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Thursday 22 August 2013

What's that on the hill? Bembridge fort, a 'Palmerston folly' on the Isle of Wight

From our campsite near St Helens on the Isle of Wight, we could see a strange mound on the brow of a nearby hill. It looked a bit like an Iron Age hill fort, but small mounds could be seen rising from it. We decided to go up there and have a look, although we didn't expect to find what we did.

This is Bembridge fort, which was built between 1862 and 1867 to defend the island from French invasion by the forces of Napoleon III. It was meant to be the main stronghold for the Isle of Wight's southern coast and cost £48,925 - a huge sum of money at the time. 

The fort is one of a system of defences that were ordered by Lord Palmerston, In the end, the French didn't try to invade and so the forts came to be called Palmerston's Follies. It was used by the War Department until 1948, with coastal artillery defences stationed here during the First World War and air defences and Home Guard during the Second world War. The site is now owned by the National Trust but is semi-derelict and has a private tenant, so is not open to the public except for guided tours by appointment only.

If you'd like to see inside, tours are run every Tuesday from April to October and groups of ten or more may be able to book a tour during the week. Ring 01983 741020 or email the National Trust for details.

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