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Blacknor Fort

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21.08.2013

Advantages:
An interesting piece of Portland's military history, in a fantastic location for views

Disadvantages:
Private, has been through modernisation to become a modern home

Recommendable Yes:

Detailed rating:

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PricesExcellent

Is it worth visiting?Good

Family FriendlyExcelllent

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Introduction


Blacknor Fort is a fort on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. The fort is situated on the cliff edge within Blacknor area of the island, nearby to Hallelujah Bay and Mutton Cove. It is also found close to the estate of the Weston village and the West Weares area. Having lived on Portland until 2005 for most of my childhood, I must admit that I never really knew of this private fort per say. I would have passed it at various times but never actually knew what it was. Although not open to the public, and in fact now a private residence, it has many "Private - Keep Out" signs surround it. Despite this, the fort is an intriguing piece of military history and a fine coastal defence in a unique location.

History

Military Use

Built around 1902, the Victorian Fortress was built as a coastal defence against enemy vessels on the west side of the island. The fort sits in a commanding position overlooking Lyme Bay. The fort was built by local builders Jesty and Baker, who handed over the fort in January 1902 to the war department. The department then applied to divert the footpath on West Cliff "as it did not appear desirable that people should walk in front of a six inch gun". This request was refused, and the path remained public. The fort's stronghold was re-equipped during both World Wars. Four 9.2 inch guns were installed during The First World War. Today, the remaining gun emplacements and experimental anti-aircraft rocket pads can be seen from the top of the cliff.

When the possibility of another war began to be taken seriously around 1935, local people had become accustomed to heavy gunning practice from ships and Blacknor Fort, bombing on the new West Bay range, and mock battles around the coast. In 1937-39, anti-aircraft rockets, using 3-inch tubular charges produced by the Royal Naval Cordite Factory, Holton Heath, were tested at the fort by the Explosives Research Department of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. Gun-laying predictors monitored the fall of shot in an extended series of successful proving trials. These were discontinued and moved to Aberporth, Wales, when it became clear that Blacknor Fort would be needed by the army for the duration of the emergency that was developing into the Second World War. The rockets went into production with a 25-lb shell, both for anti-aircraft salvoes of 19 rockets in a cluster, and for air to ground anti-ship purposes. An improvised version had a 60-lb warhead for use against tanks, railway locomotives and other land targets. The rockets were also used for assisting aircraft to take off from merchant ships. In the outbreak of the second World War, the local Home Guard units were issued with uniforms and automatic weapons by 1940, and they took spells manning the 9.2" Blacknor Fort guns and the East Weares Batteries.

Blacknor Fort saw one of Portland's most remarkable pieces of aerial combat in the Battle of Britain. Beside it, on "The Castles" as Portland locals call the flat top of the 275-feet cliffs, Flying Officer Strickland, in a Hurricane of 213 Squadron from Exeter, bagged a German bomber in style on the afternoon of 11 August 1940. His Hurricane Fighter crippled the Junkers Ju.88 which then made an almost perfectly
Pictures of Blacknor Fort
Blacknor Fort Blacknor Fort #1
Blacknor Fort seen from the South West Coastal Path
landing, but for the fact it snagged the fort's line of telephone wires, which retracted the undercarriage. The pilot was injured but his three comrades had only superficial knocks and the aircraft flopped down just about intact.

During World War 2 on the night of the 27 April 1944, the gunners of the fort witnessed The Slapton Sands Massacre. The fort's gunners were ordered not to open fire for fear of friendly fire when Nazi E-Boats attacked tank landing crafts carrying many American soldiers who were on exercise in Lyme Bay. The massacre saw more than 600 American soldiers and seamen drowned by the end of the night, where many were pulled down by the weight of their own equipment.

In Stuart Morris' 1990 book Portland Camera, a 1909 photograph showing a 9.2 inch gun in the Underhill village of Fortuneswell revealed that it took a major operation in order to get the gun up to Blacknor Fort.
Land Dispute

Afterwards it seems the fort became the property of two separate owners who each had a bungalow on the site. In 2004, a land dispute between the two owners of adjacent bungalows at the fort made national news. According to a BBC news article, originally Edwin Hoskins and Graham Vranch became neighbours after they bought adjacent bungalows at Blacknor Fort. During 1978, the pair drew up a legal agreement which stated that if either men decided to sell their land, the other must be given first refusal for one month. Hoskins, who had worked as a building instructor for inmates in the prison service, decided to sell in January 2004, and Vranch made an offer to buy his property for £55,000, which was an offer much lower than expected. On 22 February, Hoskins decided to invite Vranch to his house, where he shot him with a gun. Vranch survived the shooting and Hoskins was imprisoned in July 2004, at Salisbury Crown Court. In 2006, Hoskins, serving his seven-year sentence at HMP Guys Marsh in Dorset, was found dead in his cell, after hanging himself from the window bars.
Private Refurbishment

In 2008, a scheme to transform the fort into a state of the art new home was suggested.

The Channel 4 programme Grand Designs, presented by Kevin McCloud, was reported to be interested in featuring the project being tackled by Paul and Debbie Care (and their children Katie, Max, Zac and Lucy who has Down's syndrome), where the proposal was to see most of the home sitting on top of the emplacement's 62 ft-diameter circular concrete surround. The programme originally waited for full planning permission, which was granted by the end of the year. Paul Care, for the Dorset Echo, stated "A programme representative came down and visited us recently for interviews and pictures and we have now heard that they are very keen to do a programme on us and are just waiting for final confirmation." The Grand Designs programme began filming the project in December 2008, although the programme was never shown, where Debbie Care later stated in a 2011 View from Publishing online article "We hit design delays and we couldn't complete building in time to be used on the show."

