The New Brighton Fort
When I was a child one of my favourite places to visit was the New Brighton Fort, which is standing to this day, my own children now love to visit it, although it is only open to the public at certain times which do vary considerably. The use of the Fort has changed many times over previous years and the owners also. It has recently been sold and the new owner is going to keep it as a museum and visitor attraction, there was interest from an American buyer who wanted to convert it into a casino, but the then present owner wanted to preserve it. I personally think that unless there is a lot of money spent on it by the new owner that a casino might not have been such a bad idea, at least it would have attracted more people to the fort!
History of the Fort
During the early 1800's the various merchants and others of the area thought the Port of Liverpool should be guarded and when the old perch Rock Light was washed away the authorities thought of the idea of having a fortified lighthouse, or having a fort which would contain a lighthouse. It was finally agreed to have two separate constructions at a meeting held on 25th March 1825.
The foundation stone of the fort reads:
This foundation stone of the Rock Perch Battery, projected by and under the direction of John Sikes Kitson, Esquire, Captain in the Royal Engineers, for the defence of the port was laid on 31st March 1826 by Peter Bourne, Esquire, Mayor of Liverpool in the 7th year of the reign of His Majesty George IV. His Grace, the Duke of Wellington , Master General of the Ordnance.
There is a second foundation stone to be seen, which is well worn with age. It was laid by John Barron, M.P. for Leeds. A notice tells visitors the following information:-
Master General and Board Ordnances Perch Rock Battery
Estimate £27,065/0/8 Actual Cost £26,965/0/8
Commencement 31st March 1826
Completed 30th April 1829
Captain Kitson R.E.
Construction of the Fort
The fort covers about 4,000 square yards and is constructed of mainly red sandstone which came largely from the Runcorn Quarries, it was floated down the Mersey and unloaded when the tide was out. Because the stone was soft it had to be left to be weathered.
The walls were originally 24 feet and 29 feet high, but these,in some cases, were heightened to almost 32 feet, facing the river side and the towers 40 feet high.
The fort had a slipway with three arches with drawbridge and a Tuscan portal bearing the Coat of Arms and the words "Fort Perch Rock". It was cut off at high tides from the mainland. The fort built on what was known as Black Rock, stood guard at the mouth of the river, shipping passing 950 yards from the battery.
The fort was armed with eighteen guns, of which sixteen were 32 pounders, mounted on platforms. Six were placed on the west front, two on the east and four on the north. Single guns were placed in the towers and along the angles. There were two small guns facing the causeway. There was accommodation for 100 men, with officers' quarters and kitchen. There were also storerooms and Magazine in the centre of the courtyard at a sunken level, with a hand-hiost for lifting the ammunition.
Early Years of the Fort 1829 - 1890
In the early years, the guns were smooth-bore cannon and the balls had to be heated in a furnace until they were red hot, then shipped to the guns for firing. The idea being when they scored a direct hit they would set the enemy ship alight and set off their powder.
The fort would have a practice from time to time, when the local fishermen would gather the cannon balls and return them to the fort, receiving payment for them. The fort was nicknamed the "Little Gibraltar of the Mersey".
As the Rock Channel slowly became silted, the larger ships ceased to use it and it became necessary to equip the battery with larger guns capable of reaching the range. 64 pounders were installed as a result and these were mounted in granite.
The old 32 pounders were kept to guard the Rock Channel which was still being used by the smaller ships.
Soldiers of the fort
The 4th Cheshire Company o Artillery Volunteers was established after holding an open meeting, to set up a local corp. On the 31st January, 1860 the New Brighton Company was started and it was not long before the had 60 men under the command of Captain Henry D. Grey and his staff. Their uniform was dark blue with white facings and in full dress they wore a busby.
At a later date, the corps became known as the 1st Cheshire and Caernarvon Artillery then, soon after the turn of the century, they joined with the 1st Lancashire Artillery Volunteers, forming the Lancashire and Cheshire Heavy Brigade.
