Brean Down Fort

Brean Down Fort was built 60 feet (18 m) above sea level on the headland at Brean Down, 9 miles (14 km) south of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England.

The site has a long history, because of its prominent position. The earliest recorded settlement is from the Early to Middle Bronze Age.

The current buildings were constructed in the 1860s as one of the Palmerston Forts to provide protection to the ports of the Bristol Channel, and was decommissioned in 1901. During World War II it was rearmed and used for experimental weapons testing.

The site has been owned by the National Trust since 2002, following a £431,000 renovation project,[1] as part of its Brean Down property and is open to the public.

The fort was used as a location for filming of the second episode, "Warriors", of the BBC television drama Bonekickers.

The Fort was also used for exterior scenes of the Royal Marines attack on the villains base on Cragfest Island in episode six of 1978 HTV series The Doombolt Chase.

Brean Down Fort
Somerset, England
Brean Down Fort is located in Somerset
Brean Down Fort
Brean Down Fort
Coordinates51°19′38.03″N 3°02′00.08″W / 51.3272306°N 3.0333556°WCoordinates: 51°19′38.03″N 3°02′00.08″W / 51.3272306°N 3.0333556°W
Site information
OwnerNational Trust
Open to
the public
The site remains unlocked at all times, with volunteers manning buildings on summer weekends and Mon, Wed, Fri in summer school holidays
Site history
rearmed in World War II
In use1871–1901, 1940–1945
Garrison information
GarrisonCoast Brigade, Royal Artillery

Bronze Age to Roman

The earliest record settlement is from the Early to Middle Bronze Age. It is now on an exposed cliff as the land has been eroded by the sea. Bronze Age artefacts from the site include pottery and jewellery. Most of the finds are now in the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.[2] The presence of a probable roundhouse has also been detected.[3]

The site has also produced Roman gold and silver coins of the emperors Augustus, Nero, Drusus and Vespasian and a cornelian ring.[4]

Palmerston Fort

Brean Down Fort forms part of a line of defences, known as Palmerston Forts, built across the channel to protect the approaches to Bristol and Cardiff. It was fortified following a visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to France, where they had been concerned at the strength of the French Navy. The Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom, under direction of Lord Palmerston, recommended fortification of the coast. Brean Down Fort formed part of a strategic coastal defence system covering the channel between the mainland and the islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm.

Four acres of land at the end of Brean Down were requisitioned in 1862,[5] with construction beginning in 1864 and completed in 1871.

The fort was originally armed with seven 7-inch (18 cm) rifled muzzle-loading guns, which were among the last of this type to be made at the Woolwich Gun Foundry. These sited at three main gun positions, including W battery containing two guns on 'C' pivots (rotating around a reused Georgian cannon set upright in the ground). Each gun weighed 7 tons and had a 30-pound (14 kg) charge of gunpowder able to fire a 112-pound (51 kg) Palliser shot at 1,560 feet (475 m) per second. This could pierce 8 inches (20 cm) of armour at 1,000 yards (910 m).[6] It was proposed to replace the 7-inch (18 cm) guns with larger 9-inch (23 cm) versions in 1888 but this was never put into action. It had a large, underground, main gunpowder magazine, 15 feet (4.5 m) by 18 feet (5.5 m) by 20 feet (6.1 m) high. The fort was staffed by 50 officers and men of the Coast Brigade, Royal Artillery, but no shots were ever fired in action.

In 1897, following wireless transmissions from Lavernock Point in Wales and Flat Holm,[7] Guglielmo Marconi moved his equipment to Brean Down and set a new distance record of 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) for wireless transmission over open sea.[8][9] The end of the fort's active service came at 5 a.m. on 6 July 1900 when the No. 3 magazine which held 3 tons (3 tonnes) of gunpowder exploded.[10] An inquiry found that Gunner Haines had fired a ball cartridge down a ventilator shaft causing the explosion, after being put on a charge for returning late to barracks, however this explanation has been challenged.[11] The wall separating the fort from the moat on the south west corner was demolished and wreckage thrown up to 200 yards (183 m).[6] No one knew why the gunner had blown up the fort, but it has been speculated that it was an act of suicide.[5] The cannons were hauled away by traction engines.

