elopment of The Nothe Fort Museum: Chapter 1 - 1956
In 1956 all of the Coastal Defence sites were declared redundant and the regiments serving in the fort were relocated to other areas of the Royal Artillery. As a result the Nothe Fort, which up until March 1956 was still training territorial gunners and conducting live firings, was closed. It’s 6” guns were removed by a scrap dealer in 1957 and following some use by the Royal Navy, the fort finally closed its doors in 1961. This year saw the fort purchased by the Borough Council for £6,000 and efforts were started to find a civilian use for it. With no immediate resolution the fort faded from Councillors minds by more pressing matters. The forts dereliction was slow but exonerable. It became a playground for local children and a haven for hippies etc. who used the casemates for free accommodation! All available wood was consumed as firewood, metal items were disposed of for cash and graffiti abounded.
In 1975 the Borough Engineer appreciated the potential of the Fort but all that could be done at this stage was to erect barbed wire to attempt to restrict access. Unfortunately it did not!
In 1976 a Job Creation Scheme enabled the Council to send in teams of unemployed young people to carry out initial tidying, mainly in the courtyard.
In 1977 the Elizabethan Way was created in the Nothe Gardens as a first step to tidying up the headland area.
Weymouth Civic Society, increasingly concerned about the state of the Fort building and its neglect, it being a Grade II Listed Ancient Monument, entered into correspondence with the Council in 1978 and this continued into 1979, culminating, in February 1980, with an agreement under which the Society undertook to encourage volunteers to open the Fort to the general public and to work towards the restoration of the structure. The Council sent a team to demolish unsafe buildings in the courtyard and on the ramparts (workshops, rest room, large gun canopies etc.); to clear rubbish and to seal or fence off potentially dangerous areas. Widespread plant control was also put in hand as growth has become rampant over the years.
On 24th March 1980 a meeting was held in Weymouth Guildhall at which speakers from the Civic Society and from Weymouth Museum spoke to encourage members of the Civic Society and the general public to volunteer their services.
On the 29th June 1980 the Fort was officially opened by the then Mayor Cllr. Mrs. Litschi and a potted history of the Fort was given to the visitors. Volunteers then continued to open the Fort daily in three sessions, namely morning, afternoon and evening. A small charge was made to cover the purchase of any materials required to commence restoration work. As visitors arrived they were shown into what was formerly the cookhouse. When a party of perhaps 15 or 20 people had gathered, a guide took them around the courtyard level and the ramparts. Weymouth museum had provided a history of the Fort to be put on sale which, together with individual’s memories, gave sufficient information for the guides to pass on to visitors.
One of the first tasks undertaken by the helpers was to provide a plank to act as a counter. One end of this rested on a pile of bricks and the other on a window sill! Over 1,000 visitors came in the first week and at the end of the season it was estimated (the accounting was not so accurate in those days) that 9,000 visitors had passed through. At 20 pence per visitor the Fort had started.
An early visitor to the Fort was the Borough Treasurer of East Weymouth, Massachusetts, who was highly impressed with the efforts.
At the end of the season it was agreed that working parties would start to do what they could to improve things within the Fort. An early action was to remove or cover the graffiti, some of which was obscene. The enormity of the task facing the helpers slowly dawned on them but their enthusiasm was not dimmed in any way. Working parties started on Sundays at 10am and carried on until everyone was ready to leave. Locking up at night was a strange experience for although the keys to the Fort were to hand, helpers were fearful of what vandals might do (the security arrangements remained very ad hoc at this time). The Fire Brigade attended and flushed through the drains so that, to the great relief of the helpers, staff toilets were possible. However it was to be sometime before public toilets could be provided in the Fort. It was agreed that the Fort should be open one or two Sundays a month during the winter to allow for the purchase of paint and brushes etc. So at 2pm therefore two or three helpers would clean themselves up, the main gate was opened and tours would start.
In December 1980 the Civic Society Committee appointed a sub-committee for the day-to-day running of the Fort and to be responsible for a programme of restoration.
The Development of The Nothe Fort Museum: Chapter 2 - 1981
During the winter the gap above the main gate, previously only protected by barbed wire, was made more secure by adapting redundant pedestrian barriers given to us by the Council. A second portcullis made of flat steel section later replaced this.
Graffiti continued to be tackled. Over the barbican entrance on the ramparts (above the main gate), the word “Pixie” proved to be particularly difficult and after two years it still showed through and had to be re-treated! Plaster and lime wash needed to be scraped from casemate walls and ceiling. Two rooms to the right of the entrance were cleaned and painted. One served as a staff lunch room and the other, provided with a lock, became our secure store for paint and tools etc. Display boards were also stored there. The walls of these rooms had a green fungus which was not finally eradicated until the roof was resealed to prevent water ingress.
In the wall of the cookhouse was a serving hatch to the next casemate (casemate 2 to 3) which had been a mess hall in WW2. This was made into a doorway. The rough concrete floor of casemate 3, left when all the floor boards had been burnt, was then covered by a layer of cement donated by the Pioneer Cement Co. Getting a large lorry through the tunnel with its revolving drum full of concrete was hair-raising with only an inch to spare each side. Frenzied activity then ensued to spread the “fast going off” cement as it poured down the chute on to the floor. A smooth floor resulted however and the reception was moved into this casemate. It was a lighter and more pleasant casemate for helpers as it was clear of the tunnel. An iron gate was also fitted to replace the lifting pole across the entrance.
The original War Office Record Plans of the Fort were borrowed from the Museum and copied. These were invaluable when holes had to be drilled through to run cables. We needed to number all rooms and we therefore gave rooms our own numbers starting from 1 at the guardroom and continuing to 26 at courtyard level.
Acquiring donations of uniforms etc. to dress displays, became the order of the day. A set of Mess kit belonging to the late Colonel Llewellyn, a former Lord Lieutenant of the County was given to us by his family through the good offices of Major Yeatman’s brother, Colonel Graham Yeatman. Another officer, Colonel Sansom, donated a regimental drum.
In February former members of 522nd (Dorset) Coast Regiment Royal Artillery were invited for a special open day. This proved to be useful for tapping into people’s memories. About 40 men turned up, mostly now living in the Poole and Bournemouth area.
Two more shells were received from the Royal Navy. These were examples of fused shells unlike Major Yeatman’s door stop which had been a “sand and shot” heave–to round. We also had several cannon balls from Monmouth Castle and although these were outside our period, we thought that the contrast was useful.
