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The Fort

The old fort on Whitehaven Harbour once had a gunpowder magazine, a guardroom and ten 18-pound cannon pointing out to sea. In the 18th century it was an important part of the town's fortifications against invaders.


There's not much to see nowadays, but sufficient remains to prompt English Heritage, guardians of the country's historic sites, to call for it to be protected with a listing in the schedule of ancient monuments. The Old Fort is already a Grade II listed building.

It was constructed to protect the approaches to what during the 18th century was one of the country's two principal ports (the other being London).


The structure, which dates from pre-Napoleonic times housed several cannon and, together with the Half-moon Battery, near Tom Hurd Rock, formed part of Whitehaven's fortifications against her enemies. Its construction began in 1741 and when complete it comprised a gun platform surrounded by a perimeter wall with a guardroom and powder magazine.


Ten 18-pound guns stood in a line commanding a clear view out to sea. The original guns were removed to Carlisle in 1745 to assist against the Jacobite Rebellion with replacements being sent to Whitehaven the following year.


Recommendations for improvements to defences during the 1760's were only partially carried out and this failure to provide adequate protection resulted in an attack in 1778 on the town and harbour by the American vessel Ranger, commanded by John Paul Jones during the American War of Independence. Immediate improvements were undertaken and two months later repairs and new construction meant that Whitehaven was now defended by six strong batteries.


Throughout the Napoleonic War records show repairs were made to the town's harbour defences. And although never permanently manned the Old Fort was the headquarters of the local and county militia. Regiments from other areas were also periodically garrisoned there.


In 1819 the Old Fort is recorded as containing eight guns mounted on iron carriages, last fired in 1824 during celebrations to mark the laying of foundation stones for the West Pier. During the 1870's many of the guns were removed and those that remained were probably buried by a landslip which covered the site in 1872. The guardhouse survived at least until 1880.


The southern part of the fort was drastically affected by the development of Wellington pit which was sunk in 1840 and operated for almost 100 years. The powder magazine was used as a pit cabin and the southern part was eventually buried in 1972 during the Wellington Pit reclamation scheme.

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