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Hurst Castle

Not to be confused with Hearst Castle, a resort built by wealthy newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst.
Hurst Castle
Hurst Point, Milford on Sea, Hampshire, England
Hurst Castle is located in Hampshire
Hurst Castle
Type Device Fort
Site information
Owner English Heritage
Open to
the public
Condition Survives with many later modifications
Site history
Built 1541 – 1544
Materials Stone, Brick

Hurst Castle in Hampshire on the south coast of England is one of Henry VIII's Device Forts, built at the end of a long shingle spit at the west end of the Solent to guard the approaches to Southampton. Hurst Castle was sited at the narrow entrance to the Solent where the ebb and flow of the tides creates strong currents, putting would-be invaders at its mercy. Also known as a Henrician Castle, Hurst was built as part of Henry's chain of coastal defences to protect England during the turbulent times of his reign.

Charles I was imprisoned here in 1648 before being taken to London to his trial and execution. The fort was modified throughout the 19th century, and two large wing batteries were built to house heavy guns. It was fortified again in World War II and then decommissioned. It is now owned by English Heritage and is open to the public.


  • History 1
    • 18th century 1.1
    • 19th century 1.2
    • 20th century 1.3
  • Lighthouses 2
  • Geography 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


Hurst Castle is a fort consisting of a circular stone tower strengthened by semicircular bastions of later dates.[1] It was erected by

  • Hurst Castle - official site, details of opening times, the ferries, history, etc.
  • English Heritage page about Hurst Castle
  • Read a detailed historical record on Hurst Castle
  • Photographs and Information from Strolling Guides
  • BBC 360 image
  • Fort data sheet
  • Hurst Castle Solar Powered GSM Web Camera

External links

  • Goad, J. G. (1990). Hurst Castle, Hampshire. London: English Heritage (second edition). ISBN 1-85074-053-4
  • Colvin, H. M. (ed) (1982). The History of the King's Works, Vol. IV, 1485–1600, Part II.
  • Harrington, Peter (2007). The Castles of Henry VIII. Oxford: Osprey. ISBN 978-1-84603-130-4
  • Morley, B. M. (1976). Henry VIII and the Development of Coastal Defence. London: H.M. Stationery Office. ISBN 0-11-670777-1

Further reading

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Victoria County History of Hampshire (1911): Hordle
  2. ^ a b James, Jude (1986). Hurst Castle An Illustrated history. Stanbridge: Dovecote Press. pp. 14–15.  
  3. ^ a b John Anthony Williams, (1968), Catholic recusancy in Wiltshire, 1660-1791, page 50. Catholic Record Society
  4. ^ John Anthony Williams, (1968), Catholic recusancy in Wiltshire, 1660-1791, page 51. Catholic Record Society
  5. ^ Geoffrey Morley, (1994), The smuggling war: the Government's fight against smuggling in the 18th and 19th centuries. page 98
  6. ^ Guide-Book: Southern England - Southampton Water to Milford on Sea, Smuggler's Britain, retrieved 25 September 2012
  7. ^ a b Bernard Lowry, (2008), Discovering Fortifications: From the Tudors to the Cold War, page 81. Osprey
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Hurst Castle, Pastscape, retrieved 13 April 2012
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Hurst Battery, Pastscape, retrieved 13 April 2012
  10. ^ a b Lighthouses,, retrieved 23 July 2012
  11. ^ a b c d Hurst Spit - Barrier Beach of the West Solent, Geology of the Wessex Coast. Retrieved: 17 April 2012


See also

Hurst Castle as seen from the east of Hurst Spit.

Today, the castle can be accessed on foot along the shingle spit from the nearby village of Milford on Sea or by frequent ferry service from Keyhaven.

Hurst Spit is a barrier beach which shelters an area of saltmarsh and mud flats known as Keyhaven and Pennington marshes.[11] The spit formed from loose flint pebbles which had been eroded from the cliffs further west.[11] Modern sea defences along this stretch of coast have reduced the natural supply of pebbles to the extent that in 1989 the spit was so weakened that it was danger of being permanently breached.[11] A stabilisation scheme which took place in 1996-7 rebuilt the shingle bank using dredged shingle.[11] The distance across the Solent to the Isle of Wight is only three-quarters of a mile, but the sea between is very deep and the tide rushes past with great force.[1]


These lighthouses were dismantled and replaced by two new lighthouses built in the 1860s.[8] The first was the "Low Light" built into the rear wall of the west wing of the castle, which was superseded by the adjacent iron lighthouse in 1911.[8] The second lighthouse was the "High Light" – the free standing Hurst Point Lighthouse built on the end of Hurst Spit between 1865 and 1867.[8]

The first lighthouse at Hurst was the Hurst Tower, sited to the south west of Hurst Castle, and lit for the first time on 29 September 1786.[10] An additional and higher light - the High Lighthouse - was constructed in 1812.[10]


Low lighthouses within the west wing of Hurst Castle

The castle is now owned by English Heritage and is open to the public.

