1. A History of The Fort Warden Battery    

 


 


     

The History of the Warden Point Battery:

  Warden Point is located on the Isle of Wight situated halfway between the Needles and the town of Yarmouth. The Point, with its treacherous Warden Ledge seperates Totland Bay to the south from Colwell Bay to the north eas. Both naturally formed bays are guarded by sandstone and clay cliffs which include the precarious blue slipper clay. The Panoramic sea and costal views from Warden Point stretch from the Totland Bay headland, the edge of the needles, distant views across the mainland coastline to Poole Harbour and Old Harry Rock all the way around tp Hurst Castle.

  During 1795 J.M.W. Turner spent time on the Island sketching and painting  various Island scenes including in West Wight.  There are archived paintings of Freshwater. Alum Bay, Colwell Bay and the Needles.  It is also recorded that he sketched sights at Warden Point at which time, apart from the views across the Solent,  there was only a lonely cottage and nothing else.

  At the National Archives Kew is a document and map (WO 78/4102) dated 13th May 1794 which records a detailed survey of the coastline of the Solent's southern approaches.  The survey was conducted and recorded by Captain Shipley, Royal Engineers, Gosport, and purposes an eight heavy gun earthwork for the Warden Point site.  This battery was never constructed however, in 1803 a two gun unit was established and formed the Warden Point Battery. 

  In 1846 Sir John Burgoyne, Inspector General of Fortifications, submitted a report on the defences of Britain, highlighting the vulnerability of Britain in the event of war with one of it's Continental neighbours.  During 1852, after the second French invasion panic of the Victoria Era,  plans were drawn up with costed estimates for a fort at Warden Ledge.  It was proposed that the fort should be circular and, besides the basement, it should have three fighting floors,  with a total of 41 mounted guns. There were however, geological difficulties which would have significantly increased the cost and,  as a result,  the planned Warden Ledge development was  undertaken at Cliff End (Fort Albert). 

           

                   


  The final report was  presented to the cabinet by Lord Palmerston, the Foreign Secretary of that time.  As a result of the report a Royal Commision  was established in 1859/60 to investigate Britain's defences.  The Commission was headed by the engineer Major General Sir Harry T Jones and it recommended a total expenditure of about £7 million, on a programme which included defences at significant ports, dockyards and strategic coastal points. The forts built under this programme are referred to as the 'Palmerston Forts'.

  The Commission proposed a six-gun barbette fortification at Warden Point to replace the two-gun battery.  However, the  finally constructed battery had positions for eight guns, in two groups of four, firing en-barbette. The armament was four 7-inch guns each weighing 7 tons  and four 9-inch rifled muzzle loaded guns mounted on barbettes. The weight of the individual 9-inch guns being 12 tons.

9-inch 12 ton Rifle Muzzle Loaded Gun

                          9-inch 12 ton Rifle Muzzle Loaded Gun - The Old Needles Fort. 

  Work on the Warden Point site commenced in 1862 and was completed in 1863. The fort was an enclosure, designed with the guns en barbette in two groups of four. A large bombproof magazine was in the centre at the rear of the gun emplacements. Barrack accommodation was omitted with the exception of a small guardroom against the gorge wall at the east end of the site.

The main entrance to Fort Warden 

                            The main entrance to Fort Warden  -  AD 1863 is the keystone date. 

  The Main Gate leading from Warden Road was an arched opening being 2.78m wide and 3.30m high to the keystone.  The  entrance brickwork was whitewashed and on the internal side of each jamb are three iron hinge pins from which the doors would have hung. The original arched entrance, to the fort, included a drawbridge.

 The main entrance to Fort Warden

 The main entrance to Fort Warden which, along with the loophole wall are retained features.

