Coalhouse Fort

The area of the Essex coast on which Coalhouse Fort stands today has been strategically important as far back as the Iron Age, with earthworks dating to that period suggesting the need to defend the Thames Estuary existed even that far back into Britain’s history.

The present-day Coalhouse Fort is a Victorian construction designed to defend the Thames Estuary against the French in conjunction with Shornemead and Cliffe forts. Construction began in the early 1860’s and the original plan was altered several times throughout the building of the fort.

The final design that can be seen today consists of an arc of granite-faced gun casemates with iron shields and an open battery at the up-river end. The rear of the fort consists of barracks. The magazines are on the basement level, directly beneath the guns they served. Two ditches, the inner one defended by caponiers, would have allowed the troops to defend the fort very effectively had it ever fallen under direct attack. The barracks themselves had bullet-proof shutters across the windows; loopholes pierced into these shutters allowed the troops to use small arms fire from the barracks against an attacking army.

The 20th century and the World Wars it brought rendered further alterations to Coalhouse Fort necessary. Anti-aircraft guns and searchlights were added, and in 1914 Coalhouse Fort became an Examination Battery, ensuring that no enemy ships could enter the Thames Estuary. Ships entering the Thames had to identify themselves; those that failed to do so or to stop would run the risk of having a warning shot fired at them by the guns of Coalhouse Fort.

The War Department had decommissioned and sold the fort by 1949, and in 1962 it came under the management of Thurrock Borough Council. Like so many magnificent structures of this period, Coalhouse Fort was sadly neglected, and decay and inevitable vandalism have taken their toll. Fortunately, Coalhouse Fort is now being restored by the Coalhouse Fort Project and is open to the public on designated days.

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