Navigational tips and beauty spots around the north-west coast of the Isle of Wight.
After Louis Napoleon was declared emperor in 1852, the British government feared a 60,000-strong invasion force and a programme of defensive construction was undertaken, one that was formalised by the 1859 Royal Commission, which spawned Lord Palmerston’s follies. Fort Victoria was built in 1855 on Sconce Point (Sconce is believed to be a derivation of Schans, the Dutch word for fort) to defend the Needles Passage but there were two previous fortifications on the site and record of an invasion beacon as early as 1324. When the fort was finished most of the British army was in Crimea so the fort was manned by the Isle of Wight militia, a sort of Victorian Dad’s army.
Royal Engineers were garrisoned here in the 1880s and Fort Victoria was used as a research base for the development of searchlights, following the invention of the electric carbon arc light. It was also used as a mine laying station and from here the Solent could be mined in just three hours. In 1908 soldiers from Fort Victoria were awarded medals after diving into the freezing waters to rescue sailors from HMS Gladiator, an Arrogant class cruiser with a complement of 250, which had been rammed by the American mail ship SS St Paul in Hurst Narrows in thick fog. Capt Lumsden, the Gladiator’s skipper, ran her aground on Black Rock and the ship keeled over, rendering most of her lifeboats useless.
In WWII the fort was armed with torpedoes and also became the headquarters for 42 Water Transport Unit (WTU). 624 Company 42 WTU operated two fast launches on D-Day, the smallest vessels to cross the Channel under their own power that day, to escort landing craft and transfer supplies. In 1962, the local council inherited the Fort and in 1967 it found fame – ironically as the Bastille – in a BBC adaptation of Les Miserables starring Frank Finlay.