Thursday, 5 July 2012

Priddy's Hard

Burrow Island and Priddy's Hard: click to enlarge
Further thoughts relating to a post I wrote in August 2009, Fortifications ... and Gosport.

I've never had any major nostalgie for the town where I grew up (Gosport, Hampshire). But it had some aspects of landscape that have become much more interesting with the hindsight of a better overview of history and geography: particularly that it's a town massively imprinted with the legacy of a 19th century Cold War.

This impressed me quite forcibly during my recent revisit to the Spinnaker Tower. Suburban development of the town has covered much of the peninsula on which Gosport stands, but the greenspace surrounding the town centre still gives away the almost mediaeval setup of the mid-19th century: the area was a largely agricultural tract of land dotted with hamlets, with Gosport Town crammed into a tiny harbourside enclave behind star-shaped earth ramparts. (There's a nice sketch map here at the Gosport page of Fortified Places - and aerial views show some sections of the ramparts are still extent. See Google Maps: here, here (complete with moat), and here.

I was interested in the view heading this post. It doesn't look much in the photo, but it's the outlier of the fortifications at Priddy's Hard, that formerly was Gosport's Royal Naval munitions depot. It now houses Explosion! The Museum of Naval Firepower, whose website outlines the history (the name comes from Jane Priddy, from whom.the Board of Ordnance bought the land).

The aerial view - check out Bing Maps too for a birds' eye view with rotatable viewpoint - is especially striking. Though there's housing development inside the complex andon land to the north-west adjacent to it, you can still see the ramparts, and a couple of interesting circular copses, containing buildings, that I've been wondering about for some time.

View Larger Map

I wasn't clear how exactly to 'read' this landscape, but it's very well explained in the set of documents Site PHG04/20, Priddy's Hard, Gosport, by Thames Valley Archaeological Services. The one particularly to read is the August 2004 Priddy’s Hard, Gosport,Hampshire- An Archaeological Desk-Based Assessmentfor Crest Nicholson (South) Ltd, by Jennifer Lowe.

The images alone explain most of the structures you can see. This annotated 1914 Admiralty plan shows that the round copses have grown up around the earth ramparts surrounding magazines (for obvious reasons away from the main depot); the larger was a cordite magazine. The rectangular building inside the main ramparts is another magazine (see Google Maps and the street view of its entrance on Heritage Way).

The report also has a very nice 1947 aerial photo of the depot, which shows the many small sheds dotting the open space outside the ramparts. From the similar appearance of firework factories, I'd assume these are munitions manufacturing sheds for filling shells and such like, separated so that any accidental explosion would be limited to that building and not set off the entire store.

(I've requested permission for image use, but pending that I've posted low-resolution images under the terms of the copyright statement: "This report may be copied for bona fide research or planning purposes without the explicit permission of the copyright holder" - I view this post as historical research).

I'd love to have a mooch around the derelict ramparts in the sections of the site as yet undeveloped. But unfortunately the end of military secrecy just led into an era of security-conscious landowners, and it looks solidly fenced off. However, 28DL ( - The UK UE Urbex Urban Exploration Forums) has several visit reports: Priddy's Hard, Gosport 17/05/07 shows a daytime visit to the main complex; Priddy's Hard, Gosport records a 2008 night-time visit; Hidden Ammo Dump-Priddys Hard - Hampshire June 2010 has photos of the magazines inside the circular copses.

Judging by the commentary, demolition and redevelopment is ongoing (the Google Maps images are already out of date - for example, the sheds in the shell-filling bays here are already gone, and the bays themselves may even have been demolished). The structures are probably not vastly significant archaeologically, but their destruction seems a pity, and not just because they appeal to my Ruinenlust. Gosport has taken a major blow economically with the withdrawal of military and naval presence, and its unique fortress heritage seems to me an asset that seems unwise to destroy (one fort that I just about remember, Fort Gomer - see photos - was completely obliterated for housing development in 1964, an action one would like to think wouldn't happen so readily nowadays. Even so, Fort Elson, despite being a Scheduled Monument and on the Buildings at Risk register, is being allowed to collapse under the English Heritage 'Controlled Ruination' policy due to mixed factors - its very poor state, and its position on a long-term military establishment, the MoD being exempt from rules requiring landlords to reinstate such properties.

Forts Fareham, Grange and Gilkicker are examples of what could be done in the way of preserving the structure of the forts while adapting them to alternative uses: Fort Fareham, though neglected in the past, finds use as a civilian industrial estate surrounded by wildground, Fort Grange contains sports fields for the HMS Sultan cadet corps, and Fort Gilkicker (hopefully- see is due to be preserved by what looks like a very sympathetic conversion into residental apartments. Fort Brockhurst, the only one open to the public - though insufficiently often, in my view - is used as a store for English Heritage's reserve collections.

- Ray

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