At this stage the Council received a suggestion from a Mr. Robbins tha the Fort should be turned into a Craft Centre but fortunately this idea was not pursued!
The system of dealing with each day’s takings had become unsatisfactory and a more detailed record of income was needed, so in April an accounts book was started.
The official opening for the season took place on June 28th in the presence of the Mayor, Councillor Harry Booth. The guest of honour was RSM Horlock. Seven members of his family had served in the Royal Artillery, including a sister. The Sea Cadets band was in attendance and a “march in” of former members of the regiment took place – some 20 in all. A young piper, Peter Harvie, entertained the crowds while he marched on the ramparts.
In July we were able to hoist a flag on the newly erected flagpole. This was visible from the beach and was a sign that the Fort was open.
By August visitor numbers reached 10,000 but by the end of the year this had gone up to 14,696, a very gratifying figure indeed.
An offer by the Royal Navy to help to restore the anti – aircraft ammunition hoist was not completed due to cut backs in the Service budget. The replacement of window frames and glazing bars began in what became the museum room (casemate 4). The first dressed figure was known as “Gunner Fred” even though the uniform was that of a Battery Sergeant Major! This had been donated by a former member of the wartime garrison. Fred was carried in and out of the secure store with the display boards on the opening and closing of the Fort. The wicket gate in the main gate now had a mortise lock fitted. This made it possible for helpers to enter the Fort without having to open the heavy double doors.
The original intention was to restrict exhibits to the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers who were the main occupants of the Fort during its military life. As time went by however items were handed in from other regiments and other arms of the Services and also from civilian bodies such as Civil defence, Nursing and Fire Brigade. It was decided to include these in the exhibits provided they were relevant to the Fort or the locality.
Part of the magazine area was open to the public as limited lighting was now installed and rubble had been cleared sufficiently as far as the first 12.5” gun ammunition hoist. Getting lighting cable through some of the thick basement walls was a major task.
The only cloud on the horizon was that our agreement with the Council was on a yearly basis and they reserved the right to keep options open for the Fort’s future.
The Development of the Nothe Fort Museum – Chapter 3 1982 continued....
During the winter the small flagpole was replaced by a much taler mast. Also the royal Navy at Portland donated a 64 pounder Rifled Muzzle Loading gun which had spent its life since 1885 doing service as a bollard on the inner arm of the breakwater. The Navy prised it out of its bed, an activity inspired and organised by Naval officers. It needed a lot of work but it was our first real gun and was emplaced at Portland in the 1870’s. It was placed on blocks on the parade ground for visitors to admire and for volunteers to work around. A second 64 pdr. was donated from a similar source a little later.
The Nothe Fort sign which had long since disappeared from the arch above the outer tunnel of the Fort was replaced, which confirmed the fact that it was no longer a derelict ruin and was once again a Fort.
More dummies were acquired from Hepworths the Tailors whose shop was closing in Weymouth. Through the good offices of the chief window dresser we acquired quite a number. Some were used for a display of an officer inspecting kit layouts. Another became a hard faced storeman in the Quarter Masters Stores which was a secure room with bars at the windows. All kit items were stored in this room. A lady dummy was pressed into service, her long hair concealed by a gas mask and tin helmet. She was given the name Percy and placed in the rampart magazine armed with a pick handle!
The chief guest at the opening of the season was Major General Wilson the most senior officer in the Royal Artillery and a marching display was given by the Royal Artillery Band. Former members of the Coast regiment were also invited and a buffet was provided for guests of honour and the old soldiers. Major General Wilson was later instrumental in obtaining some boots for the Fort which are no longer issued to the modern army.
A change was made to the admission charges for the season. It had been intended to charge 30p for all comers but eventually that amount only applied if visitors wanted a guided tour to the ramparts and magazine level. Otherwise the admission charge of 20p remained. Over the season 14,000 paid the entrance only and 9,000 paid for the guided tour.
Although much safety fencing had been put into place the insurers insisted that visitors to the ramparts be accompanied by a guide. For this reason a lockable gate was fitted at the bottom of the slope leading to the ramparts and to the top of magazine staircases. Members of the Fortress Study Group visited the Fort. Amongst them were many well known authorities on weaponry and fortifications, including former garrison engineers from home and overseas forces. They provided much useful information.
The BBC also came and made part of the film “Beau Geste” with the Fort doubling as a Foreign Legion garrison. They partially glazed some of the casemates on the south side with plastic. These were left in situ for quite some time after filming and provided welcome shelter from the elements as the gun ports were open at the time.
Work continued on Sundays by a small group of some 10 to 14 volunteers. The magazine passage was now receiving a coat of white emulsion and the blocking wall near the engine room was removed to allow an uninterrupted circuit of all of the basement rooms. Access for the public was still by guide only who was now equipped with a torch for use when the party left a lit section.
The temporary water supply for the old toilets consisted of a gravity feed from a tank on the ramparts filled by a hose pipe from a tap in the entrance tunnel. The tank came from one of the volunteers redundant home hot water supply system. The number of practical gifts that helped the restoration was many and various.
During July prisoners from the Verne, under a NACRO scheme, painted a number of metal chairs that the council had given to us.
It was in September that the first request to the Manpower Services Commission (MSC) scheme was made by letter. This was to bear fruit in 1983.
In January a footbridge had to be made to span the floodwater in the basement. This was made from the discarded pews from St. Johns church. Nearby a room was fitted with a ghost complete with bats and green lighting. A mesh door kept too inquisitive visitors at bay. A secure store was provided at this level complete with a storemen and a large (hardboard) rat whose eyes glowed a pinky red to add dramatic effect.
One visiting working party that gave great results was from 54 Squadron, Royal Engineers, from Old Park, Dover. They had the task of repairing and painting safety railings. They also did some bricklaying in the old toilets and on the Bofors gun tower. In addition they mounted the 64 pdr. (weight 3 tons 4 cwt.) in casemate 5. The Squadron achieved a lot in one week.
During July a working party arrived from an Oxford school, the trip being organised by one of the masters, a Weymouthian. They carried out a lot of painting in the basement corridors and did a first class job.
