Sandown Barrack Battery is located on a cliff top on the southern border of the town of Sandown. Unlike Sandown Granite Fort, built on the Sandown/Yaverland border, Sandown Barrack Battery was built close to where Sandown meets the village of Lake. Sandown Barrack Battery is named Sandown Barrack Battery rather than simply Sandown Battery as it was built near the site of where a military barracks was built during the Napoleonic Wars.
In 1798 the threat of a French invasion led by Napoleon Bonaparte led to the construction of a number of barracks built across the Island. These were quickly constructed buildings, made of weatherboard and sod walls and thatched roofs. Sandown, as the most likely spot to face an invasion, naturally had a barracks as well as some earthwork batteries constructed, including one close to the site of Sandown Barracks Battery where the pier is now located.
At the time that these barracks were constructed, Sandown was little more than a small fishing village. The only substantial buildings in the area were Sandown Castle and Villakins, the home of the former Lord Mayor of London and political reformer John Wilkes1.
As early as 1806 there were plans to replace the temporary barracks buildings with a permanent structure. This was finally constructed between 1811-5. There was a central two-storey centre barrack block, with one-storey wing buildings. The front wing was used for field guns and horses and the rear range was used as offices and a hospital. These were built of chequered red and white bricks. The central barrack block still exists, however the wing blocks and all but one later subsidiary buildings have been demolished. The site is now used as The Heights swimming pool and leisure centre, doctor's surgery, pharmacist and council offices.
One other, often overlooked, surviving building from the barracks built at Sandown is Christ Church, Sandown's oldest parish church. This building, on the road known as the Broadway, was built to be the Garrison church in 1847, when Sandown was still in the parish of Brading. The church has a fine tower and spire, and unusually, perhaps due to its origins as a garrison church, it was not built on the usual East-West axis and the altar is found on the north end of the church, not the east. Christ Church became the parish church of Sandown in 1856, when a separate parish of Sandown was formed.
Christ Church was a particular favourite of Queen Victoria's eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, Crown Princess and Empress of Germany, mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Queen Victoria and her family's favourite home, Osborne House, was in East Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The Princess Royal Chapel is named after her, and the Kaiser and Empress donated the window of Moses, which is why it is decorated with the Prussian coat of arms.
In the 1870s, after the large influx of troops to the area with the construction of the batteries and Sandown Granite Fort, a new, larger Sandown Parish Church, the Church of Saint John the Evangelist, was built and consecrated in 1881. Since then the two Church of England churches have shared joint Parish Church status.
Sandown Barracks Battery
Opposite the site of the brick barracks building, although now separated from the site by the Lake Hill road, Sandown Barracks Battery was built in 1861-3. Its position is on a cliff top just south of the most vulnerable beach, 140 feet above sea level and 1,500 yards south-west of Sandown Granite Fort. The battery cost £6,233 to construct.
The Hampshire Telegraph in 1862 described the battery with the words:
'On the highest part of the sandstone cliffs westward of Sandown is the western point of the defensive position, the Barrack Battery. This work is triangular in form having three guns on its left face and two 'en cavalier' on its right face, the base of the triangle being closed by a loopholed wall with a building for quarters connected with the entrance gateway, and a dry ditch surrounding the whole. Situated on top of a high cliff, this fort [sic] is inaccessible from the breach, which it sweeps with its guns and covers by those on its left flank and front of the chief work in the hollow of the bay; while the guns on the cavalier bastions command the beach to the right, and the waters of the bay in front of Shanklin and Luccombe.'
The battery was not quite a right-angle triangle, as the two larger sides would have come to a point some distance off the cliff edge. The battery was surrounded by a ditch guarded by two caponiers, one on the north and one on the west corners of the battery. From these, flanking rifle fire could be directed along the walls at any infantry attacking the fort. The battery was surrounded by a thick brick loopholed carnot wall. The only access was via a drawbridge halfway across the north-west wall. This drawbridge was guarded by two demi-bastions, one used as a guard room, accommodation and cookhouse and one used as a storeroom.
Near the east corner lay the main, bombproof magazine with separate rooms for powder and shell. This was partly buried in the ground, under an earth mound, for protection from dropping shot and plunging fire. There was a 55-foot deep well with a pump used to pump the water into a 300-gallon cistern. The five gun positions were originally built close to the edge of the cliff, however after the problems faced by Redcliff Battery it was wisely decided to reposition the guns by 1880 further inland, although the cliff here is more stable than at Redcliff.
