Wars have a powerful effect on the development of our society, and this is true for buildings as much as any other area of life. The need to protect what you have or attack the other side drives innovation and design. In the 1860’s the English were at war with the French (again!) and needed fortifications along the Channel that separates the two nations. Prime Minister Lord Palmerston wanted to protect the naval fleet, so commissioned a series of forts near to Portsmouth to this end. The idea behind it is that they could intercept the French fleet and protect the precious ships in the dockyards.
One of these buildings was Spitbank Fort, which sat in a series of five such fortifications built in and around that time, with the security of the nation in mind. They took 15 years of building in a sea that is rough during the winter months of the year. Back in the 1860’s this was a marvel of engineering. By the time work was complete and the forts were ready for action, the threat of war with the French was gone and they were seen by the nation as an expensive folly.
The First World War – and beyond
After a few decades of relative peace had passed, the threat to the security of the United Kingdom was back on the front of the minds of the nation. The Isle of Wight, an inhabited island in the English Channel, was seen as a better bet to provide the ammunitions to protect the British fleet. But the forts were back in use. For its own role, Spitbank Fort was equipped with small guns and a skeleton crew to deal with any passing German boats on the way to battle the British.
The threat didn’t materialise in the way expected, and Spitbank Fort saw no action during the Great War. By the time World War II came along, the forts were seen as no use for the war effort and were mainly abandoned for longer range guns on the mainland. So, the innovation in the 1860’s that looked perfect for a war that never happened were superseded less than a century later. The only use they were put to was to keep an eye out for German U-boats and relay this information back to land. It was a lonely posting that none of the army looked forward to.
Years of neglect
The years that followed the end of the hostilities in the 1940’s saw the forts in general, and Spitbank Fort in particular, to fall into disuse. The years in between were unkind to the forts, in stormy waters and without any care or attention. Spitbank Fort lay pretty much dormant from the end of the war until the 1980’s, when they were bought and work started on renovating to a decent standard, although the final use for these buildings wasn’t sure.
Spitbank Fort is the smallest of the three operational forts today, all still standing from their original construction in the 1860’s. It is now a venue for events that attract people from across the world. Renovated with the finest materials to the highest standard, Spitbank Fort is a beautiful setting for occasions. The peace and beauty of the Channel in the summer months is contrasted heavily with the power of the sea in the British winter.
The lap of luxury
This is a place where you can party, relax with friends and stay for a while. The views across the water, with passing yachts and ferries makes for a stunning venue. Of course, as the fort is circular, the way you view the world is different. The panoramas from the top of the fort allow people the chance to take all of this in. There are eight suites on the fort, where visitors can stay in the ultimate luxury. People from all over the world are taking this opportunity to have a party, celebrate a special occasion or spend time with friends.
It is noteworthy the way that Spitbank Fort has moved so far over the last 150 years or so. The initial soldiers who were placed to protect the fleet could never have imagined the future use for the fort. The luxurious element is a recent development, but one that makes this historic building live on way beyond the use of its original purpose.