It was then used as a café, owned by the Hillman family from at least 1907 until sold in 1936 to the 'bird sanctuary people'.

World War II

On the outbreak of World War II the fort was rearmed with two six inch ex-naval guns and two searchlights as a Coastal artillery battery . The site was also used as a test launch site for rockets and experimental weapons.

Two gun positions were built to mount the ex-naval guns in their turrets. These were later protected with a "plastic" anti-aircraft roof. One position was built over the ruins of the old west battery and the other partly obscures the north west battery. The barrack blocks were converted and the windows partly blocked to reduce the effects of blast. Several other associated structures, including searchlight batteries for illuminating seaborne targets, a command post and the barracks for the garrison were built outside the original Palmeston fort.[12]

The site was manned by 365 and 366 Coast Batteries RA of 571 Coast Regiment in 1942.[12]

Several experimental weapons were trialled at Brean, by the Admiralty's Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development, based at HMS Birnbeck.[13] The only evidence being a short length of launching rail,[14] designed to launch a bouncing bomb.[11]

Some of the better known weapons trialled were the seaborne Bouncing bomb designed specifically to bounce to a target such as across water to avoid torpedo nets, Anti-submarine missile AMUCK and the expendable acoustic emitter (designed to confuse noise seeking torpedoes).



The fort seen from the north path


Officers quarters


Gun emplacement


Engine House


The fort from the south path

See also


  1. ^ "Historic Brean Down Fort re-opens after £431,000 renovation". This is the West County. 27 June 2002. Archived from the original on 11 May 2008. Retrieved 6 May 2008.
  2. ^ "Brean Down". National Monuments Record. English Heritage. Archived from the original on 2 October 2012. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  3. ^ "Brean Down". National Monuments Record. English Heritage. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  4. ^ "Hillfort, Brean Down". Somerset Historic Environment Record. South West Heritage Trust. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  5. ^ a b "Victorian artillery battery, Brean Down". Somerset Historic Environment Record. South West Heritage Trust. Retrieved 6 May 2008.
  6. ^ a b "A look at Brean Down's historic background". Burnham on Sea. Retrieved 6 May 2008.
  7. ^ "Marconi: Radio Pioneer". BBC South East Wales. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  8. ^ "Marconi at Brean Down (near Bristol)". International Marconi Day. Archived from the original on 19 February 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  9. ^ Garratt, G.R.M. (1994). The Early History of Radio: From Faraday to Marconi. IET. ISBN 978-0-85296-845-1.
  10. ^ van der Bijl, Nicholas BEM (2000). Brean Down Fort: Its History and the Defence of the Bristol Channel. Cossington: Hawk Editions. ISBN 0-9529081-7-4. pages 71-75
  11. ^ a b Evans, Roger. Somerset tales of mystery and murder. Newbury: Countryside Books. pp. 5–11. ISBN 1-85306-863-2.
  12. ^ a b "Second-World-War Coast Artillery battery, Brean Down". Somerset Historic Environment Record. South West Heritage Trust. Retrieved 6 May 2008.
  13. ^ "Birnbeck Island Pier — A short history". Friends of the Old Pier Society. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 6 June 2007.
  14. ^ "Experimental weapon rails, Brean Down". Somerset Historic Environment Record. South West Heritage Trust. Retrieved 6 May 2008.
  • van der Bijl, Nicholas (2000). Brean Down Fort: Its History and the Defence of the Bristol Channel. Cossington: Hawk Editions. ISBN 0-9529081-7-4.

Further reading

  • Brown, Donald (1999). Somerset V Hitler: Secret Operations in the Mendips 1939–1945. Newbury: Countryside Books. ISBN 1-85306-590-0.

External links

Birnbeck Pier

Birnbeck Pier is a pier situated on the Bristol Channel in Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset, England, approximately 18 miles (29 km) south-west of Bristol. It is the only pier in the country which links the mainland to an island, linking to Birnbeck Island, a 1.2 hectares (3.0 acres) rocky island just to the west of Worlebury Hill. The grade II* listed pier was designed by Eugenius Birch and opened in 1867. The gothic toll house and pierhead buildings were designed by local architect Hans Price. The pier has been closed to the public since 1994 and is now on the Buildings at Risk Register.

