Newhaven Fort is the last of a long series of defences built on the cliffs overlooking Seaford Bay, dating back to the Iron Age. In 1759 the first permanent gun battery was built. The current Newhaven Fort was built as one of the Palmerston coastal defences against the threat of French invasion.
Construction of the Fortcommenced in 1862 and took ten years and six million bricks to complete. There were several novel design features; the first mass use of concrete in a military fortification, a new type of drawbridge and the fact that it was built into the contours of the land, rather than being built above ground like a traditional fort or castle.
At the end of the 19th Century the Fort needed updating and was practically rebuilt. New modern guns were installed and amongst other things, baths were installed for the soldiers. Newhaven Harbour played a major role in World War I and II/ As well as the coastal artillery, the fort became the base for the RAF Air Sea Rescue. Troops embarked here for the Normandy invasion prior to D-Day. Plans for a leisure centre on the site fell through but only after much demolition work had been undertaken.
In 1979 the Fort was protected as a scheduled monument and shortly afterwards opened as a tourist attraction. The local (Lewes) council took over a few years later. In 2015 Wave Leisure Trust took over management of the fort.
From an underground perspective, there are three areas of particular interext. Firstly, like many Palmerston Forts there are protected underground areas including magazines and stores. There is also a caponier at the foot of the cliffs which is reached by a tunnel from within the fort. Secondly, there is a well curated exhibition telling the story of the Royal Observer Corps. One gallery is devoted to World War II activity and a second to the Cold War era.
Finally, and most remarkably, the walls of the counterscarp galleries are filled with a collection of murals dating from the 1940s. The counterscape galleries are a two-level complex, built to protect the north west flank of the fort. They were used as a recreation area by troops during and after WW II and the murals include ocean scenes, Arabesque buildings and rescue launches. They are painted in bold primaries, almost certainly military stock colours, and are sadly slowly deteriorating.