Tilbury Fort


The fort in Picturesque views on the River Thames by Samuel Ireland in 1802

The current Tilbury Fort was built in the 17th Century on the site of an Tudor fort built by Henry 8th to protect both the important ferry crossing and the harbours in London further up the Thames against raiders.

The site at a key point of the river gives advantageous lines of fire from the ramparts making it likely that any craft under fire would be destroyed are suffer serious damage going up river and again when returning.

 In 1588 Queen Elizabeth 1 made her famous address to the troops at a camp around the port indicating its importance in national defence at the time.

During the Civil War the fort played no direct role although being in an area controlled by the Parliamentary forces it was garrisoned as part of the defence of London.

 When Charles the Second came to the throne plans were made to build a new fort on the site.

The old Tudor fort was much changed with a rebuild to the pattern that we recognise today with walls that were comparatively low relying on protection from assault by a double moat. Part of this was due to military needs but mainly from the marshy land requiring piling even for the low walls built.

    Water gate at Tilbury Fort

The main entrance was from the north via a wooden bridge with a drawbridge system although there was a water gate to the river.

Although the fort was manned by 1680, building work continued throughout the 1700's including the building of two large powder magazines for storage of gunpowder and ordnance.

The Napoleonic wars brought the fort back into prominence with 106 guns ranging from 9 pounders to huge 43 pounders. Several armed hulks manned by Volunteer Artillery units were also moored in the river off Tilbury to further deter raiders.

At times of peace the fort warranted a small garrison to maintain the fort and its important powder magazines.

All outgoing shipping was required to moor in the river at nearby Gravesend until they were inspected by the Customs. A gun was fired when they were allowed to proceed upriver. No doubt the guns of the fort played a great role in enforcing this rule!

Not surprisingly due to its position and strength Tilbury Fort never engaged in live action against the enemy with the exception of anti aircraft batteries during the two world wars.

   Tilbury Fort Drawbridge


For most of its history the Fort was controlled by the Army Ordnance Department with Artillery Officers mainly from the 4th and 5th Divisional Horse Artillery although Line Regiments often used the fort for accommodation and bases.

Often the Artillerymen based at the fort were in comparatively low numbers for instance the strength in 1870 was 26 men.

The garrison was made up of a Fort Major and 'invalids' who were soldiers not considered fit enough to service in the regular battalions but were fit enough for guard duty and depot life. In 1762 there were 8 companies of ' invalids' stationed at Tilbury Fort.

The National Archive records show members of the below Line Regiments has ' Invalids' stationed at Tilbury in the late 1700's and early 1800's.

1st, 2nd,3rd,9th,11th, 13th, 15th, 20th, 22th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, 43rd, 48th, 49th, 50th, 52nd, 53rd, 54th, 56th, 60th, 63rd, 67th, 80th, 85th and 104th all were stationed at the Fort.

   Tilbury Fort quarters

At the start of World War One control of the fort remained with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps although infantry Battalions occupied the barracks and temporary barracks within the fort and temporary camps in the area.

 In October 1916 the storage of ordnance was discontinued and anti aircraft guns fitted on top of the fort walls.

 Many of these were short term to accomodate men who boarded troop ships at the nearby Tilbury docks bound for the Boer War or the battlefields of World War One.

 Despite being one of the best known of the Essex Forts,there is no record of Essex Regiment or Essex Yeomanry being based at the fort.

 Click here for details of the Two Forts Walk starting at Tilbury Fort