Fort Gilkicker is a historic Palmerston fort built at the eastern end of Stokes Bay, Gosport, Hampshire to dominate the key anchorage of Spithead. It was erected between 1863 and 1871 as a semi-circular arc with 22 casemates, to be armed with 5 12" guns, 17 10" guns and 5 9" guns. The actual installed armament rather differed from this. In 1902 the RML guns were replaced by 2 9.2" and 2 6" BL guns, and before the First World War the walls were further strengthened with substantial earthwork embankments.
First Fort Gilkicker
The First Fort on Gilkicker Point was constructed as an auxiliary battery to Fort Monckton and consisted of an earthen rampart for eleven guns firing through embrasures cut through the parapets. The battery was a distorted quadrilateral in shape with a long gorge (or rear) a short sea facing rampart with two flanking faces. The front faces were protected by a ditch which was flanked by musketry caponiers at the angles. The rear was closed off by a brick wall with a barrack for officers at its centre. The battery was heavily criticised by James Fergusson, who eventually became the Treasury representative on the Royal Commission in to the defences of the United Kingdom, set up in 1859. In his paper ‘The Peril of Portsmouth’ he stated that the battery was in danger of collapse under the weight of its own guns and could easily be captured by a small force landing in the bay as it could offer little resistance. As a result the Defence Committee proposed a new work to replace it.
New Fort Gilkicker
The current Fort Gilkicker was constructed between the years 1863 and 1869 at Stokes Bay, Gosport. Its purpose was to defend the deep water anchorage at Spithead and to protect the western approach to Portsmouth harbour. The fort was begun by a contractor who failed in November 1863 early in the stages of the construction and a renowned civil engineer, John Towlerton Leather who was already involved in the construction of the great sea forts at nearby Spithead, was asked to complete the Fort at Gilkicker. His yard was nearby at Stokes Bay, the site of which eventually became the Stokes Bay Submarine Mining Establishment. The new Fort Gilkicker was conceived as a curvilinier fort for twenty six guns on one level firing through armoured embrasures with a barrack closing the rear. It faced in a more easterly direction that its predecessor and its principal role was to direct fire on Sturbridge Shoal and to the flanks were to bear upon Spithead and Stokes Bay. The design for the fort was altered slightly and it was completed in 1871 for twenty two guns in casemates with five heavier guns in open positions on the roof.The estimated cost of Fort Gilkicker in 1869 was £61,395, the actual cost on completion being £58,766.
Each of the twenty two gun casemates on the main gun floor consists of a brick vaulted chamber behind a granite face fourteen feet thick. Each gun fired though an armoured embrasure with a shield hung on a massive shield frame. To the rear of each gun casemate is the barrack room for the gun crew with space for folding barrack room beds and a fireplace. The barrack rooms open on to a verandah, or walkway, that connects all of the barrack rooms. Beneath the gun casemates are a series of magazines appropriated for shells and cartridges. Vertical lifts from the shell and cartridge passages open onto each gun casemate allowing efficient supply of ammunition for the guns. The magazine floor was lit by oil lamps placed on lamp trolleys running on rails through lamp tunnels from the parade. Steps lead up from the verandah and parade to the upper battery that consisted of five large open gun emplacements with expense magazines between. The rear, or gorge, of the fort is closed by a two storey barrack block that was originally occupied by the officers. It included Officer’s bedrooms, the officers’ mess with kitchen and pantry, a field officer’s quarters, and officer’s servant’s quarters. At each end was an artillery store. At the western end was the laboratory for filling shells and cartridges. The entrance to the fort through the centre of the barrack block opens onto the central parade. Outside the fort is an artillery store and a smith and fitters shop.
The approved armament was:- seventeen 10-inch R.M.L. 18 tons Lower tier casemates; five 9-inch R.M.L. 12 tons Lower tier casemates. Five gun positions were constructed in the upper battery, three for 11inch guns of 25 tons on ‘C’ pivots in positions 2, 3 and 4 and two for 12inch guns of 25 tons on ‘A’ pivots in positions 1 and 5. In 1891 two of the positions for 11-inch guns on the roof were altered as lookout and the guns removed.
