tel:- +44 1752 822864
fax:- +44 1752 822341
web address:- www.polhawnfort.com
Polhawn Fort :-
Venue licensed for civil partnership or wedding ceremonies
Weddings at Polhawn Fort are SPECTACULAR, UNIQUE and always quite UNFORGETTABLE. The Fort is provided in a different way from hotels and other venues, so that you can have a truly wonderful day arranged just the way you - yourselves - want it.
Venue type - Historical Building
Venue type Church: Venue type - Church
Number of function rooms available for weddings: 1
Function room names and capacities: Napoleonic Hall
Guests rooms available: sleeps 20 persons - 8 bedrooms
Honeymoon suite available: yes
Garden suitable for marquees: yes
Local accommodation: There is plenty of additional accommodation in the area
Choice of wedding breakfast menus Yes
Alcohol License Yes
Toastmaster Available Yes
Entertainment Available Yes
Dedicated wedding planner available Yes
Licensed for Civil Ceremonies Yes
Dance Floor Yes
Evening Reception Facilities Yes
Car Parking Facilities Yes
Ideal Honeymoon Venue
Tables chairs linens and tableware included
Entertainment is available: We provide a full list of entertainers to choose from
Wedding services provided: We provide the Fort on an exclusive basis for a whole weekend Friday to Monday or a mid-week wedding Monday to Friday. The accommodation is included in the hire. The couples have complete flexibility of how they arrange their wedding within the Fort. They can choose one of our recommended caterers or bring a caterer in themselves, or even cater for themselves
Gardens or outside locations suitable for wedding photography: The Fort is located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and overlooks a wonder 3 mile long bay. It has spectacular views as a backdrop to photographs
Suitable locations inside the venue for wedding photography: There are plenty of interesting areas inside the Fort to take photographs
Local picturesque areas suitable for wedding photography: The surrounding area is beautiful and are perfect for photographs
Venue special features: Exclusive Hire
Direct access to secluded Beach
Garden Gazebo licensed for wedding ceremonies, so you can get married over looking the sea.
Venue History: Polhawn Battery
The Fort was constructed between 1862 and 1867, when it was known as Polhawn Battery. Strictly speaking, a Battery was a specialised fortification with armaments - principally cannons - with which to 'batter' the enemy, whilst a Fort was a fully contained Head of Command post, with accommodation and supplies for a full complement of officers and men. The name appears to have changed soon after 1927, when the Fort was sold by the then Ministry of War into private hands.
The Fort was built as a part of the widespread Plymouth Defences which were all constructed around the same time in order to defend the critically important Naval base at Plymouth. The role of Polhawn Fort was to prevent hostile landings along the wide sandy beaches of Whitsand Bay that stretch nearly as far as Looe.
Palmerston's Follies and Napoleonic Forts
The forts and fortifications from this period are known variously as Napoleonic Forts, and as Palmerston's Follies. Both these names refer to the time of a deteriorating relationship between France and England in the mid-nineteenth century, and more specifically between Napoleon III of France, and Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister of Great Britain.
The long-standing British mistrust of the French substantially intensified when France built the world's first iron-clad warship. This important military development caused great anxiety in Victorian Britain - which still felt that Britannia ruled the waves - since it threatened to make the entire Royal Navy obsolete overnight.
It was decided in 1847 that it would be preferable to construct fortifications rather than increase the size of standing military forces. There were two main reasons for this: first it was believed to be a cheaper option in the long run, since the defences would be manned by the Dad's Army of the day - civilians and 'disembodied' (ie disabled) soldiers: secondly, because they perceived then (as is the case in many countries now) that a large and powerful army will always pose a potential threat to its own civilian government.
The principal reason for calling the fortifications Palmerston's Follies was the fact that the forts were never subjected to attack and never (except as anti-aircraft batteries in later times) fired in anger. But this entirely misses the main point of the Royal Commission's intentions, which was that their construction was always intended as a deterrent to the French (and others). Consequently, it is their very lack of use, and the absence of any attempted invasion, whilst the Royal Navy was busy modernising its fleet, that can be seen as an indication of the success of the strategy.