More dummies in correct period costume were now put in place. One tableau at the entrance, represented the three major periods of the Fort’s life, i.e. Victorian, WW1 and WW2. A gunner sergeant was depicted in the blue uniform of the 1890’s (the shoulder titles of this uniform were sown on the wrong way round. The mistake was not spotted until another set of blues were being made by the lady helper!) Another figure showed the “service dress” of WW1 and the third figure was of a WW2 soldier in battle dress uniform. Plank beds were placed in the WW2 barrack room with dummies to go with them.In February the first 12.5” gun arrived and was placed in casemate 25, its supposed heavy gun carriage was actually made of hardboard etc. the gun barrel, though very representative, was made of fibre glass. A real 12.5” gun would have weighed approximately 38 tons!
Breakwater Fort had similar guns but they were toppled into the sea when no longer required. Thoughts of salvaging them for display purposes were abandoned when it was realised that the barrels of the guns had been sawn off during an unsuccessful salvage attempt very many years ago.
A NAAFI was established in one of the lower level casemates. By coincidence it was in the same room where the real regimental canteen was in the Territorial days pre-war. This was there until 1940, when a canteen operated by NAAFI was opened in a ground floor casemate. The museum’s NAAFI was furnished with chairs and dummies including a NAAFI girl and soldiers enjoying tea and a buns. A price list of the period was displayed giving visitors a chance to compare prices then and now.
The family of a formed Colonel of the Dorset Coast artillery, donated items of his uniform and these were displayed in reception. Also they kindly donated some items of regimental silver which had to be stored in the bank until suitable secure accommodation for it could be established.
Working parties changed from Sundays to Thursdays. Members of the team took tasks dependent on their skills. A mason’s benchmark was discovered at one of the casemates when it was being prepared for new windows. The first casemates to be glazed with new frames were 3 and 4, one by a local carpenter/joiner and one by a local firm. This greatly increased volunteers comfort when they were on duty.
Admission for the year was increased to 50p for adults with OAP’s at half price and children below 16 free. With increased protection the display boards could be left out and Fred the dummy ceased to be moved every morning and evening.
A special guest before the season started was the Lord Mayor of London Sir Anthony Jolliffe GBE, a Weymouth man. His name is in our visitor’s book. The Official opening for the year was carried out by Rear Admiral Webster, the Weymouth Mayor also attending.
A firework display took place on the ramparts during the year but unfortunately some of the rockets set fire to the grass in two places. The fire brigade attended but the grass was still smouldering the next day!
The Development of the Nothe Fort Museum – Chapter 4
Casemate 26 was given over to a Civic Society display of photographs of buildings that had been awarded plaques for architectural merit. Elsewhere in the Fort artwork was displayed which was the work of a group of young people who worked in a chapel in Newstead Road.
One other event which should have been exciting was the planned launching of a “Post Office” hot air balloon from the parade ground. Unfortunately the weather was against the project and the event was called off.
The total number of visitors for the year was 20,669 excluding children – a very gratifying increase.
A Manpower Services Scheme was finally agreed – sponsored by the Civic Society under the agency of the local council. This was to provide labour to assist in the restoration of the Fort.
In December, selection interviews were held in the Borough Council Offices for the posts of Supervisor and Assistant Supervisor. The person chosen for post of supervisor was Alasdair Murray who, together with his military background, turned out to be a first class artist and model maker. He later became the Museum’s curator.
A complication arose at this time due to the Council’s decision to establish a shelter in the Fort (presumably this refers to the “nuclear bunker” facility with its enormous blast doors). As a part of this work an alarm system was introduced. This gave the first entrant 45 seconds before the alarm could be neutralised. Similarly the alarm had to be set on leaving. 1984
Opening day this year was in the hands of Lady Edwards who stepped into the breach at the last moment. Press viewing days were arranged and occasional mention was made of us on TV. Advertising was put into the local press and leaflets were printed and distributed by our volunteers to all the hotels, guest houses and caravan parks etc. in the Borough and beyond.
Working parties continued during the year on Thursdays but the majority of work this year was carried out by the MSC who worked five days a week. Alasdair Murray arrived at 7.30am with 24 young people to start work. It was usually dark at the time and negotiating the alarm system in the dark was not always easy. Two casemates – numbers 10 and 11 had been allocated as combined office/workshop/messroom. A door served as a makeshift table and the first task was for the carpenters to build proper benches so that work could start. During the course of the year all of the windows on the ground floor had glazing bars fitted and many were glazed, a task which would have taken our volunteer effort a number of years to complete.
The walls between casemates 22, 23, 24 and 25 were demolished thus returning this part of the Fort to its Victorian configuration of an open gun deck. The wooden floor in casemate 24 was in a very bad state and a new floor was laid.
The acquisition of materials was another function of the MSC. So far as wood was concerned some large timbers came from the old Weymouth railway station. Much of this was used for the 64 pdr. gun mounting so that the wood is truly older than the gun (Weymouth’s railway station being built in Brunel’s time). Other wood came from a demolished warehouse in Poole and from the Red Barracks which of course is now Wellington Court.
This year a casemate was given over to the exhibition of naval items as we had acquired a sufficient umber of these.
Additional dummies were obtained from Hepworths and were clothed and put on display. The response to an appeal for army boots produced some odd items but many were usable.
One restoration that met with unqualified approval from guides was that window bars and glazing was replaced in the Battery Observation Post (BOP). As most tours finished there it was much more comfortable to shelter from the wind that blew through most of the time.
A BBC film unit once again used the fort as a setting for part of a TV film on prison life called “Knock Back”. Pauline Collins was the leading actress.
As usual much was done during the winter months. Rope “mantlets” were fitted around the gun ports although due to rope no longer being available, painted nylon had to suffice.
The outer defensive ditch was cleaned out and a pathway restored. The caponier was made intruder proof so that easier access to the ditch created no extra security risk.
The water supply was via a temporary tank located on the grass bank above the tea room and store. This was filled by the only tap, located in the entrance tunnel. Sometimes this tap was left on and water streamed down the bank.
New displays were added. An Officers mess was constructed in the same location as it was in WW2. A collection of bottles, all empty, dressed the shelves behind a bar and two photographs of King George V and Queen Mary indicated that it was intended to represent the “between-wars” years.
A “Ferret” scout car was obtained on long loan from Bovington tank museum and provided an excellent vehicle for children to climb on. A steam engine was also obtained from the Technical College which was of a type used in Dockyard “picket” boats in Portland Harbour. It had been used as a demonstrator by the college and required much hard work to restore the engine to pristine condition.
