Blacknor Fort is a fort on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. The fort is situated on Portland's west side clifftops within the Blacknor area, overlooking Hallelujah Bay and Mutton Cove. It is also found close to the estate of the Weston village and West Weares. Today the fort remains private property, split between two owners, and many "Private - Keep Out" signs surround the fort.
Constructed from 1900 to 1902, the Victorian Fortress was built as part of Portland's coastal defence against enemy vessels on the west side of the island. The fort sits in a commanding position overlooking Lyme Bay. It had been initially intended as the fort defending the western end of a ditch extending west-east across the island to Durdle Point, where Blacknor was intended to cover the West Bay area preventing bombardment of Verne Citadel and the Portland Harbour from the sea. Durdle Battery was not built, but Blacknor was. The fort was built by local builders Jesty and Baker, and by January 1902 to fort was completed and operational. The war department made an appeal to reroute the surrounding cliff path, to avoid walkers passing the towering guns of the fort. The department were not successful with this, and the path remained open to the public. The fort's stronghold was re-equipped during both World Wars. Four 9.2 inch guns were installed during The First World War, and initially there were two 6-inch breech-loading (BL) Mk. VII guns installed for close defence. The 6-inch guns were removed between 1908-1909 and replaced by two 9.2-inch BL Mk. X guns. These were in use during the First World War and up until 1944.
When the possibility of another war began to be taken seriously around 1935, local people had become accustomed to heavy gunning practice from ships and Blacknor Fort, bombing on the new West Bay range, and mock battles around the coast. In 1937-39, anti-aircraft rockets, using 3-inch tubular charges produced by the Royal Naval Cordite Factory, Holton Heath, were tested at the fort by the Explosives Research Department of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. Gun-laying predictors monitored the fall of shot in an extended series of successful proving trials. These were discontinued and moved to Aberporth, Wales, when it became clear that Blacknor Fort would be needed by the army for the duration of the emergency that was developing into the Second World War. The rockets went into production with a 25-lb shell, both for anti-aircraft salvoes of 19 rockets in a cluster, and for air to ground anti-ship purposes. An improvised version had a 60-lb warhead for use against tanks, railway locomotives and other land targets. The rockets were also used for assisting aircraft to take off from merchant ships. With the commencement of World War II Portland's Home Guard units were issued with uniforms and automatic weapons in 1940, and would be in charge of operating the guns at the fort, as well as those at East Weare Battery. For most part though the fort was manned by 103 Battery of 522 Coast Regiment and performed a long-range night role. Today, the remaining gun emplacements and experimental anti-aircraft rocket pads can be seen from the top of the cliff.
Blacknor Fort saw one of Portland's most remarkable pieces of aerial combat in the Battle of Britain. Beside it, on "The Castles" as Portland locals call the flat top of the 275-feet cliffs, Flying Officer Strickland, in a Hurricane of 213 Squadron from Exeter, bagged a German bomber in style on the afternoon of 11 August 1940. His Hurricane Fighter crippled the Junkers Ju.88 which then made an almost perfect landing, but for the fact it snagged the fort's line of telephone wires, which retracted the undercarriage. The pilot was injured but his three comrades had only superficial knocks and the aircraft flopped down just about intact.
During World War 2 on the night of the 27 April 1944, the gunners of the fort witnessed The Slapton Sands Massacre. The fort's gunners were ordered not to open fire for fear of friendly fire casualties when German E-Boats attacked tank landing craft carrying many American soldiers, who were on exercise in Lyme Bay. The massacre saw more than 600 American soldiers and seamen drowned by the end of the night, with many pulled down by the weight of their own equipment. Many of the hundreds of recovered corpses were taken to Castletown Pier on Portland. By 1954 the battery was disarmed and used for storage. The main battery building remains in good condition, as does one gun emplacement. The base for the coast artillery searchlights also survive.
In Stuart Morris' 1990 book Portland Camera, a 1909 photograph showing a 9.2 inch gun in the Underhill village of Fortuneswell revealed that it took a major operation in order to get the gun up to Blacknor Fort.
