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, which it was built to defend. The Verne stands 500 ft high. It later became HM Prison The Verne in 1949.
The citadel was designed by Captain Crossman of the Royal Engineers in 1857, with some changes made by the Royal Commission in 1859. It was built using convict labour from HM Prison Portland, and contractors, between 1857 and 1881. When the government gave the go-ahead for the construction of the two original breakwaters of Portland Harbour, which were built between 1849-72, plans were also created for various defences and fortifications to protect the harbour and its naval base. A prime location for Portland's main defensive fortification was Verne Hill, at the height of the island. This summit was once the site of a Roman station and fort, and was naturally inaccessible from the north and east, as it rested on the clifftop. The south and west sides became protected when convict work was engaged with the digging of a large ditch in 1848. From the creation of the ditch, 1,500,000 tons of stone was used for the construction of the breakwaters. The ditch is of great depth and width up to 70 ft deep and 120 ft wide.
Other defences were built within the area, including the Nothe Fort, which was built between 1860-72, on the Nothe Peninsular at Weymouth's side of the harbour. The Portland Breakwater Fort was situated on the outer breakwater, and built between 1868-75. The Inner Pierhead Fort was built between 1859-62 on the inner breakwater. The East Weare Battery below the eastern side of the Verne was considered part of the Verne Citadel outworks, as the battery completed the defences necessary on the eastern side of the fort, protecting the harbour from the east and south-east.
The 56-acre citadel was designed as a siege fortress, and was impregnable to attack, while being able to effectively defend the harbour from capture. It could originally accommodate 484 troops, and 8 officers, with 50 arched casemates being created as soldier accommodation, situated under the south and west ramparts, and overlooking the parade ground. They were covered with earth to make them bombproof. The citadel could later accommodate up to 1000 troops. A number of houses were constructed for married officers. Within the fortress, a hospital, recreation rooms, museum, gymnasium, lawn tennis, cricket grounds, and sports fields were added. During times of danger the fortress would have acted as a refuge for the local population too. The total cost of the citadel's work, including East Weares Battery, amounted to £215,667.
The citadel was armed with open gun emplacements facing seawards on the north, east and west sides. The original armament included two 12.5-inch RML guns, five 7-inch RML guns, one 8-inch SB 54 cwt., one 10-inch RML gun, as well as a further ten mobile guns. The main entrance to the citadel was built on the north side, with a portcullis, and a southern entrance featured a drawbridge across the ditch, and gave access to the redoubt. A sally port led to East Weares Battery on the east side. By 1889, the citadel's armament consisted of two 12.5-inch RML guns and three 7-inch RML guns.
The citadel's defensive role largely came to an end in the 1900s. By 1903 the citadel's primary role was acting as an infantry barracks, and the guns were removed in 1906, following a recommendation of the Owen Review in 1905. Despite this a Fire Command Post was still in use to control all the guns in the area from a Central headquarters, which was located north of the south-east demi-bastion. Many different regiments of the line had 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 World War I, the Verne became the Headquarters of Coast Artillery. During this time it was armed with a 6-pounder Hotchkiss gun and a 1-pounder heavy anti-aircraft gun.
In 1936, as the citadel had been built on the site of a Roman station, workmen discovered an ammunition dump consisting of some 2000 sling stones the size of cricket balls, dating from this period. After 1937 the citadel's role turned to use as an infantry training centre. During World War II the Verne again became the Headquarters of Coast Artillery. It was armed with two 3-inch anti-aircraft guns, and two Bofors 40mm guns. A Chain Home Low Radar set was installed within the citadel, and the main magazine became a hospital. The CHEL radar site was designated as K73, and was built by the Royal Air Force to provide low-coverage radar. After the war, the last military use of the fort was by men of the Royal Engineers, who left in 1948.
The citadel became a prison in 1949. On 1 February 1949, the Verne had already been handed over to the prison commission, and an advance party of 20 prisoners arrived. 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 575 adult males, gained a considerable training programme for its prisoners who were serving either medium and long term sentences, including life sentences.
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. 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. 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.
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. The East Weare Battery, and the detention barracks of East Weare Camp (built circa 1880), both became Grade II Listed in May 1993. The Verne High Angle Battery was built in 1892, approximately 150 metres south of the citadel's southern entrance, as part of Britain's Coastal Defences. Decommissioned in 1906, it became Grade II Listed in May 1993 too.
Grade listed features
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. 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.
Both the North and South Entrances are Grade II* Listed, and have been since May 1993. 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.
The south west and south east castmates of the citadel also became Grade II* Listed in May 1993. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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- Victorian Forts data sheet
- Verne Citadel
- Historic pictures of the Verne Citadel and the Army presence there