Doorways were driven between casemates 3, 4 and 5 so that the public could proceed under cover for a greater distance. As the rooms were now glazed, permanent exhibitions could be displayed. In casemate 4 medals and badges which had been donated, could be placed in glass fronted cases on the walls and in also in glass topped cases. The latter were obtained from sources such as Kestins and Debenhams (who had a sale at Wareham) – we also acquired two female dummies, albeit bald and without clothes!
It had been noticed that prisoners at the Verne wore blue and white striped shirts which were identical to shirts worn in the Victorian period by Royal Artillery gunners. A small supply was obtained from the Verne and a seamstress repaired them and they went on display on dummies around the large 12.5” Muzzle Loading Gun.
During May the newly installed terrace floodlights were switched on and drew interest in the night scene and encouraged visitors to come during daylight hours. During the season the number of visitors rose to 24,300. It was now firm policy to admit accompanied children free so that families were encouraged to come.
As time went on the work of volunteers and the MSC became inter-mixed. Heavy work such stone and bricklaying, manufacture of frames, grass cutting etc. tended to be the province of the MSC although their workforce changed as contracts were for only one year. Alasdair was retained as the supervisor for a second year. Volunteers tasks, apart from manning the Fort during public opening hours, consisted of electrics, exhibits and specialised woodwork.
Another very visible attraction arrived in May. This was a single barrelled 40mm Bofors Anti-aircraft gun. This was purchased from the Army and arrived on a limber as a “mobile” gun but it was to become “static” when emplaced in the North Turret. To this end work was needed on the turret and several volunteers worked on the brickwork and also to restore the plinth on which the gun was fitted. Access to the tower had originally been on the south side by a metal stairway. This was corroded so it was removed and a wooden staircase fitted on the west side.
Other building construction was the rebuilding of the toilets. A public house on Portland – The Sawmill Tavern – was demolished and the stone was acquired and used to build a protective wall. The stone had to be treated and shaped first and it was a lengthy job. New toilet pans were installed behind doors so that respectability was enhanced!
A cookhouse display was installed at magazine level next to the NAAFI display. The catalyst here was the acquisition of a stove made in Devonport (Plymouth) at the turn of the century and intended to go aboard Scott’s ship Discovery which was then being restored in the North of the country. Subsequently this was not found to be required so that we were able to acquire it to form the basis of the cookhouse.
The Development of The Nothe Fort Museum - Chapter 5
Advertisements in the local press for period pots and pans for display in our cookhouse produced a remarkable number of items and these provided an authentic product. Alasdair’s expertise in model making was coming into its own and trays of food and meat were made, even showing flies on the food! During the year two very fine models of the Fort were made by Alasdair and Andrew Jolliffe. One depicted the Fort as it was in 1872 and the other as it was in 1944 when the Americans were “in charge” shortly before D Day. Alasdair did the research as to the actual look of the Fort at those times and the construction was carried out jointly with Andrew.
A better plinth with steps was made for the flag pole area and picnic tables were made by joint volunteer/MSC effort. These were placed on the ramparts and also outside on the terrace. The terrace itself was constructed from stone released from the Sandsfoot Castle site and this, plus some earthen steps to the ramparts, provided another access and viewing area for ship arrivals into Weymouth Harbour. Underneath the guardroom the Victorian ablutions were cleaned and a MSC plumber researched the possible configuration of pipe work etc. A typical cubicle arrangement was installed complete with boots visible under a door!
Mk.8 torpedo was obtained from the Navy for just the transport cost and it was installed on the floor of the naval casemate. The Mk.8 is a type of which quantities were manufactured in Weymouth at Whitehead’s Torpedo Factory under license during WWII. However the one we now have was probably made at the Royal Naval Torpedo Factory at Greenoch in Scotland. The Mk.8 was the type of torpedo which sank the General Belgrano in the Falklands conflict.
Other additions this year included a map of Palmerston’s Forts which helped to put the Nothe into a historical context. At the end of the year Alasdair was due to finish as supervisor but because of his excellent work and the fact that a daily presence at the Fort, especially during the winter was required, it was decided to employ him on a permanent basis. So we went into the employment business! Alasdair later became the curator of the Fort.
Through the good offices of 105 TT Plant Squadron Royal Engineers (V), we took delivery of a searchlight. There were plans for this to be sited on the terrace and used as an operational light. Two other lights were also obtained from the RE Bridging Camp. The three sets of iron stairs which led from the parade ground to the ramparts had been removed by the council in 1979 as being unsafe. Plans were obtained from the Royal Engineers Museum based on a 1913 pattern and photographs were examined so that reasonable accuracy could be achieved for the manufacture of replacements. This was done locally and the assembly and fitting was carried out in the autumn by the MSC.
The Tall Ships race started from Weymouth this year and the Fort provided an ideal viewpoint for the start. The ramparts were also used by the coastguard service to practise raising and lowering casualties down a cliff. The WW2 barrack room was moved to casemate 7 and because of the increase in space more figures were added, some of which were playing cards. On the table stood a wireless which later was to be wired up to play 1940’s type music. The visitor numbers this year went up to 40,000 and thoughts of further expansion to exhibits was actively considered. The vision of guided tours disappearing in favour of unlimited access and sufficient information on walls and in displays, was gradually being realised.
A signals room set up was organised through the good offices of the Royal Signals Museum at Blandford and was installed on the ramparts where there was a signal office in WW2. The equipment supplied was authentic WW2 type. As interest in the Fort grew, members gave talks to groups in the town including a slide display.
The “pinnace” engine was nearing completion and a suitable display plinth and case was made. A propeller shaft was made by AUWE apprentices on Portland and a very authentic looking propeller was made by a volunteer. The model was electric powered to add interest. After lengthy negotiations with Newhaven Fort and others, permission was obtained to receive on long term loan, a 6” coastal gun similar to the type fitted in the Fort from 1907 until 1957. The barrel had been recovered from the ditch of Newhaven Fort. A lot of cleaning was required and an emplacement on the ramparts in an existing gun pit was made, together with sights and appropriate shields. When emplaced on the ramparts, this very realistic looking relic became another visible sign from the esplanade of the Fort’s occupation.