  The eastern gorge was enclosed by a high, brick-built wall.  This was flanked on the  landward side of the fort  by a long loophole wall  with  caponiers at the northeast and southeast corners of the battery.  A third caponier projected out in the middle of the east wall and flanked the entrance. The battery was further defended on three sides by an exterior dry ditch running the length of the loophole wall. The dry ditch was 6m wide and between 2.5m to 3m deep

                      

  The original loophole wall, built in 1862, was 180m long and enclosed the battery which, at that time, was approximately 8.3 hectares in size.  Following alterations undertaken at a later date the length of the loophole wall was reduced to 150m.  The  bricks used to build the loophole wall are handmade with square edges and corners and were made on the mainland.  The wall is approximately 5.02m high from the footings and 1.2m thick.  It is very well built with uniform bed joints in headers and stretch bands and has numerous angled loopholes.  An exposed cross section through the wall shows that the centre core was as solid as the brick  facing indicated.  The foundations for the loophole wall were stepped brick footings at 1.3m below ground level.

 The Original Loophole Wall, built in 1862 

                                       Fort Warden Loophole Wall retained as a protected feature.

  A further caponier  projected out from the east wall to protect both the entrance to the fort and to flank the gorge wall.  This area, according to the 1891 plans, served as a shell filling room and laboratory.  A dry ditch ran around the three landward sides of the fort.  The Warden Point battery being constructed to support the  Palmerston Forts that were established, around the Isle of Wight, to protect Portsmouth and the Naval Dockyards.   

Isle of Wight sea defences - map

  Barrack accommodation was not provided on the Warden Point Battery site as the soldiers, to man the fort, were to be quartered in the nearby Golden Hill Fort.   half a mile inland from Fort Warden.

 

The cost of establishing the Warden Point Fort is recorded as being £12,899 of which a total of £6,000 was for site and cliff drainage along with the construction of a retaining sea-wall to prevent soil erosion.

Warden Point Battery Plan 1870

1870 Site Plan Legend
 
A - Entrance and Drawbridge.                      B - Dry Ditch.
C - Guard House.                                            D - Caponier.
E - Main Magazine Underground.                 F - Expense Magazine - Under Mound.
G - 9" RML Gun.                

  In 1873 the 7 inch guns were replaced with another four 9-inch guns which was the originally intended armament.

                                         The main entrance to Fort Warden

                                                              Royal Engineers circa 1880

  Warden Point also had a role in the Needle Battery's searchlight experiment of 1889/92.  In 1890 an experimental "see-saw" searchlight emplacement, (sunk in a protective concrete pit) was built to the left of the battery but the trials were not a success.  In 1891 a new engine room, on the north-east side of the battery, was built. This contained two Robery Steam Engines and the engine room was built across a filled-in section of the dry ditch.  9.2-inch breach loading guns were added to the Warden Point battery.  For this period it is recorded that one of the Warden Fort emplacements, was for a 7-inch riffled breach loading gun, which was house on a Moncrieff mounting.

  In 1891 proposals were also made to re-arm the battery with heavier guns.  However, nothing was undertaken on the site until 1892/1893 when the left-hand  gun emplacements were demolished. This was done  in order to build two experimental gun emplacements. These new emplacements were for long range and high angled mountings, together with a magazine sited between the two emplacements.  Each magazine consisted of seven rooms accessed via two sets of stairs. The magazines were barrel-vaulted brick with recessed light niches. Windows were between rooms and gullies had been formed into the concrete slab floors. The two central rooms, accessed by a small corridor, were for the storage of cartridges. These rooms were flanked by two more rooms for the storage of shells each of which had a vertical winch shaft that led to the gun emplacement above. The outer room being labeled as the lamp room.

 9 inch RML Marke III on a High Angle Mounting  

                      9 inch RML Mark III on a High Angle Mounting with an elevation 29 to 70 degrees.

  The  long range and high angled mountings trial proved to be unsuccessful. Technology was advancing quickly and these guns were considered obsolete, especially when potentially used against fast moving targets.  As a result the hight angled gun battery  emplacements, at the Warden Point Fort, were consider not suitable and were demoloshed in 1898.

In 1885 Bye-Laws (Rifle Range Act) were published concerning the test-firing of guns. The artiliary practice timetable was posted in local post offices as the practice effectively closed-off the western end of the Solent. It was considered an annoyance by  the local residents and those whose livelihood depended on the sea.  The byelaws stated:

1.  Whilst gun practice is going on from Warden Point Battery or from    Hurst Castle no ship, boat, barge, craft or other vessel of any description shall, unless compelled so to do by the exingencies of navigation, be allowed to ground, anchor, or remain within the area contained by the following lines, viz: From Warden Point Battery westward through the Elbow Buoy to the three-fathom patch of the Dolphin Bank.  From the said  three-fathom patch of the Dolphin Bank north by east to the shore of the mainland opposite Taddiford Farm. From Warden Point Battery in a north west direction through Warden Ledge Buoy till it meets the shore of the mainland opposit Milford Church.

