The Fort at Tilbury in the Thames Estuary has been defending London from the sea for more than 500 years. Its original D-shaped blockhouse was built in 1539 by Henry VIII and called the ‘Thermitage Bulwark.’ It was used as a rallying point by his daughter Elizabeth I in 1588 as her makeshift army awaited the Spanish Armada. Tilbury fort was held by the Parliamentary forces throughout the Civil War and although it never saw any hostilities it was overwhelmed by neglect. However, the importance of Tilbury Fort was recognised following an attack in 1667 by Dutch forces upon the English fleet in the Medway after which Charles II employed the Dutchman Sir Bernard de Gomme to oversee a new phase of development including the reshaping of the fort’s design by changing it into the star pentagon shape that is a characteristic of the building today.
The blockhouse constructed by Henry VIII was kept and incorporated into de Gomme’s design. Over the centuries, the fortification continued to be changed and redesigned. Sadly, around 1867 Henry VIII’s blockhouse was demolished. Tilbury is the best remaining example of de Gomme’s work.
At one time the fort had hundreds of cannons and guns with two huge magazines capable of holding more than 7,000 barrels of gunpowder.
Improvements and extensions overseen by Captain Charles Gordon better known as ‘Gordon of Khartoum’ took place in the 19th century when new gun emplacements were prepared and the defences strengthened to cope with more modern firepower. Part of this modernisation was a change to the firing line of the guns to make them better able to engage ships downstream.
THAT’S JUST NOT CRICKET OLD CHAP
In 1776 a disputed story has it that Tilbury Fort was used for a cricket match between the men of Essex and the men of Kent. An account has it that this ended in death and bloodshed after guns were taken from the guardroom. A man was allegedly shot dead, another injured by gunshot wounds and an unfortunate elderly invalid bayoneted.
The fort saw action in the First World War when an anti-aircraft gun fired from the Parade Ground was used to shoot down a German zeppelin airship bomber.
Tilbury Fort was extensively damage during the Second World War by German bombers and this included the destruction of a barrack block. It is not known if this was a deliberate attack on the fort or more likely to be a consequence of a raid aimed at the London docks.
WELL WORTH A VISIT
The fort which is open to the public retains many interesting features. As a defensive structure it has long since been nothing more than a curiosity but is part of a revitalisation scheme know as Two Ports Way – a three mile riverside walk and cycle path that takes in Tilbury Power Station.
Visitors to the fort will see a memorial to the Highland prisoners captured after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 who were held at Tilbury.
The museum is owned by English Heritage and opening times are available via the Tilbury Fort website.
The fort is reputed to be haunted by a number of paranormal entities.
A shadowy figure of a lady is said to wonder the fort and is believed to be the ghost of Queen Elizabeth I. A soldier patrols the walls at night and vanishes if approached.
Marching soldiers have been heard around the parade ground.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Warren Lane, Doddinghurst, Brentwood
Essex, England, CM15 0JG
+44 (0)1277 372 773
- Address: Fort Road, Tilbury, Essex, England, United Kingdom, RM18 7NR
- GPS: 51.4529,0.374525
- Phone: 0044 (0)1375 858 489
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: RM18 7NR
- Entrance Fees: Yes
- Disabled Access: Reasonable
- Visibility from Road: Poor
- Image Credits: Header Image: Neil Mitchell