History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: An excellent example of Victorian military architecture
The strategic importance of this area near East Tilbury village was recognised as far back as 1402, when a system of earthworks were erected to defend the village from a possible French attack. Then in 1540 Henry VIII bult a blockhouse armed with 15 cannon as part of his system of coastal defenses. Henry's blockhouse is now underwater due to erosion of the river bank.
Henry's fort was disarmed in 1553, and military focus moved to Tilbury Fort, 3 miles away. Fear of another French invasion in 1799 prompted a new fort to be thrown up at East Tilbury, with 4 24 pounder cannons. After Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815 the fort was abandoned for a time, then in 1855 it was enlarged to hold 17 32 pounder guns. Coalhouse was just one of several coastal forts to be built or strengthened in the mid-19th century, along with nearby Shornemeade and Cliffe.
The enhancements at Coalhouse wereintended to counter the threat of new iron-clad ships developed by the French navy. To deal with the iron-clad threat, Coalhouse was supplied with massive guns that could fire armour-piercing missiles. The guns were so powerful that the when they were fired, the shockwaves could break windows 1/2 mile away.
Over the next few decades further gun emplacements were added, including earthworks designed for quick-firing guns to defend against minefield laying. During WWII a pair of 5.5 inch guns from the HMS Hood were erected in shelters atop the fort roof, along with 2 anti-aircraft guns. These WWII defenses wee placed in the hands of the Home Guard in 1944.
The fort is set in a lovely riverside park, with walks around a lake and along the shore. You can extend your walk to take in The Two Forts Walk, joining Coalhose to Tilbury Fort. Everywhere you look around the park are reminders of the Fort's military past, from old minefield control towers, a quick-fire battery, and mortar bases. Some of the site is defended by a dry ditch, others by a system of water-filled channels.
Coalhouse has become a popular destination for paranormal investigators; visitors have reported hearing eerie voices, and heavy footsteps following them down tunnels. Strange figures have appeared and disappeared, and objects move without anyone near them. One spectre dubbed 'Harry' by volunteers, seems to inhabit the washroom area, and has been known to throw chairs. I have to say that I didn't personally experience anything out of the ordinary at Coalhouse, but then it was a bright, sunny day in siummer, so perhaps the ghosts were feeling lazy.
Coalhouse Fort is very well signposted off the A13 and A1013 between Stanford le Hope and Grays. Minor roads lead through East Tilbury village to a large parking area used for both the Fort and the surrounding park. There are trails around the fort, including the waterside defenses, that can be enjoyed even if the fort itself is closed.
You can walk around the entire perimeter of the fort to get a very good idea of the layout and the secondary system of batteries along the shore. The fort is extremely impressive, though it is obviously still in the proces of being restored. The views along the Thames estuary are fabulous.
I highly recommend making a joint visit with Coalhouse and Tilbury Fort, to see how the military presence here along the Thames changed over the course of 4 centuries.
About Coalhouse Fort
Address: East Tilbury, Tilbury, Essex, England, RM18 8PB
Attraction Type: Historic Building
Location: At the end of the road in East Tilbury. Large parking area. Open acces to the park and trails around the fort.
Website: Coalhouse Fort
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Tilbury Fort - 2.5 miles (Historic Building)
Higham, St Mary's Church - 2.6 miles (Historic Church)
Milton Chantry - 3.1 miles (Historic Building)
Cooling, St James Church - 4.3 miles (Historic Church)
Cobham Hall - 5.1 miles (Historic House)
Owletts - 5.4 miles (Historic Building)
Cobham Mausoleum - 5.5 miles (Historic Building)
Upnor Castle - 6 miles (Castle)
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