The M.O. at the Fort was Dr. J. W. Lloyd whose son, Selwin, became Foreign Secretary. In the Second World War the unit became the 420 Coast Regiment, until they were disbanded in November, 1960.
When the Royal Artillery was stationed at the fort, there were three officers and 101 men. In 1943 there were two officers and 28 men, and finally one officer and 8 men, as a maintenance unit in April 1944. After the war, it had one officer, one master-gunner and two other ranks. Whilst the territorials were there, they had one officer and 28 men. The Home Guard also had a spell there.
Later Years 1890 - 1920
The fort controlled the Mersey Division Submarine Miners in the late 1800's. They used to lay mines both both at sea and on land. Some of the men employed in the task were members of the Wallasey Ferries.
In 1893 the battery was dismantled and the guns returned to Ordnance, the following year two 4.7" Quick Firing guns were delivered but due to a change of plans, as regards a second fort being built, the were installed at Seaforth Battery on the opposite side of the river. Perch Rock was to have three 6" guns installed. At the same time the Royal Engineers took over the fort and re-modelling was commenced.
The parade yard was no longer needed, as the infantry had left in 1858. It was partly filled in with sand and rocks from the beach and covered. The pits were constructed for the naval guns, which were mounted away from the walls and these were lowered so the guns could have a close range of 150 yards, Electricity was available from a new engine-room.
The maximum machine guns at the fort were installed in May 1893. The 6" guns arrived in December 1897, but it was not until March 1899 that they were fully installed and ready for action. Some ten years later, between 1909 and 1910, further alterations were carried out and Mark VII guns were installed. When these were brought to the Fort, the drawbridge was strengthened to allow for the extra load.
Over the next few years, search-light towers and an observation tower were built.
The First World War
At the outbreak of the First World War, the war office decided to remove two of the 6" guns, one of which was later returned in 1923. Finally the armament of the fort was two 6" guns and two machine-guns, which remained until 1954. The drawbridge was removed in 1935.
The Second World War
The modern concrete tower was used to house the Radar which was added in 1941, but this was not the only modern invention at the fort for, as early as 1895, the range-finder system operated with a lens in either tower. They could determine the distance, in a way similar to that in a non-reflex miniature camera.
During the Second World War, the fort was made to appear as a sort of tea-garden from the air. The letters TEAS were painted on the roof of one of the buildings and the outer portion was painted green, to give the effect of a lawn.
The Fort in Action!
In War time the fort went into action only twice in its entire history.
The first was on the outbreak of the First World War, when a round was fired across the bow of an approaching Norwegian ship under sail, which failed to obey a signal from the fort. It was at the time when the Territorials were at the fort, under the command of Major Charles Luga, who was a local dentist. He ordered a warning shot, which was way off the mark, as the gun was elevated too much. It landed in Crosby on the opposite side of the mouth of the river. They fired again, only to hit the bow of an Allen Liner at anchor! The first shell landed in the sandhills and was found by a resident, who took it to the Seaforth Battery, where the officer placed it in the Mess Room, with the words "A present from New Brighton". The Captain of the Norwegian ship thought they were just having a bit of fun. He did not know that War had been declared.
The second occasion the fort went into action was again on the outbreak of war, on September 1939, a fishing-smack came up the Rock channel which had been closed. Colonel Charles Cocks the Battery Commander ordered two shots to be fired across her bows from No. 2 gun. The owner of the fishing-smack was ordered to pay £25 for each round.
Sale of the Fort
The fort was dismantled in 1954, a caretaker appointed and 1958 it was put up for sale, having been offered to both Liverpool and Wallasey Corporations. It was sold by auction in 1958 for £4000. It was used for a number of years as a sort of pleasure centre, but the council objected and after the storms of 1975, it was again put on the market, the next owner with the help of the Manpower Services Commission, restored it to something like its original 1826 design, removing tons of sand from the old parade ground, and made the Magazine into a museum of the War Plane Wreck Investigation Group.
Sold yet again in 1997, we await the new owners ideas for the fort!