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Tilbury Fort

A Scheduled Monument in Tilbury Riverside and Thurrock Park, Thurrock

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Latitude: 51.4539 / 51°27'14"N

Longitude: 0.3749 / 0°22'29"E

OS Eastings: 565106.478951

OS Northings: 175443.027872

OS Grid: TQ651754

Mapcode National: GBR NMC.ZHK

Mapcode Global: VHJLC.GQ29

Entry Name: Tilbury Fort

Scheduled Date: 18 January 1973

Last Amended: 8 September 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021092

English Heritage Legacy ID: 26309

County: Thurrock

Electoral Ward/Division: Tilbury Riverside and Thurrock Park

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: East and West Tilbury and Linford

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


Tilbury Fort is situated on low lying ground on the north bank of the
River Thames, south east of the modern outskirts of Tilbury. The monument
includes the buried remains of an Henrician blockhouse, the far larger and
more complex fort and battery which succeeded the blockhouse in the late
17th century, the late 19th and early 20th century alterations to the
fort and a World War II pillbox.

The blockhouse, the first permanent defensive structure in this location,
was constructed in 1539 as part of Henry VIII's campaign to improve the
coastal defences. Small fortified barracks were sited both here and at
East Tilbury (about 5km distant), and on the opposite side of the estuary
at Gravesend, Milton and Higham. None of these buildings now survive above
ground, although contemporary illustrations provide details of their
appearance. The Tilbury blockhouse, like the others, had two stories and
was D-shaped in plan - the curved elevation, pierced by gun ports,
provided a wide field of fire across the river. Alterations to the
blockhouse were occasioned by the threat of Spanish invasion in the late
16th century and, following the defeat of the Armada in 1588, the building
was encircled by a ditch and counterscarp bank with drawbridge and timber
palisade. Within this enclosure (which was located roughly in the centre
of the southern side of the present fort) stood barracks and store

The Thames blockhouses were maintained through the period of the English
Civil War, but played little part in the conflict. After the Restoration
in 1660, Charles II began a complete reorganisation of the national
defences which, following a highly successful Dutch raid up the Thames and
Medway in 1667, came to include Tilbury. The new fort and battery, based
on principles pioneered in the Low Countries, were designed by Charles'
chief engineer Sir Bernard de Gomme. Work began in 1670 and the resulting
fortifications remain substantially unaltered to this day. The fighting
front of the new fort was a linear battery extending along the shoreline
for approximately 250m to either side of the Henrician blockhouse, which
was retained as a powder magazine. Of the 14 original gun positions
(renewed with brick revetments towards the end of the 18th century) 12
survive along the West Gun Line, marked by triangular projections on the
seaward side of an earthen rampart. The East Gun Line has been more
severely eroded over the years leaving only a single gun platform. Behind
each line are the remains of artillery store buildings dating from the
1840s and the buried foundations of earlier structures. The two gun lines
were separated by a square quay (now largely overlain by modern flood
defences) where stores and munitions were landed. These were then taken
via a narrow causeway (the Powder Bridge) to the blockhouse and the new
fort which guarded the landward side of the battery.

De Gomme's fort is pentagonal in plan, with arrowhead-shaped bastions
projecting from four of the angles, allowing guns positioned behind the
parapets to command wide areas and to be mutually supportive in close
quarter defence. Pilings in the intertidal zone in front of the site of
the blockhouse indicate an intention to add a fifth bastion to complete
the regular appearance of the fort, but work is thought to have been
abandoned at an early stage. The scheduling extends across the foreshore
in front of the fort (approximately 50m below the modern flood wall) in
order to protect these remains and those of various other jetties and
piers associated with the frontage of the fort. Some of these are recorded
on early maps, others have been identified by recent survey work. The
original jetty for the Gravesend ferry, for example, stood here before it
was relocated in 1681.

The brick built curtain wall which both encloses and links the bastions is
largely original, with some later heightening of the parapet, and survives
around all but the south eastern bastion and side of the fort. It supports
massive internal earthen banks designed to absorb the impact of
bombardment and to provide a firing platform for the defenders. The
pentagonal area within the ramparts, known as `The Parade', covers about a
hectare, and is raised above the level of the surrounding marsh by layers
of chalk, clay and gravel surfaced with stone paving. The Soldiers'
Barracks, a rectangular building some 50m in length with 20 rooms, was
situated along the western edge of the parade parallel to the curtain
wall. It was damaged by bombing in World War II, together with the
kitchen, mess hall, hospital and other structures, and has since been
demolished. Unlike these other structures, the footings of the barrack
block remain marked out on the ground. On the opposite side of the Parade
stands the 18th century terrace of the Officer's Barracks.

