10 historical treasures you might not know are at Landguard Fort

John Cooke looks across to Harwich from Landguard Fort, Felixstowe

John Cooke looks across to Harwich from Landguard Fort, Felixstowe - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Suffolk’s coast has long played a crucial role in defending our shores.

And Felixstowe’s Landguard Fort, which has been in action for hundreds of years, is home to some incredibly fascinating features and artefacts spanning the course of British history.   

While there have been a number of fortifications on Landguard Peninsula since the reign of King Henry VIII, the current fort you can see today was constructed in 1744.  

A Grade I-listed building, the fort has undergone a number of changes over the years – and it certainly has some interesting stories to tell.  

Landguard Fort, Felixstowe

Landguard Fort, Felixstowe - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

“There’s over 400 years military, social and geo-political history at Landguard Fort, so there's lots for visitors to discover, experience and enjoy,” explains volunteer Malcolm Haskell.  

Here are just 10 of the most fascinating artefacts and objects you can get up close and personal with this summer...  

A replica 38-tonne rifled muzzle loading gun (RML) from the 1870s

A replica 38-tonne rifled muzzle loading gun (RML) from the 1870s - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

1. A replica of a 38-tonne rifled muzzle loading (RML) gun from the 1870s 

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Used by the Royal Navy between 1875 and 1905, a 12.5-inch diameter muzzle loader can be found at the fort. While they were mostly found aboard battleships, these guns were also used on land as a form of coast defence.  

“It took 17 men to load, aim and fire it,” explains Malcolm. A team of experienced soldiers could fire one of these in three minutes, and the cartridges used within weighed 80lbs alone. 

“This gun was capable of penetrating the thick armour of warships, or shattering light vessels thousands of yards out at sea. Rope curtains called mantlets were placed at either side of the gun to protect soldiers from shell splinters while they were operating the gun, and the mantlets were soaked in calcium chloride solution to stop them catching fire.” 

Landguard Fort clock

Landguard Fort clock - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

2. The original 18th century fort clock 

Constructed in 1747 by clockmaker Thomas Moore of Ipswich, this incredible timepiece is still on display in the fort for all to see.

“It still works to this day, and chimes on the hour, as long as it is wound by one of our volunteers at least once a week!” explains Malcolm.  

The original clock at Landguard Fort

The original clock at Landguard Fort - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Originally, this clock was situated above the barrack block, but was moved to its current position during the fort’s alterations in 1875.  

“It works using a system of lead weights on ropes housed in a wooden cupboard running down to the ground floor. The original cupboard had a sand filled base to protect the weights if the ropes holding them were to break.” 

An accurate clock was of great importance in the fort, as barrack life was governed by timetables and rotas for every duty and activity that took place.  

The guard room at Landguard Fort

The guard room at Landguard Fort - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

3. The guard room  

The fort has a number of rooms within – with many of them preserved to show what life was like during various historical eras.  

The guard room at Landguard Fort features the original Victorian fold-down beds and equipment rack, which helps give visitors a real sense of what conditions were like all those years ago.  

The guard room at Landguard Fort

The guard room at Landguard Fort - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

“Beds were needed here as the guard room would have been manned 24 hours a day to stop and check everyone entering or leaving the fort. There's an interactive audio feature in this room where you can hear recollections of soldiers who were based at Landguard Fort during and after the Second World War.” 

At the back of the guard room there is also a cell which was used to detain any soldier guilty of poor discipline. “Being just a few minutes late returning from leave could land a soldier in the cell. Discipline was very strict at the fort. It had to be – defending Britain’s coastline was a serious business!” 

A view over the coast, as seen from Landguard Fort

A view over the coast, as seen from Landguard Fort - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

4. The view from the Harwich Bastion 

If you’re up to it, be sure to climb up the Harwich Bastion at Landguard Fort – the views you’ll be rewarded with are worth the hike. “The estuary visible from here is the last deep-water anchorage before the Humber, which is much further up the coast. England’s enemies have always had their sights on the Haven as a way of attacking the heart of East Anglia and then onto London.  

“If only they could get past Langer Point, the old name for this spot, then they could sail up the River Stour or the Orwell and launch an assault on Ipswich or Colchester. That’s why King Henry VIII ordered the construction of Landguard Fort here in the 1500s.” 

