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Fortifications of the Isle of Wight - Nodes Point Battery

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Fortifications of the Isle of Wight

West Wight Fortifications
Freshwater Redoubt | The Needles Old Battery | New Needles Battery | Hatherwood Battery | Warden Point Battery
Fort Albert | Cliff End Battery | Fort Victoria | Golden Hill Fort | Bouldnor Battery
East Wight Fortifications
Puckpool Battery | Nodes Point Battery | Steynewood Battery | Culver Battery | Bembridge Fort
Redcliff Battery | Yaverland Battery | Sandown Granite Fort | Sandown Barrack Battery
Solent Sea Forts
St Helen's Fort | No Man's Land Fort | Horse Sand Fort | Spitbank Fort

Nodes Point Battery was the penultimate battery built in the East Wight, with only Culver Battery built after. As a consequence, the two have many similarities.

Nodes Point Battery was a four gun battery built at Nodes Point, halfway between the villages of Bembridge and Seaview. It covers the mouth of the eastern river Yar, which, as the entrance to Bembridge Harbour, would be a potential landing point for enemy troops invading the Island – especially those wishing to attack the Sandown Bay defences from the rear – as well as a safe anchorage for enemy ships, protected from the elements.

The Early Defences And The 1545 Invasion

Although work constructing Nodes Point Battery wasn't started until 1901, it had long been recognised as a site of strategic importance. As well as often being referred to as St Helen's1 Point, Nodes Point was originally known as Watch-House Point, as this was the site of an early invasion beacon. The name 'Node' itself derives from the Old English 'atten ode', meaning 'place at the beacon'2. Nodes Point thus covers the entrance to St Helens and Bembridge Harbour. This area was well known to sailors and the Royal Navy referred to the area outside St Helens as St Helen's Roads3.

King Henry VIII was the first to fortify the site, with a small earthwork built at some point between 1538 and 1545 when Henry VIII, fearing a French attack, constructed castles on the Island. These were built at Sandown to defend Sandown Bay, Cowes and East Cowes to defend the mouth of the river Medina, and later at Yarmouth to defend the mouth of the western Yar. An earthwork, known as St Helen's Bulwark, was built at what would later be Nodes Point to defend the eastern Yar.

After Henry's break with the Catholic Church, the King of France allied with Spain and set sail with a fleet to invade the Isle of Wight. The French fleet, attempting to lure the smaller English fleet out of the safety of Portsmouth harbour, landed troops on the Isle of Wight at Bonchurch, Sandown and Bembridge Harbour. Sandown castle was unfortunately still under construction, and St Helens Bulwark was unable to repel the French attack at Bembridge and Brading4.

Henry watched from Southsea Castle as the villages on the eastern side of the Isle of Wight burned, and ordered his fleet to attack – which famously resulted in the loss of Henry's flagship, the Mary Rose, in the Solent north of the Island. It is believed that the French fully intended to capture the Island, and perhaps trade it back to England in return for Boulogne which was in England's possession at the time. Fortunately, Richard Worsley, Captain of the Island, led the local militia to repulse the invaders, killing one of the French commanders.

Sir John Oglander

Very little is known about St Helen's Bulwark, although it is known to have survived until the late 17th Century. Sir John Oglander, Sheriff of Hampshire, Deputy-Governor of Portsmouth, and Deputy-Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight 1596-1648, fiercely campaigned for the defences of the Isle of Wight, including the little bulwark at Nodes Point, to be strengthened.

On 30 May, 1627 Sir John Oglander recorded that a fleet of twenty two ships had been spotted off the Island at Nodes Point, and that they were feared to be an invading Spanish or French fleet. Sir John rushed to St Helen's, meeting men fleeing from Bembridge, hearing rumours reporting that between 500 and 1,000 men had landed to invade the Island. The invasion beacons were fired, Portsmouth alerted, the King woken and the Royal Navy, in Sir John Oglander's words, set sail 'to succour the Isle of Wight, which was reported to be taken and myself and divers others to be slain'. In the end this proved a false alarm, as the ships were merchantmen from Hamburg and Holland carrying a cargo of salt. The watchman who had panicked and set the invasion beacon alight was imprisoned in Carisbrooke Castle.

This incident sparked his determination to prepare the Island in case of a real invasion attempt, concentrating on raising a militia but also in the construction of forts, including at Nodes Point. In his memoirs he wrote that:

'In January, 1629, the gentlemen of our Island concluded to go to London, to petition his Majesty for money to have our castles and forts some amended, others where most need required, new erected; and also for to have 2 places of retreat, if so we should be beaten.
Our castles and forts were either all demolished or else so unserviceable as not able to defend us, but rather to invite an enemy; and of what consequence the loss of that Island may be to ye whole kingdom; and as it is now, it is open to all invasion... We showed them our desires to have 2 blockhouses built at... St Helens; they approved it, and demanded the estimate of ye charge, which we told them would come to £1000, with a running trench to go between them... for 2 like blockhouses to be erected at St. Helens.