On the north side of the parade are two brick built powder magazines
dating from 1716, the eastern of which is used as a visitors centre and
display area. Each magazine has two entrances in the south wall with
wooden doors reinforced with copper sheeting. The magazines are surrounded
by a brick blast wall constructed in 1746. This originally had entrances
corresponding to those of the magazines themselves, although these were
later blocked and new staggered entrances added for more effective blast
containment. Though altered in the 19th century the magazines still
contain many of their original features, including ventilation slits and
(within the eastern magazine) raised wooden floors to prevent damp
affecting the powder. The two magazines are separated by a passage giving
access to the Parade from the Landport Gate directly to the north. The
gateway consists of a brick vaulted entrance hall supporting an upper
storey with a single room containing some original plaster work and
fragments of 18th century wall paintings. The main entrance to the fort,
known as the Water Gate, is situated in the middle of the south curtain.
This is a two storied brick structure with an elaborate outer facade faced
with ashlar and including a frieze with a dedication to Charles II with
supporting motifs of gun carriages and other military regalia. A blocked
doorway in the east wall would have originally given access to the house
of the sutler (camp follower who sold drink and provisions to the troups)
which now only survives as foundations. Adjacent to the west side of the
Water Gate is a two storied building, the lower part of which served as a
guard room and the upper floor as a chapel. There is no direct access
between the two floors, the entrance to the chapel being provided from the
curtain wall. Also within the parade are three mid-19th century hand pumps
used to draw rainwater from underground cisterns.

The elaborate outworks which surround the landward sides of the fort
remain substantially unaltered. The curtain wall and bastions are flanked
by a broad terrace, or berm, in turn surrounded by a 50m wide moat
following the outline of the fort. A narrow strip of dry land separates
this channel from a more sinuous outer moat and contains a complex of
defensive structures, the main element of which is a rampart, or covered
way, traceable as a low earthwork running along most of its length. The
covered way, with internal firing step, or banquette, acted as a
communications channel linking the outer gun positions with the main body
of the fort. In the middle of its eastern and western arms are triangular
projections known as `places of arms' which served as muster points for
troops defending the covered way, and originally contained platforms for
cannon. The covered way to the south of the eastern place of arms was
modified in 1779 to provide an additional battery of six guns providing a
field of fire down river. Access to the Landport Gate was by a wooden
drawbridge across the inner moat. This has not survived but has been
replaced by a modern replica. The northern end of this bridge stands on an
arrowhead shaped island, or ravelin, within the inner moat. The ravelin
would have contained gun emplacements to defend the Landport Gate from
direct bombardment and provide covering fire for the northern bastions. A
further wooden bridge, also a modern replacement, links the north western
side of the ravelin to the covered way between the moats. The approach
continues northward over causeways which cross a second triangular island,
known as a redan, in the outer moat. The low earthworks of a redoubt (an
enclosed area containing further gun emplacements) remain visible on the
redan. The two moats are connected by a sluice to the east of the ravelin,
and the water level is controlled by a second sluice between the south
eastern corner of the outer moat and the adjacent tidal creek (Bill Meroy
Creek). Water management formed a significant part of the fort's system of
defences. The ability to drain the moats was vital both for periodic
removal of silts and to prevent attack over the frozen surface in winter.
Beyond the moats, wider areas of the marsh were enclosed by banks and
could be partly flooded to hinder an approaching force and prevent the
construction of adjacent siege works. This wider basin is defined to the
west by Fort Road (which runs along the top of part of the containment
bank), to the north by a bank linking Fort Road to the head of Bill Meroy
Creek, and to the east by the creek itself - which effectively provided a
third moat along this side. These earthworks, and the area which they
contain, are included in the scheduling along with the earthen dam across
Bill Meroy Creek which regulated the water level.

Tilbury Fort remained at the forefront of the defence of the Thames and
London through the 18th and early 19th centuries, although it never saw
the action for which it was designed, and it was partly superseded by
forward batteries established down river at Coalhouse Point, Hope Point
and Shornmead in 1795. The Royal Commission on the Defence of the United
Kingdom in 1859 found all these defences inadequate and shortly afterwards
larger forts were constructed at Coalhouse, Shornmead and Cliffe Creek. It
was recommended that Tilbury be made more efficient, but as it was now
relegated to a secondary position the alterations were far from radical,
allowing the 17th century layout to survive. Embrasures and platforms for
new heavy guns were added to cover the river from the north east and west
bastions in 1868, the pivots and racers for which remain in position. Each
gun was supplied by a brick vaulted expense magazine containing lifts and
ventilators from chambers below where the powder and shot were combined.
These chambers were joined by passages and linked to main underground
magazines situated beneath the centres of the bastions. Separate passages
contained lamps which shone through plate glass windows into the magazines
and passageways. Both bastions also have positions for 10 inch smooth bore
howitzers mounted on the northern flanks to cover the landward approach.
The mid-19th century 32 pound guns presently mounted on the west and north
east bastions are not original armaments. Towards the end of the 19th
century, a light narrow gauge railway was laid out across the Parade to
aid the transport of ammunition and stores. A section of the rails can
still be seen on the quay, near the powder magazines and in the modern
gateway to the east of the Water Gate.

