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, (including Jay and Co.), and the Royal Engineers between 1860 and 1881. The 56 acre fortress was first planned in 1857, and 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 construction on the Nothe Fort across at Weymouth had commenced too. Though the Verne Citadel was the much larger of the two, both forts were in advantageous positions to protect the harbour from both ends. In addition to this, conquering the four-mile gap across the harbour, two forts were built on the far ends of the initial two breakwater arms. The inner breakwater's was Inner Pierhead Fort, while the outer breakwater held the bigger Portland Breakwater Fort. 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.[1]

Initially the government had to purchase Verne Hill from the Crown Estate, which was met with outcry from local civilians. In order to built the citadel, Verne Hill had to be reshaped, and this was greatly helped by the quarrying of stone from the area, for the breakwater works. The physical evidence of Verne Hill's ancient history was revealed during excavations, with the discovery of Phoenician gold coins, ancient British weapons, Roman pottery and human/animal bones. Due to restrictions, many were not saved, but largely destroyed. Having laid the foundation stone of the breakwater in 1849, Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, began making frequent visits to Portland to inspect the construction of both the citadel and harbour breakwaters.[2]

The first batch of heavy-calibre guns arrived in November 1861, and by this time work had also finished on the 50 arches of the casemated barracks. When the project reached two years of construction work, three million convict-made bricks had been laid by 180 men. The large scale of work on the fortress would continue over the next decade, and by 1863, over 700 men were contracted to work on it. The citadel was designed to accommodate two entrances - one situated north and one south. The arched North Entrance was the main, overlooking Portland Harbour, and was defended with a portcullis, while the South Gate was accessible via a drawbridge which spanned across the 70 ft deep moat. The vast fortress included casemated barracks, redoubt and open batteries. Within the citadel a number of state-of-the-art buildings were erected, including a large military hospital, school, gymnasium, racquet courts, officers' quarters, and a grand residence for the Commanding Officer. The 1882 mess room quickly gained the reputation of being the finest of its kind in England, however it was soon demolished when it was realised that the canteen was too close to the powder store.[3]

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.[4] This was not the only role for the fort, as it became a host for various home regiments. Later into the war 2000 men of the Australian and New Zealand forces were based there. The military hospital proved to be a major centre for the aid of wounded soldiers sent back from France. The hospital was consistently kept busy treating the wounded throughout the war.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7] 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, the citadel was left abandoned with the potential of becoming a tourist attraction, similar to Weymouth's Nothe Fort which later became a major tourist attraction and museum. However this never materialised. For a brief period, with the Verne now unoccupied, youngsters were free to explore the citadel.[8]

In 1948 a circulating rumour had built-up that the citadel was to become a prison. The government soon confirmed this, and the citadel was set to become a training centre for 200 'Star Class' prisoners. A strong protest followed, however this did not deter the plans, and the following year saw the opening of the second prison on the island.[9] With the Verne handed over to the then prison commission, an advance party of 20 prisoners arrived on 1 February 1949. The prison largely occupied 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.[10] Although some of the original Victorian features would be lost during conversion work, the surviving features would end up becoming designated as 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.[11] 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.[12] The prison closed in November 2013, and various work was carried out until the immigration removal centre opened in February 2014.

In September 2014, as part of the B-Side multimedia arts festival based on the island, a small southern section of the citadel was opened to the public. The artist Simon Ryder, who had a year-long residency at IRC The Verne, presented a guided tour of his sound, film and sculpture installation at the Verne. The tour started through the southern entrance, and followed a spiral staircase into the casemates overlooking the dry moat. The tour ended within the moat itself.[13][14]

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.[15] 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.[16][17] 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.[18]

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.[19] 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.[20]

Both the North and South Entrances are Grade II* Listed, and have been since May 1993.[21][22] 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.[23]

The south west and south east castmates of the citadel also became Grade II* Listed in May 1993.[24] 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.[25]

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.[26] 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.[27]

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.[28] 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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31] 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 survey in May 1991, the house was unoccupied.[32]

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. pp. 77, 78. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  3. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 120. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  6. ^ Portland Urban District Council (Late 1950s). Isle of Portland Official Guide. Ed. J. Burrow & Co. Ltd., Publishers - Chelternham and London. p. 18.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^
  8. ^ Morris, Stuart (1998). Discover Dorset: Portland. Dovecote Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-1874336495. 
  9. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 141. ISBN 978-0946159345. 
  10. ^ Official information board situated outside Southern Entrance of Verne Citadel
  11. ^ "About". Jailhouse Cafe. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  12. ^ Danny Shaw (2013-09-04). "BBC News - Prisons to close in England as super-prison site revealed". Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
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  15. ^ "Quick facts about the Jurassic Coast". Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
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  20. ^ "English Heritage | English Heritage". Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  21. ^ "1203116 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  22. ^ "1206120 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
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  24. ^ "1203117 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
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  26. ^ "1206113 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  27. ^ "1206151 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1993-05-17. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  28. ^ "1280366 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1978-09-21. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  29. ^ "1280372 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1978-09-21. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  30. ^ "1203118 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1978-09-21. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  31. ^ "1280377 - The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". 1978-09-21. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  32. ^ "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