The buying family had originally wanted somewhere to buy and refurbish, and Paul Care had become keen on the idea after seeing the fort views in an estate agent's window. Reportedly the fort had already sold, but the sale fell through and the family then purchased the property. The fort's cost of £250,000 was from the family's budget of £400,000, where the rest was to be used on refurbishment of the property. In the Dorset Echo article, Debbie Care revealed "We had been heading for Bournemouth to spend £250 on toys but we reached a decision, turned round and ended up spending £250,000 to buy the emplacement." Paul Care also added "We do have a budget of about £400,000 for the new build and one feature we know we want for the lower dining area is a glass wall along the east wall." The refurbished design ideas for the fort included a glass wall along the east wall for the dining area, whilst the upper part of the scheme would include the main living arrangements, with most of the rooms having a wedge shape. On top of this, the roof was to be covered in grass with solar panels and cells on the south face, whilst a central roof window would provide a skylight to the central part of the new home, as well as the creation of a two-car garage and an annexe on the site of the existing bungalow and magazine area.

In April 2011, the project was completed and the fort turned into a modern home. The area of where the gun shells used to come up remained untouched along with the hoist, whilst the sergeants' cookhouse and all the underground magazine levels were left untouched, although the cookhouse had plans of restoration.

My Views


Blacknor Fort is probably best visited for those who are on Portland and decide to walk along the west side of the island. This is part of the South West Coastal Path and takes you from the outskirts of Tout Quarry Sculpture Park, right to the most southerly point of the island; the popular area of Portland Bill. What I remember striking me about the fort originally was its position, and also the derelict surrounding land on the site that is seen from the road track that leads into the gated entrance of the fort. Although perhaps somewhat ugly and a bit neglected, there was also something about the site that held mystery and the obvious important historical past. It was probably the fascination of wondering what great features were hidden inside the fencing and walls. What are the underground sections like? In fact, what is any of the fort inside like? The look of the downtrodden surrounding buildings seen from the entrance made it obvious the fort was crying out for preservation, and a long due public airing (same with plenty of other sites on Portland, especially preservation.)

Of course the fort still maintains this past, but the refurbishment, from what one can see on the outside, has changed the fortís perspective, even if it may not be Ďas bad as it seemsí. This is mainly the domed addition to what was the top of the fort. On a trip to Portland in December 2012, one local woman me and a friend had a quick chat to said that locals call this the flying saucer/UFO building as the ringed shape certainly stands out as horribly modern against the fortís historic backdrop. Perhaps it is fortunate that some things like the underground levels have been left untouched, but upon hearing the fort had become a modern home, I felt a great shame that the building could now never show off its original character completely, and that it could not be turned into a public attraction. Portland could certainly do with a few more attractions in similar vein to Portland Castle, although the scattered relics of military history across the island, and places like the Verne High Angle Battery, are good sites for such things too. It was just that the fort really had special potential for such a thing.

On one of the Dorset Echo sites, one comment left had stated "I am for one appalled at what they plan to do. The person who lived their before restored the bungalow sympathetically and now it is going to be hacked about and turned into garages???? My gran and her husband lived there in WW2 and just after. Modern buildings on a beautiful historic siteÖ what can you expect nowadays? This is a disgrace to tear up a part of the local history and build a monstrosity. So sad!!!!"

It seems that the bungalows, although on the site, did not interfere with the fort itself and that was key to the point in preserving the heritage of Blacknor Fort, which was seemingly left untouched but still looked after. What confused me was that the fort never seemed to be Grade Listed Building or a Scheduled Monument, which would have helped ensure that such modernisation plans would probably be scrapped. Yes there would have been costs to open such a site to the public, to comply with health and safety, but it always seemed like a fair possibility until the renovation began. I must admit the whole modernisation never bothered me too much, until the conversation with the local woman next to it that December day. I then realised that, in my own opinion of course, the fort didnít look right when you are up close to it with such a modern setting.

That doesnít mean that the fort isnít worth some attention to those passing by though as the modernisation canít take away the atmosphere of such a site. As you go around the coastal path, the edge of the fort's site can be seen and this remains as it has been for many decades. It is true that you canít see much else, but follow on and take a small de-tour from the main path and the entrance will give you another viewpoint of a spectacular historical site. One good point about the modern ĎUFOí tip of the building is that from a distance, Blacknor Fort naturally stands out very clearly now. Whether you are sitting all the way down Chesil Beach or if you are around the fields further towards Portland Bill, you canít help but look at the fort and begin to wonder what the fort has seen in its time sitting in such a position. Oddly enough as well, the fort seems to almost perfectly blend in with the surrounding natural area, and this might be as Portlandís defences and odd coastal look-outs etc are seen around the island and have become part of the island as much as anything else present there.

Conclusion


On the whole a visit to Blacknor Fort is much recommended to view it from the outside, but only if you are in the area. To those with a particular interest in coastal defences then the location itself makes it a worthwhile attraction. Nearby is an old, minor gun emplacement and a lookout shelter which you are welcome to enter and look out over the sea. The South West Coastal Path is undoubtedly where almost everyone sees the fort up close from. Of course the fort can be seen along with the other things in the area anyway, and naturally this is mainly the spectacular views. Despite the shame that the fort never became the attraction it could have been, this wonderful piece of Portlandís history stands proud on the high cliffs.

The Wikipedia article I created for Blacknor Fort can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blacknor_Fort
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Comments about this review »

Deesrev 01.01.2014 17:29

Exceptional review xXx

teamshepherd 20.09.2013 12:19

Amazing review! I'd love to go there :)

Absinthe_Fairy 10.09.2013 11:21

Awesome review.

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This review of Blacknor Fort has been rated:

"exceptional" by (78%):

  1. Deesrev
  2. teamshepherd
  3. Absinthe_Fairy

and 58 other members

The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.

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