The battery was completed in 1863 and armed with five 7-inch Armstrong rifled breach-loading guns, mounted close to the cliff edge. Two of these were positioned to fire out to sea and towards Shanklin and Luccombe, while three flanked and defended the vulnerable Sandown beach. The two guns facing out to sea were on special cavalier bastion mountings, raised gun positions allowing them a greater field of fire and the ability to fire over the battery's walls. The seven-inch rifled breach-loading gun weighed 82cwt and could fire 110-pound shells up to 4,000 yards. For ships it would fire a standard shell but was also used to fire case or segment shells against invading infantry to cause maximum damage. Each gun needed a gun crew of nine men. Although the men were at first accommodated in the nearby barracks, the barrack blocks were by now dated and had not been built with as much emphasis on providing light and ventilation as the barracks included in the Sandown Granite Fort. When Sandown Granite Fort was completed, the men manning the guns were based there, with Sandown Barrack used for administrative and storage purposes only. Three men would stay in Sandown Barrack Battery in the guardhouse.
In 1873 the 7-inch guns were replaced with five 64-pdr rifled muzzle loaders. Although slower to load than the breach-loading guns, these were more powerful, more reliable and more accurate after frequent use. They could fire a 65-pound shell 4,000 yards and were also equipped with case and shrapnel for use against infantry.
In 1887 the two 64-pdr guns positioned to fire out to sea and cover the west of Sandown Bay were replaced with two 10-inch RMLs that were moved Sandown Granite Fort. These were taken to Sandown Barrack Battery where they were mounted on new, special long-range carriages. Contemporary photographs of this operation show that moving the guns required a team of 12 draft horses pulling the guns through Sandown. The original plan had been for these guns to be mounted on long-range mountings with 35-degree elevation, so as to cover the western part of the bay. These carriages were not available and so as a 'make do' measure, standard gun carriages were adapted to provide up to 20 degrees elevation. This allowed the guns an effective range of up to 5,000 yards, as compared to 2,000 yards on a standard casemate mounting. Each gun weighed 18 tons and required a Gun Captain, Layer and nine men to load. At this time the 10-inch guns were placed in a new gun position further back from the cliff edge, with the cavalier bastions demolished. Two of the three beach-flanking 64-pdrs were also moved further from the cliff edge at this time. The third was now considered surplus to requirements and removed from the fort.
Two Depression Range Finding pedestals were positioned in the fort with a Position Finding Cell located just outside to the battery's east. These were used to help position the guns to ensure they hit their targets.
In 1898 plans were proposed to modernise the fort, work carried out in the first years of the 20th Century. In 1899 the remaining 64-pdrs were removed from the fort and replaced with two 12-pdr QF guns. In 1901-2, new underground magazines and a Royal Artillery shelter were constructed and the 10-inch guns replaced with two 6-inch breach-loading mark VII guns. This gun had been designed by Vickers Son & Maxim and after 1898 became the standard British coast defence weapon of the time, staying in use until 1956. At this time the 10-inch guns were left in the grounds of the battery, as moving them would prove too difficult.
However, the 1905 Owen Committee on the Armaments of Home Ports stated that Sandown Bay was well enough defended by the 9.2-inch guns at Culver Battery and the 6-inch guns at Yaverland Battery. The conclusion was that the guns at Sandown Barrack Battery, in particular the 12-pdrs, were not needed. As a result, in 1906 these guns were relegated to drill purposes and were removed in 1907. In 1910 the two 6-inch guns were placed on the reserve list and removed in 1916. For the remainder of the Great War, the battery was armed only with two machine-guns, but defended by barbed wire.
As its effective usefulness had passed, in 1926, the gun mountings were finally removed from the Barracks Battery, and after protracted negotiation, the battery was finally sold to the Sandown Town Council in 1930. The battery played no part in the Second World War, other than the top of the magazine housing a lookout post for the Observer Corps2.
The battery site was close to the Sandown Town Council owned Ferncliff Gardens, and although there were several houses and their gardens between the two grounds, a cliff-edge path now connects the two and the remains of Sandown Barrack Battery is now the Battery Gardens park. The battery has been well looked after, with all the original walls and ditches preserved. The drawbridge has been replaced and entry to the battery is through a tarmac path, and all the gun emplacements have been demolished to make way for flower beds, yet much of the original battery has been preserved. The iron counterbalance weights for the drawbridge still exist, although their metal covers have been removed, and the counterbalance pits have been filled in. Similarly, the underground magazine still exists but since the early 1990s the entrance has been blocked off. In the 1980s the magazine was still accessible behind a locked gate, however local children climbed over the gate or, more often, through a small loophole in the wall to gain access into the magazines, which wisely were then sealed.
The Royal Artillery shelter has been converted into a public toilet and in the 1980s the guard room was a tea room and cafe. The park was the first park in Sandown to have a slide, and other facilities included a large rocking horse, swings, concrete pipes and a T roundabout which was replaced in the mid 80s with a spider-web roundabout. There was also a seasonal crazy golf course at neighbouring Ferncliff Gardens, although this was demolished to make way for flats in the early 1990s.
There are at time of writing proposals to develop an open-air theatre within Battery Gardens, improve access to the gardens and re-open the cafe, provided funding is forthcoming. The site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument located on the cliff top Isle of Wight Coastal Path. It is free to access and a large number of the original features have been preserved, making Sandown Barrack Battery in Battery Gardens well worth a visit, especially if you have children.