     This area includes within it the shifting bank of shingle which is situated about fourteen cables west by north of Warden Point Battery and 12 cables south west of Hurst Castle.

2.   The signal that gun practice is going on shall be a red flag hoisted at either the Warden Point Battery or Hurst Fort.

3.    The Officer Commanding the Royal Artillary, Western Forts, or the Commandment of the Practce Camp, or any officer for the time being under their command, shall have the power and is hereby authorised.

a)    To take into custody, without warrant, and bring before a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, as mentioned in the Act to be dealt with according to law, any person contravening Bye-Law No.1 aforsaid.

b)     To remove from the area defined by Law No. 1 any person, vessel or thing found therein in contravention of that Bye-Law.

4.      Any person contravening Bye-Law No. 1 shall be deemed to commit an offence against the same, and is, under the Act, liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding Five Pounds.

             (A Cable  = 110 of an Admiralty Mile or 608 ft (185.32 m), about 101 fathoms) 

The Warden Point Battery and Hurst Castle Artillery Practice Ranges Byelaws 1889 are recorded as having lapsed when Warden Point Battery was sold off in 1957.

 

Warden Point Battery Plan 1893   

1893 Site Plan Legend
 
A - Entrance and Drawbridge.                                    B - Dry Ditch.
C - Main Magazine                                                       D - Expense Magazine.
E -  9" RML Gun.                                                         F - 9" RML Gun (Long Range Mounting).
G - 9" RML Gun Experimental Long Range Mounting).
H - Twin Level Magazine for 9" High Angle and Long Range Guns - Under Mound

 

                                               Totland Bay and Pier 1892 Taken from the Warden Point Fort

  The plan below was drawn and dated 26th August 1895.  It shows Engine Room on the outside of loophole wall and adjacent to the  main gate.  The Engine Room was 38 feet long and 29 feet wide with the height of the room being 10 foot 6 inches. The roof being covered with corrugated iron.

 

  In 1898/1899 four 6 inch breach loaded Mark VII gun emplacements were fitted to the fort in two groups of two.  At the same time two 9.2-inch gun emplacements were constructed to the south of the site with a new underground engine room being built to the north of the battery.  These two years also witnessed the erection of two searchlight emplacements on the sea wall beneath the battery.  A  third 9.2-inch gun emplacement was added during 1900 and these  were in use until 1918. The construction of the new emplacements required the enlargement of the area of the Warden Point Battery. The new enclosure  being approximately 14.9 hectares in size,  The extended area was in a southerly direction along the cliff top. 

  By the start of the 1900's all the forts along the Needle's Channel were heavily fortified, so much so that during 1905 a report by the Owen Committee concluded that there were too many 6 inch guns. As an outcome of the report in 1907 the four 6 inch breach loading guns at the Warden Point Battery were relegated to a  reserve status.  However, by 1906 a number of Maxim guns on parapet mountings had been installed at the fort. 

1903 Plan of the Fort Warden Battery                                                                                           

1903 Site Plan Legend
 
A - Emplacement for 9.2" Gun.                   B - Emplacement for 6" Gun.
C - Magazine and Shell Store (under)         D - Battery Command Post.
E - Searchlight Command Post.                   F - Old Engine Room.
G - New Engine Room.                                 H - Guard House,
I  - Small Arms Store.                                   J - Smithy and Workshop.
K - Training Room and Stores.                    L - Un-climbable Fence and Embankment.
M - Searchlight Emplacement.                    N - Battery Observation Post.

