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Fortifications of the Isle of Wight - Redcliff 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

Redcliff Battery was the smallest battery built to defend Sandown Bay in the 1860s, and like Steynewood Battery had a rather short service life. It was built as a four gun battery similar in design to the larger Sandown Barracks Battery and nearby Yaverland Battery only 1,000 yards to the west, and in the same period (1861-1863). Like the other batteries it had been originally intended to mount 64-pounders, yet by the time the battery was completed surplus navy 7-inch rifled breech-loader Armstrong guns were mounted instead. The navy was keen to replace their stock of these weapons that had, in August 1863, proved unstable in the bombardment of Kagoshima.


The battery was built between the village of Yaverland and Culver Cliff. It was constructed close to the cliff edge with three gun emplacements facing Sandown Bay. The fourth, the easternmost emplacement, was positioned on the top of an earth bank to allow it to traverse to aim at any vessels attempting to flank the fort by attacking from the battery's potential weak spot; the direction of Culver Cliff. This was known as a cavalier bastion, a high defensive feature constructed inside a fort or battery to allow guns positioned on top to fire over the main parapet or defensive walls. This allowed the gun emplaced on top a wider range of fire, however its height could potentially have made it being an easier target for an enemy vessel. This was considered an acceptable risk against ships, whose fire was often inaccurate due to the rolling motion of the sea, but would not be employed in forts defending against land attacks and sieges.

The battery was protected from the landward side by a ditch defended by two corner caponiers. Access to the battery was over a drawbridge that led to a gateway next to the guard room and artillery store. The only other buildings were the bombproof magazine, and small expense magazines next to the guns. The battery's garrison would be accommodated in Bembridge Fort at the top of Bembridge Down.


Redcliff Battery was built to act in close support of Yaverland Battery in defending Sandown Bay. It was built near the edge of a sandstone cliff 150 feet above sea-level; unfortunately its position was in the section of the cliff most vulnerable to erosion, rather than the solid chalk cliff nearby.

Even before the battery was completed warnings about its position were being written, such as in the Hampshire Telegraph1 in 1862, which wrote:

'The last of the works erected along the line of cliffs eastward [of Sandown] is Redcliff, which stands at a somewhat higher elevation than Yaverland, and at the junction of the red and brown sandstone with the chalk of the Culver and Bembridge Down. It is a strong earthen work of irregular form, mounting three guns, firing through embrasures, and one gun on a cavalier bastion. Its gorge is closed by a loopholed wall, with entrance gateway, and like Yaverland and [Sandown] Barrack Batteries is perfectly inaccessible from the beach, although untenable, as the whole line of works would be, if the higher lands east and west of the line were in possession of an enemy.
The situation of the Redcliff Battery is much objected to, owing to its being placed on the verge of an overhanging cliff of a particularly friable sandy nature. It is argued that if the weight of the work does not cause the overhanging part of the cliff to detach itself, and tumble the whole on to the sea beach some hundred feet below, such a catastrophe is certain to occur the first time its guns are fired, as the cliff could never support the great weight of the work under the concussion which would be caused by the firing.

Although this press report, like many written in newspapers at the time, is subject to some exaggeration, the point that the battery was constructed at the worst part of the cliff was certainly true.

History Of Redcliff Battery

Work on constructing Redcliff Battery finished in 1863, although concerns about its solidity were well-founded. In 1867 part of the cliff near the battery's east gun began to slip, and it fell in 1868. A report on the slip concluded:

'This slip appears rather to be owing to the action of the land springs than to that of the sea, and though the Commanding Royal Engineer has expressed an opinion that no further slip may be expected for a considerable time, it is probable that the stability of a portion of the parapet is likely to be affected at no very distant period. The formation of the ground, near the position selected, would have admitted of its being placed further from the edge of the cliff without largely increasing the cost. The measures required to secure it would be difficult and very expensive, and we do not recommend that they should be undertaken, but that any failure should be dealt with when it occurs, by moving the parapet back as much as the confined space in the fort will allow.'

The battery was armed with the four Armstrong guns until 1872 when the 64-pounder rifled muzzle loaders were finally installed. Both Armstrong guns and 64-pounders can be seen in HMS Warrior in Portsmouth Harbour, Hampshire. In 1876 it was decided to remove the east gun for cliff stability reasons. The emplacement was replaced with a traverse. This was an earth bank, positioned to absorb shots from an enemy and protect the fort's defenders. It was originally proposed that the removed 64-pounder, along with another 64-pounder removed from Culver Battery in 1876, could form a new battery at the end of Culver Cliff to defend this area from attack; however, the battery at Culver was not constructed at this time. The three remaining guns stayed until 1891, when the battery was abandoned and left to be eroded away.

Redcliff Battery is the only battery on the Isle of Wight to have almost no recognisable remains left, only a few surviving lumps of concrete and brickwork. The site is still subject to slippage and erosion. It is, however, situated on the border of the National Trust land on the Isle of Wight Coastal Path, within the Isle of Wight's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

1A newspaper founded in 1799. It was taken over by the owners of The Portsmouth Evening News in the closing years of the 19th Century and no longer is in publication. The Portsmouth Evening News has since been renamed The News and still publishes papers today.

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