Another of the many on my “being meaning to visit for years” sites, Fort Gilkicker is an excellent example of the numerous Victorian-era Palmerston forts that ring the strategically important naval port that is Portsmouth.
Whilst most certainly not from Portsmouth myself, as a regular visitor for many years I’ve always loved the Palmerston forts. They’re hard not to notice ringing Pompey as they do, along the top of Portsdown Hill, to a lesser degree on Portsea island itself, out at sea with the four sea forts, and in their greatest volume on the Gosport peninsula. I’ve visited many officially, and a few unofficially. I even semi-seriously considered buying St Helens Fort when it was offered for sale privately in 2003, but Mrs ® Andy was less keen!
Fort Gilkicker is located out overlooking Stokes Bay and hence, unlike the others on the Gosport peninsula that defensively face east to protect Portsmouth from land attack, actually aimed out to sea to protect the deep water anchorage in the bay. It was built 1863 and 1871, and is semi-circular in shape, originally with 22 casements facing seaward and with a parade in the middle. The semi-circle is closed across its diameter by a barrack block with a single central gate into the fort. Those casements initially held large muzzle loading guns firing outward through armoured doors in the thick granite armoured walls, similar to those at Hurst Castle. Also there were five large guns on the roof. Magazines for the ammunition where on ground level, with lighting provided via lighting tunnels from the parade, and with inner and outer tunnels around the circumference of the fort. Various lifts took the munitions up to the guns.
Between 1902 and 1906 Gilkicker’s armament was significantly changed, and this also saw the granite front wall of the fort covered with an earth bank along with the armoured doors of the guns on the tier of casements. This meant that the only guns were now four breech loading guns on the roof. The larger two of those required small extension platforms to be built off the top of the walls, that are now notable for their perilous condition (hence the scaffolding) overhanging the parade! Over the following years Gilkicker’s defensive role continued to wane, with its last large armament being a Bofors anti-aircraft gun on the roof during the Second World War. During D-day Gilkicker was used by a signals unit. Post-war the fort ultimately became used as a plumbers workshop, before being bought by Hampshire County Council and used a build materials store.
Stokes Bay is the sort of place that typically we’ve visited once or twice a year for a wander. In particular when the boys were a bit younger we’d come down and watch the New Year’s Day swim from the nearby in shore rescue station. I always kept a bit of an eye on Gilkicker, and would normally clamber up the earth bank to look over the fence at the top. The fort passed into the hands of a developer with plans to convert it into luxury homes, and to some degree the fort was occupied and secured. A few of my friends did explore it to a limited extent, but with the fence looked after, originally security on site, or at least cameras and alarms, it just sat on my list. Marketing days were held, and the plans looked very interesting with importantly the earth bank due to be removed to expose the original granite walls allowing the residences to have great views out to the Solent through what were originally the casement gun doors. Then clearly everything stalled with the financial crash and so on.
So to now! The conversion plans still exist, and there were reports of development being due to restart last year. However, when I had a quick search recently to see the current state of play, it seemed that actually rather than restarting, the attention shown to Gilkicker had dropped further. It was no longer secure, and so for a while was busy with local people having a look around and naturally became a hang out for “youths”. Indeed if anything I was going to be very late to the party, by about six months! Cue a crisp winter’s day and me on my lonesome wishing dog walkers a good morning.
Exploring Gilkicker was initially an edgy experience, for one very simple reason. Whilst the fort is empty and increasingly derelict, it does still have an active radar installation on its roof. This makes a continuous sound as it rotates, as well as (on a sunny day) casting a moving shadow across the scene. It took me a little while for my “explorer senses” not to react to that particular sound and movement!
Whilst the casements at Gilkicker are mostly stripped back, a highlight that remains is a shell lift up to the roof level. There are also two remaining ammunition lifts down on the magazine level. Something I’ve not seen extant at other forts I’ve visited.
It was also nice to find a couple of spiral staircases up from the inner magazine tunnel to the casements above. The magazines themselves were all stripped but there was still nice signage on both sides of the various issue hatches between the magazines and the inner tunnel.
After working my way around both the casements and the magazines, I headed over the barrack block. Again very much stripped, but on a gorgeous sunny day the corridor which ran the length of the building, complete with smartly framed gun loops out towards the rear of the fort, had some great light.
Interior done it was up onto the roof level, which practically has less to see with just gun mountings remaining, before ultimately heading out of the fort.
Despite the amount that the fort has been stripped back, with things like the gun lifts and of course full access to everywhere, it was probably the most original Palmerston fort I’ve been in. Heading back down the earth bank at the front, it was great to see three of the four Palmerston sea forts in the distance resplendent on such a lovely clear day too.