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Lower Needles Point battery

A Scheduled Monument in Totland, Isle of Wight

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Latitude: 50.663 / 50°39'46"N

Longitude: -1.5829 / 1°34'58"W

OS Eastings: 429576.38248

OS Northings: 84894.665878

OS Grid: SZ295848

Mapcode National: GBR 67W.8MJ

Mapcode Global: FRA 77KB.557

Entry Name: Lower Needles Point battery

Scheduled Date: 18 December 1979

Last Amended: 10 November 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009392

English Heritage Legacy ID: 22017

County: Isle of Wight

Civil Parish: Totland

Traditional County: Hampshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Isle of Wight

Church of England Parish: Totland Bay Christ Church

Church of England Diocese: Portsmouth


The monument includes a battery and associated structures on and beneath the
projecting point of the chalk ridge above the Needles Rocks at the
southwestern end of the Isle of Wight.
The battery, entered via a road bridge which was previously a rolling
drawbridge across a moat, has six gun emplacements, a parade ground and
various service and store rooms. The original buildings are of flint and brick
with granite and Portland stone dressings. Within the battery is the dry moat
containing buildings which serviced the battery, and beyond the entrance is
the guardroom, the magazines, the laboratory, the officers' quarters, the
parade ground and gun emplacements. Outside the battery to the west is a
searchlight emplacement, and a further one at the base of the cliff to the
north of the battery together with four gun emplacements. Outside the battery,
c.30m to the south east of the entrance, is the site of a building which was
once the master gunner's house.
Within the dry moat, which defines the eastern side of the battery, are a
number of buildings and two underground rooms. One of the underground rooms is
an engine room in which are two `Robey' steam boilers with drive shafts, and
adjoining this room is the coal cellar. Under the engine room are two `Lister'
engines which were used for generating electricity. Directly under the
drawbridge is a building which houses a water storage tank which is integral
with the boilers. North of the bridge is the lift shaft which links the
battery to the searchlight gallery and gun emplacements at sea level 200ft
below. In the liftshaft building is a `Campbell' oil engine used for driving
the lift; this is one of only two remaining in existence. At the top of the
lift shaft was an octagonal iron lift cage; this has been removed although the
counterweights survive at the bottom of the shaft. Water pipes, power lines
and signal cables run up the side of the shaft, and some of the original
woodwork is still in position. Exit from the bottom of the shaft is via a
brick arched doorway to a series of tunnels and to a brick vaulted room to
the east. In this room is a three cylinder pump made by Joseph Evans and Son
of Wolverhampton. The main tunnel leads north west to the emplacements, but
there is a second which runs in a northerly direction downhill to tanks full
of fresh water. The main access tunnel eventually leads to a gun emplacement,
but before it reaches this point it divides into tunnels running east and
west. Each of these side tunnels subdivide, each ending in a gun or
searchlight emplacement. There are some falls of chalk from the roof of the
tunnel, but on the whole, the chalk cut tunnel is in good condition. In some
places the tunnel is concrete lined. The emplacements are brick lined, some
have a telephone room adjoining. The square gun openings in some of the
emplacements still have inward opening steel doors which are now corroded.
Immediately inside the main entrance to the battery, doorways to the left lead
to the magazines and shell store, and guardroom respectively. On the right is
the laboratory and the Officer's quarters. The laboratory still retains
features reflecting its use in filling shells and testing each batch of
gunpowder supplied to the battery, so that the exact strength of each charge
was known. Across the parade ground to the left is a high embankment with a
sloping ramp. This forms a protective wall at the rear of the guns and acts as
cover for the magazines. The ramp to the upper level leads to the battery
command post which controlled the northern bank of four guns. The post
commanding the remaining guns has been demolished. To the south of the ramp is
the searchlight direction station, but access to it is not possible due to the
crumbling state of the cliff edge. In the parade ground is the entrance to the
tunnel giving access to the searchlight emplacement, which is the furthest
western point of the battery. Also situated on the parade ground was a barrack
block but this has been levelled.
As with other contemporary sites in this area, the Needles battery has a well
documented history. In 1858 there was an invasion scare due to the aggressive
policy by the French in building up their navy. The battery was begun in 1861
