Bringing Bembridge Fort to life

Volunteers at Bembridge Fort

Resembling from the distance a grassy mound, Bembridge Fort on the Isle of Wight has long been a subject of interest to both local people and holidaymakers. Thanks to the support of two groups of volunteers, you are able to see inside this Victorian fort and discover its history.

The fort and the factory

Until 1998 Bembridge Fort was occupied by a factory but when it went into liquidation and suddenly moved out, large areas were in a derelict condition and full of debris. Rooms were abandoned as they stood with old computer discs, calendars, newspapers and files left lying around. Unfortunately these items rapidly deteriorated because of the damp and have since been removed.
Part of the fort was then let to a different company - one that makes crop spraying equipment, and they still operate from the fort to this day.

What next?

However this left us with the problem of what to do with the remaining rooms. It soon became clear that it would not be financially possible to fully restore and open the fort as we have done at The Needles Old Battery.  
So we decided that the most important thing was to stop its condition becoming any worse. Then, because there was so much local interest in the fort, we decided to start a programme of guided tours.

Clearing the way

The first major clearance work was carried out in 2005/06 by volunteer work parties who removed vast quantities of debris including many tons of paper.
Then in 2008, a small group of six volunteers started working on a regular basis clearing and restoring key features. They are still doing this and in 2011 uncovered one of the gun racers on top of the fort.
A second group of volunteers give guided tours at least twice a month during the main season.
As the fort is a Scheduled Monument, when conservation work needs to be carried out, we must ask for consent from Historic England before we can proceed.

Bringing the Fort back to life

Most of the rooms are now empty so the volunteer guides bring them to life with their knowledge which is increasing all the time.
We often have visitors who previously worked at the factory, who tell us stories of what went on there. Occasionally we meet people who were based there during the Second World War and they have shared their memories of what life was like at the fort during that time.
It is as interesting for us to hear these recollections and to add to our store of knowledge as we hope it is for you to look around this fascinating place.