More recently it was leased to the Coalhouse Fort Project, a voluntary and charitable organisation, which has rescued the building from total dereliction, allowing it to be opened to the public.
But urgent repairs are now needed to the roof of the barrack block which forms the entrance to the site and English Heritage have stepped in to secure its future.
“Coalhouse Fort is an outstanding example of a Royal Commission fort built in the 19th century,” said Deborah Priddy, Ancient Monuments Inspector for English Heritage in the East of England. “It is critical that we do this work because the range forms the only entrance to the fort which is used by everybody coming into the site.”
There are many examples of such forts in the UK, but over the years they have been demolished or radically altered. Although some modifications have been made to Coalhouse to take more modern armament, it retains much of its original architectural form.
“The grant is a major boost and an important impetus to the long term aims of the volunteers to restore and revitalise the fort which served as a Thames coastal defence between 1539 and 1946,” said Jonathan Catton, Heritage and Museum officer, Thurrock Unitary Council.
“It is a huge building with over 300 rooms and structures, set in a unique Thames-side park with walks to other associated defences including gun batteries, mine field control room and a radar tower. The volunteers have worked for 25 years raising money, awareness and creating access opportunities for the local community to discover the fort’s role and the garrisons that served in it over various conflicts.
“The partnership between English Heritage, Thurrock Council and The Coalhouse Fort Project to replace the barrack roof gives strength and purpose to the fundraising initiative to restore the building to something resembling its original condition when it provided the first line defence of London.”
A visit to the Fort provides a fascinating family day out giving an insight into the history of the area, the defence of London through the ages and fine exhibits of militaria and aviation. There is also a Riverside walk, with an abundance of wildlife in their natural habitats and close-up views of the river traffic – both commercial and recreational – that uses the Thames each day.
Coalhouse Fort is open to the public on the last Sunday of each month and Bank Holidays from March until November. There are also events and open days throughout the year. For more information, tel 01375 844203 or visit the website on www.coalhousefort.co.uk
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