  Changes were also made to the 9.2" BL guns and in 1907 two 3-pounder practice  guns were installed in the centre 9.2 inch emplacement. It is unclear whether or not the 9.2" gun was removed to make way for them, or whether the practice guns were mounted on the 9.2" gun.  The latter was definitely the case  in 1910, when 6-pounder practice guns were superimposed on the 9.2" guns.  In 1911 the 9.2" gun emplacements were encompassed by a concrete wall and a series of concrete shelters were built near to the engine room. By that time the engine room steam engines had been replaced by oil.  

In 1911 a concrete wall was built to protect the battery's extension from land attack. In 1912 this incorporated a hexaganal blockhouse at the north-west corner of the fort.                                                

  In World War I (1914/1918) the Warden Point Fort saw a new lease of life with the 6-inch guns reactivated,  although the two northernmost guns were removed in December 1914.  Two 3 pounder QF guns were fitted between the right and centre emplacements and were in use until 1918.  

                

                   

  The battery was completely surrounded by strands of barbed wire which are shown on the 1918 site plan (two documents below) by blue crosses.  The plan also records the marked positions for the machine gun emplacements, not only for the fort, but also protecting the entrance to Totland Pier.  Overall there were 11 machine gun emplacements and the plan's legend records these positions in black ink with the red ink entries highlighting the area that was covered by the individual machine guns.  The plan was drawn by Lt Dixon RGA (T) and dated 4th June 1918. It is stamped as confidential and signed by the R.G.A.B.G.  Warden Battery I. of W.

  In 1914/15 a  blockhouse flanking a high concrete wall surrounding the engine house was built in the south-western corner of the fort.  To enable a permanent troop presence, on site, a battery cook-house, for 150 men, was established along with a series of temporary huts were installed.  These comprised of a mixture  of galvanized iron shelters, old railway carriages and wooden huts.

  The War Office documents (WO 192/124) dated July 1914 and released July 1972 records the following instructions under the heading :  Means to be adopted to render the guns useless in the event of the Battery being rushed by a hostile raiding party :

The Temporary Disablement  of the Guns (when the time available is short).

1.  Remove the obturating pad and bury in appointed place.

2.  Remove locks and firing gear and bury in appointed place.

3.  Damage screw thread in the gun and on the breech block by burring them with a heavy hammer.

4.  All parts of the equipment removed should be buried, destroyed or thrown into the sea, so that they cannot be used again.

  If it is intended to abandon the Battery, and completely disable the guns they can be destroyed  by  double loading them.  Ram the shell well down the bore and place a full charge behind it, then load a fuzed lyddite shell and a full charge in the ordinary way. The guns should be fired with a percussion tube and lanyard long enough to reach the nearest place of comparative safety.

  The magazine may be blown up by placing a quantity of straw (taken from the men's bedding) and any wood available among the cartridge cylinder making a train of straw through the passage to the outside, and firing it.  As the heat will take a little time to eat through the zinc cylinders the firing  party can get away before the explosion takes place. The total disablement of the Battery will not be undertaken without the definite order of the FC.  

   A Soldiers Club was established at the junction of The Avenue and High Street in Freshwater. The picture below was taken on the day the Club opened, 3rd May 1915, with the band and others of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in attendance, along with members of the Guides and Scouts and local dignitaries. In those days the West Wight was awash with military establishments, but it is still a little surprising that funds should have been made available for this venture whilst there was a war on.

      After the war the guns were used by the Territorials who utilized the Warden Point Fort for summer camps.  The picture below, taken in 1922, shows the DGB Territorial Royal Garrison Artillery Band at the Warden Camp, Isle of Wight.  The Bandmaster was Sgt. Dowell.  (The loophole wall can be seen in the background)

Territorial Royal Garrison Artillery Band at the Warden Camp -1922

                                 Summer Camp Warden Point 1923

 

  In 1929 the Totland Parish Council's Minutes record that, "the Parish Council complained to the Attorney General about a big gun firing at Fort Warden which caused damage to property and upset visitors."   In 1923/1924, due to subsidence, the 6-inch gun emplacements had to be rebuilt.  However, due to the same subsidence  problems  one 9.2-inch breach loader gun was removed in 1929.

  The hand-drawn document below, signed and dated December 1933, shows the individual beam coverage for the Fort Warden Battery and  the Cliff End Battery's searchlight emplacements.

                       Cira 1936 Colwell Bay looking towards Fort Warden.

