Lord Palmerston and the Fortification of the U.K.



Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston born 20 October 1784 died 18 October 1865. (Wikipedia)


Lord PalmerstonPalmerston served two periods as 'First Lord of the Treasury' of England, in 1861 and 1865.

During his first tenure a French intervention in Italy caused an invasion scare. Palmerston responded by setting up The Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom, reporting in 1860. Its recommendations were responsible for the most ambitious and expensive defence building programme that the UK had ever contemplated, sometimes referred to as The Palmerston Forts. The report of the 1860 Commission laid before Parliament caused the Fortifications (provisions for Expenses) Act to be passed which enabled a Loan to be raised to pay for the fortifications. The finance was transferred from the Army Estimates to the Loan which was to be floated by the Government. The expenditure under the loan indirectly caused the resignation of Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


In 1888 the Imperial Defence Loan was raised to complete the defences of the U.K.. In 1890 under the Barracks Act the Army was given another £3 million to provide accommodation for the soldiers and more money was asked for to upgrade the fortifications to take the new fire control equipment and new concrete gun emplacements necessary for improved guns and their mountings. Members of Parliament demanded an accounting of the money expended so far which revealed that £12,154,416 had been spent on works and another £5,484,810 had been expended on the guns to arm them. Parliament had originally baulked at the estimates of £11 million and now they found that £17 million had been spent and still the defences were not complete.


Palmerston's Follies.

This is a term that was applied to the forts on Portsdown Hill. The exact first use of the term is unknown but it is probable that the people of Portsmouth looked at the forts on Portsdown and thought that they had been built the wrong way round. The guns face inland rather than out to sea towards France, the expected source of an invasion. Poor Palmerston. To use this derogatory term for all Victorian forts, which is now done with great enthusiasm, even by modern owners of forts, is wrong. Not all of the forts were Palmerston Forts, and they were certainly not a folly.


The term 'Palmerston's Folly' was used by those politically opposed to Palmerston, but not only to forts. The first mention of ‘Palmerston’s Folly’, referring to the money spent on the Royal Commission fortifications, was in the Press Friday 27 July 1860. The previous Monday the Royal Commission had reported that the Government had agreed to spend £9,000,000 on improving the defences of the United Kingdom. The term continued to be used in the House of Commons by those opposed to the scheme before the forts were completed. An early use of the term was also used by those who objected to his funding of the largest mortar ever built. Gunners referred to 'Mallet's Great Mortars' as ' Palmerstons Folly'.


List of Royal Commission forts.


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