Frequently Asked Questions


I am trying to find a list of the Palmerston Forts. I am told that there are 72.

The term Palmerston Fort refers by definition to those forts built at the instigation of Lord Palmerston.
The majority of the post 1860 forts were built under the terms of the Royal Commission and were referred to as the Royal Commission Forts. These were constantly added to and some were removed from the estimates when costs soared. It is therefore not possible to produce a definite list of Palmerston Forts.

For a list fo the Forts referred to under the 1868 report look here:

Royal Commission Forts


I have been told that the forts are connected by tunnels. Is this true?

This is a commonly held belief that has no basis in fact. I have been asked this question regarding the forts of Portsmouth, Plymouth, Milford Haven and Malta. I have even been told, by a man who knows, that there are tunnels connecting Fort Bovisand with the Breakwater Fort at Plymouth, a truly gargantuan task considering it would have to travel deep beneath the sea bed. Concerning a tunnel linking the forts on Portsdown Hill I am often told that the enquirer knows that such a tunnel exists because he has played in it as a child. I can firmly state that none of the Victorian Forts are linked to any other fort, with one possible exception. It was the intention to link the two outworks of Crookhorn and Farlington Redoubts with the main work of Fort Purbrook. There is no evidence that the tunnels were constructed apart from a note on one of the plans of Crookhorn Redoubt that labels the start of a tunnel to Fort Purbrook. Crookhorn Redoubt was never completed and the tunnel was not necessarily built. The redoubt was abandoned and demolished almost as soon as it was started. For more information about the mystery of tunnels try the tunnels website listed on the links page.


Why were the forts known as Palmerston's Follies?

Palmerston was the name of the First Lord of the Treasury who first proposed the building of the forts. He died before they were complete. The term 'Palmerston's Follies' was probably first used in the press, by one of the many opponents of the scheme. The newspapers reported only days after the Royal Commission report had been presented to Parliament in July 1860:
'It is true that only two millions are asked for this year but this sum involves works to the amount of not less than six millions, unless we choose to see the coast dotted with unfinished stoneworks, christened "Palmerston's Follies".

Again in 1862 Mr Cobden on Wasteful expenditure:
Daily Telegraph 3 November 1862
I have no doubt that those great excrescences will be held up in future generations, and pointed at as "Palmerston's Follies".

Those that opposed the forts wanted to put the money into building up the Royal Navy as our first line of defence.

The label continued to be used to describe the forts of Portsmouth, particularly those on Portsdown Hill, which some locals erroneously believed were constructed the wrong way round, and were therefore a folly.


The first reference to 'Palmerston's Folly' was before it was used to describe the forts. It was a term often used in Parliament to deride Palmerston for anything that he did. His response to the China hostilities problem in 1858 was described in the press: The Daily News renews its protest against the hostiilities with China, which it christens and denounces as 'Palmerston's Folly'.


It was also an epithet, used by gunners, to describe the huge mortars produced by Mr. Mallet to bombard Sebastopol, which turned out to be white elephants. The press reported in 1871: The mortar it appears is generally known in gunnery circles by the name of 'Palmerston's Folly'.



My great grandfather was in the army and served in Fort Brockhurst. Can you please tell me when he joined, how long he served, where he was sent after Fort Brockhurst, what his regiment was, when he was discharged, when... what...!!

I deeply regret that I do not have an extensive archive of every Victorian regimental history together with exhaustive lists of the names of every individual soldier. There is no easy way to find out where your ancestor served, especially if he was an enlisted man. One possible line of research is to seek out the regimental archive, provided you know which regiment he served in. Alternatively you could spend some time searching the Public Record Office at Kew London.

If he was an Officer you could search the Army Lists. Portsmouth City Library has a good range of these. You will at least need to know his full name, rank and preferably his regiment. I have been asked for exhaustive information about a particular soldier with the only known fact being his name and the supposition that he served somewhere in the forts. Needless to say I could not help.


For a list of the known regiments that served in the Gosport and Portsmouth forts try the RGA page.

If you want to place a request for information then go here: Requests Page.


Popular Misconceptions


The forts on Portsdown Hill were built facing the wrong way.

No they were not. They are part of a ring fortress designed to protect Portsmouth and its dockyard. The forts on Portsdown were there to prevent an enemy gaining a foothold on the hill and using it to shell the harbour. They were designed to repel an enemy assault force attacking from the north having perhaps landed further up the coast and the armament of thse forts therefore needs to face outwards from the defended area towards the north, north east and north west.


The forts were a folly and a waste of money as they never fired a shot in anger.

They served a valuable purpose as a deterent. As such it could be argued that they prevented an invasion. Far from being a folly they were considered by the greatest military leaders of the time to be the most efficient and formidable method of defence ever to be constructed in the UK. In 1864, a visiting Russian, General, Count Todleben, the engineer responsible for the defences of Sebastopol, inspected the forts of Portsmouth and Plymouth and declared them to be ideally suited to their purpose. He was full of praise for them, offered constructive criticism and was complimentary on the details of the forts themselves.


The forts were never armed and never used.

This idea seems to have originated from the book by Hogg " Coast Defences of England and Wales" where it is often stated.

The forts were all fully armed by 1888. Not a single one was left unarmed unless it was considered to be superfluous to requirements, such as Scoveston Fort at Milford Haven. They served an extremely valuable purpose as barracks for the many regiments moving about the UK and to and from the colonies and far flung corners of the huge British Empire. Many of the forts, particluarly the coast defence forts and batteries, were re-armed and saw active service through both wars and on to 1956 when coast defence was finally abolished.