Known as 1, The Thames – this 19th century fort is situated 500 meters out into the mouth of the River Medway and was built to protect local dockyards from the potential invasion from the French. In 2014 the fort was up for sale and was sold for around £400,000 but the Grade II listed building would cost millions to renovate.
The river Thames has always been a pivotal place to defend, particularly in the 1800’s. The magazines at Purfleet, Chatham Dockyard and the armaments and ship building docks in Woolwich were just a few vulnerable sites prone to attack. A defence was needed to guard the entrance to the Medway and a site just off of the Grain coast was chosen. The fort was constructed on the tidal sandbank of Grain Spit and can reached by foot at low tide (or boat at high tide.) Its location enabled the tower’s arc of fire to overlap with the guns at Garrison Point on the Isle of Sheppey, on the other side of the Medway.
Construction began in 1848 but difficulties were soon encountered in laying the foundations and construction was paused until 1853. It took nearly two years for the rest of the shower to be constructed due to difficulties caused by the tide and weather. It was completed in late 1855 and was handed over to the Ordnance authorities in November of that year. By this point the budget had soared and was the equivalent £1.4 million over budget in today’s money.
The three storey high tower is around 13 metres high and is similar in design of Martello Towers. It’s considered that Grain Tower is one of the last Martello Towers to be built in Britain. Inside the fort was ammunition stores, and the accommodation for crews.
The tower was initially armed with three 68-pdr. smoothbore guns which were mounted on traversing platforms on the roof. Although Martello-style towers were well able to resist the smoothbore guns of the early 19th century, the delay in construction and the development of much more powerful guns made Grain Tower obsolete as soon as it had been completed.
A fresh invasion scare at the end of the 1850s prompted the government to make urgent changes. A new Royal Comission for Defence was established and a report in 1860 concluded that many of the existing forts should be upgraded or rebuilt to be able to compete with evolving weaponry. Around 70 new forts were built along the English coast it was recommended that Grain Tower should be converted into a fully casemated fort, but plans were quickly dropped as the cost was seen as being too high. Instead, a new fort was built on land – Grain Fort – while the existing battery at Garrison Point was rebuilt as the two-tier casemated Garrison Point Fort.
The tower’s smoothbore guns were replaced with RMLs: one 56-pdr. and two 32-pdrs. These were withdrawn in 1910, when the tower changed purposed to a communications tower. In 1915, two 4.7-inch quick-firing guns were moved from Grain Battery on the land and installed on Grain Tower to counter the new threat of fast torpedo boats. This required a raised concrete and stone structure on the tower’s roof to be built for the new guns to be situated, and a shelter was created to provide room for stores and fire control.
The guns remained in place through the First World War, and the tower served an addition purpose as one end of a defence boom, stretch across the Medway to Sheerness. The massive iron chain still remains at the tower, wrapped around the base. Eventually the tower was disarmed and all guns were removed in 1929.
This wasn’t the last time that the site was armed, during the Second World War much bigger changes were made and a twin 6-pdr. QF gun was added. A large roofed concrete emplacement was constructed on the roof to house the gun with a tall directing tower at its rear. A Defence Electric Light Emplacement (search light) was also added to Grain Tower. At the tower’s rear, a brick and concrete barrack block standing on stilts was constructed to house the gun detachment. It is a freestanding structure but is connected to the tower via catwalks. In 1944 the tower was no longer operational and was used only for ‘care and maintenance’ before finally being decommissioned in 1956.
Today the tower is still standing strong although is listed as “at risk” by Engligh Heritage who designated the site Grade II listed in 1986, as part of a programme to protect forts in the Grain area. There’s no public access to the site. The site was bought from the Crown Estate in 2005 but was up for sale 5 years later, for £500,000, as the owner said the costs for doing it up would be too high. It was reportedly sold in 2014 for £400,000 to a secret buyer, and the site has stood derelict and unused since.