This year permission was obtained to install a tea bar, something that had been mooted for some time. Facilities for the bar were built in casemate 6 in preparation for the opening the following year. Thoughts were also turned towards provision of public toilets for without these the public could not sit and eat or drink. Photographs taken outside the Fort on the south side revealed that some of the piling used when the Fort was built could still be seen amongst the rocks. Also outside the Fort heavy rain caused a landslip of some magnitude. A lot of the Council’s painstakingly built Elizabethan walk finished up 40 feet lower. The slip also took one of the Fort’s original searchlight emplacements with it. The Fort itself escaped damage although a precautionary concrete wedge was installed outside the caponier. The slip did encourage more visitors to the Fort if only to photograph it!
The Royal Engineers were once again helpful. As a result of a donation from a visitor, it was discovered that the 26th Company RE had been responsible for building the Fort. On enquiry they were found to be still in existence as 26 Armoured Squadron and on return from Germany they visited and helped with the Searchlight and also built a “junior” assault course for children beyond the terrace on the north side. Also on the north side was erected a replica “Armada” beacon which was lit to commemorate the anniversary of the coming of the Spanish Armada. Paid admissions for the year came to a generous 45,000.
An “arms amnesty” had produced a quantity of weapons of various types and our application to receive some did bear fruit. Police approval had to be obtained and an armoury was set up at ground floor level with a separate alarm system. A second “Bofors” gun was acquired, this time a twin barrelled type which in the past had been mounted on HMS Belfast. The gun was fitted with a sound system which, on payment of 20p, produced realistic commands, gunfire and the scream of diving aircraft. The low loader which brought the gun to the Fort became stuck in Horsford Street and eventually had to be reversed from there to the Fort. A remarkable achievement by the driver!
The guardroom received more figures, a prisoner being returned by a military policeman and a dummy asleep in bed after his hours of duty. In the magazine area a new display was that of Contraband Control for neutral shipping, something which had been organised locally in 1939 and in which the Fort played its part. Weymouth Bay is displayed and paddle steamers were shown going between the ships to ensure that no undesirable materials were being carried to Germany. Alasdair and Tony Ewens made most of the fine ship models. In the Weymouth at War exhibit a realistic depiction of a bombing incident in Weymouth was displayed together with maps, photographs and items of civilian interest.
The Development of The Nothe Fort Museum - Chapter 6
A Victorian barrack room was constructed with soldiers as they might have been, adjacent to their guns. A volunteer constructed a fireplace, coal box and gas mantles while later, a gramophone was added of Victorian vintage. Also in the display was a gunners “wife” which was allowed on some occasions. The “married quarters” were often only separated by a blanket over a rope!
A diversion this year was a small deer which was trapped on the rocks below the Fort. Two MSC workers with farming experience managed to get the animal clear and held it until the RSPCA arrived. The entry fee was now raised to £1 but nevertheless it represented good value with the corresponding increase in exhibits and the number entering the Fort in fact increased to 52,549. Guided tours were becoming a thing of the past and for a member of the public just walking around could take two hours.
The searchlight on the terrace was fully installed, operating from the mains with a special bulb rather than carbon arc as originally designed. The position for the light was not as it was previously because the WWII position was outside the Fort and liable to vandalism. Sound was introduced into the Fort. Permission from the Performing Rights Society was obtained for three tapes to be used to broadcast WWII music, speeches etc. in the barrack room, Ghost noises in the south magazine corridor and Victorian music hall songs in the barrack room of that period.
The MSC scheme came to an end but was superseded by a similar arrangement under a different name ET (Employment Training). For this system a “trainer” was required and employed. During the year the armoury was raided and two hand guns taken, but to our relief the weapons were recovered although the police would not allow the continuance of the display until a modified alarm system was installed. The Royal Monmouthshire Regiment (RE) whose commanding officer was the Duke of Gloucester, held a cocktail party at the Fort one evening after the doors were closed to the public. The Regimental Band beat retreat and the Fort committee were in attendance.
A blacksmith shop was constructed in casemate 8 – the forge and anvil being made by two volunteers. Another volunteer assembled a belt driven drilling machine and in the same room examples of military bridges were brought together. These latter were provided by the RE bridging camp and were used for training purposes. At the magazine level a display showing the operation of a typical “magazine” was set up with a figure dressed in “safe” canvas clothing together with a “dirty” and “clean” area.
A “reading room” was established in casemate 26 with authentic newspapers displayed by headline and also posters from WWII together with a Queen Victoria Golden Jubilee edition of the Daily Mail. On occasion the council wanted to simulate the sound of gunfire and the Bofors tower was used for this purpose. The firework which was used was hung over the tower wall and caused damage to the brickwork. Therefore one of the Fort’s guns (serpentine gun) was later transferred to the ramparts and used for the purpose of mock firing.
The 10th year of operation was marked by a small party. The “tea bar” operator for the first year was unable to carry on but fortunately Mo Hennessy (right) volunteered for the task and with the help of her fairly large family, has continued to run the facility very successfully. She tackled the task like an expert even though she had not been involved in mass catering before. A rather more elaborate “Fort History booklet” was thought to be required and Mr.G.Carter volunteered to produce one for expenses only. This he did excellently and our first glossy publication was produced. Entry figure for the year was 60,218.
Several new exhibits were introduced this year all at magazine level. One model represented the arrival of the Spanish armada and another featured the hanging of two so-called traitors in 1645, something which happened on the Nothe headland when the Nothe Fort was but a wooden structure. The third element was a model made by Alasdair of the operation of the 6” gun loading. This model included a tape describing the gun loading operation, which cost visitors 20p to listen to it.
This year the toilets were constructed with a specialist firm coming in to drill through the outer wall and the armour plating, so that sewage pipes could be taken towards the main sewer, which the council had brought close to the Fort. This enabled casemate 7 to be used as a restaurant which Mo attacked with vigour providing tablecloths and flowers for the tables which were made by the “permanent” staff. Chairs had been acquired from a caravan site on Portland. This meant that the barrack room display had to be moved to the next room and the bridging display model moved to the magazine level.
The restaurant area was now a convenient venue for functions outside opening hours. The entrance fee was now raised to £1.50 but the numbers remained high at 55,909. In July a scheme called “Friends of the Fort” was launched. Costing £3 annually, the holder of a membership card could enter the Fort at half price. Twice a year a bulletin would be issued. It was slow to take off and numbered 20 in the first year. The figure is growing.
The tea room serving counter and the kitchen were extended and this year permission was received to sell ice cream for the first time! The mouse hunt was introduced and become a very popular feature for children (of all ages!). Model mice were hidden in cases, behind barriers etc. and the children were invited to count them. On leaving, they were presented with a certificate detailing their names and the number of mice counted. This enabled parents to enjoy the exhibits while the children were mouse occupied. Sound was extended this year to the Civil War and Armada displays.
