Important historic buildings of the Solent

Posted on 22 Aug 2005

In this second article of an occasional series about different faces of the Solent (the first was Solent Birds) the focus will be on important and historic buildings of The Solent and its shores.

For ease of orientation the area will be divided into four sections: The West Solent between Hurst Castle and Southampton Water; The East Solent between Southampton Water and Selsey Bill; The Isle of Wight shoreline; Structures in the sea.

The aim will be to highlight these buildings with a short description of each, to illustrate the rich architectural heritage of the area.

West Solent

The Solent Way begins with Hurst Castle.

Hurst Castle: This is a Tudor Castle built by Henry VIII in the 16th century, as protection against the threat from the French. It consists of a 12-sided central tower with 3 rounded bastions. It is owned by English Heritage and is open to the public.

Pylewell Park: This is a late Georgian stucco mansion, just East of the Lymington River, with grounds running down to The Solent. It was initially held by the notable Catholic Weld family, as a second home to Lulworth Castle. It is now the private home of the Lord Teynham and his family.

Palace House Beaulieu: Though strictly not on the Solent shore, it is close the banks of the Beaulieu River and is accessible to shallow drafted boats at high water. Palace House was built in 1870, but the Abbey Church dates from the 13th century. The entire Beaulieu Estate, the home of Lord Montagu, includes the villages of Buckler”s Hard and Beaulieu, 20 farms/smallholdings, the river bed, and covers 8,000 acres, of which 2,000 are woodland.

Luttrell’s Tower: This is an interesting 18th century folly, which stands on top of the cliff, 1/2 mile West of Hillhead. It was here that Marconi carried out some of his first transmissions to the Isle of Wight.

Calshot Castle: This is a circular blockhouse with a 3 storey central keep, erected by Henry VIII in 1540 and is situated on land at the end of Calshot Spit.

East Solent

The Solent Way continues across Southampton Water.

Wool House: This is an imposing medieval building on the North West of the Town Quay in Southampton. It now houses the Maritime Museum, which tells the story of Southampton’s dockside and the ships that used it.

Mayflower Monument: This is a needle shaped monument to the West of the Wool House, which records the fact that religious dissenters set sail for the New World in 1620.

Tudor House Museum: This is a 15th century grand building situated on Bugle Street near the Town Quay. It houses an impressive display of local treasures.

St Michael’s Church: This is situated opposite the Tudor House Museum. It was built in the 12th century while the spire dates from 1732.

Netley Castle: This is a stone Tudor style mansion that was built in the 1880s. It stands on the site of an original fort, built at the time of Hurst Castle. It has been a convalescent home since the war.

Royal Thames Yacht Club: This, the oldest yacht club in England, is situated at Warsash. The Buckingham Palace Household YC also uses it.

Fort Gillkicker: This perches on the shoreline at Gillkicker Point. It was built in 1859 as one of Lord Palmerston’s 20 land forts and 4 sea forts, to render Portsmouth impregnable; ‘Palmerston’s Follies’. It now houses a Royal Naval observation post.

Portsmouth Cathedral: This is situated in Old Portsmouth, close to the harbour wall. It dates back to a Norman Chuch built in the 1180s and has strong links with the Royal Navy.

The Square and Round Towers of Portsmouth Harbour Wall: These fine old stone marks date from 1418, built to defend the old naval harbour.

Clarence Pier Southsea: This was built in 1861 to enhance the pleasures of the upper middle classes with their bathing machines in Victorian times.

Southsea Castle: This castle dates from 1544, although the arms over the main entrance are those of Charles II, who had the fort strengthened. It now houses the D-Day Museum, opened 40 years after the Normandy Landings.

Fort Cumberland: This is the finest example of an 18th century defence work, with its bastions arranged in the shape of a five-pointed star. It is situated between Portsea Island and Langstone Harbour.

The Isle of Wight

The Solent heritage tour now crosses to the North Island shore, starting in the West.

The Needles Battery Emplacement: This was built in 1861 and equipped with 7 inch Armstrong rifled breechloaders, as defence against the French and Germans. It was regularly upgraded, until finally after a 15-year spell testing the British space rocket, Black Knight, it was closed in 1971. It was purchased by the National Trust in 1975 and full restoration completed in 1981. It is now open to the public.

Forts Albert and Victoria: These battlements were built between 1852 and 1855. Albert has been converted to flats and Victoria is part of the Fort Victoria Entertainment Park.

Yarmouth Castle: This was built in 1545 by Henry VIII and had a square keep and three sides facing the sea. It was still in use up to 1870 and is now used as a Coastguard’s Lookout.

Cowes Castle: This is yet another of Henry VIII defences against the French, built in 1539. It is now the home of the Royal Yacht Squadron and its cannon is only fired at five-minute intervals to start yacht races.

Norris Castle: This grand house was built in 1790 with the appearance of a castle but not the strength. It is on the site of the original East Cowes Castle.

Osborne House: Osborne House is situated 1 mile south east of Cowes and 1/2 mile from the Solent shore. The house was purchased by Queen Victoria in 1845. Prince Albert supervised the re-building of the house as an Italianate Villa and it became the favourite home of the Royal Couple. They both died there, Albert in 1861 and Victoria in 1901, since when it has changed little. It stands in a thousand acres of grounds and is now a national treasure open to the general public and probably the Isle of Wight’s most popular tourist attraction.

The Solent Waters

The heritage tour concludes by entering the sea.

The Spithead Forts: These forts were built in the 1860s to protect Portsmouth from sea bombardment. Horse Sands, No Man’s Land and St Helens Forts were built between 1865 and 1880, and Spitbank was started 2 years later. Horse Sands and No Man’s Land are identical at 200 feet in diameter and fully armour plated. The other two are slightly smaller at 150 feet with iron plating on the front only. The foundations are 20-30 feet under the water on sandbanks. Spitbank is open from April to October. The other three are privately owned.

The Nab Tower: This unusual looking structure, a few miles to the South East of Bembridge, started life during the first world war as an antisubmarine defence system. However when the armistice was signed in 1918, it was not fully completed. So it was decided to use the 92 feet tall metal cylinder (costing 1m) sitting on a concrete raft, to replace a lightship marking the Nab Rock. The concrete raft (189ft × 150ft) was flooded and sunk on a shingle bank near the Nab Rock. It used to be manned by a crew of 4 but is now fully automated.

Thus it can be seen what an interesting and varied range of historic buildings are to be found in the Solent area. Not surprisingly most of these are related to the defence of our Royal Naval Base at Portsmouth. This heritage is just one of the aspects of the Solent which The Solent Protection Society seeks to protect and preserve.