Calshot Castle

Calshot Castle is a device fort built by Henry VIII as part of his chain of defences of the Solent. Following his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church, England was politically isolated and extensive fortifications were built in expectation of invasion from across the Channel. In protection of the Solent, Henry VIII built Southsea, Hurst, Sandown, Yarmouth and Calshot castles. Over the centuries, Calshot Castle would serve England variously but some might say that her heyday came with her large contribution to aviation history in the early 20th century.

Calshot Castle was built in a strategic location at Calshot Spit to protect the entry to Southampton Water and the third largest port of the time. Calshot Castle was constructed from Portland Stone and stones quarried from the former Bealieu Abbey in 1539. It was designed with a three storey keep and a circular structure to counter new and improved cannon fire.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, Calshot Castle was damaged in a fire and required some 130 oak trees for its repairs. In 1585 the start of the 80 years war, an artillery garrsion comprising seven gunners and one master gunner were stationed at Calshot. Two years later with the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, Roman Catholics across the world were outraged. Her claim to the throne was passed to Philip II of Spain who was granted Papal authority to overthrow Elizabeth I. Repairs at Calshot were concluded in 1588 in time for the threat of the Spanish Armada. Despite this rebuilding, Calshot Castle survives in much the same state as that in which it was first built.

The barracks room was created on the first floor of the Tudor Castle between 1896 and 1900. It was designed to hold 11 men but it is probable that it was only occupied during peacetime during exercises by the Royal Garrison Artillery. The furnishings that you see here today are replicas of the type in use circa 1900 to 1910. The floor above was created at the same time as barracks for 14 men.

Right up until the 20th century, Calshot Castle continued to be manned as an artillery base. In 1913 it was converted into a Naval Air Station and in the same year was visited by Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Churchill took his first seaplane flight from Calshot with Tommy Sopwith who went on to teach this great leader how to fly. However it was Jacques Shnieder, a French industrialist who assured Calshot's position in history. In 1913, Jacques Schneider encouraged the progress of high speed flying by donating a trophy. The Schneider Race was different to others of its time as conditions of entry stipulated that only national aero clubs would be allowed to fly seaplanes in the race. The competition tested seaworthiness and the course spanned some 150 miles over the open sea.

At the outbreak of WWI, the Schneider Race went on hold. The defence of the English Channel would be headed by Calshot and Dover. Calshot Castle now housed the officers' mess and it was from here that new recruits were trained. Calshot had now become an important base with new buildings of offices, hangars and workshops.

In 1927, Flight Lieutenant Webster won the Schneider Cup Competition clocking in a speed of 281.65mph in a Supermarine S5. The win also granted England the right to hold the next Schneider Competition. The 1929 race took place in the Solent while the teams were based at Calshot. So far, Britain and Italy had taken the title three times, America won twice and France once. This time it would be won by flying officer, H.R.D. Waghorn who flew a Supermarine 6 at a speed of 328 mph.

The Solent hosted the race again in 1931 and for the third consecutive time the trophy was awarded to an RAF team made up of Flight Lieutenants J.N. Boothman and G.H. Stainforth who flew their Supermarine 6B at an average of 408.8 mph. This was the last Schneider Trophy Race to be held. The experience proved invaluable to Britain in WWII as improvements in aero-engine development and airframes influenced the development of the Spitfire and Hurricane Fighter Planes.

Over the course of WWII, Calshot continued to be used by the RAF who used the site for repairing and maintaing flying boats and training of the crew. In the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940, Calshot sent five seaplanes and succeeded in returning 500 men to safety. Calshot continued to play an important role in the war as the base for the Sunderland Flying Boats, a formidable weapon invaluable in the D-Day invasion, it protected the fleet by attacking Uboats.

Lying next to Calshot Castle are the Airforce Seaplane Base and Flying Boat centres which is now home to one of the best activity centres in England. The largest hanger, Sunderland Hanger built in 1917, now houses the Calshot Activities Centre.

Address: Calshot Spit
Postcode: SO45 1BR
Town/city or near: Fawley
County: Hampshire
Adults: 2.50
Children: 1.50
Opening Times
Open daily from 25th March to the 31st October from 10am to 4pm.
English Heritage

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