Landguard Fort, just outside of Felixstowe, has a history spanning over 450 years. It is the site of the last opposed seaborne invasion of England and the first land battle of the Royal Marines. Continuously occupied through both World Wars and up until 1956, it now houses a museum open to visitors to the area.
Landguard Fort, or Langer Fort as it was orginially known, is located on Landguard Peninsula, a piece of land that juts out into the North Sea, southeast of Ipswich, below Felixstowe and across the mouth of the River Orwell from Harwich to the West. Home to a 33 hectare Nature Reserve, it is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, in which rare plants and migrating birds share the land with the significant military fortifications.
The fort was designed to guard the entrance to Harwich. There have been a number of fortifications built on the peninsula over the years, owing to its strategic position. Harwich Harbour has always been the best safe haven for large ships between the rivers Thames and Humber, and the rivers Orwell, Stour and Deben, which stretch several miles inland, were ideal highways for trade and raiders.
Landguard Fort dominated the navigable channel on the northern bank of the river Orwell, whilst the Redoubt at Harwich guarded the harbour entrance along with a large battery at Shotley.
Since 1543, the fort has changed shape and size several times...
1543: Henry VIII had two blockhouses built which rapidly deteriorated and in 1552, the guns were returned to the Tower of London.
1628: A new Fort was built of earth revetted with wood. It was square with a bastion on each corner.
1666: Charles II had a brick wall constructed around the Fort.
1717: A new brick Fort battery was constructed
1744: A new red brick Fort was built in the form of a pentagon, with a bastion at each corner. These walls remain today.
The Battle of Landguard Fort was a battle towards the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, on 2 July 1667, during which 1500 Dutch marines landed at Cottage Point (now Cobbold's Point) and under the command of Colonel Thomas Dolman (an English officer who had served with Cromwell and, like many professional soldiers, had changed sides) attacked the Fort from the landward side. It was intended to clear the way for an attack on the English Royal naval anchorage at Harwich.
After repeated attempts, the Dutch attack was repelled, and as a result the planned attack on Harwich was abandoned. It was one of the last battles of the war in Europe before the Treaty of Breda was signed.
The attack was perhaps most noteworthy for being an early battle honour for both the English and Dutch marines. The Dutch Regiment de Marine had been founded by Michiel de Ruyter in 1665, and had won its first battle honour at Chatham during the attack on the Medway earlier in the year. The garrison of Landguard were provided by the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment, raised in 1664 and one of the earliest precursors of the Royal Marines. The defense of Landguard was their first battle honour and it is recorded as the site of the last opposed invasion or attack of England.
During the Second World War, it was used as one of the balloon launch sites of Operation Outward. This was a project to attack Germany by means of free-flying hydrogen balloons that carried incendiary devices or trailing steel wires (intended to damage power lines.) Between 1942 and 1944, many thousands of balloons were launched.
It would appear that the characters of Landguard’s vast history are not yet ready to be forgotten.
Visitors, as well as local people, have their own experiences of paranormal activity in or around the Fort, the most common being the image of a sailor looking out of the top right window (the side visible from the road). Most reportings were in the 1990s, but occasionally there are still reports of lights at night and being "pushed" whilst visiting the top floors.
A child playing near the empty building once saw a ghostly team of horses pulling a carriage gallop past him. The coach and four entered the fort and vanished, appearing to use a drawbridge that was not actually there
A solitary musketeer was seen several times by soldiers during the Second World War, marching along a rampart. He is said to have been the only defender who lost his life during a Dutch invasion attempt (during which nine or ten Dutchmen were killed) in the distant past.
Reenactors staying at the fort have also heard the cries and foreign whispers of Maria, a Portuguese lady who married the fort’s paymaster sergeant in the mid 18th century. She flung herself from the ramparts to her death after her husband was shot for desertion.
In 1901, because the existing armament of the Fort became obsolete, new batteries were built in front of the Fort facing the sea and river. These were named Left, Right and Darell's Batteries.
For most of the twentieth century, after the main guns were removed, the Fort was used as barrack accommodation, and in 1951, two of the old gun casemates were converted into a control room for ‘cold war’ use.
In 1956 the Coastal Artillery was disbanded and Landguard Fort no longer had a national military purpose. After 10 years of military neglect, the Fort was sealed up and left to quietly disintegrate until the 1980’s when local interest was aroused.
In 1997/8 the Fort was structurally consolidated by English Heritage, into whose care it had been placed, and is maintained and opened to the public on their behalf by the Landguard Fort Trust.
The fort has been structurally consolidated and is open every day from April to the end of October. It is now in the guardianship of English Heritage.
Guided tours and audio tours of the fort are supplemented by an audio-visual presentation of the site’s history, and by guided tours of the outside batteries.
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