Another major model in the magazine area was that showing the laying of the last stone on the “Original” Portland Breakwater by Edward Prince of Wales, the son of Prince Albert. It shows a large number of troops on parade together with dignitaries and civilians. It features two model trains, one carrying coal and the other tourists. A fine model of the Royal Yacht “Victoria and Albert”, made by Tony Ewens, is also shown. Figures include Edward Prince of Wales being presented with a bouquet by a small girl, with a “certain lady” looking on. Entry numbers this year were 54,000.
Several display changes took place this year with the “three ages of the Fort” model being moved into the cookhouse (casemate 2). This display featured the uniforms of those serving in the Nothe Fort during its service life. During the course of the year the sales goods in the shop had made an increasingly large contribution to income and the range of merchandise on sale had been extended. A pedestal display cabinet was constructed by our volunteers for the reception area and this showed off goods to greater effect. A red telephone box had been purchased and was set up in casemate 4 for visitors use during the summer (the line was discontinued during the winter). A display of heads with military headgear was now visible to visitors in the cookhouse window and an exhibit of nurse’s uniforms was transferred to the magazine area adjacent to Weymouth at War.
The Development of The Nothe Fort Museum - Chapter 7
A new major display this year was a representation of the invasion of Dorset by a Roman Legion. A fine model of Maiden Castle being attacked was accompanied by a model of Roman galleons sailing up the river Wey. On the push of a button wind and rowing action were shown. A life size Roman legionary was also displayed with a full scale ballista. Sound was also introduced into the Signal Office, the breakwater display and Mo’s tearoom. The portcullis was rebuilt during the winter, giving added security. On this subject a number of cameras were installed around the fort, some of which were “dummies” and a new movement activated light was erected in the courtyard. Some problems were encountered here from birds flying around the parade ground at night! Signal lamps were fitted above the BOP and they provided excellent courtyard lighting for night time events.
During the year Radio Solent ran a quiz and one of the prizes was a visit to the Fort. The visitors were met and brought to the Fort in a jeep. They were given a guided tour and a typical wartime meal. Also during the year it was calculated that the 500,000th visitor arrived. The surprised couple were not only allowed in free but were also personally accompanied around the museum and given a meal of sausage and mash!
Another major newcomer to the Fort’s armament was a 3.7” Heavy Anti-aircraft gun of a type that was emplaced in a battery just outside the Fort, during WWII. The negotiations were protracted but the receipt and installation of the weapon on the ramparts were carried out very speedily and provided another skyline feature for viewers on the esplanade. The Civic Society display boards showing annual award recipients, had been transferred to the restaurant and brought up to date. The number of visitors this year reached a record 60,600. A resume of visitor numbers so far:
1980 - 9,000
1986 - 31,369 – the first accurate count including children
1993 - 60,600
With the prospect of a bumper year in 1994, with the Civic Society’s 50th anniversary, the D Day 50thanniversary, together with the start of the enlarged Tall Ships race, the Fort looked set to continue its “ever upwards” prospect. It has certainly been a remarkable collaboration between the Civic Society, the Borough Council and the public providing employment and enjoyment for all.
1994 was a bumper year as predicted, with a record number of 71,947 visitors. This was largely accounted for by two events – the 50th anniversary of D Day and the start of the Tall Ships race - the watching crowds are illustrated in the picture on the right. Throughout the year parties from the US and Holland were a weekly occurrence as well as an increased number of school and other parties. There was a special service and parade of standards arranged by the British Legion on the anniversary of D Day. This event was attended by US and UK veterans as well as local dignitaries and members of the public. On another day wartime food was served in a marquee – a “bangers and mash” day. For the Tall Ships race start, a record number of 2,456 visitors entered the Fort having started to queue early in the morning for the privilege of a good view. Most were content to see the spectacle and then leave but some stayed on and were suitably impressed.
before the season started the Fort provided the venue for a party to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Weymouth Civic Society at which, again, many local and military dignitaries attended. The event was held in a marquee on the parade ground. In addition and as part of the Civic Society’s events, the Fort loaned out many items for a display at Brewers Quay.
The work programme during the 1993/4 winter was very extensive. A first class model of a typical D Day beachhead was made by Allen Hall from Swansea. This was collected and erected in a special D Day section in the magazine area. Models of ships involved in the invasion were assembled and illuminated with a push button display. Full size figures represented the US forces and a fine model of Portland Harbour shortly before D Day was made, partly by our volunteers. Another model showing an earlier 16th Century invasion was made, together with full size figures dressed in period costume. Newspapers of the period completed the display. A temporary display was provided by Mr. Warren who has a matchstick fleet of warships of the post-war period made entirely of matchsticks and their boxes. Quite wonderful workmanship – the swing-wing aircraft models have wings that actually do swing. Radio hams provided an example of long range communication with which the public could participate.
The Royal Engineers (Royal Monmouth Militia) held a cocktail party in the Fort (on a foul night) and then volunteered to send a working party to help us. They commenced by cementing vulnerable fissures in the outer wall and apron of the Fort (much of this work done by ladies!). They then started to drive a link from one of the magazines into the large water tank below the parade ground. These works remained unfinished and they hoped to come back in 1995.
For the first time band concerts were held on some Sundays for which a special bandstand was constructed. The bands were all Dorset based, some coming from Bridport or Lyme Regis. The vessel “My Girl” received a presentation pennant from the Royal Artillery Association, using the Fort as a venue – this was very appropriate because the boat plied across the harbour carrying men and equipment for all the local Forts, throughout WWII. A motor cycle rally was held in May. With the imminent departure of the Navy from Portland, Alasdair was invited to look at the fixtures and fittings remaining on the breakwater. As a result of his survey we acquired a number of authentic items e,g, stoves, washbasins etc. from the Victorian period.The year saw the loss of one committee member – Alan Boulter, who had started this history. However we were pleased to gain two new members in David Duffie and Peter Saunders. David eventually added more detail to this progress report. During the year we were accepted as an associate member of the Museum Association. This was largely due to the acquisition of a computer and the expertise of Peter Saunders. All items in the Fort have now been identified, numbered and most are catalogued. We have also joined the Association of Independent Museums, which provides useful information.
