Friday, May 30, 2014

I have been errr.. past... Hurst Castle

Not quite a visit but near as dammit... 

On this years sailing trip to all points Solent [clicky] the Jolly Boys had occasion to sail past Hurst Castle on at least two occasions and my interest was piqued enough to do a little research when I came back...

It's position gives as clear an indication of what it's  original purpose was as any...

...that gap between Hurst (marked A) and the Isle of Wight the other side of the water is no more than a mile...  a fort in that position can dominate and control the whole of the western approaches to the Solent.

From the map above it looks like the castle is bit on land, but it's actually built on the end of a long shingle spit that extends out from Milford-On-Sea.

The fort was built by Henry VIII to defend the approaches to Southampton against the French (who seem to have single handedly driven the whole of the military building budget on the south coast for almost 400 years!). As can be seen from the above (courtesy Wikipedia), it was originally just the little central circular building - the bastions either side were added at a later date.

The recommendation to build a castle there was originally made in 1539 (by William FitzWilliam, 1st Earl of Southampton and William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester) and the castle was completed in 1544. From the paperwork of around that time the garrison was small - no more than 30 men (including eight soldiers and 11 gunners) which bears out fully the comparative small size of the original fortification.

By 1593 the fort was already falling into disrepair (there is documentation requesting money to repair the gun platforms which were incapable of supporting guns!) so clearly money was not forthcoming - in 1628 they fort was given orders to stop a ship and they wrote back to say that they would be willing but they had no powder or shot! The same document (1628) gives an interesting insight as to how the fort was armed - it makes reference to 27 pieces of (bronze) ordnance...

In the English Civil War the castle was occupied by Parliament (not surprising given the location, and also Parliaments strength in naval terms), and is perhaps most famous as the last prison of Charles I before he was moved to Windsor prior to his trial. After the war, the fort was granted money to increase the number of guns, and to increase the garrison - but upon the Restoration Charles II ordered the garrison to be disbanded and an estimate made of the expense of demolishing the castle - clearly that idea was dropped though the fort was again in a very poor state. Documentation from 1671 showed that "there was hardly a room not fallen in and into which the rain did not come". Repairs were completed and a new garrison established, and by 1675 nearly thirty guns were mounted at the castle. 
In 1700 the Privy Council ordered that Hurst Castle be used as a prison for priests convicted of fostering the growth of Catholicism - one of whom (and perhaps the only one..) was imprisoned there for 30 years (!) but by the end of the century the fort was again reported as being neglected and in disrepair (I do wonder if the poisition of the fort was somethign to do with this - sea air, exposed condition, shingle foundations etcetc)..
At the end of the 18th century, the first steps to re-fortification were begun, when earth-protected gun batteries were added. Around the 1805/6 (during the Napoleonic Wars), the fort's tower was rebuilt and strengthened such that it was able to mount six 24-pounder guns (with a range of about a mile - so perfect for the job in hand).
Fifty years later and following a recommendations from a Royal Commission in 1859 two large wing batteries were built to house 30 heavy guns - forerunners of the current fortifications you can see now..these were followed in 1873 by a new east wing and castle entrance, in 1889 with more reinforced concrete (for the magazine), and in 1893 a coastal battery was built.
As we move into the 20th Century the fort continued to be in use - December 1902 it was reported that 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. The gun ports for these are clearly visible and covered with iron plates...
The battery was finally closed in 1928, but the castle was retained by the War Office and on the outboreak of WWII it was re-comissioned and in 1941 at least was armed with two 12-pounder and two 6-pounder quick-firing guns and equipped with searchlights - it would have been ideally placed for providing protection to Southampton Docks....

Fascinating place - really must get there for a visit!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bit quiet round here... just to keep you going...  this is an early rough mix of the classic, and I think it's pretty good..

..."shake for me girl, I want to be your back door man"...  slightly more innocent times

Monday, May 19, 2014

Yapton Beer Festival 2014

Oh happy day, for 'tis Yapton again...

I have no idea how they do it, but no matter how bad the weather has been in the day leading up to it, the day itself is invariably sunny, warm and perfect - and so it was this time as well ..