These proposals were not taken further – with the Civil War errupting in 1642, defence from invasion was not considered a high priority. It would be over 200 years before the next attempt to defend this vulnerable part of the Island would be made.

Victorian Proposals

The Royal Commission proposed in 1860 that a ten gun battery to defend Spithead should be built at Nettlestone Point, supported by a beach defence battery at Nodes Point to prevent an enemy landing between Nettlestone Point and Bembridge. As part of the scaling back on the original proposal, this was not built.

In 1863 the Defence Committee again proposed an earthwork battery to be built here. This plan was modified to become a proposal for a nine-gun casemated battery at the beach to protect both the battery and the anchorage, although this plan too was not taken further.

In February 1867 the Defence Committee instead approved the construction of a small sea fort, St Helen's Fort, to be built to defend the shore and St Helen's Road. This followed the failed attempts to build sea forts on the Sturbridge Shoal and Ryde Sand.

Nodes Point Battery

Although the area was defended after the construction of St Helen's Sea Fort, by 1899 the Montgomery Committee reported that there were still vulnerable areas of the East Wight and Spithead that were undefended and not fully covered by the area's forts. A battery of 9.2 inch guns was proposed, approved, and then built between August 1901 and April 1904 Nodes Point Battery.

The Plan

The battery consisted of four guns. The right flank held the battery's main armaments, two 9.2 inch guns, with two 6-inch guns on the left flank. The battery was protected by iron fences, a steel palisade, ditches and wire, as well as a 10 foot high wall and blockhouses. Also on site was the Battery Command Post, a Position Finding Cell near the 6-inch guns, drill hall, tackle shed, artillery, coal and other supplies stores, guard house, quarters and latrines.

History of the Battery

The battery was completed in 1904, and from 1904 to 1909 the battery was armed with the four breech loading guns, two 9.2 inch and two 6 inch. However in 1905 the Owen report stated that the 6-inch guns were unnecessary, and they were removed in 1909. The 9.2 inch guns remained, and indeed stayed in the battery until 1954.

During the Great War, St Helen's Roads was the site of an examination anchorage, and as a consequence Nodes Point Battery was the examination battery. An examinations anchorage was were suspected merchant ships would drop anchor and wait whilst being identified and searched in times of war, failure to do so would result in the battery covering the anchorage opening fire and sinking the ships under investigation. The battery was equipped with an Anti Aircraft gun in 1916, and in June 1918 a 4.7 inch quick firing gun from Southsea Castle was installed for use as the designated examination gun, mounted in the far left former 6 inch gun emplacement. This gun remained in place until 1928.

In 1932 two 6-inch guns, similar to the battery's original armament, were reinstalled in the 6-inch emplacements for use as the examination guns, and by 1940 these guns were protected from air raids by air raid covers.

On D-Day Nodes Point witnessed the Allied invasion fleet preparing to sail to Normandy, when it was said there were so many ships it was possible to walk the 6 miles from the Island to Portsmouth, deck to deck.

By February 1945 the battery was placed into care and maintenance. Although from 1949 the 6-inch battery was used by the Territorial Army training and practice, the battery's real usefulness was over. In 1954 the 9.2 inch guns which had stood guard over Nodes Point for half a century were scrapped, and two years later the 6 inch guns followed suit as Coastal Defence was ended. The Nodes Point Battery site was sold off.

In 1973 the Ladbroke Group, who converted it into a Holiday Camp, bought Nodes Point Battery. The 6 inch battery was demolished and the 9.2 inch emplacements buried; however the guardhouse was adapted into the holiday camp's reception area and the drill hall is now the dining area. The concrete wall also still survives. The site is still a holiday camp, but is otherwise not open to the general public.

1Confusingly, the village of St Helens is called 'St Helens' [sic] and has no apostrophe, however St Helen's Church, St Helen's Fort and St Helen's Roads all have apostrophes.2The similarly-named Nodes Farm in Northwood, near Cowes, was also the site of an invasion beacon.3'Roads' is a naval term for an area, usually outside a harbour, that is safe for ships to lie at anchor and is sheltered from the weather. From Henry VIII's time, St Helens was extensively used by the Royal Navy, who anchored off shore in the area known as St Helens Roads. Water from St Helens was believed to be exceptionally pure and stay fresh, even on long voyages. Stones from the eroded remains of St Helen's Church were also used to scrub the decks of naval ships, which gave rise to the word 'holystoning'. 4St Helen's Bulwark is believed to be the small fort mentioned by Sir John Oglander and Martin du Bellay that was captured during the French attack on the Isle of Wight on 21 July, 1545.

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