The operations room at Landguard Fort

The operations room at Landguard Fort - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

5. A casemated battery from the 1870s 

Dating back to the late 19th century, this battery would have originally contained seven heavy guns, like the 38-tonne replica mentioned above. 

“Over time these casemates (vaulted chambers in the ramparts originally used to house guns or to be used as barracks) were re-purposed. One of these was subsequently used as a World War II anti-aircraft operations room,” explains Malcolm. 

“In this room you can see an original plotting table used to indicate the location, number and altitude of both hostile and friendly aircraft. This room also contains the situation board which indicated the readiness of the anti-aircraft guns.” 

The ablutions room at Landguard Fort

The ablutions room at Landguard Fort - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

6. The ablutions rooms 

Washing is a basic necessity – even during wartime, and that’s why there’s rooms throughout the fort that show visitors how soldiers from yesteryear used to keep clean while stationed on the Felixstowe coast.  

“The slate-top sinks and bath tubs at Landguard Fort had hot and cold running water as early as 1908 – a luxury rarely found even in private homes in those days. Some shower stalls were installed in the adjacent room after the Second World War.” 

The ablutions room at Landguard Fort

The ablutions room at Landguard Fort - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The fort had to keep its water source top secret though, because siege enemies could easily cut off or even contaminate the water supply if found. 

“The fort’s water supply was only ever cut off during peacetime however, during a dispute with the local landowner who felt his land has been encroached so cut the water supply off. The government of the time was so enraged that it forced the landowner to sell the rights to the land to the army at a fraction of its true value.” 

The munitions rooms at Landguard Fort

The munitions rooms at Landguard Fort - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

7. Weapons stores 

Within the fort are magazines, tunnels, and munition stores where gunpowder barrels, cartridges, and shells used by the guns on the floor above were kept.  

“These would have been restricted areas, and soldiers would have had to pass a barrier where they removed their outer clothing and shoes – a precaution against matches, metal objects or grit that might strike a light and cause an explosion. All tools used were made of brass, which doesn’t spark. 

“Cartridges were cloth bags filled with gunpowder, which would have been rammed down a gun barrel. In the cartridge store it was essential that the cartridges were kept dry and special zinc containers were used to keep the damp out. The shells were stored standing upright on wooden slats so that they could be easily transported by barrow to hoists which carried them to the guns above.” 

The Victorian barrack room at Landguard Fort

The Victorian barrack room at Landguard Fort - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

8. The Victorian barrack room  

“There were no frills in the Victorian age, just room for nine soldiers to eat, sleep and while away what little leisure time they had. When it was time for sleep, the beds were slid out to full length and they were slid away again in the morning to save space. All the soldiers’ kit was kept here too and it was their job to maintain and repair their own kit and keep the barrack spotless,” Malcolm explains.  

The World War II barrack room at Landguard Fort

The World War II barrack room at Landguard Fort - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

9. The World War II barrack room 

“Showing the contrast to its Victorian equivalent, this room depicts the period in the very early days of the Second World War. Six to eight men would have slept and relaxed here. Kit was maintained to a very high standard and would be laid out in order if there was an officer inspection.” 

This room shows jackets known as ‘denims’, and these would have been worn by Royal Artillery gunners, often with a leather jerkin on top, when servicing their guns.  

“Off-duty soldiers would’ve relaxed by reading, playing board games and cards. Some barracks were lucky enough to have a radio, such as this one.” 

A BOFORS replica gun at Landguard Fort

A BOFORS replica gun at Landguard Fort - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

10. A rare Mk.1 BOFORS 40mm anti-aircraft gun 

Number 51 out of only 100 ordered by the British Army in 1937, this anti-aircraft gun has been deemed by many war historians as one of the most successful of its type in the world since in introduction in the 1930s and its withdrawal some 50 years later.  

“The anti-aircraft batteries around Harwich Haven played an important role during World War II, and were credited with a number of kills including hit-and-run raids by German fighter-bombers and 73V1 flying bombs shot down. On March 29, 1945 the last V1 flew over Felixstowe – the final enemy air activity over the whole of the UK.” 

Landguard Fort is now open until the end of October - every day during the school holidays, and from Thursday to Sunday at other times.  

To find out more, visit landguard.com 

Do you have a favourite fort artefact or landmark that didn’t make the list? Get in touch with danielle.lett@archant.co.uk to share your photos and stories.