The fort was recommissioned again for World War II.[9] By 1941 it was armed with two 12-pounder and two 6-pounder quick-firing guns.[9] Soldiers were stationed at Hurst Castle, and wall paintings have been found in the west wing battery which was used as a theatre.[8] By 1947 the battery was equipped only with two 6-pounder guns.[9]

By December 1902 the battery was armed with three 12-pounder and three 6-pounder quick-firing guns and ten 12.5-inch and fifteen 10-inch rifle muzzle-loading (RML) weapons.[9] In 1905 the RML and 6-pounder guns were removed from the armament.[9] The battery was closed in 1928,[9] but the castle was retained by the War Office until 1933 and then handed over to the Ministry of Works.[8]

20th century

The fort's tower was rebuilt around 1805/6,[8] when it was vaulted to support six 24-pounder guns,[7] during the Napoleonic Wars. In the 1850s the dock was built as well as the west battery.[8] Recommendations by the 1859 Royal Commission report,[9] led to the castle being refortified, and two large wing batteries were built to house 30 heavy guns.[8] In 1873 a new east wing was built and a new entrance to the castle was driven through the northeast bastion.[8] Around 1889 the magazine roof was reinforced with more concrete; the staircases and rooms within the tower were rebuilt; and the tower roof was adapted for modern gun mountings.[8] A coastal battery was built in 1893.[8]

Interior of Hurst Castle showing the 19th century east wing

19th century

By the latter 18th century, Hurst Castle had become neglected to such an extent that it was being used as a rendezvous for smugglers led by a notorious character by the name of John Streeter.[5] William Arnold, Collector of Customs at Cowes, considered it necessary in 1783 to request "a King's cutter also in Hurst Road ... to keep off the large cutters from landing their goods for three or four days at a time ... to ruin the Trade, because the expense of keeping a large number of men and horses collected together waiting the arrival of goods must materially diminish the profits arising from their sale."[6] At the end of the 18th century, the first steps to refortification were begun, when earth-protected gun batteries were added.[7]

On 8 May 1700 the Privy Council ordered that Hurst Castle be used as a prison for priests convicted of fostering the growth of Catholicism ("popery").[3] On 26 September a Franciscan, Father Paul Atkinson, was convicted and sent to Hurst where he remained nearly 30 years, before dying in 1729.[3] Atkinson seems to have been the only priest ever sent to Hurst, although the Privy Council Register entry for 1719 claims that another priest, Anthony de la Porte, was, at least, supposed to have been sent to Hurst Castle.[4]

Plan of the castle

18th century

In the year following the Restoration Colonel Eyre lost his post, and Edward Strange was appointed captain, the office of governor being allowed to lapse.[1] In January 1661 Charles II ordered the garrison to be disbanded and an estimate made of the expense of demolishing the castle; the latter idea was, however, speedily dropped, and five months later, although the forces were paid off, arrangements were made for additions involving an increase in the annual expenditure.[1] In 1666 it was decided that the castle should be garrisoned by men from Sir Robert Holmes' company on the Isle of Wight.[1] This was not done until 1671 owing to the state of disrepair in which the castle was. Sir Robert, who was governor of the Island, reported that there was scarcely a gun mounted and no stores or provisions in the castle; nothing, however, was done, and three years later he wrote complaining that there was hardly a room not fallen in and into which the rain did not come. Repairs were then taken in hand and the garrison established, Captain Strange becoming governor.[1] In 1675 a master gunner and three other gunners were added to the establishment, there being then nearly thirty guns mounted at the castle. In the same year Sir John Holmes petitioned for leave to purchase the governorship, and this being granted him he was appointed to the post.[1] Captain Roach, who was captain of the castle at this time, having murdered a certain Lieutenant Newman, fled to Yarmouth, and borrowing a black cloak took boat to Hurst, where he was arrested.[1] In 1689 Henry Holmes was appointed to the captaincy.[1]

Hurst Castle drawn in 1862


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