The Solent Forts are sea forts, sitting in the Solent between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, also known as among Palmerston’s Follies.
We’ve passed by the forts on numerous occasions while taking ferry crossings to the Isle of Wight, or further afield, from Southampton or Portsmouth. I’ve always wanted to get a closer view of them, and so it was that we booked on a Four Forts Cream Tea Cruise with Gosport Ferries.
The weather for our cruise, on Wednesday this week, was perfect – sunny, though with some scudding clouds, and sea nice and calm – ideal for taking photos, of which I took many.
The four Solent Forts, part of the Palmerston Follies as they’re also known, were built between 1865 and 1880 as sea defences to Portsmouth naval harbour. Lord Palmerston served two periods as Prime Minister, in 1861 and 1865, during which time protection from threats of invasion from France featured in military thinking. A Royal Commission, reporting in 1860, recommended extensive and ambitious defensive fortifications. Dozens of forts [see Palmerston Forts for map] were built inland to protect Portsmouth and Gosport naval shipbuilding activities, including four sea forts. None ever fired their guns at invaders. It was their huge cost, and cost overrun that acquired the name Palmerston’s Follies.
The four Solent Forts are,
The forts were decommissioned in 1960, becoming steadily more derelict. Spitbank Fort was acquired by a private buyer in the 1980’s. All the forts, apart from St Helen’s Fort, were later acquired in the early 2000’s by a company owned by Mike Clare. Clare, a serial entrepreneur, built up the Dreams bed retail business, selling it for £200 million in 2008. Not content with early retirement he formed Clarenco, a business to pursue his love of unusual and iconic properties by turning a hobby into a business.
It’s reputed that Clare has spent around £30 million to create hotels in Spitbank and Horse Sands Forts, with plans to convert No Man’s Land Fort into a museum. They are now for sale, price, a snip at £11 million.
The visit to the forts on a Gosport Ferry Cruise is to be recommended. Our ferry boat, the Spirit of Portsmouth is a newish boat, well appointed, comfortable, and with a friendly crew. They even let me visit to bridge to pester the crew with questions, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We weren’t able to get close to St Helen’s Fort due to it being low tide.
There, that’s enough of the history. Now you’ll want to see my photos, and my video.