Verne Citadel

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Built on the highest point of Portland, the Verne is surrounded by cliffs and a moat, with two entrances — one via a footbridge and one via this tunnel.

Verne Citadel is a Victorian citadel on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. Located on the highest point of Portland, Verne Hill, it sits in a commanding position overlooking Portland Harbour. The summit of the hill was naturally inaccessible from the North and East sides, and a large ditch was dug out to isolate it from other sides. The Verne stands 500 ft high. The tip of the Verne Hill, where the citadel is now based, was once a Roman station and fort.


The citadel was designed by Captain Crosman R.E. and built by convicts from HM Prison Portland together with civilian contractors and the Royal Engineers between 1860 and 1881. The 56 acre fortress was designed for 1000 troops, and gun emplacements were built facing seawards on three sides. The citadel was a part of major defensive works built to defend the new Portland Harbour and its approaches. At the same time, across the other side of the harbour, the Nothe Fort was being constructed too. Together these two forts were in commanding positions to defend the harbour, but due to the vulnerable four mile gap between both defences, two of the breakwater arms had their own forts built on the extreme ends. The biggest was Portland Breakwater Fort on the outer arm.[1] The massive fortress included casemated barracks, redoubt and open batteries, and had been planned as early as 1857 as part of the re-planning of Portland's defences. The citadel, along with other forts and gun batteries in the area, and the breakwater itself, was one of Victorian Britain's greatest government-funded engineering projects. During its construction, Prince Albert would make a number of informal visits to check on the progress of both the Verne and the breakwaters. On 25 July 1859, ten years after he had originally laid the foundation breakwater stone at an official ceremony, Prince Albert and Leopold, the Prince Consort was shown around by engineer-in-chief John Coode, and John Leather. When they reached the Verne, Prince Albert was shown by Major Nugent, a Commanding Royal Engineer, the excavation work of the dry ditch of the Verne.[2]

In November 1861, the first of the heavy calibre guns were delivered to the citadel, and contractors Jay and Co. completed the 50 arches of the Verne's casemated barracks. In only two years, three million convict-made bricks had been laid by 180 men. Although the Verne summit had to be greatly reshaped to accommodate the citadel, much of this had been already done by the quarrying of stone for the breakwater works. During excavations, countless ancient treasures were found, from Phoenician gold coins, ancient British weapons, Roman pottery and bones of animals and humans. However very little were saved.[3] Through the next decade work on the Verne Citadel continued on a large scale. By 1863, more than 700 men were working on it. The North Entrance was protected by a portcullis, and the South Gate was protected by a drawbridge which spanned across the 70 ft deep moat. Within the citadel, a large military hospital was constructed, along with a school, gymnasium, racquet courts and officers' quarters. The fort's mess room was described as the finest in England, but when it was completed in 1882 the canteen was found to be too close to the powder store, and had to be pulled down. During that same year, a grand residence was completed for the Commanding Officer.[4]

The citadel was extended during the 1900s as a result of the Royal Commission, ending up with 8 RML guns with calibres up to 12.5". In 1888 the permanent armament consisted of 9 fixed and 10 mobile artillery pieces. From 1903 the citadel was used as an infantry barracks and the guns were removed in 1906. However the emplacements remain today. Many different regiments of the line served at the Verne. They are listed on a tablet in St. Peter's Church which was built by convicts between 1870-72 for soldiers stationed at the citadel. During the First World War the citadel was used as a heavy anti-aircraft battery and armed with a 6-pounder Hotchkiss gun and a 1-pounder heavy anti-aircraft gun.[5] During this time the Verne also hosted many home regiments, and later 2000 men of the Australian and New Zealand forces. The citadel's own military hospital was heavily used, and the council protested over the poor treatment of the wounded soldiers brought there from France. This was largely as the injured men would have to make their way up the steep hill to the citadel.[6]

The citadel marks the site of a Roman station, and in 1936 workmen discovered an ammunition dump consisting of some 2000 sling stones the size of cricket balls, dating from this period.[7] After 1937 the Verne became primarily used as an infantry training centre. During the Second World War it resumed a similar role as to World War I, as a heavy anti-aircraft battery, and it mounted four 3.7-inch HAA guns.[8] For a short while after World War II, the Verne was used to train newly conscripted recruits of the corps of the Royal Engineers, who would be the last military personnel at the citadel, and these left in 1948. The moat was used for training in the use of explosives during this time. When the citadel was declared redundant for military use at this time, fate could have turned the entire fort into one of the country's finest tourist attractions, (the Nothe Fort would become a tourist attraction and museum), however this never had the chance to materialise.[9] For a brief time during this period, when the citadel lay vacant, it would become an adventure ground for youngsters, who would explore the dark passages, abandoned gun emplacements and secret cliffside doorways. During 1948, the government confirmed the rumour that the Verne would become a training centre for 200 'Star Class' prisoners. A strong protest followed, but soon the second prison on Portland was opened.[10]

After this the Verne was handed over to the then prison commission, where an advance part of 20 prisoners arrived on 1 February 1949. The prison largely occupies the southern part of the citadel. Since becoming established the interior of the prison has been substantially rebuilt by prison labour, and the modern prison itself, a Category C prison for adult males, gained a considerable training programme for its prisoners who were serving either medium and long term sentences, including life sentences.[11] Conversion work has destroyed some of the Victorian features, but various things such as the ditch, earthworks, tunnels and casemates would become scheduled Ancient Monuments. Allowing a form of public access for the first time, in November 2011, the prison service, opened a cafe in an old officer's mess building within the citadel. The Jailhouse Cafe continues to operate to date, offering experience to prisoners in attempts to reduce reoffending.[12] On 4 September 2013, the Ministry of Justice announced the proposal to convert the prison into an immigration removal centre for 600 detainees awaiting deportation.[13] The prison closed in November 2013, and various work was carried out until the immigration removal centre opened in February 2014.

