My home town of Harwich on the East coast of England for more than 40 years. It is a place steeped in history and full of hidden gems. People often ask me about the place I was born and sometimes it's just easier to write about it...
The Harwich Society - Harwich, Essex, UK.
The Harwich Society was founded in 1969 to help preserve the ancient seaport of Harwich.
It has a membership of over 2,000 in a town of 15,000 population.
The Harwich Redoubt
On reaching the entrance to this historic local gem, the first thing that strikes you is what an unlikely location for a Napoleonic fort, surrounded by a network of houses, gardens and allotments. That is until you have completed the steep uphill walk and arrive at a set of large, imposing, black wrought iron gates. At this point, it becomes immediately apparent of the fort’s commanding position, looking directly over the harbour and two connecting rivers. The fort’s elevated position is re-enforced by a wind that seems to blow from every direction.
Crossing a large, extremely deep dry moat, your first impression is of the fort’s completeness and actual scale. Built effectively in a hole on the top of a hill, you are completely unaware of its true size, measuring some 200 feet in diameter. Built in 1808, supposedly with the help of French prisoners of war you are left wondering about the difficulties and human hardship that such a construction project would have presented.
As you proceed to walk the circumference of the fort, impressive varieties of black cannon greet you at regular intervals. Spearing its way boldly out to sea, the metallic black of the cannon against the white stone emplacement leaves you in no doubt as to its destructive purpose. Although positioned for their military benefit, each gun emplacement affords you magnificent views over the surrounding estuary and harbour.
On completing your walk around the outer wall, instinctively the inner circle of this impressive building draws you in. The elevated vantage point of this position allows you to admire the symmetrical layout of the inner buildings. Each building joined in a seamless line, decorated only by a functional, unassuming door and windows, adding to the overall military flavour. A circular green canvass of well cut grass is the parade ground and backdrop for a large black metal grill, the fort’s drinking well and only structure within the inner circle. A solitary man walks across the parade ground and as he reaches the centre, a long shadow emanates from his feet, for a moment the building’s purpose is lost and only a giant sundial exists.
Reaching the parade ground and lower buildings is via a narrow poorly illuminated staircase, intermittently pierced with white light from small holes that connect to the dry moat on the outside. Greeting you at the bottom of the stairs is a damp musky smell, which is to be a familiar companion at this lower level. In a strange way, the smell seems to belong in this environment, adding to the visitor’s authenticity and experience.
The parade ground offers some welcome fresh air and a chance to observe the fort from a completely different perspective: neat, tidy and a little claustrophobic. Unlike the gun emplacements of the upper outer circle, one feels trapped with a sense of insecurity. As your eyes scan the buildings from within the circle, helpfully each is marked with a small blue plaque above the door, denoting what its original use once was. A hospital, a kitchen, barracks, the prison block and numerous rooms for ammunition storage now house various military exhibits, a museum of local history and a film show covering the history and building of the Harwich Redoubt.
This historic fort is truly a testament to its original inhabitants and those who have painstakingly restored it over more than twenty years. Those looking to experience or understand military life during the Napoleonic war must visit the Harwich Redoubt.