During the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries the pier was popular both with locals and tourists to the town. As a boarding point for steamers plying their trade in the Bristol Channel, it underwent various extensions and modifications over the years. During the Second World War the pier was commissioned as HMS Birnbeck by the Admiralty as part of the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development (DMWD) for research into new weapons. The pier reopened after the war, but the number of visitors and steamer passengers declined. The final excursion visited the pier in 1979.

Since its closure, ownership has passed hands many times and it has been subject to a series of proposals for its redevelopment which have all proved fruitless. The pier remains in a largely derelict state. Part of the pier collapsed during storms on 30 December 2015.


Bonekickers is a BBC drama about a team of archaeologists, set at the fictional Wessex University. It made its début on 8 July 2008 and ran for one series.

It was written by Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes creators Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah. It was produced by Michele Buck and Damien Timmer of Mammoth Screen Ltd and co-produced with Monastic Productions. Archaeologist and Bristol University academic Mark Horton acted as the series' archaeological consultant. Adrian Lester has described the programme as "CSI meets Indiana Jones [...] There's an element of the crime procedural show, there's science, conspiracy theories—and there's a big underlying mystery that goes through the whole six-episode series."Much of the series was filmed in the City of Bath, Somerset, with locations including the University of Bath campus (which does not offer Archaeology courses). Additional locations included Brean Down Fort and Kings Weston House (both for episode 2), Chavenage House for episodes 5 & 6 and Sheldon Manor.

On 21 November 2008 Broadcast magazine revealed the show would not be returning for a second series.


Brean is a village and civil parish between Weston-super-Mare and Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset, England. The name is derived from "Bryn" Brythonic and Modern Welsh for a hill and it has a population of 635.

Close to the village is Brean Down, a promontory standing 320 feet (98 m) high and extending 1.5 miles (2.4 km) into the Bristol Channel, on which stands Brean Down Fort, marking the end of Weston Bay.

The village is on a strip of land between the sea and the River Axe. It is the home of Brean Leisure Park, a tropical bird garden, other tourist attractions and several caravan parks. The sandy beach has been used for land sailing since 1970. Sometimes, Brean can also be linked with the nearby village, Berrow so the villages can also be called Berrow & Brean.

Brean Down

Brean Down is a promontory off the coast of Somerset, England, standing 318 feet (97 m) high and extending 1.5 miles (2 km) into the Bristol Channel at the eastern end of Bridgwater Bay between Weston-super-Mare and Burnham-on-Sea.

Made of Carboniferous Limestone, it is a continuation of the Mendip Hills. Two further continuations are the small islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm. The cliffs on the northern and southern flanks of Brean Down have large quantities of fossils laid down in the marine deposits about 320–350 million years ago. The site has been occupied by humans since the late Bronze Age and includes the remains of a Romano-Celtic Temple. At the seaward end is Brean Down Fort which was built in 1865 and then re-armed in the Second World War.

Brean Down is now owned by the National Trust, and is rich in wildlife, history and archaeology. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to both the geology and presence of nationally rare plants including the white rock-rose. It has also been scheduled as an ancient monument.

Bridgwater Bay

Bridgwater Bay is on the Bristol Channel, 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) north of Bridgwater in Somerset, England at the mouth of the River Parrett and the end of the River Parrett Trail. It stretches from Minehead at the southwestern end of the bay to Brean Down in the north. The area consists of large areas of mudflats, saltmarsh, sandflats and shingle ridges, some of which are vegetated. It has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) covering an area of 3,574.1 hectares (35.741 km2; 13.800 sq mi) since 1989, and is designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. The risks to wildlife are highlighted in the local Oil Spill Contingency Plan.Several rivers, including the Parrett, Brue and Washford, drain into the bay. Man-made drainage ditches from the Somerset Levels, including the River Huntspill, also run into the bay. The mud flats provide a habitat for a wide range of flora and fauna. These include some nationally rare plants, beetles and snails. It is particularly important for over-wintering waders and wildfowl, with approximately 190 species recorded including whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus), black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa), dunlin (Calidris alpina) and wigeon (Anas penelope). Fishing has taken place using shallow boats, known as flatners, and fixed wooden structures for hundreds of years. It was also the last site in England used for 'mudhorse fishing'. There are several small harbours along the coast.

