Warden Point Battery on the Isle of Wight1 was first built in 1862, but by the time it was decomissioned in 1957 it had been altered and changed almost beyond all recognition.
Warden Point is located halfway between the Needles and the town of Yarmouth. The point, as well as the treacherous Warden Ledge, separates Totland Bay to the south from Colwell Bay to the north. Although both bays are guarded by clay cliffs, including the treacherous blue slipper clay, an enemy force could theoretically land and gain access to the cliff tops by ladder or by scrambling up the chines.
History and Previous Batteries
J.M.W. Turner2 painted Warden Point in the 1790s, at which time there was a lonely cottage and nothing else to see. An eight-gun earthwork was first proposed for the strategic Warden Point site in 1794, but it wasn't until 1803 that a smaller two-gun earthwork had been constructed on the cliff top.
In 1852, after the second French invasion panic of the Victorian era, proposals were again made for a fort here. This time, instead of on the cliff top, the fort would be built at sea level on Warden Ledge. This fort would be semi-circular and mount 41 guns on three fighting floors in the style of a brick battleship. However, due to the severe cost of building on the unstable ground of Warden Ledge, the planned fort was constructed at the other end of Colwell Bay at Cliff End, where that fort later became known as Fort Albert.
Warden Point Battery
In 1860 it was proposed to build a 6 gun barbette fortification at Warden Point; however by the time the fort was constructed the plans were modified to an 8 gun battery, arranged in two groups at the top of the 100 feet tall cliff. The right hand group faced north-west except for one gun that faced north, and the left group faced north-west except for one gun that faced west. These guns were defended by the cliff to the west and an arrow shaped loopholed brick wall to the rear of the fort, with a dry ditch 6 metres wide and 3 metres deep, two corner caponiers and a central salient caponier. Access to the fort was over a drawbridge just north-east of the central caponier. There were three expense magazines and a central magazine, all beneath protective earth covers, as well as a guardhouse. There was not a barracks, however, as the troops for the battery would be housed in nearby Golden Hill Fort.
Of the £13,000 spent constructing the fort, almost half was spent on draining the site and building a sea wall to prevent soil erosion. Initially the armament consisted of four 7 inch RMLs, each weighing 7 tons, and four 9-inch and four 9 inch RMLs; however by 1873 the armament consisted of eight 9 inch RMLs, each weighing 12 tons.
In 1880 it was proposed to rearm the fort with heavier, more powerful guns. However in 1884 the Inspector General of Fortifications suggested it would be possible to use old rifled muzzle-loaders in a high angle role with the aim of increasing their range. Following succesful trials at nearby Hatherwood Battery, the elevated guns were emplaced at Warden Point in 1892. The four left RML emplacements were demolished and replaced with two long range 9 inch RMLs, each with a different type of mounting in order to trial which was the better. A two-storey concrete magazine was constructed between the embrasures. However, although the initial trial had proved successful, technology was advancing so quickly that these guns were soon considered obsolete, especially when potentially used against fast moving targets. In 1898 all the existing emplacements, including those for the long range RMLs, were demolished.
In 1889-92, just before the long range RML experiments, searchlight trials were also conducted, using various techniques to protect searchlights from enemy fire. An experimental 'see-saw' emplacement was built to the left of the battery. The light was attached to a counterweighted girder, nicknamed a see-saw, which was sunk in a protected concrete pit. The searchlight could shine from either the top of the pit in peacetime, or be placed at the bottom of a pit and have its light reflected off a mirror. This was considered too complicated, and in 1897 was replaced by the parabola-ellipse reflector. This allowed a searchlight located in a defensive structure's beam to reflect and cover a wide area outside, yet still keep the searchlight defended. A new searchlight position was built on the beach below the battery in 1898. This still exists today.
In 1898-1900 the fort was transformed following the removal of the RMLs. A new underground engine room was constructed and a new battery was constructed to southeast of the battery's original perimeter. Three 9.2-inch breech-loading Mark X gun emplacements were built, one at the last minute, with two new underground magazines and shell stores. Within the old fort's boundary four 6-inch breech-loading Mark VII guns were emplaced in two pairs of two. These were intended as anti-cruiser weapons. In 1901 four 4.7 inch quick firing guns were installed in new emplacements to the battery's east to help defend the Needles channel against torpedo boats, and two more installed south of the 6-inch guns in 1903, for use as an Examination Battery. All the 6-inch guns were in place by 1902, although in 1905 the Owen Committee concluded that there were too many 6-inch BL guns in the Needles Channel. As a consequence of this, the four 6-inch BL guns at Warden Point Battery were relegated to reserve status in 1907. In 1911 a concrete wall was built to protect the battery's extension from land attack. In 1912 this incorporated a hexagonal blockhouse at the north-west corner of the fort.
