Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Fort Gomer

I've mentioned the Palmerston forts of Gosport, Hampshire, a couple of times previously: see Fortifications ... and Gosport (19 Aug 2009) and Priddy's Hard (5 July 2012).

I briefly mentioned Fort Gomer, which no longer exists. I just about remember it from my childhood; my mother worked as a secretary at the school opposite, and sometimes she took me in along the lane that ran to the east of the fort. It was sold and demolished in 1964, and in my teens we lived for a time on the housing estate built on the site.

Fort Gomer, 1938 OS map. Historic map data is (© and database right
Crown copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd. (All rights reserved
2009). Low-resolution image reproduced for small-scale non-profit
use under the terms described in the Old Maps FAQ.

View Larger Map - the site as it is now. 

The estate does in part retain a 'ghost' of the fort; the western edge and south-western corner follow the original outline. Here's a superposition of that outline on the modern Google aerial photo.

In connection with all this, I just found in my scrapbook a clipping from the Portsmouth Evening News thirty years ago. They kindly granted permission for its re-use here.

 Fort Gomer
The memory lingers on in street names
by Chris Yandell

Gomer is Gosport's forgotten fort. It was demolished 18 years ago and only the names of several streets give a clue to its former whereabouts.

The streets - Martello Close, Moat Walk, Tower Close, and Moat Drive - form part of the Gomer housing estate, which was built in mid-Sixties.

The northern end of Galemoor Avenue roughly follows the course of the moat which surrounded the fort, and provided the soldiers with fish.

Gomer, completed in 1858, was released by the Army Department and fetched 169,000 at a Portsmouth auction in June 1964. Bidding began at £50,000.

The fort was bought by a Midlands-based construction company and demolished by a Fareham firm, which took several months to complete the project.

Included in the sale was the western side of Gomer Lane, from some Admiralty houses near Privett Road to a cottage at the Stokes Bay end.

Little has been written about Fort Gomer, and precise information is hard to come by. Few records, or photographs, appear to have survived the passage of time.

Books about Britain's coastal defences have largely ignored the fort. One published several years after Gomer was demolished said it was still in use.

Gomer was begun in 1853, when Gosport was protected by a fortified wall which ran from Trinity Green to the southern side of Forton Lake.

It was one of a row of forts built across Gosport's landward flank from Stokes Bay in the west to Portsmouth Harbour in the east.

The other forts were Rowner, Grange, Brockhurst, and Elson. All are still standing, but only Brockhurst, completed in 1862, is open to the public.

The five forts, known as the Gosport Advanced Line, were the first of their type in Britain.

Built to defend Portsmouth from attack by the French they were designed to keep the enemy further away from the harbour than the ramparts could.

An attempted landing on the Solent coast somewhere near Titchfield, followed by an attack on Gosport, was thought to be the most likely enemy strategy.

Then relations between Britain and France began to improve, and the forts guarding the Gosport peninsula stood waiting for an enemy which never came.

Gomer was considerably smaller than its nearest neighbours, and unlike Rowner, Grange and Brockhurst, did not have a circular keep.

The forts cost a total of £300,000, but the development of increasingly powerful weapons meant they were obsolete.

Ordnance development in the late 1850's, stimulated by the Crimean War, led to minor modifications at Gomer and For Elson.

But the invention of the Armstrong Gun meant the Gomer-Elson line was too close to the harbour to protect it from bombardment.

Gomer, the first of the forts to be built,w as nearly 500 feet wide, and about 800 feet long.

The eastern side of the ten-acre fort comprised of defensible barracks, built in the shape of a shallow V, and a rectangular parade ground.

The barracks contained soldiers' and officers' quarters, servants' roooms, a gaurd room, cells, an orderly room, a kitchen, and a hospital with two wards.

Ten magazines were dotted around the inside of the fort, plus two other side arms sheds. Other buildings contained stables, a coal store, and a wash house.

The entrance to the six-sided fort was about 500 feet from [sic] Gomer Lane, near what is now its junction with Broadsands Drive.

Nearby Number Two Battery was surrounded by a moat, linked to the River Alver.

The area in fron of Fort Gomer was marshland, and the water would have been used to flood the marsh if the fort was threatened.

Gomer's design was criticized in an 1856 essay about Portsmouth's fortifications. *

The author, Mr James Fergusson, said the sides were vulnerable to attack. The road at the back of the fort was another weakness, he added.

In 1886 Gomer was armed with two 13-inch mortars and 20 seven-inch rifled breech loaders. Heavier guns were placed in the more powerful forts to the north.

The exhibition at Fort Brockhurst contains a photograph taken at Fort Gomer in May 1889, of soldiers belonging to the 40th Foot Regiment.

Gomer and Elson had a fairly primitive design and it is thought unlikely they would have presented much of a threat to an attacking army.

They were reputedly used mainly as barracks for soldiers, who could have been quickly deployed to other parts of the Line if the need arose.

Gomer, the link between the other four forts and the Stokes Bay bateries, would probably have provided the men need to man the sea defences.

The fort was surrounded by open land, and when the threat of invasion was removed, all it was left to guard was a quiet countryside.

Moat of dinners, and death

Incidents in the history of the Fort included a man who murdered his family, and a soldier who drowned in the moat during an escape attempt.

One of the first men who served there married a Gosportgirl. The marriage ran into trouble when they moved to the Isle of Wight several years later, and he murdered his wife and their six children.

Hundreds of people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the killer when he was brought back to Gosport on his way to Winchester.

Gomer was a hive of activity in the early part of 1900, when it was used to train troops for the Boer War.

Hut battle

A few years earlier, a riot had broken out among a detachment of the Dublin Fusiliers, and several men were reported to have been injured in what became known as 'The Battle of Hut Four'.

A private in the Northumberland Fusiliers died at the fort in 1914 when he climbed over the walls and sank into the mud at the bottom of the moat.

Martin Quinn was in detention, but desperately wanted to visit the theatre in Portsmouth and decided to risk the ill-fated escape attempt.

The 7th Royal Tank Regiment was stationed at Gomer in the late 1940's.

Soldiers supplemeted their rations with fish from the moat, and two troopers appeared before Gosport magistrates, accused of poaching pheasants on a nearby estate.

- © The News, Portsmouth. Reproduced for non-profit use by permission.

* This most likely refers to James Fergusson's 1852 The peril of Portsmouth; or, French fleets and English forts.

- Ray

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