St Helens Fort

A wave of people taking the annual walk out to St Helen's Fort at low spring tide

St Helens Fort is the smallest of a chain of round forts built in the Solent that are now known as ‘Palmerston's Follies’. Our downloadable walk, Discover the Duver, gives an excellent view of St Helens Fort, which lies just offshore from our land.

French invasion

These were built in response to an invasion scare to protect Portsmouth and Spithead from Napoleon III and the French. This threat eventually came to nothing and they were never used for their original purpose. St Helens Fort was built between 1867 and 1871 specifically to protect the St Helens anchorage.

First World War

In the First World War the fort was used as a gun battery to provide cover for an area where suspicious vessels could be examined, and also as a searchlight base for the guns of Nodes Point battery and Culver Battery. In the Second World War it was again used as a searchlight and anti-aircraft gun platform.

6d to see the whale

The steamer 'Bembridge' struck a whale off the Fort in 1887 when sailing to Seaview, and for some time the whale was exhibited in a tent on the beach at Seaview at a charge of 6d (2½p) per head.

The Fort as a lighthouse

The Fort has been used as a navigational lighthouse during peace times. Daughter of lighthouse keepers, 15 year old Ethel Langton and her dog Badger were once stranded there for three days and nights after her parents had rowed ashore to the shops. The weather was very rough and they could not return. Every four hours she had to climb a steep ladder to check on the lighthouse lamps.
On the third day Frederick and George Attrill along with George Smith managed to reach the Fort and found Ethel asleep. She was awarded the Lloyds bronze medal for meritorious services.

The fort walk

The Fort is now privately owned, and does have its own artesian well for water supply in case of future siege or if it is cut off by storms. At one of the lowest tides of the year, usually in August, there is often a mass unofficial walk from St Helens beach to the Fort and back along the exposed causeway.