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History of the fort

A Defence With Royal Commission

Bovisand Bay has a long and illustrious defensive history and has been a site of strategic importance since the 16th-century. During the 1500s, the Royal Navy initially used the area as an off-shore anchorage. With a gun battery positioned on the high ground of Staddon Point, the ships were defended while replenishing their supplies.

After Staddon Point had been rebuilt in the early 19th-century, it was the introduction of the breakwater in 1841 that led to a series of new defensive Palmerston forts being built around The Sound, each providing essential wartime fortification to the exposed naval base in Plymouth.

Completed in 1847, the tiered, three-storey, Staddon Heights Battery featured a lower-level gun battery to provide cover for the eastern channel into The Sound, as well as barracks on the upper levels. Decommissioned in 1870, the Battery was used exclusively as barracks after the introduction of the newly-built Fort Bovisand a year earlier.

Originally built as an outcome of the Royal Commission of the Defence of the United Kingdom of 1860, Fort Bovisand featured a single storey of 23 iron-shielded, granite casemates housing 22 9” Rifled Muzzle Loader (RML) guns and one single, 10” RML. Specifically designed, the casemates topped an underground network of tunnels for the protection of men and the safe storage of artillery ammunition.

To combat the development of torpedo boats in the late 19th-century, Staddon Heights Battery saw an upgrade to armaments with newer, quick-firing guns installed alongside the original battery. Meanwhile, the casemates were used as a control and maintenance centre for a minefield in operation between Bovisand Bay and the Breakwater.

During WWII, the casemates were re-armed with the addition of two quick-firing guns on its roof, with a further Bofor anti-aircraft gun added in 1943. Staddon Heights was also upgraded to include anti-aircraft guns. 

After the war, all weapons were removed, but it wasn’t until 1956 that Fort Bovisand was officially decommissioned by the Ministry of Defence. The site fell into neglect and was largely forgotten until 1970 when it was leased to the School of Nautical Archaeology. After clearance and refurbishment, a commercial diving school and scuba diving centre opened in 1972. And, though run by different businesses over the years, a diving centre has been at the site ever since.

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