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Fort Elson was constructed between
1858 and 1860 as one of the Gosport land attack defence systems. It is
built on an irregular hexagonal plan form and is the most northern fort in
this line. It is currently the oldest of the remaining forts as Gomer,
situated to its extreme south has now been demolished. The ground between
these two forts was later covered by Fort Brockhurst, Rowner and Grange
which are of a more complete design.
Fort Elson is not an advanced design as the later forts but was updated
following Fergusson's report on the construction of Gomer in 1856 which
detailed a scarp slip. At Elson the scarp was constructed differently
using internal brick arches resting against the scarp wall firing loops
forming vaulting under the ramparts. This method of construction is known
as 'Escarp en descharge' and was adopted for the later forts. The fire
power of Fort Elson was also uprated in 1860 following a further report
when Haxo casemates were placed on the southern flank as this was seen as
its most vulnerable area.
The moat/ditch which runs around the fort was intended to be dry but was
connected via a defensible sluice (external to the fort) to the sea and
could be flooded if necessary. Fort Elson is a Scheduled Monument, No.
427. The precise date at which it was scheduled is unclear but the
statement reads as follows: An irregular hexagonal fort circa 1889 (a more
accurate date is 1859), part of the mid nineteenth century defence work
protecting Portsmouth from land attack'
In 1994 a detailed Strategic Proposal for
Fort Elson was submitted, outlining 4 possible courses of action regarding
the future of the structure, ranging from complete renovation to
controlled ruination. It would appear that the latter has been chosen, and
I have included the proposals here:
Option 4 proposes controlled ruination that is to allow
the fort to deteriorate under a controlled and planned manner ensuring
adequate records and safety aspects are addressed.
The precise strategy of Option 4.00 is dealt with later but below are the
main reasons for prosing this option.
Fort Elson is situated within the
heart of RNAD Gosport and within a restricted explosive area.
RNAD Gosport has a long term future as a military establishment and
therefore access by the public would be impracticable. The present
condition as described in detail in Section 3.00 can only be described as
derelict in most parts with areas of heavy ground subsidence, extensive
tree and vegetation growth and many areas of dangerous/collapsed
The plan of Fort Elson with its small rooms and restrictive internal
access, means that the spaces within have little potential use for the MoD
making reinstatement an expensive process with little yield in return. Any
reinstatement, eg that detailed in Options 2.00 and 3.00, is inordinately
expensive as the present condition is so poor.
The proposed strategy for controlled
ruination is as follows:
a) The vegetation is to be cut back from key features such as expense
magazines, ramparts, Haxo casemates etc to allow full assessment of their
present deteriorated condition and necessary recording to take place in
safety. A detailed health and safety assessment is to be carried out
highlighting those areas of potential danger to the recording team and MoD
personnel. It would also recommend expedient methods necessary to
eliminate these risks and ensure that it presents no further health and
d) The above health and safety and structural survey
would enable a planned programme of ruination to
be set up. This would obviously need updating but would serve as a basis
from which the MoD could work and plan.
e) Recording. This is vitally important and should be carried out at
two levels ‑
a) Detailed recording of key features such as Cavalier,
Carnot wall, Moncrieff position and Entrance, etc,
entailing measured drawings and photographs.
b) More general recording of the fort assessing accuracy of
existing drawings and detailing any variations,
alterations and additions. Therefore preparing a record of the fort for
archiving. The drawing work would only be supplemental with a full
photographic record being taken.
All recording levels and the extent would have to be established with
English Heritage, Department of National Heritage and
The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England.
We would expect that The Royal Commission would request at least 'Level
3' recording which is outlined in brief below:
Level 3 record is fully analytical, and will comprise an introductory
written description followed by a systematic account of the building's
origins, development and use. The record will include an account of the
evidence on which the analysis has been based, allowing the validity of
the record to be re‑examined. It will also include all visual records that
may be required to illustrate the building's appearance and structure and
to support an historical analysis. The
information contained in the record will for the most part have been
obtained through an examination of the building itself, without extensive
use of other sources, and the record will not normally discuss at any
length the building's broader stylistic or historical context and
importance. It may, however, form part of an extended survey of a number
of buildings which will aim at an overall synthesis, such as a thematic or
regional publication, when the use of additional source material may be
necessary as well as a broader historical and architectural discussion of
the buildings as a group.
Areas of consideration
1) As detailed in Section 2.00 Fort Elson is a Scheduled Monument and as
such requires a degree of care which has been lacking in the past. For
private landlords there is an obligation to reinstate but the MoD are
still Crown exempt and strictly this does not apply. However, the MoD have
standing orders which confirm its commitment to all current legislation.
2) Clearance/consultation for controlled ruination should be sought from
the Department of National Heritage and without such it would be
inadvisable to proceed.
3) It would also be strongly recommended that consultation with English
Heritage, Hampshire and Gosport Councils and other interested parties such
as the Palmerston Society be undertaken.
4) If the path of controlled ruination is followed then thought should be
given to the potential use of reclaimed materials and artifacts which
could be reused on other similar forts.
In addition to Fort Elson being listed, it also contains some key features
only found on one other of the forts ‑ Gomer. Gomer is now demolished and
this therefore leaves Elson as the only remaining fort. It is also the
oldest of the remaining forts, a factor which needs careful consideration.
a) Removes potential Health & Safety risks b) Most cost effective option
considering Property Manager's limited
c) Controls present ruination and allows for recording and salvage
of materials, as
opposed to uncontrolled collapse.
d) Appears most practical option considering present condition,
little accommodation use if reinstated and no public access.
e) Little long term financial commitment.
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