  By 1936 it had been decided that Warden Point Battery was surplus to requirements. This decision combined with the continuing subsidence issues led to the removal of the last two 6" and 9.2" gun emplacements. However, in 1937 a Night Fire Command Post was built on the northernmost 6" gun emplacement. This Night Fire Post  was presumably used to direct the fire of the gun at other batteries, seeing as the Warden Point Battery was unarmed.   In 1938 it is recorded that the role of the  Fire Command is, " to prevent the long range bombardment of Southampton and Portsmouth and the Solent Anchorage from the sea area west and southwest of the Needles."

  Throughout  World War II (1939/1945) the site functioned as a command post and searchlight battery. The battery had a central caponier on the landward side and the raised emplacements provided commanding searchlight views over the Western Solent.   

      

  In the August of 1939 The Princes Beatrice Isle of Wight Heavy Brigade Royal Artillery along with E Company were mobilised  and stationed at Fort Warden. The Regimental Headquarters being established at the Golden Hill Fort. However, on 1st September  the 530 Coastal Regimental headquarters was sited at the Fort Warden Battery their Practice Code Name was BUPI6 with the Call Sign of YNS.

  The War Office Record (WO 1/131) record that during 1942, Brayboeuf, a private house (later the site of the holiday camp's reception) at the top of Fort Warden Road was to be used for the Officer's Mess. At the same time the adjacent bungalow, outside of the fort's main entrance was also requisitioned for use as the Sergeant's Mess.

          

   The War Office site records state that the Medical Officer will be stationed at the Totland Military Hospital.  The Medical Officer will attend a Sick Parade in the battery daily or as required and the First Aid post, at the Fort Warden Battery, will be adjacent to the main gate. Dental treatment will be provided from the Dental Centre, Albany Barracks, Parkhurst.

  The Totland Military Hospital referred to above was established in the Totland Bay Hotel during World War II.  The four photographs below show the site and size of the hotel which sadly was demolished during  the late 1970's.

 Image courtesy of jcbimaging freshwater from an original plate by Kirk.

  Image courtesy of jcbimaging freshwater from an original plate by Kirk.

 Image courtesy of jcbimaging freshwater from an original plate by Kirk. 

 

          

                                     

  Alex Whitehead records that during October 1942,   I was posted to Totland Bay Hospital on the Isle of White (sic). This was a hotel which had been commandeered and refurbished as a war-time hospital.

                                                                                                        

  When we got off the lorry we were marched into the hospital past a large conservatory. Watching us from the windows was a line of nursing sisters probably wondering what this intake had brought them as ward orderlies.

  Next morning we paraded outside the hospital again and the Corporal detailed us to our wards. When he got to me he said, "Come and stand by me, you're the sisters' new mess waiter." That's what those sisters were up to yesterday, I  thought, "deciding which one of us they'd pick!

The Home Sister escorted me to the sisters' quarters in an old country house situated in very picturesque grounds about two miles from the hospital. As we walked, she outlined my new duties. I'd have to lay the tables for meals and serve, always starting with Matron. I confessed I'd never done any waiting and she told me, "Always serve from the right and collect empty plates from the left using a clean cloth if the plates are hot. Only speak when you're spoken to. You must also keep the coal boiler stoked up and put the black-outs up in all the rooms each evening and take them down in the morning."

The cook, from the Army Catering Corps, was a perfectionist who made the best of meals with the minimum resources. One Monday morning he said to me, "I don't know what I'm going to give the sisters for lunch today. All I have is this", and he produced a two inch-square piece of roast beef left over from the Sunday joint. In a flash he said, "I know, I'll make sausage rolls." So, with bread, onions, Bovril, herbs and the tiny piece of beef all minced up together he made the best sausage rolls I'd ever had. He made delicacies such as I had never tasted before. One day, as he cut up apples from the garden, he asked if I'd ever had apple fritters. I said, "What are they?" "Apples dipped in batter and then fried," he said. They were gorgeous! 

The matron and sisters treated me like a brother. I received about five shillings a week extra in my pay for working there. This I learned came out of their mess funds from which they also sometimes gave me cigarettes which were always welcome.

