St Catherines Fort, Tenby, Wales
I have seen this fort on many occasions and it’s been winking at me since the first time I cast my eyes upon it.
This fort was ordered as part of the Royal Commission on the Defence of the UK and was constructed on the small rocky island just off the shore at Tenby. It was designed to prevent a landing at Tenby, which could have served as a bridgehead, thereby securing the nearby Milford Haven from a possible overland attack from that direction. It formed the major work of a proposed defensive line running along the coast to Trewent consisting of batteries at Tenby, Caldy Island, Lydstep, Freshwater East and Freshwater West. The fort on St. Catherine’s Island at Tenby was the only one to be constructed.
The building, a simple rectangular work, was begun June 1867 and the fort was complete by 1867 with the exception of the guns and shields. These did not arrive until the mid 1880s. The cost including shields was £40,000. The fort consists of a series of gun casemates facing north to cover the harbour of Tenby and the beach towards Saundersfoot and to the south to flank the south beach towards penally and Manorbier. Each face held three 7-inch RML guns firing through iron shields.
Two small caponiers or rifle galleries protect the west face and entrance of the fort which is approached over a drawbridge. A spiral stair in each connects the upper and lower galleries. At the east end of the basement level are a powder magazine (cartridge store) and two main shell stores. Another spiral stair leads up to a mezzanine level on which are situated two more flanking galleries and stairs up to the roof. The roof was fitted with three gun platforms for 9-inch RMLs facing south east, one of which could achieve 360 degrees of traverse.
The fort was garrisoned from 1873 to 1910 and then from 1914 to 1918 and 1939 to 1945. Different detachments served in the fort including the Royal Marines, 4th. Defence battery R.A., elements of the Belgian Army, The Home Guard, LAA(R.A.) and an R.A.F. ASR detachment. The fort was released by the Military after WWII In 1959 it was advertised for sale for £10,000 having been converted into a private residence called Gun Fort House. It was then used as a small zoo for a period of time until being abandoned once more. Various plans have been proposd for the fort, none of which have come to fruition.
There were two barriers to get through which were fairly solid so it was a sideways climb to seaward so that I was out if sight of land and then straight up the cliff face. A brief stop at the top to see if I’d attracted the attentions of the local bill and then on with the explore.
An old black and white photo that I found of the place.
A photo from the air showing how tricky it was to get in.
A free climb to the top and then on to the front door which was locked strangely enough.
Once in through an opening there was a room that was full of debris.
After a clamber over the debris I was then in a corridor that had rooms leading off and spiral staircases at each end.
Once up the level above what a fantastic building. It was almost like stepping out onto a set from Sharp. In fact, I was expecting a green clad Yorkshireman to come round the corner.
Once on the roof the shots through the room lights give a different perspective of the floor we had just left and the views of Tenby were excellent.
Time to go
We thought it would be best to walk out of the front door but the route over the bridge was a lot tougher from the top than it had seemed from the bottom so it was back down the cliff the way we came.
All in all an excellent day out and nice to see a fort that’s in such good nick.
Was it you who brought me to this place beyond the moon and stars.
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