The World Wars
During the World Wars, old railway carriages and wooden huts were erected to provide extra accommodation for the fort's garrisons. In 1916 two of the 6-inch guns were removed from the fort and in 1918 two of the 4.7-inch quick firing guns were transferred to defend the Yorkshire Coast3 and the last two 6-inch guns had their barrels dismounted.
After the Great War, Warden Point Battery continued in its tradition of being a location for weapons trials. Two experimental Mark XXI 6-inch guns were emplaced for trials between 1918-26. Two replacement 6-inch barrels were mounted in 1924 on the guns that were dismounted in 1918, although two more 4.7-inch quick firing guns were removed in 1929. In the 1930s, only two 4.7-inch and two 6-inch guns were used by the territorial army in their summer training camps in the 1930s.
On the outbreak of war the two 4.7-inch guns were removed, although overhead covers to defend the 6-inch guns from air attack were installed in December 1940. An old 3-inch AA gun was installed in 1939, and replaced by a 40mm Bofors gun in January 1944. Throughout the war, nearby Totland Pier had a central section removed to prevent its use by enemy troops.
After the Second World War, the two 6-inch guns were initially in care and maintenance before being transferred to Bouldnor Battery in March 1951. In 1957 the searchlight equipment was sold and the site was sold off to be developed, with the site earmarked for either a holiday camp or industrial use. Like many old forts on the Island, Warden Point Battery became a holiday camp, although many of the fort's buildings, including the caponier, were demolished, and the defensive ditch was filled in except to the north of the site. In 1966 a concrete sea wall was constructed beneath Warden Point linking Totland Bay and Colwell Bay, passing the site of the old searchlights.
In 1995 the Holiday Camp closed for the last time. In the early 21st Century the site is being developed into a housing estate, with the remaining fort's features listed and to be retained in the design. The fort is Grade II Listed.
The battery's garrison was kept fully trained in case of the need to fire the guns in anger through a series of gun practice tests, which were conducted in tandem with the batteries at Hurst Castle at the other side of the Solent. In 1889 Bye-Laws were published concerning test-firing of the guns under the 1885 Rifle Ranges Act. The artillery practice timetables were posted in local post offices as the practice effectively closed off the western end of the Solent. It was considered an annoyance by locals and those whose livelihood depended on the sea, but proved a great source of entertainment for children. These bye-laws stated:
- Whilst gun practice is going on from Warden Point Battery or from Hurst Castle no ship, boat, barge, craft or other vessel of any description shall, unless compelled so to do by the exigencies of navigation, be allowed to ground, anchor, or remain within the area contained by the following lines, viz:
From Warden Point Battery westward through the Elbow buoy to the three fathom patch of the Dolphin Bank. From the said three-fathom patch of the Dolphin Bank north by east to the shore of the mainland opposite Taddiford Farm.
From Warden Point Battery in a north west direction through Warden Ledge buoy till it meets the shore of the mainland opposite Milford Church.
This area includes within it the shifting bank of shingle which is situated about fourteen cables west by north of Warden Point Battery and 12 cables south west of Hurst Castle.
- The signal that gun practice is going on shall be a red flag hoisted at either the Warden Point Battery or Hurst Fort.
- The Officer Commanding the Royal Artillery, Western Forts, or the Commandment of the Practice Camp, or any officer for the time being under their command, shall have the power and is hereby authorised -
(a) To take into custody without warrant and bring before a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, as mentioned in the Act, to be dealt with according to law, any person contravening Bye-Law No.1 aforesaid.
(b) To remove from the area defined by Bye-Law No.1 any person, vessel or thing found therein in contravention of that Bye-Law.
- Any person contravening Bye-Law No. 1 shall be deemed to commit an offence against the same, and is under the Act liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding Five pounds.
The Warden Point Battery & Hurst Castle Artillery Practice Ranges Bylaws 1889 are recorded as having lapsed when Warden Point Battery was sold off in 1957.