Geographically the River Medway empties into the Channel immediately below the Thames Estuary and as such it represents a weak spot where a potential invader might make land fall in order to quickly overwhelm London. This fact had long been known and during Napoleon Bonaparte's belligerent reign as the emperor of France from 1804 to 1815, the British had a very real fear of a French invasion force landing somewhere along the south coast. Thus adequate protection had to be put in place all the way from the southern tip of Wales, across the Severn Estuary, then around through the English Channel, and up into the North Sea. In order to prevent Bonaparte's navy sailing up river to land troops all the major southern river estuaries were heavily fortified together with many coastal towns.
In the event Napoleon's fleet (reinforced heavily with ships from the Spanish fleet, giving him a total of 33 major war ships) suffered a crushing defeat by Admiral Lord Nelson's numerically inferior fleet of 27 ships, at Cape Trafalgar off the Spanish coast on the 21st. October, 1805 - SEE RIGHT . With a total loss of 22 ships (FOR NO BRITISH LOSSES woop woop !!!) the French navy became a spent force from that day onwards. And with the final removal of old Boney from the throne of France one might have thought the need for coastal reinforcement would diminish. But the Admiralty decided that was not the case and they further fortified the south coast almost continuously right up until the end of World War II more than one hundred and thirty years later. In the process Dover became a serious stronghold with massive forts and artillery batteries built both on top of the land and deep beneath in the caves cut out of the chalky white cliffs.
Further measures were instigated to protect the two vulnerable Kent river estuaries north of Dover at the Channel end of the North Sea. In 1855 an off shore tower fort was built in brick reinforced with granite facings. Known as the Grain Tower Battery, it stands 500 yards out to sea on the shallow Grain Spit. The tower's artillery, which fired over the walls rather than through embrasures, working in conjunction with the guns in the southern shore fort at Garrison Point, would most effectively defend the estuary.
In 1860 it was decided that the existing Napoleonic era Martello Tower a few hundred yards to the north of the Grain Tower Battery would be expanded and reinforced by the addition of a casemated fort built around the original tower, but in the event the planners decided to build a new fortification instead, to be known as Grain Fort. A large keep formed the centre of the fort with a polygonal earthwork banking surrounding it. To the front a deep ditch further protected the approaches to the keep, and the ditch itself was protected by the provision of four caponiers, heavily fortified concrete blockhouses with interlinking fields of fire, situated on the floor of the moat - SEE ABOVE LEFT . A secondary ditch was built around the keep itself protected by a further five caponiers. The fighting compartments and the barracks and admin at the heart of this extensive fortress were all linked by underground passageways - SEE RIGHT .
Modification and improvement of the fort continued throughout both World Wars and right up until the demise of coastal artillery as an effective force in 1956, guided missiles and bombs dropped by aircraft having superseded artillery shells. In 1961 the site was sold off by the MOD and the biggest part of the fort was subsequently demolished leaving what little remains today - basically the earth banks and two underground passageway systems. The moat is still readily apparent although it has completely lost it's effectiveness as a barrier to progress by virtue of the fact that it is no longer particularly steep sided. The masonry from the fort proper was bulldozed into the ground leaving the two passage networks which ran out from the central keep to access the moat caponiers. The caponiers themselves have also been demolished leaving only a small and very muddy hole at what was originally the caponier end of the passage, shown in red on the plan - SEE RIGHT ABOVE. We did not find the other passage system with its' incorporated magazine which is situated to the left of the moat during our exploration though we are informed by a reliable source that it too is still accessible. Despite the passage of time and no maintenance what so ever since abandonment almost fifty years ago the masonry within these tunnels is in superb condition. The keep end of the tunnel is bricked up comprehensively though. At the keep end of the tunnel are two of the "demi-caponiers", literally "half" or "small" caponier - much smaller caponiers protecting the inner moat, and recognisable by the firing slots in the outer walls. The tunnel branching off to the right back along the way we had come in goes off towards the far right outer moat caponier, and it is also bricked up, but at a point even shorter of where the caponier would have been situated. At the Y junction itself there is a large, rusty steel cylinder, probably part of a boiler, almost blocking access, though it is just possible to squeeze around it.
In the early years of the 20th. century, shortly before The Great War, the height of the Grain Tower Battery was raised and a platform was built on the top for two 4.7 inch breech loading guns to be mounted. These much more modern guns had the distinct advantage of a greater range and a much flatter trajectory compared to the original muzzle loaded "canons" in place throughout much of the 19th. century. A centralised ammunition magazine was then created by reinforcing the middle of the tower, and a mechanised shell lift was installed to raise ammunition to the firing platform some 30 feet or so above. Around about the same time it was decided that a boom defence should be constructed across the Medway estuary with the Tower Battery as the anchor point at one side and the fort over at Sheerness as the other. The very large chain links wrapped around the tower six feet or so up are all that remains of the boom today.
During the Second World War further modifications were made to the tower as it became part of the London and south eastern approaches defence network. It worked in conjunction with other towers built on steel stilts further out to sea to the east which covered the in-bound flight path for Luftwaffe bombers en-route to London and the home counties - SEE LEFT . This particular tower however appears to have been designated to ward off potential attack by fast E Boats and the like up the Medway. At this time the Grain Tower Battery had a director tower built behind the main gun emplacement and the old 4.7" guns were replaced with a twin 6 pounder, 10 cwt. QF (quick firing) coastal artillery gun installation - SEEN RIGHT.
Immediately to the right of the gun platform a search light platform was constructed and the remains of the swivels for both emplacements can still be clearly seen. The final part of the tower to be constructed was an extensive brick barrack block of three floors. It was not however a part of the tower proper but a completely separate construction on concrete stilts, connected to the main tower by two concrete walkways at the bottom and top levels respectively.
The Grain Tower Battery today can be
easily accessed along the remains of it's original concrete brick
causeway some two and a half hours before low water on a neap tide. A window of
some four and a half to five hours then opens for a most leisurely tour of
the complex. Nothing remains of the original access way up onto the
platform at the base of the tower so it is wise to take a ladder with a
reach of about 12 feet across the causeway with you. We were extremely
lucky on our visit because we found an old aluminium ladder had been left
behind, still tied in rather precariously! So
without a ladder it would be an extremely risky climb with the very real
potential for a fall from a very considerable height on to jagged rocks