital if these young men were going to play an effective role in World War One, and impress the more sceptical elements of the War Office, who saw aeroplanes more as frivolous toys for the rich, who wanted a thrill greater than the motor car.

The location of Fort Grange, not far from the newly refurbished married persons barracks at Fort Gilkicker, made this an exciting location for my newly married couple, where the regular flights overhead inspired Anthony, my young officer, to dream of being able to learn to fly.

If you would like to know more about The Grange, I can recommend ‘Wings Over Gosport’ which is a Gosport Society Publication.

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Filed under Ancasta, Early Flight, Research, Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond