Dale Fort Blog Number 43

13 09 2015

The History of Dale Fort

Part The Tenth

Readers with long memories may remember that there has been a series of articles concerning the history of Dale Fort (the last one was number 35). We are now up to Number 43 and I thought it was time we took up the story again.

We left this long and sinuous saga at the point where Britain had been startled by the political successes of Charles Louis Napoleon. The Emperor Napoleon III as he was now called had struck fear into the hearts of British Politicians who decided that they had better set about defending the parts of the nation where they thought his forces might invade. One of these was Milford Haven (see Blog Number 35 for more details:https://dalefort.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=472&action=edit)

Defence of the Dockyard

At first the dockyard was defended by Royal Marines who were lucky enough to live on a hulk on one of the slipways. Around 1845 work began on a new barracks on the hill overlooking the dockyard. This was to be called Treowen Barracks but eventually became known as The Defencible Barracks. The idea was to both create accommodation for the marines (380) and provide defences for the dockyard. Owing to the slow rate of fire of muzzle loading muskets a total of 712 musketry loops were incorporated into the walls. It was completed around 1850.

DB with caption

Inside DB with caption

Three gun towers were then built as a more serious attempt to defend the dockyard. These are known as Martello Towers (after similar structures which had frustrated a British Naval action at Cape Mortella in Corsica in 1794). Two towers flanked the whole length of the dockyard wall (except for a small bit, which had musketry loops cut in it).

E and W towers with captionThe third tower was at Stack Rock, a small island guarding the entrance to the Cleddau.   Stack Rock tower was finished in 1852 and is now completely concealed inside the later structure, Stack Rock Fort.

SRock with tower and caption

Defence of Milford Haven

The general aim now was to deny entrance to the Haven completely. Three new structures were to be built at Dale Point, West Blockhouse and Thorne Island. These forts would be able to provide crossfire and thus cover the entrance to the Haven. The three structures were the last ever built to defend the Haven against sailing ships. These forts were novel in design in that they were constructed to take advantage of the natural shape of the rock they were built on and so derive protection from it. The barrack blocks at Dale are concealed behind the cliffs of Dale Point. Thorne Island has its barrack block set lower than its battery. Prior to this the general aim had been to make defensive fortifications big, obvious and intimidating, to discourage attackers. By the mid 1850s it had been realized that given the rapidly improving technology of ships and armaments it was more sensible to hide defensive positions. The forts were completed during and after the period of the Crimean War, during which the efficacy of steam power had become evident. By the time Dale, Thorne Island and West Blockhouse had been completed steam power was beginning to enter the navy.

Vict Def 1856

Local people were concerned by the plans as is evident from a letter of 31st March 1853:

From J.W.Davies of Broomhill Farm to his brother Charles:

They have not begun the works at the Point yet but it is expected shortly the railroad will be opened to Haverfordwest next June so they say but it is doubtful to my mind.

In fact the railway reached Haverfordwest on 28th December 1853. There was a ‘Public Breakfast’ in celebration (tickets: 12/6, Gents. 7/6, Ladies; in those days Gents ate a lot more than Ladies). A selection of important people turned up and the day ended with a firework display organized by a ‘celebrated London Pyrotechnicist’

 Candelabra with caption

General Gordon

That same year Second Lieutenant Charles Gordon qualified as an engineering officer at Woolwich. His first posting was to Pembroke, to assist in the building of the new fortifications around the Haven. There has been much made of the influence of Gordon on Dale Fort. He was definitely involved in drawing up the plans of at least one of the new defences. It is known that Gordon was very unhappy during his time in Pembrokeshire and that he developed his strong religious convictions at this time. A letter from Gordon is quoted by John Barrett in his Plain Man’s Guide to the Path Round the Dale Peninsula thus: I have been doing the plans for another fort, to be built at the entrance to the Haven. I pity the officers and men who will have to live in these forts as they are the most desolate places. Seven miles from any town and fifteen from any conveyance. By April 1854 Britain was at war in The Crimea, alongside the French fighting the Russians in an attempt to reduce their influence in The Balkans. Gordon was posted to The Crimea during 1853. It may be that the early phases of the construction of Dale Fort had begun whilst Gordon was still in the locality. It seems however extremely unlikely that he ever entered the place after it was completed.

gordon just after crimeaGeneral Gordon just after leaving Crimea looking only slightly happier than he had when in Pembroke Dock.

Look out for the next Blog which might well continue this story….