This was again a successful year with attendance at a new recordlevel. 74,100 visitors came through the doors, including those attending the VE and VJ events. During the year we were accepted by the Museum and Galleries Commission as a member, initially on a provisional basis. Progression to full museum status always takes time and depends on our maintenance of standards. These will be monitored on a yearly basis by Tom Craig our curatorial advisor. We have as a consequence, been accepted as members of the SW Area Museum Council which does mean that we can apply for grants and our first of these was for £350 to fit UV filters over windows to protect displayed photographs and prints.
We have also applied for a grant from the Mercer’s company for additional de-humidifiers and to the Foundation for Sport and the Arts for the installation of a lift to enable handicapped people to access the magazine level. Preliminary assessment has also started on a large scheme to waterproof and restore the ramparts level. This involves considerable expense and discussion with English Heritage and the Ancient Monuments Commission has not yet resolved the exact nature of the work or the source for financing it.
On exhibits, the new addition, although only temporary for the VE/VJ anniversary year, was “That’s life that was”. This was located in the old engine room and the photographs and figures were supplemented by some quite superb models made by volunteers. Twice during the year the Matchstick Fleet visited, again with great success. The “Victorian gun deck” was changed and extended, bringing casemates 22 to 26 together as one room. Additional displays, such as the popular “Military Moustaches”, were added.
The Royal Engineers returned as promised and nearly completed their work on the sea wall. They achieved success in gaining access to the underground water tank but because of the difference in levels, steps had to be installed. A saluting gun was purchased to simplify firing a salute on appropriate occasions. The gun was fired on several occasions during the year when important ships arrived or left Weymouth harbour. The searchlight was also used successfully for events in the summer. A carrying chair, for the use of injured/incapacitated people in the Fort, was purchased. Pre – season a volunteers outing was arranged to Hurst castle (picture on left).
Events during the year included -
- VE Day anniversary – a 5 day concert party was carried on almost continuously, with local groups taking part and a WWII buffet run by Mo. Radio “hams” also brought in their equipment so that the public could see and could also communicate with other parts of the world. The culmination was an evening sing-along and beacon lighting, to link with the national minutes silence for the end of the war.
- VJ Day anniversary was commemorated by an evening service preceded by a sing-along with Weymouth Choral Society. There was a parade of standards by the British Legion. The service was conducted by the Bishop of Sherborne.
- Owners of the vessel My Girl kindly presented the Fort with a seat in thanks for use of the Fort for the presentation of a pennant by the Royal Artillery Association.
- An evening of entertainment for the Olympic Trialists who visited Weymouth, a jazz evening organised by the Crime Prevention Panel (this was attended by the High Sheriff of Dorset).
- A Cocktail Party organised by the Royal Engineers at which the pipers from the 71st Scottish Engineers Regiment (Volunteers) played.
After the excitement and the anniversaries of the past two years it was expected that our attendance would be somewhat reduced and this proved to be the case with only 62,870 visitors passing through; A satisfactory number nevertheless. Despite this reduction in footfall, our finances were not too badly affected as we had increased our admission fee to £2.50 (summer), remaining at £2 for the winter.
The practise of having an “event” continued and we introduced a new venture, a Victorian weekend for the Spring Bank Holiday period. Attendance was good on two days but unfortunately the weather intervened on the other days. Participation by several local choral groups provided continuous music of the Victorian period and Mo provided appropriate food. The event could be considered a success being helped in no small way by Colin Isaac’s Lantern Slide display and also his installation of a “camera obscura” on the Fort’s ramparts. Also present during the weekend and for a further week in August, was Phil Warren’s Matchstick Fleet which proves to be an ever popular display.
Two re-enactment groups also performed in the Fort to give the Spring Bank Holiday event a strong military flavour. The two groups were the “Die Hards”, plus the much admired Cumberland Guard from Portsmouth. The latter wore the ornate uniform of the Royal Marines from 1827. Both groups mounted guard and performed drill, including the firing of their muskets and cannon, all too good effect. Later in the year a re-enactment group representing an Irish Guards Signals group, brought exhibits to display and again mounted guard.
New exhibits were the Fortress Builders – an excellent and extremely complex series of models explaining the process of fortress building and illustrating some of the Fort’s that are located in other coastal areas. The paddle steamer display was extended and a ships bell, presented by the Association, went on display. Several displays were re-hashed, including Weymouth at War, the Armoury and the Signals Office.
On the works front the water tank opening was completed by the Royal Engineers, now making it possible for future use as a store or display area – it is a large vaulted room under the parade ground. A searchlight was installed on the ramparts to provide courtyard lighting. “Walky talky” range was extended and the PA system was improved as was the extent of the television viewing points – mainly to cover the engine room display area. A field telephone was installed for communication between office and archives room and a fax and answering machine were installed in the office. Musket slots were improved and emergency exits completed. The location of the tape recorders, for sounds, was altered from Weymouth at War to the Ghost corridor making it easier for access and maintenance.
A grant was obtained from the Pilgrim Trust for some more de-humidifiers and also one from the AMCSW for environmental improvements, such as extra UV filters on windows. A grant application was sent to the Lottery for help towards a handicapped persons lift to the magazine level after having had little success with the Foundation for Sport and the Arts. Our licence with the WPBC expired at the end of August and a revision was made including a term extension to 21 years. An outing for volunteers took place to Fort Cumberland and also to the Royal Marines museum, both of which were based in Portsmouth.
So far as attendance was concerned once again we were down on the previous year. There are probably many reasons for this but we would hope to address at least some of them. A particular problem is the cost of car parking on the Nothe. The minimum charge during the summer is £1.50 for two hours. Most people spend up to 3 hours in the Fort so that their entry fee is increased by £3. Visitors think that this is exorbitant. We have approached the Council on this and they have promised to consider the inequity of these charges compared with others in town. Our attendance this year was 54,185. Despite this decrease in numbers there were some innovations, notably a performance of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about nothing” performed by the Weymouth Drama Club.
Other events which probably show the way for the future, included the Victorian and Military weekend, band concerts and a jazz evening organised by the Crime Prevention Panel. In addition other parties came to view fireworks during August, bringing their own refreshments. School parties increased in frequency and once again the Matchstick Fleet appeared to much appreciation.