in response to the 1859 Commission report on the Defences of the United
Kingdom, and was armed the following year. The battery, which cost six
thousand nine hundred and fifty eight pounds, was designed by Major James
Edwards, Royal Engineers, and built by George Smith of Pimlico, London. Work
was not completed until June 1863 and the six guns were installed in 1864.
Barracks accommodation was provided for one officer, two NCOs and 21 men.
The original armament was six 7 inch Armstrong rifled breech-loading guns
firing shells weighing 110lb. Due to problems with this initial armament, by
1869 it was decided to install two 9 inch and four 7 inch rifled muzzle-
loaders (RML), and in 1873 it was decided to emplace six 9 inch RML guns not
needed at nearby Hurst Castle. By the 1880's breech-loading quick-firing guns
were introduced to counter the new menace of torpedo-boats.
Searchlights were also developed in the 1880's, and the Needles Passage was
used for their trials. In 1890 the lift shaft was sunk from the bottom of the
ditch to tunnels in the northern base of the cliff where five cave positions
were excavated for searchlights or quick-firing guns. A new armoured
searchlight emplacement was built between 1898 and 1899 at the most westerly
point of the land, and this was used by an observer to control the minefields
defending the Needles Passage.
Power to work the searchlights came from engine rooms built in the ditch. The
first to be built was the underground engine room, but problems with heat led
to the construction of a new engine room in the ditch itself.
In 1908 a fire command post was built in front of the gun positions at the
west end of the battery. From here all the guns defending Needles Passage
could be directed in daylight. Two position finder cells were built over the
magazines after 1890.
During the First World War reponsibility for manning all the guns defending
the Needles Passage was shared between two regular companies of Royal Garrison
Artillery, with a Volunteer Royal Engineer regiment manning the searchlights.
In 1939 an anti-aircraft gun was mounted on top of the magazines to combat
German aircraft which laid mines at night in the Needles Passage, and then
machine gunned the coastal batteries. A cannon was also set up on the western
edge of the cliffs to prevent low-level air attacks on the lighthouse. The
cone-shaped mounting for this can still be seen from the fire command post. In
January 1944 a radar set was installed in the fire command post to provide
radar coverage for all the guns covering the Needles Passage. The power for
the radar was provided by the two Lister engines installed in a room next to
the engine room in the ditch.
In both World Wars, Lower Needles Point battery served as the area fire
command post. In 1940 an extra room was added to house naval staff while the
brick tower of the Port War Signal Station was being built.
All lighting at the Needles was provided by oil lamps and candles until the
summer of 1941, when electricity was provided by two generators in the engine
room. After the war the guns were put into care and maintenance and the
garrison dissolved. The searchlights were removed in 1945 and the radar in
1950. In 1951 the engine room was condemned, and the fire command post put out
of service in 1953. The headland saw service again in 1956 for the development
of rocket research, but abandoned in 1971 when Britain abandoned her rocket
research programme.
Excluded from the scheduling is the Port War Signal Station which was built in
1940, but the gun emplacement which lies under it and on which it was built is
included. The garage which was built against the Royal Engineers' offices in
1970 is excluded, but the ground underneath is included. The modern surfaces
in the toilet block, which is built against the guardroom, is excluded from
the scheduling. All other modern surfaces, fixtures and fittings are excluded
from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them and the fabric against
which they are fixed is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The Lower Needles Point battery is a well-known and well-preserved example
of its class with documentary evidence dating from its mid-19th century use
through to the First and Second World Wars and beyond. In addition to the
original battery and associated works, machinery dating to the late 19th and
early to mid-20th centuries also survives. The Campbell oil engine, which
dates to 1900-1920 is very rare; similarly there are very few Lister twin
cylinder direct coupled generating sets remaining. The combination of these
components, the documentary records for their use, and their survival in situ,
makes this a site of particular interest in the study of 19th and 20th century
coastal fortifictions.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Cantwell, A, Sprack, P, The Needles Batteries Isle of Wight, (1981), 2-12
Cantwell, A, Sprack, P, The Needles Batteries Isle of Wight, (1981), 12-19

Source: Historic England

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