Sunday, 13 September 2020
Something fortified

Some museums, galleries and places of interest have opened up recently, although for how long who knows. This is Tilbury Fort in Essex on the north bank of the Thames which we visited recently. 

Tilbury Fort was built 1539/40 on the orders of Henry VIII to protect London from attack from the east coast. Tilbury is directly opposite Gravesend where there was another fort. That is now mostly in ruins around which a very pleasant municipal park has been planted. During the 16th and 17th centuries Tilbury was the garrison town and Gravesend was the preliminary port east of the Port of London. Regular readers will recall my interest in Pocahontas who is buried in the parish church in Gravesend, which is visible from the Fort. 

The present fort was enlarged and refortified on the orders of Charles II in 1670. It is in the shape of a star which made it easy to defend and harder to attack. 

Many years ago we visted Baltimore in Maryland and after the aquarium we had time for just one museum which I think was the Star Spangled Banner Flag House. Everybody was very pleasant and the guide was keen to show these English people round. On  showing me a picture of Fort McHenry she retained her good manners when I cheerfully exclaimed, Oh, your architect copied our Tilbury Fort!  I think it was a safe and standard pattern for all forts until artillery progressed during the 19th century. 

Tilbury is where in August 1588 Queen Elizabeth I gave her famous speech to the troops as the Spanish Armada approached the Channel. The expectation was that if the Armada did meet up with the troops of the Duke of Parma in the Netherlands the invasion force would sail up the Thames and land in Essex before advancing on London.  16,000 English soldiers were mustered at Tilbury around the fort, with barges at hand if they needed to cross to Kent. Elizabeth came to Tilbury on her own Royal Barge and after spending the night in Saffron Garden House in nearby Horndon (the house is still there) she rode out of the fort, mounted on a grey horse and wearing a white dress with a silver curiasse to address her troops. 

"I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm: to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field."

The local history society say that while some of the army may have been camped on the land to the west of the fort (where the current cruise terminal now is, and some industrial warehouses including that of Amazon) much of it was then too boggy for all of them and that her speech, or speeches (they believe she gave it several times around the encampments) was delivered in a field near what was then St James Church, the parish church of the village of West Tilbury. That is now redundant for worship and is in private ownership. 

Currently the fort retains 17th century fortifications, Victorian extensions and some WWI and WWII gun emplacements and artillery. It is run by English Heritage who do not pay me for my over-enthusiasm. 

Posted on 09/13/2020 7:59 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
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