Built from stone taken from local quarrying, Nicodemus Knob, a landmark pillar left as a quarrying relic, marks the extent of how much stone was removed from the main area of quarrying.[14] The East Weare Battery was built 200 feet below the citadel on the east side to protect the Verne, as well as the harbour, and the detention barracks of East Weare Camp were built above the battery circa 1880. Both became Grade II Listed in May 1993.[15][16] The Verne High Angle Battery was built approximately 150 metres south of the citadel's southern entrance. The battery was built as part of Britain's Coastal Defences in 1892, and would be decommissioned in 1906. It became Grade II Listed in May 1993 too.[17]

Grade listed features[edit]

Various features of the Citadel have since become Grade Listed, and the entire fortress itself has become a scheduled monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This includes the Verne High Angle Battery too.[18] In recent years the Citadel has been listed on English Heritage's Risk Register, with the condition being described as "generally satisfactory but with significant localised problems". The main vulnerability aspect of the site is deterioration, and being in need of management, although it has been noted that the overall condition is continuing to improve.[19]

Both the North and South Entrances are Grade II* Listed, and have been since May 1993.[20][21] These remain popular attractions of the prison. The north entrance is dated 1880, possibly from the office of Capt. E Crossman, RE, general designer of The Citadel. It has a bold elliptical moulded arch. The southern, gatehouse entrance is dated 1881, and again possibly from office of Capt. E Crossman RE.[22]

The south west and south east castmates of the citadel also became Grade II* Listed in May 1993.[23] These military casemates date from around 1860, and also probably designed by Capt. W. Crossman, RE. There are two long runs and one shorter run of continuous casemates to the south-west and south-east edge of the Citadel enclosure. The structure is backed by high earth mounds, standing above the very deep surrounding ditches, so that only one face is exposed; the short south casemate. Each casemate has a deep, narrow compartment enclosed and vaulted in Portland stone. This remarkable run of structures enclosing the main central area of The Citadel is vigorously detailed, and on a characteristically grand scale, lying above the very deep surrounding Ditches, and modelling the landscape in views from many parts of the Island.[24]

The railings at the approach to the north entrance are set to the road edge, and date from around 1880. They are made of cast iron, and have circa 130 metres length of railing on the east side of the approach road to the north entrance. This is a well-maintained run of robust railing forming part of the original construction at The Verne. They became Grade II Listed in May 1993.[25] The prison's reception centre also became Grade II Listed in May 1993. It dates from circa 1865, possibly by Capt. W. Crossman RE. It is designed in the style characteristic of the Citadel in the late 19th century, with excellent late 20th century replacement sashes worked by prisoners here.[26]

In September 1978, five features of the citadel became Grade II Listed. The prison's blacksmith's shop, once a racquets court, dates around 1875, and like many other buildings within the citadel, is a very vigorously detailed building from the RE office. [27] The prison chapel, formerly an officers' mess, dates around 1865. The back of building remains plain, after some repairs following Second World War bomb damage. The interior remains much modified, and the detail is clearly from the same hand as Officers' Block B; from remaining foundation walls to the north it would seem that a U-plan block was originally intended, but there is not evidence of further progress.[28] The officer's block B was once accommodation for military officers, but later became part of prison accommodation. It dates from 1865 too, and is flanked east and west by blast bunkers, which is all presented with great vigour, but is also a controlled design.[29] The prison gymnasium dates from 1865, and is a single-storey rectangular building. It is another vigorously detailed building typical of RE work at The Verne.[30] Finally the detached Governor's house was built circa 1870, by Col. Cox, RE, with an enclosed service yard to the north. It has a very mannered design in an exposed position near the south-east sally port to the fortress. At the time of English Heritage's survery in May 1991, the house was unoccupied.[31]

The southern entrance of the Verne.


  1. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  2. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  3. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  4. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 120. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  7. ^ Portland Urban District Council (Late 1950s). Isle of Portland Official Guide. Ed. J. Burrow & Co. Ltd., Publishers - Chelternham and London. p. 18. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Morris, Stuart (1998). Discover Dorset: Portland. Dovecote Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-1874336495. 
  10. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 141. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  11. ^ Information board outside Verne Citadel Southern Entrance
  12. ^ "About". Jailhouse Cafe. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  13. ^ Danny Shaw (2013-09-04). "BBC News - Prisons to close in England as super-prison site revealed". Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  14. ^ "Quick facts about the Jurassic Coast". Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
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  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "English Heritage | English Heritage". Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  20. ^ "1203116 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  21. ^ "1206120 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ "1203117 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
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  25. ^ "1206113 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  26. ^ "1206151 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  27. ^ "1280366 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1978-09-21. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  28. ^ "1280372 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1978-09-21. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  29. ^ "1203118 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1978-09-21. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  30. ^ "1280377 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1978-09-21. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  31. ^ "1281832 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1978-09-21. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°33′44″N 2°26′09″W / 50.5622°N 2.4357°W / 50.5622; -2.4357