In addition to being known as one of the Palmerston's Follies, Polhawn Fort has a further problem. Local gossip has it that only the Royal Engineers could spend five years in planning and building the fort, only to discover that it is facing in the wrong direction. This is because its two angled faces command the beach and shallow water of Whitsand Bay and the arc of fire of the fort's cannons could not reach round to the open sea, where ships could anchor and fire upon it at will.
There was a logical reason for this, which is part of the nature of the fort's history. The need for the Fort, and the others, was decided upon in 1847, but the detailed planning, the location, the purchase of the land from the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, and the five years of building works were not completed for a further twenty years.
During this time there was, more than at any previous time in history, a tremendously fast development in the technology of cannon weaponry. So although the Fort was conceived and designed to hold seven cannons which needed protection behind eight feet thick walls from return fire, by the time it was completed, modern cannons were so powerful that it was more effective to put them at the top of hills behind reinforced earthworks.
It was thus much easier to keep ships and landing parties well out to sea, and Whitsand Bay Battery, principally a fortified earthwork (now a caravan site) was better placed for this; so Polhawn Fort was obsolete before its completion. Indeed there are still signs of this at the top of the southern face, where, in an area which would have needed the most protection, the defensive walls at the parapet level are actually unfinished.
HISTORY OF THE FORT (Continued: page 2)
A recently excavated 24 pounder cannon of the "Blomefield" design, dating from around 1809 and weighing two and a half tons, can be seen outside the back door of the main room, beneath the drawbridge. It is not certain as to whether the Fort was ever actually properly armed.
In the late nineteenth century the Fort appears to have been used as accommodation for certain gunnery officers who were at Whitsand Bay Battery. It was manned up to and during the first world war, and apparently the drawbridge was raised every single night (this was restored to full working order in Spring 1992 - quite possibly for the first time since the first world war). For a few months at the beginning of the first world war, the Magazine was used as a windowless dungeon, or detention cell for errant soldiers - and their writings on the wall, factual, cringing, and sarcastic, are still in good condition.
The Fort was sold by the Ministry of War into private hands in 1927, and has had a mixed history since then. In the thirties it was used a hotel and tea rooms, and the original guest list is still in private hands - one famous guest was Tommy Handly, of Music Hall fame. At the end of the second world war the Fort was purchased by a family who shared and sub-divided it in a variety of ways until 1986, when the final sole remaining female member put it up for auction. The present owners, John and Teresa Wicksteed purchased it from the successful bidder (who apparently never visited it after the auction) in 1988.
It has now been completely and sympathetically refurbished with full central heating, eight bedrooms, six with en-suite bathrooms, one further bathroom, and a generous 80 foot long sitting/dining/entertaining room comprising four of the original cannon arches or casemates.
HISTORICAL/MILITARY FEATURES OF THE FORT
The fort was designed to hold seven cannons, and so is built with seven large arched and vaulted areas, each of them a casemate for one cannon. Four are facing along the beaches and shallow waters of Whitsand Bay, and three face slightly more out to sea.
All of the rooms of the fort, except for the kitchen, face the sea. The principal windows of the Fort are the massively constructed embrasures for the cannons: there are also many secondary windows which were originally musketry ports for small arms defence; and, it has to be admitted, several windows to the rear that were actually intended as windows.
The main entrance to the fort is at roof level across a unique drawbridge that pivots in the middle of the half nearest the fort. This operates in effect through a quick release mechanism, which could be operated by a single soldier in a moment if under surprise attack (to which the fort was quite vulnerable, being set down into the hillside). This drawbridge was fully restored by John Wicksteed in 1992 and though locked for safety purposes, can (with due notice) readily be demonstrated for guests.
