Enfin une victoire facile!
Whilst part of its eastern wall recently collapsed into the Solent, in its day Hurst Castle was an important deterrent to invasion
Introductory note: This week Hugh and Mark take a look at a famous local landmark which has recently been in the news after it suffered a partial collapse.
We do hope that it will soon be repaired and ready for visitors once more. For now let's explore the less well known history of Hurst Castle in Mark and Hugh style and humour and through our own imaginations.
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Hurst Castle, the deterrent of its day
Seen from the land this fort is imposing but not impressively so. However, seen from the sea it a squat menacing affair designed for one purpose: to destroy enemy ships. It is just three quarters of a mile from Hurst to the island and the cannons arranged in this castle were a supreme deterrent; no enemy captain with any sense would ever have dared to cross the narrow gap. The sight of the fort from the sea is a sobering one. It gives the appearance of something very solid, impregnable almost.
So far, so boring
I could go into detail of the history of the fort. How it went through cycles of abandonment and renovation depending on the perceived threat of the time. I could tell you that Charles I was imprisoned there briefly before his execution in 1649. I could even prattle on about the fact that during WW1 and WW2 it served as a look out post or something (stifled yawn). But, with only two loyal readers remaining I won’t take the chance of losing either through utter boredom. Instead, with your permission, I shall concentrate on the time of Henry VIII and the state of the world that, through his persecution of Catholicism, he had created.
This might seem a ridiculous question but can you imagine ever being in fear of invasion? Our wonderful island race has been mercifully untroubled by the threat for a while now; the last time we felt just the tiniest bit concerned was when a certain German interior decorator had ideas above his station. In Tudor times the threat of a vengeful Catholic invasion was very real and in anticipation Henry VIII commissioned forts and defences all along the south coast. Hurst Castle is but one of these defences against an enemy intent on theft. Now, dear reader, you have to say to yourself ‘why’, after all it’s good to be curious. Why would a foreign power pay good money for ships, sailors and cannons to sail to another land? The answer is simple and that is riches; England today is a thriving place full of industry and things were no different in Henry VIII's time. We welcomed then, as we do now, skilled artisans from afar. Idiot idle racists who rail against gifted immigrants that enrich our nation were as stupid then as they are now. The result of this wonderful melting pot of skills, customs and traditions was that our country became wealthy; but wealth attracts envy.
Why should they have what I don’t have?
This, in essence, is the root of all crime. You and I work hard, pay our taxes, save for a rainy day, carefully maintain our homes and care for our children. Not everyone shares the same ideals. Not all nations share the same ideals. Henry VIII knew that other nations craved our riches. History was on his side; on a sleepy Sunday in 1338 a fleet of fifty French ships sailed up to the reclaimed land that is now West Quay and sacked Southampton, the town was largely burned to the ground. Much valuable materiel was taken including wool and the King’s wine. Henry knew that he had to build defences, locals were fully aware and in fact frightened of the risk of invasion and all it entailed. After the invasion of 1338 Southampton built walls to prevent a reoccurrence. Much later in 1539 Henry VIII was rather more proactive. He was a determined and inspirational leader who espoused technology and, particularly, artillery. This was a king who wouldn’t be caught out by the opposition. He wasn’t preparing for a raid; he was preparing to repel an invasion.
The deterrent of its day
When you climb into your warm bed in the evening, do you have pleasant dreams of ponies trotting around the forest or perhaps the swans paddling about at Beaulieu pond? Or do you have nightmares of horn-helmeted axe wielding Vikings striding up Lymington high street, intent on rape and pillage? Of course, it’s the former. There’s more chance of an entertaining evening Covid briefing than an invasion. By contrast, at the time Hurst Castle was built, invasion was a very real prospect. Just imagine looking out across the western Solent and wondering if those sailing vessels were friendly or unfriendly. Imagine you were a wool merchant and that you had a great deal of stock on the premises (which happened to be your home) and also, gold stored in a strong box. Your house and family would be an attractive proposition to raiders. In fact, imagine life with an element of fear, something which is foreign to the vast majority of us in England.
Now imagine the excitement as Henry VIII’s defensive structure becomes real. You take a walk down Hurst Spit in order to witness to the construction of the fort. Block by block, the formidable structure slowly takes shape. Later, the cannons arrive, huge cast iron monsters designed to belch flame, smoke and iron upon the enemy. Then finally, the fort is completed and as you enjoy a lunchtime beer with friends at the Angel Inn, you feel the walls vibrate with the awesome power of the cannons as they carry out gunnery practice, hurling their deadly balls of iron into Hurst Narrows.
You sleep soundly that night.
Some years later
In 1804 a certain vertically challenged individual crowned himself Emperor of France; vain, moi? He then raised a huge amount of money through selling what is now known as Louisiana to the USA and spent the lot in preparing to invade England. Barges of woefully poor design were constructed in order to transport 200,000 fighting men across the channel to invade and take control of England. During a disastrous rehearsal in a choppy sea (his staff advised against the venture) many French souls were lost. Napoleon’s enormous gamble failed. The English were masters of the seas and it was a combination of our control of the channel, the blockading of Boulogne and the poor approach by the French barge designers that foiled his grand plans.
Rest assured though that if the French had managed to get out of Boulogne, they would have met stiff resistance from our local fort.
Poor Boney, poor Josephine.
More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh
If you'd like to read previous articles on diverse subjects written by Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons here they are, click the links embedded in the titles:
Send in the clowns
Food glorious food
The power of good
Old school, new school, young school
Dreaming of holidays
Miracle or monster? Modern communications
RNLI and Lymington Lifeboat
Happy New Year Resolutions and Revolutions
Merry Christmas 2020
What our cars say about us
The litter pickers of the New Forest
A roof over your New Forest head
Richard St Barbe Baker
Our star, our sun, our salt!
To Lymington or Cuba
The Auld Mug
Seeds of success
Moonlit meeting with cetaceans
Trees and what they tell us
Cartography and trig pillars
Pony drifts and pannage in the New Forest
A journey from the New Forest via Lymington
The brilliance - and persistence - of Marconi
Equality in the skies
Bees pollinators par excellence
Cordless home entertainment
The joy of sheds
When the Isle of Wight was just Wight
Pond Life in our Forests
Rufus Stone and Sir Walter Tyrrell
Graffiti through the ages
Freedom of the roads
Watch the birdie
Unstoppable momentum of nature
Socially distanced socialising
Calshot Spit, a curse for mariners...