Coalhouse Fort

Coalhouse Fort was built in the 1860s to guard the lower Thames from attack. The fort was equipped with a variety of large-calibre artillery guns and the most modern defensive facilities of the time. Decommissioned in 1949, the fort was used as a storehouse for a shoe factory before it was purchased by the local council. Since 1985 it has been leased to a voluntary preservation group, the Coalhouse Fort Project, which has been working to restore the fort. The group voted to cease operations in 2020.

About Coalhouse Fort in brief

Summary Coalhouse FortCoalhouse Fort is an artillery fort in the eastern English county of Essex. It was built in the 1860s to guard the lower Thames from seaborne attack. It stands at Coalhouse Point on the north bank of the river, at a location near East Tilbury which was vulnerable to raiders and invaders. The fort was equipped with a variety of large-calibre artillery guns and the most modern defensive facilities of the time. Decommissioned in 1949, the fort was used as a storehouse for a shoe factory before it was purchased by the local council. Since 1985 it has been leased to a voluntary preservation group, the Coalhouse Fort Project, which has been working to restore the fort and use it for heritage and educational purposes. The group voted to cease operations in 2020. It is currently closed to the public but the park is still open and a new group of volunteers hope to open the Fort and continue restoration soon. It houses reconstructions, small military museums and open-air displays of military equipment. It has been used in part by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Warner Bros. film studio, which used the fort as a location for the opening scenes of the 2005 film Batman Begins. The site of these early defences is not known but might have been near where St Catherine’s Church now stands. Henry VIII ordered the construction of an artillery blockhouse in 1539–40 as part of a major scheme to fortify the coastline of England and Wales.

Five blockhouses were built along the Thames between Gravesend and Higham and three on the south bank at Gravesend, Milton and higham. The Fort was initially a front-line fortification, supported by Shornemead Fort and Cliffe Fort located to the south and east respectively on the Kent shore. Over time, as batteries and forts further downriver became the front line of the Thames defences, CoalhouseFort was stripped of its main weapons and it was altered to support smaller quick-firing guns intended to be used against fast-moving surface and aerial targets. It seems to have been abandoned before the end of the 16th century. The corresponding blockhouse was eventually incorporated into the Tilbury Fort between 1670 and 1683. It may have been altered in 1545 but it was disarmed in 1553 but may have had a small permanent garrison, consisting of a commander and his deputy, porter, two soldiers and four gunners and four soldiers. Its form is unknown but probably consisted of a brick and stone structure in a D-shape with a rampart and ditch to its landward side, perhaps with a stone, perhaps, enclose stone, enclosing it in a stone enclose. It had 15 iron and brass cannon of various calibres in 1536–40; these had been increased to 27–40 by 1539-40; it was recorded as having fifteen cannon and brass and brass cannons of various caliber in 1538-40.