Putting up blackouts could lead to embarrassing situations. Once I was greeted at her bedroom door by a Welsh sister clad only in a bath towel. She asked me in but I said I'd come back later. This same sister was always coming to the kitchen asking for things. One evening after dinner, she came to ask if she could have a 'decent' slice of bread. I gave her the knife and the loaf and she cut what we called in the East End a "door step". I have often thought she was making a pass at me but there were strict rules and other ranks did not court Nursing Sisters.

 

Ambulance with crew & orderlies outside the Totland Hotel War Hospital 1943

On March 23 1944, K. A. Kolesar Rifleman 7th Brigade, First Canadian Army was admitted to the Totland Bay Military Hospital on the Isle of Wight, England. His medical record indicates that his admission was for treatment of a blast wound sustained from a grenade during training. After six days in the hospital, Kolesar was released, fully recovered on March 29 1944.

  The World War II document  folder WO 177/104(9),  held at the National Archives, Kew,  contains the  daily administration war diaries (October 1941 to December 1945)  for the Military Hospital Totland Bay.  The first entry states : 10th October 1941 -  00.01 hours - This unit began to exist at the time mentioned in this entry replacing 23 CCS (disbanded).

  The daily diary entries include the number of patients, operations performed, staff movements, and incidents and events of note. On 22nd May 1942 the total number of available beds is recorded as being 180.  This was reduced to 130 beds in February 1945. The Totland Bay Military Hospital was closed on 31st December 1945 and below is a photocopy of the daily diary entries for the last two weeks.  

 

   At the time of the closure of the Totland Military Hospital the commanding officer was Dr John Parkes, MB, BCHIR, FRCP.  During the war Dr Parkes served in the Army Medical Corps in North Africa where, after being mentioned in despatches he was taken prisoner at Tobruck and spent the rest of the war in Germany.

 

                                                                

                                                 Dr John Parkes MB, BCHIR, MRCP  

  The Fort's War Office 1943 documents record the following under the heading Sanitation & Hygiene.  All drainage from the fort is connected to the local services system and hence to the sea.  There are 13 w c's at 7 separate sites. Other ranks ablutions comprise of ten porcelain hand basins (hot & cold) and 6 shower cubicles. A further 5 showers are located in the Gas Cleaning Centre.

  Light anti-aircraft weapons were installed during World War II  and in 1944 the light AA guns were replaced by Bofors 40mm AA guns.

  The chart shown below is a coastal artillery visibility (clear day) graph from the Fort Warden records. The tables are based on Pearson's Nautical Almanac and show the average height of targets, in feet, for the  freeboard, funnels and masts of various Battleships and Cruisers. Target heights are recorded for the following named fighting ships : the Battleships, HMS Royal Sovereign, HMS Hood, HMS Queen Elizabeth and the Light Cruiser Hawkins.

  The document  below records the position of two Lewis Guns within the fort.            

         

  Sapper William Sidney Matthews was stationed at Fort Warden 1939 to 1940 where he was responsible for the maintenance and operation of the searchlight on the foreshore at the base of the cliff, below the battery. The two searchlight emplacements were originally built in 1898/9.

Searchlight emplacement at the base of the cliff. 

  Sapper Matthews records that the large searchlight was bolted to the floor and was remotely controlled by operators in the observation post situated on top of a small hill above one of the Fort Warden 6 inch gun batteries.  The power source was delivered by three large 22kw Lister stationary diesel generators housed in the engine room of the battery. A further 12kw Lister generator was situated to the east end of the fort.
 
  The inside of the searchlight emplacement was not very spacious with just enough room to squeeze around the light.  There was a series of what looked like coiled springs with a large switch and dials erected against the wall just inside the right  hand side.  These were called Busbars and as the electrical current passed through them they hummed and gave off heat which was appreciated on cold winter nights.  Sapper Matthew's responsibilities was to open the steel shutters and ensure that the searchlight was ready for maximum use.  This was achieved by maintaining a clean reflector mirror, adjusting and changing the positive and negative carbon electrodes and ensuring the right angle is achieved to form the arc of light.  He records that he often felt that the searchlight's beam was so strong and intense that it appeared as though he could have walked along the shaft of light.  Documents dated  September 1945 record that the Warden Point Battery searchlights had an approximate range of 3,500 yards with a concentrated beam 90 cms.
 