In 2004, a land dispute between the two owners of adjacent bungalows at the fort made national news.
According to a BBC news article, originally Edwin Hoskins and Graham Vranch became neighbours after they bought adjacent bungalows at Blacknor Fort. During 1978, the pair drew up a legal agreement which stated that if either men decided to sell their land, the other must be given first refusal for one month. Hoskins, who had worked as a building instructor for inmates in the prison service, decided to sell in January 2004, and Vranch made an offer to buy his property for £55,000, which was an offer much lower than expected. On 22 February, Hoskins decided to invite Vranch to his house, where he shot him with a gun. Vranch survived the shooting and Hoskins was imprisoned in July 2004, at Salisbury Crown Court. In 2006, Hoskins, serving his seven-year sentence at HMP Guys Marsh in Dorset, was found dead in his cell, after hanging himself from the window bars.
In 2008, a scheme to transform part of the fort into a state of the art new home was suggested and soon put into effect.
The Channel 4 programme Grand Designs, presented by Kevin McCloud, was reported to be interested in featuring the project being tackled by Paul and Debbie Care (and their children Katie, Max, Zac and Lucy who has Down's syndrome), where the proposal was to see most of the home sitting on top of the emplacement's 62 ft-diameter circular concrete surround. The programme originally waited for full planning permission, which was granted by the end of the year. Paul Care, for the Dorset Echo, stated "A programme representative came down and visited us recently for interviews and pictures and we have now heard that they are very keen to do a programme on us and are just waiting for final confirmation." The Grand Designs programme began filming the project in December 2008, although the programme was never shown, where Debbie Care later stated in a 2011 View from Publishing online article "We hit design delays and we couldn't complete building in time to be used on the show."
The buying family had originally wanted somewhere to buy and refurbish, and Paul Care had become keen on the idea after seeing the fort views in an estate agent's window. Reportedly the fort had already sold, but the sale fell through and the family then purchased the property. The fort's cost of £250,000 was from the family's budget of £400,000, where the rest was to be used on refurbishment of the property. In the Dorset Echo article, Debbie Care revealed "We had been heading for Bournemouth to spend £250 on toys but we reached a decision, turned round and ended up spending £250,000 to buy the emplacement." Paul Care also added "We do have a budget of about £400,000 for the new build and one feature we know we want for the lower dining area is a glass wall along the east wall." The refurbished design ideas for the fort included a glass wall along the east wall for the dining area, whilst the upper part of the scheme would include the main living arrangements, with most of the rooms having a wedge shape. On top of this, the roof was to be covered in grass with solar panels and cells on the south face, whilst a central roof window would provide a skylight to the central part of the new home, as well as the creation of a two-car garage and an annexe on the site of the existing bungalow and magazine area.
In April 2011, the project was completed and the fort turned into a modern home. The area of where the gun shells used to come up remained untouched along with the hoist, whilst the sergeants' cookhouse and all the underground magazine levels were left untouched, although the cookhouse had plans of restoration. The family put the fort up for sale in late 2013 for almost £1 million. As of 2014 this was reduced to £850,000 and again to £750,000 after.
A World War II coast battery observation post for Blacknor Fort is located on the cliff edge, south of the fort, alongside the South West Coastal Path. This post was built during 1940-41, and constructed of brick and concrete. Unlike Blacknor Fort, which is private, the post has remained accessible to the public. It remains in good, accessible condition to date, although weathering and vandalism, namely graffiti, has taken toll on the post. In mid-2014, part of the roof had collapsed, resting on the lower tip of the lookout point. Next to this post is one of two nearby cliff gun emplacements. The other identical emplacement on the cliff edge north of the fort. Both of these emplacements were also constructed in 1940-41, of concrete. They held 15 pounder field guns, for the protection of Whitehead's Torpedo Factory and the admiralty oil tanks on the Mere, part of the Portland Naval Base. Both remain in good condition, but again subject to weathering.
In addition to the northern emplacement, an old War Department/Admiralty boundary marker remains, and probably dates from 1870. It is one of many markers of its kind to be found on Portland, although this particular example is rather weathered.
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