In 1898 Colonel Montgomery  recommended that Gilkicker be modified to take the latest Breech Loading guns in place of the 10-inch and 9-inch RMLs on the lower gun floor.The upper battery was to be completely remodelled to take two of the latest 9.2-inch BL Mark X guns on barbette V mountings with two 6-inch BL Mark VII guns on CPII mountings for closer range support. The 9.2-inch BL was to counter Armoured ships up to a range of 6,000 yards whilst the 6-inch BL was for use against unarmoured ships, ships attempting to block channels by sinking in them and against ships trying to break through booms (blockers and boom smashers). The authority for the alteration was given in 1902. The work was completed in October 1906 at an estimated cost of £16,000 and an actual cost of £19,671. The contractor was William Hill of Gosport. The work included the rebuilding of the magazines, gun emplacements and barrack block. The magazines were altered to accommodate 1000 6-inch B.L. shells and cartridges and 500 9.2-inch BL shells and 1,000 cartridges. As part of this work the whole of the exterior granite wall of the fort was covered with earth and the front ditch filed to protect the shell and cartridge stores. Position finding cells were built into this bank at each end of the fort. each worked in conjunction with a transmitting station exterior to the fort, that for the 6-inch guns at Fort Monckton and that for the 9.2inch guns at No.4 battery of the Stokes Bay Lines.
The Own Committee decided in 1905 that the heavy armament of Gilkicker, Stokes Bay and Browndown were only of use against ships that had forced the outer defences and such ships would be deterred by the inevitable damage they would incur. The 9.2 inch guns at Gilkicker and Browndown were therefore superfluous. The 6-inch guns at Gilkicker and at No.2 battery of the Stokes Bay Lines were also superfluous and ineffective. These guns were to be removed. A 1906 armament return shows that the 9.2 inch and 6 inch guns were still mounted but to be reduced. Corrections to August 1907 show them as dismounted. The barrack block was altered 1908-1910 by converting it to married quarters for Royal Engineers at nearby Fort Monckton. In 1916 the fort was armed with an early type of Anti-Aircraft gun, a 3-inch Quick Fire gun on a high angle mounting. This was placed in the eastern 9.2inch B.L. position on top of the fort. Trinity House had a small observation post on Fort Gilkicker after 1939. During World war Two the fort was briefly armed with a 40mm Bofors gun and Gun Laying Radar was fitted outside the fort to direct the guns at the nearby Gilkicker Anti-Aircraft gun site. In the build-up to D-day a signals unit occupied the fort and during the Normandy landings on June 9th over 1,000 signals were recorded for the day needing routing to over 1300 addresses. Later an average of 800 signals to almost 1,000 addresses were routed via Gilkicker. In 1956 Coast Defence was abolished and the fort was then used by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works as a plumbers workshop. In November 1986 Hampshire County Council bought the fort, but not its surrounding earth bank. The fort was used as a building materials store and when proposals to restore and convert the fort for modern housing were explored in 1995 the fort was emptied.
Future of the fort
The fort is currently (2012) awaiting restoration and conversion to modern apartments by Askett Hawk. As a Grade II* Listed Building its future is secure for the present. It can be visited and viewed only from the outside and can be approached along the coast from Stokes Bay or by walking down the access road through Stokes Bay golf course. It is on the Buildings at Risk Register
- National Archives WO78/2663 Fort Gilkicker:Plan showing site and mode of setting out of the work
- The Peril of Portsmouth - James Fergusson 1856
- Defence Committee Report dated 20/01/1862
- Various Plans of Fort Gilkicker WD 515,526,527,528,529
- National Archive: Armament returns of 1869, 1872, 1876, 1886, 1898.
- National Archive: The report of Col. Montgomery’s Committee on the substitution of Breech Loading and Quick Firing guns for existing RML guns 1898
- WO letter dated 21.02.1902 Portsmouth 6/1283
- National Archive Plan of Fort Gilkicker in WORKS 43
- National Archive: Report of the Committee on Armament of Home Ports 1905: Col Owen.
- National Archive:Report on Communications at Fort Gilkicker during June and July 1944
Fort Gilkicker: Solent Papers No.5 by David Moore EAN 978-0-9570302-1-3
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