Crownhill Fort
Crownhill Fort is a Royal Commission fort built in the 1860s in Crownhill as part of Lord Palmerston's ring of land defences for Plymouth. Restored by the Landmark Trust, it is now open to the public.

History of the fort
Crownhill Fort was designed by Captain E.F. Du Cane as one of Lord Palmerston's last forts and was the largest of the forts of Plymouth's North Eastern defences, whose purpose was to defend the Royal Dockyard at Devonport from the possibility of a French attack, under the leadership of Napoleon III. Construction began in April 1863, with Crownhill Fort being at the cutting edge of fortress design, although it does conform to the standard polygonal design of its contemporaries. It was built 400 metres in front of the defensive line, in an exposed position, and is therefore designed for all round defence, with each of its seven sides having massive ramparts and being surrounded by a deep ditch. All sides were also protected by gunfire, with the fort having around 350 built-in rifle loopholes. It was designed for an armament of 32 guns on the ramparts and 6 mortars built into the north and north west ramparts. A year later, in 1864, Russian commander General Todleben was shown the building works, and he complimented them. In 1866, after a strike, George Baker, the building contractor, went bankrupt and so the work was finished in 1869 by the Royal Engineers, who would later occupy the fort. The total cost of the construction was £76, 409 which was a large sum at the time, but a lower cost than other Palmerston forts. In 1881, the Director of Artillery and Stores recommended that two forts, Fort Widley in Portsmouth and Crownhill Fort, be armed with complete peacetime armaments. This explains the impressive range of artillery on show at the fort today. However, fortresses soon became obsolete, due to advances in weaponry and warfare and many Victorian forts were abandoned by the army. Fortunately, Crownhill Fort wasn't and was instead used by many different infantry regiments as HQ Plymouth Garrison. In the First World War, Crownhill Fort was used as a recruitment and transport centre for troops being sent to the fronts in Turkey and Africa. It was then used as a de-mobilisation depot before becoming a base for the newly-created Royal Signals Corps. The last time Crownhill Fort was actively used in a military situation was during the Second World War, when anti-aircraft guns were positioned in the fort. Following the war, in the 1950s, it had a Gun Operations Room built on the parade ground, incorporating part of the Officers barrack. It then continued as a home for the 59 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers until 1983, despatching 647 troops and 1,897 tonnes of war material during the Falklands War . The fort was purchased 3 years later by the Landmark Trust, who have restored Crownhill Fort to be the best preserved example of Palmerston's forts. In completing this task, Landmark Trust have received much assistance from grant aid courtesy of the European Committee, English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Structure of Crownhill Fort
The basic shape of Crownhill Fort is a heptagon, incorporating many advanced Victorian fort design ideas.

The Ditch
The main fort is surrounded by a dry ditch, defended by caponiers, which is hewn from solid rock. 200 000 tonnes of material had to be moved to create the ditch, which is 30 ft deep and 30 ft wide .

The Caponiers
Crownhill Fort has six three-storey caponiers. The first floor was for infantrymen, the second was for gun casements each housing Smooth-Bore Breech-Loading guns and the third connects with the Chemin de Ronde, the parapeted walkway circling the fort. The Northern caponier is double-sided.

Crownhill Fort's guns
Crownhill Fort is famous for its collection of artillery and its regular cannon firings, designed to represent the life of men based there in the 1890s by following the exact gun drill of the day. In total, the fort has 32 guns on its ramparts (including 5 Haxo casements and 2 Moncrieff pits) and 15 in its caponiers. Some of the guns that can be found at Crownhill Fort include:
  • a Moncrieff Counterweight Disappearing Gun , the only one of its kind in the world ”“ the carriage uses a unique counterweight system to rise above the parapet to fire and then descend in a controlled manner, powered by the recoil.
  • two 13-inch Mortars, on loan from the Royal Armouries, which were designed to fire 200-pound explosive shells. It is believed that they were used in the Crimean War, against Russia
  • 15 32-pound smooth-bore breech-loading guns from the 1880s, designed to fire case shot
  • two Armstrong 7-inch rifled breechloaders . These guns were first issued to the Navy in 1858, but were found to be not powerful enough, and so were sent instead to be mounted on the ramparts of land fortifications, such as Crownhill Fort.
  • two muzzle-loading 32-pound cannon, which were rescued from Tregantle Fort in Cornwall, where they were being used as gateposts.
  • a muzzle loading 2-pound cannon, from the 1790s
  • a carronade made by the foundry Bailey, Pegg and Co Ltd, from Staffordshire

The fort today
The fort was first opened to the public in 1995 and now offers unrestricted access to all parts, including the miles of underground tunnels. There are also four fighting levels and 32 gun positions, featuring many working cannon. Crownhill Fort also contains recreated Victorian and World War II barrack rooms, Victorian sergeant quarters and a guard room. The fort was open to the general public only on the first Tuesday of the month and may now be only by request. In 2010 The landmark trust began an operation to remove the dozens of trees that have grown within the walls of the fort by helicopter, given that the forts layout prevented the setting up of large-scale cutting and chipping machines.