Discover the dramatic story of the fortifications that played a pivotal role in the defence of the East Coast for over 400 years. Where the last opposed seaborne invasion of England, by the Dutch in 1667, and the first land battle of the Royal Marines happened.
Enjoy the maze of rooms, tunnels and passageways, spectacular panoramic views of Harwich Haven, informative displays and audio visuals, guided tours, special events and re-enactments. Landguard Fort offers a great deal for all ages and interests.
Experience this magnificent Grade 1 listed fort built in the 1740's and continually modified to reflect changes in coastal defence strategy and developments in engineering and weaponry. Substantial additions were made in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, during two world wars and even as late as the 1950's in response to the tensions of the cold war.
Harwich Harbour, at the mouth of the River Orwell, has always been the best safe haven for large ships between the rivers Thames and Humber. The rivers Orwell, Stour and Deben stretch several miles inland and were ideal highways for trade and raiders. Landguard Fort dominated the navigable channel on the northern bank of the River Orwell whilst the Redoubt at Harwich guarded the harbour entrance along with a large battery at Shotley.
There have been a number of fortifications built on Landguard Peninsula:
1543 Henry VIII had two blockhouses built which rapidly deteriorated, so in 1552 the guns were returned to the Tower of London.
1628 A new fort was built of earth faced with stout wood. It was square with a bastion on each corner. In 1666, under Charles II, a brick wall constructed around the fort.
1667 During the second Dutch War, on the orders of Admiral de Ruyter, 1,500 Dutch marines (musketeers, pikemen and sailors as grenadiers) landed at Cottage Point (now Cobbold's Point), marched down the coast and attacked the fort from the landward side. The garrison (including a detachment of The Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot) commanded by Captain Nathaniel Darell repulsed the Dutch assault.
I717 A new brick fort was constructed but gave way to a new structure in 1744 when a new red brick fort was built in the form of a pentagon with a bastion at each corner. These walls remain today.
1871 The fort was remodelled using yellow London bricks. All the internal accommodation buildings and the river-facing battery dating from 1780 were demolished. A seven gun casemate battery was constructed facing the river to house four 12.5 inch and three 10 inch Rifled Muzzle Loading (RML) guns. Accommodation was in a semicircular block connected to the casemates to form an internal defensive position. The south-east curtain wall facing the sea had one 12.5 inch and two 10 inch RML guns in casemates and the two land facing bastions had 9 inch RML guns.
1878 A submarine mining establishment was constructed by excavating a test room within the thick walls of the fort, building an observation room and adding a building on the east side of the fort known as the Ravelin Block. Stores and barracks were later demolished and are now underneath Landguard Terminal (part of the Port of Felixstowe).
1889 Two experimental 'disappearing' guns of 10-inch and 6-inch caliber were installed for trial purposes in a new Left Battery facing the sea.
1898-1902 Because the existing armament was obsolete, new batteries were built in front of the fort facing the sea and the haven, equipped with faster-firing breach-loaders firing over low parapets. These were named Right Battery (facing the sea and armed with one 10-inch and two 6-inch guns) and Darell's Battery (two 4.7-inch quick-firing guns to protect the submarine minefield against fast attack boats). The main fort building was now no longer armed but was used as barracks accommodation, training and administrative control of all the defences on Landguard Peninsula.
1914-1918 World War 1 Harwich Haven became a War Anchorage for the Royal Navy and extensive land defences in the form of trenches, barbed-wire entanglements and pillboxes were constructed across the Harwich and Dovercourt and Landguard peninsulars as well as along the Felixstowe coast. The new threat from Zeppelin airships and aeroplanes saw anti-aircraft guns installed across the area. Harwich became the most important naval base on the East Coast south of Rosyth (Edinburgh) and entry to and from the haven was controlled from a Port War Signal Station built on the roof of the fort. The end of the war saw a remarkable sight when 122 German U-boats (submarines) arrived in the haven to surrender.
1938-1945 and World War 2 Before war broke out small improvements were made to the fort to improve accommodation and response to attack from surface and air. These included showers, gas decontamination facilities, removal of the drawbridge and replacement with a roadway across the ditch protected by new machine-gun pillboxes. The fort played a significant part in the evacuation of British and French forces from Dunkirk in 1940 and Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of occupied Europe in 1944. It was also the base for Operation Outward, the release of thousands of explosive balloons to drift across Europe and damage or destroy important infrastructure such as electric power networks.
The fort was the Fire Command Headquarters for the entire haven defences. The armament was upgraded to two twin 6-pounder guns in a reconstructed Darrlls Battery complete with their own fire control towers and searchlights. In 1942 Right Battery was modified with two new 6-inch guns that could fire at higher elevations and hence give longer range. The installation of radar in 1944 allowed the guns to fire with great accuracy. But the fort's most important role was anti-aircraft defence with some 25 enemy aircraft and 70 flying-bombs brought down.
1945-1956 The haven defences were reduced and only key installations were maintained. Part of Left Battery was converted to co-ordinate the operation of six anti-aircraft batteries in the area until this was moved to Mistley in 1953. Similarly, the coast's surface defences were co-ordinated from a newly constructed Seaward Defence Headquarters. The twin 6-pounders in Darell's Battery remained in service and were modified in 1948 to enable ainti-aircraft fire. In 1956 all coast and anti-aircraft artillery across the nation was disbanded and although this meant the fort lost all its defence capabilities it still remained useful to the army for training purposes into the mid-1960s. After that the fort was sealed up and left to quietly disintegrate until the 1980s when local interest was aroused.
1997-8 The fort was structurally consolidated by English Heritage, into whose care it had been placed, and is maintained and opened on their behalf by the Landguard Fort Trust.