An excellent and eclectic selection of ales was on offer, with most beers £1.60/£1.70 a half...  sufficiently low enough that it was worth going a little off piste in search of the elusive anyway. For the first time they also had a truly excellent new aid to selecting ales in the form of a printed table on the actual barthat divided up all the beers into their respective styles, so if you liked IPA's, or very hoppy, ales it was easy to just run your finger down the list until you found one you hadn't tried...  very clever...

Much enjoyment was also had this year by the attendance of grandson at his first ever beer festival - he enjoyed himself enormously... 

...there's a "creamy head" on that ale... 
...and here's the ales.....

Brewery Beer (click for more info) ABV Notes (from brewery website) What I can remember...
Hastings Brewery Handmade 9;Citra 4.8% "Hop-forward Pale Ale with Citra". 1st beer - no idea on this as I'd never heard of the brewery, but I was drawn to the name as I'm a big fan of the Citra hop. Good choice! Definitely in the top 3 of the afternoon...  very hoppy, and a good dry/grapefruit taste..   very nice..
Langham Brewery Arapaho 4.9% "A Golden smooth ale with well balanced malt profile. Has a big hop nose and bags of spicy hop citrus flavour with a distinctive orange bouquet". As the name would suggest, another beer using a predominance of American hops. An American Pale Ale in style, but selected from the IPA column of the printed table.. I wanted something I had tried before so I could compare. Very nice - not outstanding..
Bristol Beer Factory Independence 4.6% "US Style pale ale. Very distinctive pale ale that we have hopped continuously throughout the boil." I sense a trend... For all that though I don't remember this being stand out..
Brighton Bier Company South Coast IPA 5% "A clean tasting, flavour packed IPA showcasing 3 of our favourite hops. (Pacific Jade/Citra/Cascade)." What a belter - top 3 for sure and no disagreement with the brewers tasting notes.
Hand Drawn Monkey Brewing Company Monkeys Love Hops No 9 4.2% "An ever evolving series! We add different hop combinations to the same malt bill at the same number of IBUs to create ever evolving, always hop-forward, unique beers. The taste changes monthly, so be sure to ask which combo is up next!" Hands down winner for the strangest beer name of the afternoon... another one of the top 3's for the afternoon though as they had certainly packed in the bitter hoppy flavour
Magic Rock Highwire 5.5% "High Wire is our tribute to the Pale Ales of the West Coast of America, beers unapologetically hop forward in character. Let your taste buds walk this test of balance. Mango, lychee and lip-smacking grapefruit flavours harmonise against a smoothly composed malt base, which develops into a crisply bitter finish. Are you ready for our tightrope of taste. .?" The moment you see grapefruit mentioned in a beers tasting notes you know that the Citra hop is going to be present, and what can I say this was ny 6th beer of the day, the sun was shining, I was enjoying the company, and I saw no reason to wander from the beaten track - a very nice beer..
Oakleaf IPA 5.5% "Initially dry and bitter, full flavoured and complex marmalade/aniseed notes follow,which leaves a lingering bitterness on the palate. A classic in it's style." Can't say I noticed the aniseed, but that was a more traditional English style IPA, so less of the floral/citrus, and more of the full on dry bittery flavour from one of my favourite local breweries..
Triple fff Citra Sonic 4.1% "An IPA of quaffable strength, copper coloured and single hopped with Citra hops. Super aromatic grapefruit and pine aroma with some sweet malt followed by the flavour of pineapple more grapefruit and tropical fruits. Big and pungent with a robust bitterness… BOOM!" Err - not quite..  though to be fair I think that it was a little lacking in strength by this time in the afternoon so suffered by comparison....
Tiny Rebel Cwtch 4.6% "Arguably the coolest word on the planet, Cwtch is our very own Welsh Red Ale. 6 malts, 2 US hops and weeks of Tiny Rebel love and attention go into making this unique beer." Pronounced "cooch" I'm lead to believe - I fancied a change and got this on the recommendation of some of the others..  last beer of the afternoon, and a nice well rounded, malty/fruity ale to finish on...

