Tag Archives: Gilkicker Fort

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.


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

Thanks to the Palmerstone Fort Society

Gilkicker Fort, Stokes Bay taken in 2009

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.

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Filed under Ancasta, Research, Riduna, Woolston