There is a curious construction on the North end of the Fort comprising two substantial arches formed into the stone-work and a sloping wall underneath. The upper arch, set into the eight feet thick wall is to enable the wall beneath to be angled so that the musketry slots set into it can face directly down the dry moat below which runs out to the cliff face. Beneath this there is another substantial arch, with a sloping wall running down into the bottom of the dry moat. At the top of the sloping wall can be seen a slot behind the arch which was originally open into the fort. This was to enable the defending soldiers to fire down upon any attackers who had managed to get to the bottom of the wall of the fort, and thus prevent them from mining the walls, or gathering beneath the limited range of the musketry slots for an attack. Generally where this feature is found it is usually in the form of a hole, rather than a long slot.
HISTORY OF THE FORT (Continued: page 3)
The main entrance down into the fort from the drawbridge is down a beautifully cut granite spiral staircase. An interesting feature of this is the question as to whether it winds in the wrong direction. An important feature of ancient spiral staircases is to wind in such a direction that the defenders, who were generally defending from above, could have their sword arms (or muskets) on the outside of the spiral, to give them the most room as they faced their attackers. Since this was obviously most normally the right hand side, it means that most spiral staircases wind down in an anti-clockwise direction.
The main spiral staircase of the fort (and its twin at the other end of the fort) do wind down in this direction, but one might assume that in a surprise attack the enemy would be coming from above: ie, they would have the advantage of the anti-clockwise wind of the spiral. A possible explanation for this is that it could be said to demonstrate that the military strategy would dictate that the defenders regard the roof level as their main retreat, and would maintain an escape route up there - having much earlier raised the drawbridge - and thus defend themselves from above, rather than below.
A genuine 24 pounder "Blomefield" design cannon dating from around 1809 is now on view in the fort grounds. This cannon would have seen service in Napoleon Bonaparte's time and quite possibly spent its active life on a ship of the line. It is in near perfect condition, and has a beautiful George III crest on the top. The fort would have been built with this sort of cannon in mind, though if it was ever armed, which is a matter for academic dispute, it would have been with a similar cannon, a 32/64 pounder, with a bore about half an inch wider. These cannons were originally 32 pounders, ie they were originally made to fire cannon balls weighing 32 pounds in weight: they then had their muzzles bored out to put in a rifling sleeve. This restored the original bore of 6.25", and thus enabled use of the original 32 pound cannon balls. But it also enabled them to fire the latest 64 pound exploding shells, since these had brass studs to fit the rifling and so spin the shell as it left the cannon, leading to far greater accuracy and penetration.
Cannon racer rails
In all the sitting room and the upper bedrooms can still be found the original round cannon front racer rings just inside the embrasures (front windows). The rear racer rings have long been removed, though one has been found in the garden. Where these used to be has been picked out in subtle form by quarry tiles embedded into the heavy granite blocks set into the floor.
The Dangerous areas
The construction of the Fort is massive. With its foundations cut into solid rock, internal wall three feet thick, ceilings with a minimum thickness of six feet, and out wall no less than eight feet thick, it was built entirely from solid masonry. all structural support throughout is of arched and vaulted brickwork.
One area however did have a wooden floor; this was the Magazine Room (for storage of gunpowder) and the Shell Filling Room, which unusually for the time, were built into the Fort.
Everything about this part of the fort was designed to minimise the risk of sparks and accidental explosion. All of the door hinges were made of brass instead of the wrought iron found elsewhere. The area was locked and shut off. In order to approach this locked-off area, the soldiers had first to remove their boots and put on special slippers as well as replacing any metal bearing parts of their uniform with smocks.
The Lighting Room
An important and very dangerous element of ancient fortifications was that the stored gunpowder and explosives were always kept in low, protected. and thereby dark areas. Since the only way that these volatile areas could be lit was by flame-based lamps, a critical design factor was to help prevent accidental explosion from within.