Thursday, May 01, 2014

I have been to ... HMS Excellent (Whale Island)

Picture courtesy Wikipedia
A good mate of mine, who I've sailed with for more years than I care to mention () keeps his boat in a marina on the side of the Royal Naval shore establishment known as HMS Excellent, or Whale Island (which is in Portsmouth Harbour).

The other week he happened to mention that he knew the  chap who ran the museum there, and that this chap was willing to show us around if we liked - not surprisingly I almost bit his arm off - Whale Island is a military station so it's quite difficult to get in there - an opportunity like this was not to be missed!

First off though, a bit of history ...  Whale Island (or rather the tidal mud bank that became Whale Island) was purchased in the second half of the 19th Century and was intended to eventually replace the permanently moored ships that up until that time had provided gunnery training to the Royal Navy since the War of 1812 (HMS Excellent, and later HMS Queen Charlotte - which was renamed Excellent) .

The first Excellent was a prison hulk already moored in the harbour... cleaned up and repaired she was pressed back into service....  the Navy used Royal Marine Light Artillery gunners as instructors.. Live firing was at high tide only, otherwise the shells sometimes bounced out of control across the harbour... the Navy used to pay salvage for the return of used cannon balls as it was cheaper than buying new...

The original HMS Excellent (image courtesy

The requirement for shore space to practice gunnery was driven by the new heavier iron clads coming into service that were using larger/heavier guns which could no longer be mounted and used in the constrictive space available in the older traditional wooden ships.

Manoeuvres - turn of the century...
By a chance of serendipity, those same new Ironclads also meant that the Navy need more space for dry docking in the existing naval base - by digging out the new dry docks, the royal Navy could use the spoil they extracted to expand the mud bank, and join together what had been the two smaller islands to become the Whale Island we see today (interesting to note that the buildings on the island still suffer from erosion!). They used convicts to do this, and shifted a quite astonishing volume of soil over a number of years..

"If you want peace, be prepared for war" or words to that effect - base motto over the doorway to the officers wardroom

In the end the island comprised shooting ranges (for small arms) and eventually a custom built "gun deck" where the biggest guns could be set up to allow live firing training..

The Island also houses the gun carriage used in several state funerals since the death of Queen Victoria

This was in active service until the death of Queen Victoria and is (I believe) a Royal Horse Artillery 18 pounder. The story is that when the funeral cortege arrived at Windsor the horses that had been pulling the carriage became restless, and were considered not able to pull the carriage for safety reasons...  the funeral cortege included a naval party who had been trained (at Excellent) in manhandling guns so they did the job, and have done at all State funerals since (only the Sovereign is automatically accorded a State Funeral, for anyone else to be afforded one, a motion must pass in the Houses of Parliament) Other members of the Royal family get a Royal Ceremonial Funeral, one of the differences being that the carriage would be pulled by horses at a Royal Ceremonial Funeral...

Victoria's funeral with Naval side party

The following is Churchill's funeral - clearly not a Sovereign, but his funeral was voted for by Parliament. It gives an excellent view of the Naval Party, and how they were arranged...  about 140 men all told... hugely impressive..

As a gunnery school there are of course lots of examples dotted around the place...  much to the Museum curators disgust they have mostly been polished within an inch of their lives over the years!

12pdr howitzer

Inside the Wardroom - the silver in the cupboards at the end was presented by gunnery classes at their completion

Although the base is still used by the Navy - the gunnery school as a separate entity closed down in the mid-80's - still chock full of history though and if you get the opportunity to have a tour I would grab it with open hands...

Summary Timeline
  1. 1862, what is now Whale Island, was just a narrow strip of land. Whale Island of today is predominantly reclaimed land which used deposits dredged from Portsmouth Dockyard during the 19th Century which increased the land area by about 125%.
  2. 1867 a viaduct was constructed from the north wall of the dockyard to the south-east corner of Big Whale Island which allowed spoil to be moved from dredging at the docks which was used to reclaim the land between Big Whale Island and Little Whale Island forming the land mass that is the island of today. The construction work was mostly undertaken by convicts.
  3. 1885 Whale Island was home to five rifle ranges, three of which were soon decommissioned to make way for the Gun Drill Battery and Drill Ground
  4. Mid-1980's - Gunnery School closes