The low-lying areas of the bay have been subject to flooding, including the Bristol Channel floods of 1607 and many times since particularly around the Steart Peninsula. In response to this threat sea walls have been built at several points including at Burnham-on-Sea, Berrow and Blue Anchor to Lilstock Coast. The extensive mud flats and high tidal range have been the cause of several drownings and rescue services are now provided by the Burnham Area Rescue Boat.

Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development

The Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development (DMWD), also known as the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapon Development and colloquially known as the Wheezers and Dodgers, was a department of the Admiralty responsible for the development of various unconventional weapons during World War II.

Guglielmo Marconi

Guglielmo Marconi, 1st Marquis of Marconi (Italian: [ɡuʎˈʎɛlmo marˈkoːni]; 25 April 1874 – 20 July 1937) was an Italian inventor and electrical engineer, known for his pioneering work on long-distance radio transmission, development of Marconi's law, and a radio telegraph system. He is credited as the inventor of radio, and he shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Ferdinand Braun "in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy".Marconi was also an entrepreneur, businessman, and founder of The Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company in the United Kingdom in 1897 (which became the Marconi Company). He succeeded in making an engineering and commercial success of radio by innovating and building on the work of previous experimenters and physicists. In 1929, Marconi was ennobled as a Marchese (marquis) by King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, and, in 1931, he set up the Vatican Radio for Pope Pius XI.

Gunpowder magazine

A gunpowder magazine is a magazine (building) designed to store the explosive gunpowder in wooden barrels for safety. Gunpowder, until superseded, was a universal explosive used in the military and for civil engineering: both applications required storage magazines. Most magazines were purely functional and tended to be in remote and secure locations. They are the successor to the earlier powder towers and powder houses.


Lavernock (Welsh: Larnog) is a hamlet in the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales, lying on the coast 7 miles (11 km) south of Cardiff between Penarth and Sully, and overlooking the Bristol Channel.

Lavernock Battery

Lavernock Battery was built at Lavernock Point, Wales on the recommendations of the 1860 Royal Commission during the late 1860s to protect the ports of the Severn Estuary. It was replaced by a new anti-aircraft battery during World War II that was equipped with four heavy anti-aircraft guns.

List of National Trust properties in England

This is a list of National Trust properties in England, including any stately home, historic house, castle, abbey, museum or other property in the care of the National Trust in England.

List of National Trust properties in Somerset

The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty (informally known as the National Trust) owns or manages a range of properties in the ceremonial county of Somerset, England. These range from sites of Iron and Bronze Age occupations including Brean Down, Cadbury Camp and Cheddar Gorge to Elizabethan and Victorian era mansions, which include examples such as Montacute House and Tyntesfield. Some of the smaller properties include Coleridge Cottage and Stembridge Mill, the last remaining thatched windmill in England.Somerset consists of a non-metropolitan county, administered by Somerset County Council, which is divided into five districts, and two unitary authorities. The districts of Somerset are West Somerset, South Somerset, Taunton Deane, Mendip and Sedgemoor. North Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset historically came under Somerset County Council. In 1974 they became part of county of Avon, and in 1996 they became administratively independent when Avon was broken up into unitary authorities.Many of the buildings included in the list are listed buildings or scheduled monuments. Listed status refers to a building or other structure officially designated as being of special architectural, historical, or cultural significance; Grade I structures are those considered to be "buildings of exceptional interest". Listing was begun by a provision in the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. A scheduled monument is a "nationally important" archaeological site or historic building, given protection against unauthorised change. Scheduled Monuments are specified in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, which defines a monument as:

Any building, structure or work above or below the surface of the land, any cave or excavation; any site comprising the remains of any such building, structure or work or any cave or excavation; and any site comprising or comprising the remains of any vehicle, vessel or aircraft or other movable structure or part thereof ...

List of forts

This is a list for articles on notable historic forts which may or may not be under

current active use by a military. There are also many towns named after a Fort, the largest being Fort Worth, Texas, United States.

