Redoubt Military Fortress
When Napoleon ruled the world, he wanted to come across the Channel and invade England. There were even revolutionary plans to dig a tunnel under the Channel, but that if for another article.
England was at war with France in 1800, and realised there was a very real threat of the French coming, so fortifications along the vulnerable south coast were planned. A budget was allowed, under Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, and a long wide ditch was dug along the Kent coast called the Grand Military Canal, which is mainly intact even now.
Eastbourne was considered an extremity of possible landings, and is the home to number 73 of the 74 small individual fortifications called Martello Towers, named after the Sicilian designer. These housed up to 24 men and one sergeant. However, around 1805-6 they also built The Redoubt. This was planned to be a support position for the smaller defence Towers, with many more men in reserve.
Construction started in 1805, and was almost completed within a couple of years, but the contractor as upset that his final account had not been settled so it wasn’t until 1808 that the final phase was completed, despite an impasse between the War Office and the building company.
The coast is a natural shingle, so compacted chalk was used as a base. Five million bricks were ferried from London round the coast to construct, which must have been quite a logistical achievement.
The design was quite simply basic – an inner parade ground surrounded by a circular wall. The diameter is 224 feet, almost entirely constructed of brick. The inside of the walls contains the living quarters, cells, magazine and cook house. These areas are called casements, there are 24 of them, and mainly still intact.
The plan was for a garrison of 350 men, but this was completely impractical, it was simply too small to accommodate that number, and there was never more than 200 officers and men.
Facing out to sea were ten guns, with room for eleven but the extra was never deployed. The only time they were ever fired was when a passing French warship in 1812 sailed a little close to land. Two were fired, both missed. By this time it was realised that the likelihood of invasion was minimal, so the The Redoubt was downgraded, despite the huge costs incurred over the past few years.
By 1830, England had enjoyed peace for fifteen years, The Redoubt was regarded as something of an embarrassment, being used mainly for training local troops. The garrison consisted of a gatekeeper, and seven gunners, who were allowed to have their families live with them. It must have been pretty boring, occupying a long day, especially during the wintertime. Bear in mind that at the time this is an exposed coastal area, nothing to do, one pub a five minute stroll away, no church within miles, the only activity was farming, fishing, and smuggling. Not that I am trying to impugn them, but it is very likely that boredom involved this last activity.
By the 1880s, the Redoubt was still a seafront defence, with a change of guns every few years, and the level of manning had improved, as had some of the facilities. Even a latrine was added outside the main gates, which is still used as a summertime public lavatory.
The next time it was used in conflict period was WWl, when it was used as a military gaol. After, it was purchased by Eastbourne Borough Council to be used as a leisure area, with another bandstand alongside the colonnades.
After WW2 it has been a model village and aquarium. It was also the site for the weekly summer 1812 orchestral evenings, with different military bands, culminating with a local youngster in a costume of Napoleon, silhouetting the dusk skyline. Most effective.
Now it is the largest military museum on the south coast, but regrettably its future is clouded. There is no disabled access, so rather than speculate, I will leave its future plans for another article.