  The document below is dated 1st July 1944 and is headed The Land Defence Scheme for Fort Warden.  The intention is recorded as :- To deny the enemy access to the Fort and the installations. The paper lists the Fort's arms and ammunition although there is no record for the number of 303 rifles despite the fact that for the 303 ammunition it states 10,000 rounds with each man issued with 50 rounds in bandoliers.  Another document records that there were also 31,825 rounds for Bren guns and 384 rounds for the Sten guns.
 
 

  From 1st July 1945  to 27th July 1949  the senior officer is recorded as J. E. Wardle, Major Royal Artillery with Warrant Officer, A. T. White as the Master Gunner.

  On the 5th January 1947 the 3.8775 ton Greek steamer Varvassi was travelling from Algiers carrying a cargo of tangerines, wine and iron ore to Southampton. On entering the Solent the captain stopped the engines to pick up a pilot. Unfortunately the engines refused to restart and the ship drifted out of control finally resting on a ledge 90 metres from the Needles lighthouse.

                                      

  In the early hours of the following morning the Varvassi was caught in a violent storm with waves washing over her. The Yarmouth lifeboat rescued all 36 crew members and the cargo of tangerines which were sold ashore. 

                                     

  The following appears in 'The West Wight Remembered' booklet by Eric Toogood :   "Three local lads on the wreck of the Varassi on the Needles ledge in January 1947, Gerry Jackson is on the ladder Paul Cook on the left and Fred Brown. The Cargo included tangerines (a real treat, every home had a dish) and barrels of red wine. An ex-German P.o.W. at Fort Warden brewed up a concoction which would have made a good paint stripper."

  The 1949 photograph below of Totland Bay and pier shows, that during WW II parts of the pier and lifeboat ramp had been deliberately removed in case the Germans used them as landing stages.

  After World War II the Fort Warden Battery was retained by the military for storage but the site was sold off by the Ministry of Defense in 1957.  At this time the MOD's "Warden Point Battery & Hurst Castle Artillery Practice Ranges Bylaws 1889" are recorded as lapsed.  

Below Colwell Bay (1956 a Nigh Postcard). There are military buildings on the slopes leading to Fort Warden a year before the site was sold.

  During  1957 the Totland Parish Council minutes record, "Peacetime saw the selling off of Fort Warden for either a holiday camp or light industrial use."   The site was sold in 1957 for the establishment of a holiday camp.  This led to the demolition and alteration to the fabric of the fort.  All the concrete and brick buildings, along the internal face of the loophole wall, were demolished as was the old engine room by the main gate. The dry ditch around the exterior was in-filled, except to the north of the site. The southern side of the perimeter wall was demolished, including the southern caponier and many of the loopholes were closed with brickwork. 

  The magazines below the 6" gun emplacements were stripped of their fittings and decorated whilst the barbettes themselves were buried beneath made-up ground to create a level platform with landscaped terraces for the construction of the chalets.  The northern magazines below the 9.2" gun emplacements were untouched but the southern one was decorated and a bowling ally and communal showers installed. The barbettes above were roofed over and partially buried below made-up ground the spaces were used for storage, a discotheque and cinema. The searchlight command post was reduced to a single story building and used for storage whilst the new engine room to the north was replaced by a swimming pool for the Fort Warden Holiday Camp.

  The long Victorian brickwork loophole wall, at the north-eastern side of the site, as well as  the  remaining concrete gun emplacements, are protected.  The  agreed site  plans showing the main gate and loophole wall  as a retained feature of the final phase of the Fort Warden Heights housing development.

 Image courtesy of jcbimaging freshwater    Image courtesy of jcbimaging freshwater

  On the 27th October 2010 Colin Godfrey, editor of the website Subterranean History  visited the Fort Warden site  and took the following photographs. Colin reported that the shifting lobby in the underground vaults was one of the best preserved he had ever seen.

 

                              

                                                   

                              

                            

                            

                                    Created and maintained by :

                         Robin Homden  robinhomden1@aol.com