A new display was produced by the model makers this year. This was on the theme of Rudyard Kipling’s “Barrack Room Ballads”. The display consisted of two sentries in front of a central case containing a model of a typical Victorian barracks, together with a tape of Victorian military songs produced especially for us by the Dorset group, the Yetties. Behind were six two sided cases containing photographs and artefacts from the period. Most of the artefacts came on loan from the Keep in Dorchester and in fact the whole operation was in conjunction with them. The eventual display did the rounds at the Keep followed by appearances in the County Records Office, Barnstaple museum, South Gloucestershire museum and Bovington, before finally settling in the Nothe Fort. We received a grant from the AMCSW to help with putting together this informative display of our soldiers at work and play.
On the work side, rather too much was tackled this winter resulting in some of the projects remaining uncompleted. The canteen was moved to casemate 8 and as a consequence the WWII Barrack Room display was transferred to casemate 6. Reception was re-organised incorporating open trading system using shelving which was donated and installed by Versatile Fittings Ltd. of Aylesbury. As items were left out, the reception area was locked when not in operation. This also necessitated a change to the Curator’s office (which existed within casemate 3!).
Two flood-lights were re-located; one was placed behind the armoury and the other on the ramparts to provide courtyard lighting. The naval mine was renovated as was the Scammel lorry (tank recovery vehicle). New doors were put in at magazine level for environmental and safety reasons. A “slippage” near the 6” gun emplacement on the ramparts was repaired. The standby generator was sold following clearance from the council that all shelter items (nuclear bunker?), could be disposed of. The generator room is now being used as an electrical workshop. A new sub-mains was installed to provide additional supply. During the winter much electric work was involved in the various changes.
The entry gate was renovated and heightened to prevent unauthorised entry and in addition an electrically controlled catch was installed. The Civic Society store was cleared to be used as a store for the Fort’s gift shop. Casemate 4 was cleared and the window black out material was removed to reveal a very bright and pleasant interior. The Fortress Builders display was placed here. QM store, Officer’s mess, cobblers shop and NAAFI rooms were glazed in. A grant for this was provided by AMCSW.
The Victorian girder located outside the NAAFI/Cookhouse was found to be rusty so that temporary support was required and this was provided by telegraph poles! (See the end of this article for a report on the arrival of the replacement RSJ). The water tanks in the engine room were removed to make a larger room for meetings and conferences. The D Day film was removed as unsatisfactory and replaced by other D Day exhibits.
Our application for a lottery grant ground its way to a halt. The Lottery Board first asked that we obtain a longer lease. We did this when our lease ran out by obtaining a 21 year term. No sooner had this been allowed when the Lottery Board said that a 25 year term was required! We went back and obtained this only to be told by the Lottery that whilst our application for a grant for a lift was in order, their advice from English Heritage was that there was more work that could be included so would we gather it all together and submit a new application. This then involved us in a Feasibility Study to ascertain the extent and cost of the work. At the end of the year the relevant information will be gathered together as requested.
The Committee decided that our collection of handguns (military pistols and revolvers), should be returned. This has been done and a refund should be forthcoming. Items of all descriptions continue to arrive from the public including a large and impressive amount of torpedo material from local diver Ed Cummings. An outing for our volunteers was arranged to Gloucester Docks.
A tale of a Rolled Steel Joist (RSJ):
Many years ago the room which now features the evacuee’s classroom, was used as an office by our Curator Alasdair Murray. One Thursday morning I was sat there with Alasdair when we noticed a flat bed lorry, carrying an RSJ, arrive in the courtyard and park up in “our” corner. The lorry was closely followed by a mobile crane. We were subsequently aware that the crane had lifted the RSJ into the air to allow the lorry to manoeuvre away and we could admire the length and the massive bulk of this giant as it rode high and dry in its wire lifting strop.
As the driver of the flat bed had parked in the South West corner of the Fort, the crane driver had to manoeuvre in order to deliver the RSJ to its proper location, in the South East corner. Alas, as soon as the crane started to move the RSJ, which was not properly held at its C of G, succumbed to gravity and one end of it dropped speedily to make heavy contact with the parade ground. What followed was a parody of a caber toss as the upper end of the RSJ slowly moved through the vertical and proceeded to accelerate downwards and in our direction! We were awestruck but were able to calculate in our minds, that the falling end would just about reach and demolish Alasdair’s office window. What saved the day was the intervention of the small building which is used to house our Artillery Volunteers cannon. The roof of this building took the full impact but importantly, it also arrested the fall of the RSJ and prevented any further mayhem.
Following recovery of the badly behaved item, a very large sigh of relief followed its successful manoeuvring across the parade ground and, after some difficulty, the lowering of it into its new home. It can now be seen residing and taking the strain, outside and above our Village Hall and NAAFI display. The contractor involved undertook to repair the damaged roof and that task was duly completed.
To be continued . . . .
Opening Times 2017
Spring: 11:00am to 4:30pm
- Half Term Daily from 11th February to 19th February
- Sundays Only From 26th February to 26th March
Summer: 10:30am to 5:30pm
- Open Daily from 1st April to 30th September
Autumn & Winter: 11:00am to 4:30pm
- Sundays Only From 1st October to 10th December
- Half Term Daily from 21st October to 29th October
Please note that last admissions are One hour before advertised closing time and that Nothe Fort may close early in exceptional circumstances at the Duty Managers discretion or may be closed for a private or special event.
- Adult £8
- Senior Citizen £7
- Children under 5 FREE
- Children 5 to 15 (Inclusive) Only £2
- 2 Adults + 2 Children £18
- 1 Adult + 2 Children £10
Groups & Tours
- Groups of 10 or more adults £6.50 per person
- Guided Tours for Groups (10+ persons advance booking only) £7.50
- School Visits (10+ persons) £2 per pupil
- Evacuee Experience (18-50 Pupils Advance Booking Only) £4.00 per pupil
Serving British Military Personnel will be admitted free of charge on production of identity card.
We accept Card Payments subject to a minimum of £5.00
Please note we now offer an Annual Pass for all visitors for the same price as a normal admission. This means one adult can come in to the Fort for as many times as they wish during the 12 month validity period for £8 while a family of four (2 adults & 2 children) can do the same for just £18. Please note this offer excludes admission for up to 5 special events during the year (see events page for more details)
As a registered charity we are eligible to claim Gift Aid. This allows us to claim back 25p for every £1 you give to us, boosting the value of your donation by a quarter. All we need from you is permission to reclaim the tax you have paid to HMRC by signing a form on entry. More information on Gift Aid