The 1868 gun positions on the east bastion and south eastern curtain wall
are masked by later emplacements built shortly before World War I. The
curtain wall was realigned to give a better field of fire and four
positions with concrete emplacements were let into the earlier embrasures
on the wall for breech loading guns. Two more massive emplacements were
constructed on the bastion for heavier guns, probably naval 6 inch. The
mechanical hoists which served the larger guns still survive. The new
defences never saw action in World War I, although anti-aircraft guns
mounted in the parade did provide a spectacular military success by
bringing down a German airship. In the early stages of World War II the
chapel housed the Operations Room which controlled the anti-aircraft
defences of the Thames and Medway (North) Gun Zone, until it was relocated
to a purpose built structure at Vange in 1940. A small rectangular
pillbox, located slightly to the north of the western end of the West Gun
Line, was added at this time to control the river front approach to the
fort and provide enfilade fire across the rear of the old battery
positions. This is included in the scheduling. In 1948 the Commissioner of
Crown Lands placed Tilbury Fort in the guardianship of the Ministry of
Works to ensure conservation and public display. It is in the care of the
Secretary of State.

A number of features within the area are excluded from the scheduling;
these are the replica bridges, the Officer's Barracks and attached stable,
the 19th century workshop to the south east of the Parade, the public
toilets, all fences, fenceposts and signposts, the modern surfaces of all
roads and car parks, the replica sentry boxes flanking the passage between
the powder magazines, all guns presently positioned on the batteries and
within the fort and all modern fixtures such as light fittings and
flagpoles; the ground beneath these features and the structures to which
they are attached, are included in the scheduling.

The line of the modern flood wall, built along the front of the East and
West Gun Lines in the mid-1980s, is totally excluded from the scheduling
both above and below ground.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Tilbury Fort is England's most spectacular surviving example of a late
17th century coastal fort, designed at a time when artillery had become
the dominant feature of warfare and therefore built with massive low
earthworks, resilient to the shock of bombardment, instead of stone
fortifications. The layout and construction was geared to the optimum
siting of cannon at the forward batteries which, in conjunction with
batteries on the opposing bank of the Thames, could create a field of fire
spanning the estuary providing defence for the river itself and the
capital. The systems of bastions and complicated outworks defending the
batteries from the rear is principally a Dutch design, extremely rare in
England, and Tilbury is the best preserved and most complete example of
the type.

The fort still retains many of its original internal features with most of
the main buildings surviving as standing structures. The magazines are
especially notable, as they are rare survivals of a very unusual building
type. The buried remains of further structures, associated both with the
operation of the 17th century fort and the Tudor blockhouse, will also
survive within the fort. The remains of the blockhouse, and of features
related to its operation, are important as they represent one of the
earliest types of structure built exclusively for the use of artillery in
warfare. Only 27 examples are known to survive, in a variety of conditions
ranging from buried foundations to incorporation in later military
constructions. All such examples with substantial archaeological remains
are considered nationally important. At Tilbury Fort, the remains of the
blockhouse are particulary significant given that this structure was
retained as a component of the 17th century defences.

The foreshore contains waterlogged deposits, including wooden piling which
will provide technical information on the construction techniques of the
fort and permit detailed dendrochronological dating. The large quantity of
contemporary documentation provides a detailed picture of the occupation
of the fort and its development, both as a position of foremost strategic
importance in the defence of the approach to London, and as part of a
larger system of associated forts in the Thames and Medway area. The
alterations to the defences resulting from the recommendations of the 1859
Royal Commission place Tilbury within the largest martitime defence
programme since the time of Henry VIII. This programme, prompted by fears
of French naval expansion, ultimately involved some 70 new and upgraded
coastal forts and batteries, colloquially known as `Palmerston's follies'.
They formed the visible core of Britain's coastal defence systems well
into the 20th century, many of which were still found to be of use by
World War II. Features at Tilbury which represent this final military
phase (principally the pillbox on the western perimeter of the site), are
considered to be an integral part of the fort's history.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Saunders, A D, Tilbury Fort, (1990), 30
Saunders, A D, Tilbury Fort, (1990)
1st draft scheduling proposal (notes), Wykes, I, Tilbury Fort, (1995)
Moore, P, Tilbury Fort Defences, 1994, Unpublished survey (Essex County Co)

Source: Historic England

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