Site Records

Site Name: Beacon Hill Fort (Harwich)

Barrack Lane
Harwich, Essex
OS Grid Ref: TM263326

Sub Brit site visit 5-1996, 9-1998 & 12-2003

[Source: Nick Catford]

Numerous buildings from all periods from 1889 onwards are still standing at Beacon Hill. The site is owned by the council and although easily accessible it is not officially open to the public and is not maintained in any way. The main paths through the site are well defined but some parts are heavily overgrown, especially in summer and in wet weather the ground can be very muddy.

All the buildings and underground magazines are open and accessible with the exception of the RDF tower. Some however are in a dangerous condition and should only be entered with extreme care, especially the two towers which have external stairs and the magazines which are dark and strewn with rubble and rubbish. There are numerous trip hazards including open gullies and drains and they should not be entered without adequate lighting and footwear.

Plan of Beacon Hill Fort - Some buildings shown may no longer be standing

The northern emplacement is built of concrete with a 3.78 metre diameter gun pit, a semi-circular gun floor at the rear and a sloping apron at the front. There is a shell recess around the front face and four ready use ammunition lockers beneath the gun floor at the rear.

There are a further four lockers set into a second platform at the back of the emplacement, some of these have evidence of metal doors. There is a fifth locker in the north wing wall. A concrete casemate with a flat roof was added for protection against an air attack during the early years of WW2. The side walls of this structure are corrugated and internally buttressed. The roof originally extended over the gun pit itself but this section has now broken away.

At the back of the casemate access is through a door at the top of a short flight of steps; a second set of steps leads down to a second blocked doorway into the casemate. A Bofors anti-aircraft gun was located on the roof of the casemate with metal stairs for access. These stairs have now gone but on the roof of the casemate the holdfast bolts are still visible together with a safety rail across the front.

Inclined band lift for shells in the main magazine with a lamp recess in the wall
Photo by Nick Catford

The southern emplacement is also well preserved and consists of a 3.78 metre diameter gun pit with a semi-circular gun floor at the rear and a sloping apron to the front. Sections of the original 1890 emplacement including part of the pit and the sloping apron have been incorporated into the later conversion. There is a shell recess in the front face and three ready use ammunition lockers under the gun floor to the rear, two of them with evidence of metal doors.

There are two openings for ammunition lifts from the main magazine located underground between the two emplacements. One is for a band lift for shells while the other, on the opposite side of the emplacements, was a vertical lift for cartridges.

In the rear wall of the emplacement there are two further ready-use ammunition lockers with frames for double doors.

A concrete casemate with a flat roof was added for protection against an air attack during the early years of WW2. This is similar to the adjacent emplacement with the addition of a porch at the entrance door. There was no anti-aircraft gun on the roof.

Plan of the 6" emplacements and magazine
Plan by RCHME (English Heritage) from Archaeological Field Survey Report on Beacon Hill Fort

The original 1890 underground magazine survives between the two emplacements; it was adapted for use with the later 6-inch guns with numerous alterations being made.

The main entrance to the magazine is down an inclined ramp in a concrete lined cutting, through a pair of double metal gates into a short barrel-vaulted passage. After a short distance this passage enters a north - south corridor close to the northern end. At the southern end of this passage there are double gates and steps up to the southern emplacement. At the northern end there are steps up into the gun pit of the northern emplacement. These steps have been blocked at the top, probably during the later conversion.

On the western side of the passage there are three rooms, two stores and one for lamps; each has a lamp recess in the wall beside the doorways. On the east side of the passage opposite the entrance tunnel there is a doorway into a second, parallel north-south corridor. At the southern end of this passage there is an offset area to the right with the remains for a vertical cartridge lift to the emplacement above with the winch mechanism still in place. At the northern end of the passage there is an inclined band lift for the shells with the drive chain, loading mechanism and winder are all still in place. There are also four lamp recesses in the wall.

In the main corridor there are a number of concrete pillars that would originally have supported wooden shelving for the storage of shells. An original sign can still be seen identifying 'Shell Store 2'.

Photo:The main passage in the magazine with the band lift at the far end and an issue hatch on the right. The concrete pillars supported a long table for shell storage.
Photo by Nick Catford

The two cartridge magazines are located on the east side of the corridor; they are entered through a shifting lobby situated between them. Outside clothing was removed in the shifting lobby and special 'safe' magazine clothing would be put on. Cartridges were passed into the main corridor through 'issues hatches', two in the larger southern magazine and one in the smaller northern magazine. Lighting in the larger magazine was provided by two glazed lamp recesses located between the magazine and the corridor.

3-pounder QF emplacements were built in 1898 with the guns providing flanking fire for the 10-inch and 6-inch BL guns. One is located on the north side of the 6-inch emplacement and the other a few yards west of the 10-inch emplacement.

The northern emplacement consists of a concrete gun floor accessed by a short flight of steps on its east side. A ready ammunition locker survives in the rear wall. The southern emplacement is similar with two ready ammunition lockers surviving.

Ammunition was stored underground in the 'Kingsgate Magazine' which is located a few yards to the south of the Bombproof Shelter. It is entered by a ladder next to a davit for a crane hoist and consists of an entrance passage and a single vaulted room.

Further information and pictures about this site continues here

[Source: Nick Catford]


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