Beacon Hill Battery: Built by Henry VIII, Abandoned During the Cold War

The ruined Beacon Hill Battery was built to defend the port of Harwich in Essex, and has been upgraded multiple times over the centuries. (Image: Gordon Haws. The ruined Beacon Hill Battery in Essex)

The ruined Beacon Hill Battery has had a long and turbulent history spanning the reign of King Henry VIII to the Cold War. Also known as Beacon Hill Fort, it was built in 1534 to defend the port of Harwich, Essex, but fell into abandonment just 10 years later, despite the fact that its strategic position on a natural promontory overlooking Orwell Haven gave the fortification commanding views out over the estuaries of the rivers Stour and Orwell.

Beacon Hill Battery is an impressive and historically significant ruin, but over the years it’s become a magnet for vandals. It’s also in poor structural condition and should not be entered without permission. According to the East of England Tank Museum website: “The site is rare in that all the aspects of a battery: gun emplacements, radar, fire control, magazines, engine rooms and searchlight emplacements are concentrated within a relatively compact area. The site presents a unique opportunity to display all the aspects of a twentieth century coastal battery in one place.”

(Image: Gordon Haws)

After Henry’s death in 1547 the abandoned fortification was pressed back into service. But by 1625 it had once again fallen out of use. Despite proposals made during the English Civil War and some light construction work in 1665 during the Second Anglo-Dutch War, it wasn’t until 1810 that the 10-gun Harwich Redoubt was constructed at the neglected Beacon Hill Battery and Harwich port was once again protected.

Read Next: 10 Abandoned Wartime Structures Built for the Defence of Britain

In the second half of the 19th century, thanks to the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom, the redoubt received a further upgrade. But two decades later the battery was once again deemed to be out of date and by 1892 a more modern fortification had been built, which endured until the end of the Great War.

According to Subterranean Britannica: “Harwich was in the front line defences during WW1 and Beacon Hill Fort was once again improved with the addition of two 1-pounder automatic guns for anti aircraft defence. During this period the town and surrounding area was designated a Class A fortress capable of withstanding a German attack; the attack however never came.”

(Image: Gordon Haws)

Beacon Hill Fort was demilitarised and sold to the local council at the end of the First World War. Its 4.7 inch guns were removed. As we now know, this move was rather premature, and the UK government clamoured to buy it back in 1940 as an important part of the defence of Britain infrastructure.

Subterranea Britannica writes: “With the further threat of war with Germany in the 1930’s, plans were drawn up to reactivate and rearm the fort but it wasn’t until 1940 that any new works were started with the construction of the Cornwallis Battery which consisted of a twin 6-pounder emplacement with a rangefinder and predictor tower at the rear.”

In 1956, a decade into the Cold War, Beacon Hill Battery was decommissioned and sold for the final time. It is now privately owned and reportedly in a poor state of repair.

The site has many hazards including open shafts and unstable structures. It can be viewed from the perimeter fence and should not be entered without permission.

 
 


 
 
 

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