Guns at Tilbury Fort

It was a cold wet autumn day when I visited Tilbury Fort.  I crossed to the North bank of the Thames using the Tilbury passenger ferry. From the ferry pier you walk a short distance eastwards along a raised concrete embankment.  It was amazing the number of people braving the cold conditions and fishing.   At first glance you may think that the low level fort with its double moat has little to offer but it is very interesting and certainly exceeded my expectations. The underground tunnels alone are well worth a visit.

The fort was originally built in the 17th Century to protect London, the ships bringing their goods into the city and the ferry crossing. The gunpowder used at the fort was brought from the factory in Faversham so this crossing was of strategic importance. There are forts also positioned on the south bank of the Thames at Gravesend so that there could be effective cross fire to any invaders. Elizabeth I gave her famous speech from Tilbury to rally the troops as they were preparing to face the Spanish Armada.

Water Gate Tilbury Fort

You enter Tilbury Fort through an impressive ornate entrance the Water Gate.  Originally built by Henry VIIl as one of five block forts. It was enlarged into a bastion fort by Charles II. The fort is managed by English Heritage and the auditory guide that they provide is very informative.  The use of actors speaking as contemporary soldiers of the fort does bring the site alive.  I was particularly struck with the number of references to the extreme location and the cold.  In the gunpowder store you will see a print of the Thames 1895 frozen over at this point.  If visiting in the later part of the year do take a hat and gloves.  You will find out from the audio guide that many of the officers lived on the south bank of the Thames in Gravesend which I am sure will have been more comfortable.

In the north east corner of the site there is a series of underground tunnels that were used to get munitions up to the guns and rifle trenches.  As you walk along the tunnels and see the precautions taken to prevent an explosion you cannot fail to be impressed by the engineering ability of a previous age.  The fort was used in both World Wars.  In the last war it was used by the Home Guard and there is still an anti-aircraft gun on view.

Following the Battle of Culloden in 1746, men, women and children suspected of being sympathisers were brought in prison ships to Tilbury Fort.  The magazine building was used to house some prisoners others were left on the prison ships. Many died of typhoid. Only one in twenty stood trial and those that did not were sent to the Caribbean islands to be sold to plantation owners. Whilst they were held at the fort they had the indignity of sightseers from London coming to view their misery.  To atone for this sorry episode a commemorative stone has been placed outside the fort close to the Water Gate.