In the lower corridors of the fort can be seen glass fronted cupboards set into the stone work: these were to contain oil-lamps, and each has a grill above for ventilation of the fumes. In the most critically dangerous area - the shell-filling room, and the magazine (for storing explosives) there are several of these cupboards which can be approached from the inside via a small shut-in corridor - the so-called lighting room. The soldier (no doubt a "volunteer") had to shut himself into this corridor before lighting up the lamps that faced out onto the dangerous areas.
HISTORY OF THE FORT (Continued: page 4)
In this wooden floored area lies the Magazine, which was for storing all the gunpowder and explosives for the fort. This room now has the only truly original door in the fort, complete with its special bronze hinges for minimal friction. This room, although built with the same lime-stone as the rest of the fort has an inner lining of brick wall with openings for ventilation.
It appears that the windowless Magazine was used as a prison cell for errant soldiers at the beginning of the First World War, since the brick wall lining still has the original military white paint dating from early this century and clear pencil writings of prisoners protesting their lot. Some of these writings are dated, and factual - a recording of why they were put in there: "Pte C Stevenson, of no fixed abode charged with loitering around some bread and cheese on the seabeach." Others are not so easily distinguished between sycophancy and sarcasm "There is only one gentleman in D Company and that is Captian (sic) Brock" and "Are we down Hearted no life in the dungeon is wonderful."
This room now contains the Fort's central heating boiler and hot water tank, and although the warmth and machinery belie the cold and rather frightening place it used to be, the writings still look as if they had been put there yesterday.
Ready Use cupboards
As well as the Magazine there was always the need for storage of ammunition near to the cannons themselves. One such cupboard is by the stairs at the far end of the fort, another just under the entrance spiral stairs. One that is no longer obvious as such is a much larger one that was built into the angle where the fort's two faces meet, and is now the bathroom to the master bedroom.
Musket/rifle wall brackets
On some of the supporting walls of what is now the sitting room there can still be seen wooden pieces set into the stonework. These were effectively an old-fashioned system of wall plugs, as they provided a fixing point for the wall brackets which held the muskets and rifles - again for ready use.
A caponnier is a room or corridor with musketry or small arms gun slots which faces onto and thereby protects dry moats. The fort originally had two. The lower one is now a single bedroom, and one has to pass through the eight feet thick wall of the main fort to enter. The other is less obvious, since it is now the kitchen on the main floor, and in earlier times some of the stonework which forms the musketry slots has been removed to make windows (two of these large stones have been re-used recently to make the fireplace in the main sitting room): a doorway was also put in. The origin of the word caponnier is said to have derived from the idea that the soldiers inside could easily shoot any enemy trapped in the moats just as they pleased, and were effectively in a position to reduce them to capons.
Heavy shutters and locking bars
There are two sets of distinctive shutters in the fort - large folding ones to cover the windows at the rear of the fort, and straight hinged ones to cover the windows of the lower bedrooms at the front of the fort. These are all faced with heavy iron plate, and have small slits at the bottom for taking the odd pot-shot at any passing enemy.
It is interesting to note that on top of the immensely strong seven arched casemates, there is a further four foot thickness of ballast topped with a waterproofing layer of tarmac. This soft thickness was to prevent the impact of dropped mortars or the bombs of the day from destroying the casemates if lobbed over to land from above.
Anti-scaling corbel and Musketry Steps
There is a rounded stone-work corbel projecting nearly 12 inches which runs along all the walls of the fort at the height of the top decking. This was to prevent scaling ladders with wheels on the ends from being run up the walls by attackers.
There appears to have been a set of three steps running along the length of the roof decking of the fort, to enable soldiers to step up quickly and fire over the top of the seven foot high parapet, before dropping back down again. These steps are formed from 3 - 7 foot lengths of lime-stone measuring about 15" - 18" square, with smoothed off faces on two sides. These large pieces of stone have been moved about in past times, and now form the basis of raised garden beds and other features. An area of two of the three steps still remains at the far end of the roof deck to give an impression of their original purpose.
Other information.: Exclusive Hire with a choice of two rooms and the outsize summer house to get married in. No corkage charged, you can bring all your own drinks.
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