Tag Archives: Palmerstone Forts

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

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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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The Solent ~ A virtual social historical tour no 1: Fort Gilkicker

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There are an impressive number of Victorian Forts in the Gosport area, built to protect Portsmouth Harbour; Fort Elson, Brockenhurnst, Rowner, Grange, Gomer, Gilkicker and Monckton. They have been given the unkind name of Palmerstone Follies because they were never used in battle in Victorian times, but in all truth they were more than effective to defend the harbour and as act of deterrence to any aggressor.

Fort Gilkicker was stylishly and effectively designed for its location, right on the shale peninsula protecting the estuary of Portsmouth Harbour at the east end of Stokes Bay. It was served by a railway line linking the forts at the end of which was a pier. Its imposing semi circular, granite gun casements facing seaward, had no less than 22 arches, giving clear observation in a 180 degree sweep, with the barracks snug behind. Fort Gilkicker was of particular interest to me because, although there were married quarters back at the turn of the century, these were upgraded in 1910 to a top floor, giving the quarters more of a community feel to it, which I needed in my novel.

Since the guns were seen as superfluous by 1905 they were removed, and thus by 1910 Gilkicker served its purpose as a barracks rather than for active defence and by 1914 the whole area was used for training purposes for troops, some of whom were from The Hampshire Regiment. Gilkicker was likely to have been used to house these troops before being posted.

What was it like for wives and families living in the Fort? There was certainly an effective drive to improve conditions of accommodation for serving officers and their familes at the turn of the twentieth century. At these new barracks the couples would have had relative luxury compared to their counterparts of the previous century, some of whom had to share bleak rooms, with areas screened off temporarily. At Gilkicker the couple of an officer was likely to have two rooms, depending on the number of children, with both gas and water, a small but adequate range, a communal room for laundry and an ablutions block. The main furniture and shelving was provided for them but it was up to the wives to make these plain but airy spaces more homely.

To supplement their husband’s meagre income the wives would be paid and h’apenny a day for carrying out cleaning, washing, cooking, sewing and repairs and even trained as school mistresses. This not only contributed to the family expenses but to the life of the close community where they lived.

I chose Fort Gilkicker for one of my main characters, Sarah and her officer husband Anthony, because of its location; the married quarters and its proximity to Fort Grange, which you will read about in my next blog post. It stands at the end of the bleak and sweeping Stokes Bay, atmospheric for a novel, with its towering chimneys visible from along the bay.

I visited Gilkicker when it was still an identifiable ruin but it is now being redeveloped into accommodation.

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Key references for this post:

Fort Gilkicker by David Moore (Solent Paper No 5)

Tommy Atkins Married by Duncan Williams (Palmerstone Fort Society)

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Filed under Ancasta, Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond