A battle that never took place

Needles Old Battery built for a battle that never took place

The Needles Old Battery on the Isle of Wight is surely one of our more unusual properties. Perched on this exposed, windswept headland, looking out onto the iconic Needles Rocks, the Battery is a stark reminder of an age when England feared attack by the French under Napoleon III.

Why was it built?

The Old Battery dates from the early 1860s. It was part of a chain of defences built to protect the naval dockyards at Portsmouth on the orders of Prime Minister Lord Palmerston. Britain was vulnerable to a sea attack by France, especially after the launch of the first iron-clad French warship, so something had to be done.
 
The Battery was surrounded by a dry ditch to prevent invaders climbing up from the beach. But the invasion never came, so the Needles Old Battery became known as one of ‘Palmerston’s Follies’.
 
 

Fort or battery?

Many of Palmerston’s Follies are forts - Bembridge Fort and St Helen’s Fort for example. A ‘fort’ commands a group of two or more batteries and has a permanent garrison of troops, while there are normally no permanent troops at a ‘battery’ such as this one. Both were important parts of our coastal defences.
 
Although the Old Battery was superseded by the New Battery, it had an important part to play in both World Wars and the stories of some of the soldiers based here are now on display. If you go down the underground tunnel to the searchlight emplacement, you'll get a feel for what life was like here.
Follow the tunnel to see the Needles
Little girl looking out over the Needles from the Search Light at the Old Battery
Follow the tunnel to see the Needles
 

The end of an era

In 1945 both Old and New Batteries were closed and then decommissioned. The Needles Headland and both Batteries were bought by us in 1975. After a period of restoration the Old Battery was officially opened to visitors in 1982 by HRH Prince Charles. Now you can find out about life at the Old Battery, and at the same time enjoy an unrivalled close-up view of the majestic Needles Rocks.

Timeline

01 Sep 61

Building commences at the Old Battery

Due to the perceived threat of war with France and on the recommendation of Lord Palmerston, in September 1861 building of what is now the Old Battery begins.

1863

Work finishes on the Old Battery

Designed by Major James Edwards of the Royal Engineers and at a cost of £6,896, the Old Battery is completed.

1864

Six guns are installed

Six 7 inch Armstrong breech loading guns are installed at the Old Battery.