List of scheduled monuments in Sedgemoor

Sedgemoor is a low-lying area of land in Somerset, England. It lies close to sea level south of the Polden Hills, forming a large part of the Somerset Levels and Moors, a wetland area between the Mendips and the Blackdown Hills. The Neolithic people exploited the reed swamps for their natural resources and started to construct wooden trackways, including the world's oldest known timber trackway, the Post Track, dating to the 3800s BC. The Levels were the location of the Iron Age Glastonbury Lake Village as well as two lake villages at Meare Lake. Several settlements and hill forts were built on the natural "islands" of slightly raised land, including Brent Knoll and Glastonbury. In the Roman period sea salt was extracted and a string of settlements were set up along the Polden Hills.A scheduled monument is a nationally important archaeological site or monument which is given legal protection by being placed on a list (or "schedule") by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; English Heritage takes the leading role in identifying such sites. The legislation governing this is the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The term "monument" can apply to the whole range of archaeological sites, and they are not always visible above ground. Such sites have to have been deliberately constructed by human activity. They range from prehistoric standing stones and burial sites, through Roman remains and medieval structures such as castles and monasteries, to later structures such as industrial sites and buildings constructed for the World Wars or the Cold War.There are 79 scheduled monuments in Sedgemoor. The oldest are Neolithic, Bronze Age or Iron Age including hill forts, bowl barrows and occupied caves including several in Cheddar Gorge. Cannington Camp (which is also known as Cynwit Castle) dates from the Bronze Age, while Brent Knoll Camp between the Somerset Levels and Brean Down is Iron Age (although there are some Bronze Age artefacts) and it was reused in the Roman period. The Romano-British period is represented with several sites. Medieval sites include several motte-and-bailey castles and church or village crosses. Industrial development, particularly in Bridgwater, are represented by brick and tile kilns and a telescopic railway bridge. The most recent monuments are World War II bunkers and bombing decoys on Black Down. The monuments are listed below using the titles given in the English Heritage data sheets.

List of tourist attractions in Somerset

This is a list of visitor attractions in the English county of Somerset.

For the complete list of places of interest see Tourist attractions in Somerset

Palmerston Forts, Bristol Channel

The Palmerston Forts along the Bristol Channel include:

Brean Down Fort, Weston-super-Mare

Flat Holm Battery, Flat Holm

Lavernock Battery, Penarth

Nell's Point Battery, Barry Island [1]

Steep Holm Battery, Steep Holm [2]

Steep Holm

Steep Holm (Welsh: Ynys Rhonech, Old English: Ronech and later Steopanreolice) is an English island lying in the Bristol Channel. The island covers 48.87 acres (19.78 ha) at high tide, expanding to 63.26 acres (25.60 ha) at mean low water. At its highest point it is 78 metres (256 ft) above mean sea level. It lies within the historic boundaries of Somerset and administratively forms part of North Somerset. Between 1 April 1974 and 1 April 1996 it was administered as part of Avon. Nearby is Flat Holm island (Welsh: Ynys Echni), part of Wales.

The Carboniferous Limestone island rises to about 200 feet (61 m) and serves as a wind and wave break, sheltering the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel. The island is now uninhabited, with the exception of the wardens. It is protected as a nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) with a large bird population and plants including wild peonies. There was a signal station or watchtower on the island in Roman times, but there may have been human habitation as early as the Iron Age. In the 6th century it was home to St Gildas and to a small Augustinian priory in the 12th and 13th centuries. An inn was built in 1832 and used for holidays in the 19th century. A bird sanctuary was established in 1931 and since 1951 has been leased to charitable trusts. It is now owned by the Kenneth Allsop Memorial Trust.

In the 1860s the island was fortified with ten 7-inch rifled muzzle loaders as one of the Palmerston Forts for the coastal defence of the Bristol Channel until it was abandoned in 1898. The infrastructure was reused in World War I and II when Mark VII 6-inch breech-loading guns and search lights were installed. To enable the movement of materials, soldiers from the Indian Army Service Corps initially used mules and then installed a cable-operated winched switchback railway.

The Doombolt Chase

The Doombolt Chase is a naval-themed British science fiction/action television series aimed at a teenage audience. It was broadcast between 12 March and 16 April 1978, as a six-episode series. It was also broadcast in Canada on TVOntario in 1978 and in Germany in 1979 under the title Geheimprojekt Doombolt ("Secret Project Doombolt").

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.