Defending the nation at Brean Down

Gun platform at Brean © Jim Elliott

Gun platform at Brean

Brean Down has been an important defender of the nation for many years.

The Palmerston Fort

In the 1860s Britain feared an attack from the French, and took steps to improve its coastal defences.

A series of forts were built along the British coast. These included forts on the islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm in the Bristol Channel, as well as The Palmerston Fort on the headland of Brean Down.

The fort takes a break

The fort was decommissioned after it was partly destroyed in an accident where Gunner Haines blew both himself and a magazine full of gunpowder up. It became a café for a time and was a popular destination for visitors from Weston-Super-Mare. It was recommissioned at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Visit the Palmerston Fort

You can still visit the Palmerston Fort on most weekends in the spring and summer. Our volunteers are on site from 10am - 3pm to open up some of the rooms that are normally closed to the public.

Experimental Brean

At the beginning of the Second World War, the down was once again re-armed.

The intriguing-sounding 'Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development' used Brean Down for a variety of top secret experiments.

It created such weapons as the Expendable Noise Makers and a proto type of the Bouncing Bombs.

Bouncing bombs

The experiments occasionally went awry, giving the local people some idea about what was happening.

The initial trials of the bouncing bombs were not very successful. One of the first tests sent a bomb into one of the fort buildings, instead of the sea. Another landed in a chicken coup of a local farm.

Flying over Somerset

Bomber planes practised flying around Brean and the Somerset coast. A large concrete arrow on the top of the down, visible from the air, was used to direct the bombers to their targets in Bridgwater Bay. It is still there today and is one of the many visible signs of the Down's military past.