Dale Fort Blog Number 26

18 02 2014

This blog continues the history of Dale Fort from where we left it in Blog Number 16.

Nunzilla has left the building…..

The History of Dale Fort Part 7:

The Elizabethan Period

George Owen, the Elizabethan chronicler of Pembrokeshire refers to two blockhouses being located at the mouth of Milford Haven by 1546.  One of these, at Angle was described thus: A rounde turrett never yet finished (East Blockhouse).

East Blockhouse with label

The other structure in the parish of Dale was located at the site of the present day West Blockhouse and was described similarly as a round tower 20 feet in diameter with eight ports or loopes for great ordinance.   Substantial remains of this existed until the construction of the current West Blockhouse Fort in the 19th Century.

Picture1

Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary states that blockhouses were built here in the reign of Elizabeth.  Even though the artillery of the time could not cover the whole entrance to Milford Haven, the existence of two blockhouses opposite one another would have had the effect of diverting any attacking vessels into the path between them.  This would have enabled vessels defending the entrance to concentrate their fire.  The range of sixteenth century cannon would have reduced the safe entrance of Milford Haven to a gap of about half a mile.

In 1587 (the year before the Spanish Armada), Sir Thomas Perot and George Owen were put in command of 500 men and charged with repairing the town walls of Tenby.

Owens plaque in Nevern church copy

They also dug trenches to shelter musketeers at potential landing places around the Haven.  Owen also suggested a devious plan to outwit the enemy.  At that time there was a chapel on St.Ann’s Head.  Sailors used this building as a mark for finding the safe entrance to Milford haven.    Owen’s scheme was to confuse invading vessels by dismantling the chapel and rebuilding it out of position.  Approaching Spanish ships would use the relocated building as a mark and would crash into the rocks at the entrance.  The idea was not put into practice but the spirit of it has been used extensively elsewhere.  The Allies used mock-up tanks and landing craft at various places around the British coast to confuse the Germans before the Normandy landings.  Sandy Haven (near Dale) was equipped with decoy lights and burners to mimic Milford Docks and town.  Nightly, men would light the lights and fire up the burners to impersonate different types of bomb explosions and fires.  Watwick Point on the south side of Castle Beach Bay had a dummy battery.  This comprised two telegraph poles as guns, a two storey Battery Observation Post, and some tents.  A compliment of men marched about and shifted equipment around to make the whole thing look very realistic on an aerial reconnaissance photograph.

As a result of recommendations to the Queen’s Chief Councilor, William Cecil, in 1590 The Privy Council set aside funds for the supply of ordinance and ammunition to three new forts at Milford.  These were to be located at Dale Point, The Stack and Rat Island.  The Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588.  This actually had the effect of increasing unease about the prospect of a Spanish invasion of Britain.

Pedro Lopez addressing the Spanish Council of War in 1595 emphasized the vulnerability of Milford Haven.  He reckoned a Spanish force could take it and render it impregnable within two days.

In 1598, Owen drew up a list of places suitable for fortification around the Haven. New blockhouses had been begun at Dale and Angle but remained unfinished.  Throughout the 1590s there was intense fortification of the British coasts.  This was especially so on the south and west coasts were it was considered an attack was most likely.  One of the best-known British military engineers, Paul Ive wrote a treatise The Practice of Fortification and was busy building defensive structures on the Channel Islands and at Portsmouth.  Ive mentions Milford Haven specifically, where his thoughts on the adequacy of the defences were in conflict with local opinion.  George Owen, the Bishop of St.Davids, Alban Stepney and two Deputy Lieutenants Sir John Wogan and Francis Meyrick wrote collectively to the Lord Keeper, Sir John Pickering, Lord Burghley, the Earl of Essex, Lord Brockhurst and the Earl of Pembroke, stressing how weak and vulnerable Milford Haven was.  Referring to Ive’s report they said: What report he made of his opinion we know not, but sure we are that his abode about that service was very short and his survey was very speedily dispatched.

Read about tardigrades in the next blog…..

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