Needles Old Battery, Isle of Wight

Needles point on the Isle of Wight has always been strategically important as it covers the western approach to the Solent and, ultimately, Southampton Water. Formed roughly in the shape of a spearhead, and being protected on two sides by precipitous chalk cliffs, it was an ideal location for a military battery.

Due to an uncertain political situation in France, Needles Battery was completed in 1863 at a cost of £7,656. It is now referred to as the Needles Old Battery, simply to distinguish it from a 'new' Battery that was completed in 1895 for fear of possible cliff collapse and subsidence. The Needles Old Battery had a compliment of one officer, two non-commissioned officers and 21 men.

Needles Old Battery is triangular in shape, following the line of the cliffs, and has a large ditch cut across the landward end to protect this vulnerable point from attack. Access was gained across the ditch by way of a 'rolling bridge' which could be winched back under the roadway in times of need. The spoil from the ditch excavation was then used to build up an earthen rampart to the rear, with access to the battery via a brick entrance tunnel cut through this rampart.

The original armament inventory comprised 6 x 7 inch (175mm) rifle breech loading (RBL) guns, 4 of which were positioned along the northern side to cover the Solent approach, 1 on 'point', and the remaining gun covering the sea to the south. All 6 guns were Barbette mounted behind semi-circular walls and earthen banks. In 1872 these guns were replaced by 4 x 7 inch rifle muzzle loading guns (RML) and 2 x 9 (225mm) inch RML guns. In 1893 the 7 inch guns were upgraded to 9 inch.

The Guardroom, Laboratory, Shell Store, Shifting Lobby and Powder Magazine all survive in situ, now housing displays and information boards about the history of Needles Old Battery and how the rooms were utilised. After visiting these rooms, the site opens out into a large parade ground. In 1863 there would have been several more buildings than appear today, but evidence of where the Officers Quarters, Main Barracks and Artillery Store were situated can still be seen. In the far left corner of the site, offices of the Royal Engineers survive from 1861, but today they are overshadowed by a two storey brick building. This was the Port War Signal Station erected on top of the south facing number six gun emplacement in 1940.

In 1899 a searchlight position was installed at the head, accessed by a tunnel dug from the parade ground. In 1908 further work was completed, including the addition of a fire command post, and position finding cell just in front of the fifth gun emplacement. This position gave clear site of the approach to the Needles Channel and, from there, instructions could be sent to the gunners at the Needles New Battery. The fire command post is now roofless but the position finding cell remains intact. In 1913 the county's first anti-aircraft gun was installed on the parade ground between the second and third gun emplacements.

The Needles New Battery was constructed on much higher ground to the east of Needles Old Battery. It carried an armament of 3 x 9.2 (230mm) inch breech loading guns, each weighing 28 tonnes. These were supplied from underground magazines dug between the three gun emplacements.

The two Batteries remained largely unused after the Great War, but were re-activated during the Second World War. At the cessation of hostilities, the site was again 'mothballed' until the guns were finally disposed of in 1954. Between 1956 and 1971 the area was used by Saunders Roe for testing Black Knight and Black Arrow rocket engines, the concrete evidence of which can still be clearly seen. In 1975 the headland came into the care of The National Trust.


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